English girls basketball excited, ready for state tournament

Jessica Ruiz (right) and the English girls basketball team start the postseason with a trip to Andover Monday. (Item File Photo)

LYNN — The English girls basketball team certainly faced its share of adversity en route to a berth in the Division 1 North state tournament.

After dropping seven games in a row midway through the year, English needed four wins to close out the season and the Bulldogs didn’t waver from the challenge.

“It took a lot,” English coach Mackenzie Charles, in his third season guiding the team, said. “I don’t really know what’s harder to do, get back from losing seven games in a row or winning four games in a row. I think the losing was probably harder. To keep our morale, confidence and stay together is hard through that adversity. I think this team learned how to deal with that. As young ladies, when they get to be adults in the real world they will take these lessons that they learned on the court.”

The Bulldogs earned wins over Salem, Everett and crosstown rival Classical before qualifying for the tournament with a 34-31 win at Medford in their regular season finale. Charles believes the key to the late-season success was keeping the Bulldogs focused on the task at hand.

“We had to learn to just have tunnel vision and not get distracted by the outside noise,” Charles said. “I had to keep them focused on the process and understanding that we need to work everyday in the gym. All those people that have positive or negative things to say aren’t with us in the gym so we have to stay focused on getting better.”

Junior forward Jessica Ruiz points to the Bulldogs’ 47-37 win over Everett as a huge turning point in the season.

“Honestly we didn’t expect this,” Ruiz said. “It was really shocking because we needed four wins to get into this tournament. Our backs were literally against the wall and we succeeded. We hadn’t beaten Everett before, this is the first year we had done that. Since then we just thought that we could beat any team.

“I feel like all those wins brought us together as a team,” Ruiz added. “It made us stronger. It was very mentally draining but we pushed through the struggles. We were all there to support each other through everything.”

Pamela Rosales is the lone senior on English’s roster. But Rosales feels the underclassmen have done a nice job of contributing to English’s success without missing a beat.

“Being the only senior it doesn’t really affect me at all,” Rosales said. “We all put a lot of hard work into this. Every single day we give it our all for two hours straight preparing. We just kept in mind that all of this work was going to pay off and we were going to be ready to go hard in the games.”

That dedication paid dividends for the Bulldogs over the past week and a half as English prepared for the tournament. The Bulldogs earned the No. 13 seed in Division 1 North and travel to No. 4 Andover Monday night (7) for the quarterfinal round.

“It’s funny, we scrimmaged Andover earlier in the year,” Charles said. “I watched that scrimmage and to compare my team from that scrimmage to see what we look like right now, it’s night and day. That’s been our whole focus throughout the season is growth. We have that growth mindset and want to get better every single day. These girls really bought into that and it’s great to see.

“Andover’s a good team,” Charles added. “You can’t be the No. 4 seed without being good and being really well coached. They have some great players. They gave us a big loss in the scrimmage when we went up there but it’s a great test for our program. We’re excited for it.”

Ruiz and Rosales know that the Bulldogs have their work cut out for them in the first round but are ready to give all they have left with their teammates.

“Our focus is to play hard,” Rosales said. “Andover’s a very hard working team. They put a lot of effort in.

“We have to really push,” Ruiz said. “We have nothing to lose. The records are 0-0 right now and we just have to go on the court and leave it all out there.”

No matter what happens Monday, Charles is more than grateful to have experienced an extra week preparing for the playoffs his team.

“I think our program took a really good step in earning this,” Charles said. “We earned this extra week. We earned this time in the gym to get better. A lot of our girls are taking advantage of this. It’s been a great experience.

“I’m excited for Monday against Andover and I’m just excited for where we’re going as a program.”

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