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LYNN — There’s a little extra excitement within the St. Mary’s girls basketball team to get the new season started.
That’s because the Spartans, who came one win shy of adding another state championship banner to Tony Conigliaro Gymnasium in 2018-2019, return all but just four seniors from last season’s team.
“We have 12 returning varsity players from a year ago,” coach Jeff Newhall said. “One of them’s a transfer but she played varsity. The girls have been great. They’ve played in fall leagues and summer leagues. They’ve been together quite a bit. I think they know what it takes. We’re hoping to get back to where we were a year ago, hopefully with a better ending.”
And the 11 who were part of last season’s team know what it takes to win in the postseason.
“We had a really good group of kids, but we struggled to find our identity,” Newhall said. “We lost to Fenwick the second time around and we scored in the 20s somewhere. We had a meeting the next day, had one of our best practices and turned it around. We won the last three of the regular season and made the state championship. The girls coming back saw what it takes to have success. We’re hoping that carries over.”
The lone starter lost from last winter’s team was Pamela Gonzalez, a guard who’s now flourishing as a freshman on the women’s basketball team at Division III Regis College.
Among those expected to step into big roles this winter are senior guards Olivia Matela and Gabby Torres, senior forward Jannise Avelino, junior guard Nicolette D’Itria and sophomore guard Yirsy Queliz. Junior guard Maiya Bergdorf has transferred into the school from Belmont.
Junior guards Pejae Parent and Van Nguyen, sophomore guards Krystana Manthorne and Abby Constine, junior forwards Alyssa Grossi and Achan Wol, sophomore guard Olivia Abbott and freshman guard Kellyn Preira round out the roster.
“It’s a very solid group,” Newhall said. “I think for high school girls basketball, we have a little of everything. We have guards, inside presence, really good shooters and some ball handling. For us, how well we play defensively and how hard we play will dictate how far we go. We have the pieces for a run. The little things that can take a team down are the things we need to avoid. If we focus on getting better and trying to win each game we play, we’ll be good in the end.”
With tournament mainstays like Archbishop Williams, Cathedral and Fenwick in the conference, the Catholic Central League projects to be competitive, per usual.
“It’s going to be one of the best leagues in the state, as it is every year,” Newhall said. “I think we have a shot of being in that top tier. I think everyone’s got some pretty solid returners and question marks like every other team. If we show up and play every night, we have a shot at a league title.”
Other highlights on the schedule include Andover, the Hoosac Valley Christmas Tournament, Nauset and a mid-January trip to South Carolina to take on Hilton Head and Bluffton.
“We’ve tried to put together the best schedule, both within the league and non-league that we can possibly put together,” Newhall said. “The end goal is to be as prepared as possible for March. What we do between now and March 1 will dictate how well prepared we are. This is as strong a schedule as we can put together.”
Joining Newhall on the coaching staff are Victoria Ault, Jim Foley, Mike Jalbert, Alison McCarthy and Tim Spinney.
St. Mary’s opens the season next Friday (Dec. 13), with a home game against Williams at 6:30 p.m.
“The kids stuck together from the minute we lost together (to Hoosac Valley in last year’s Division 3 state championship game) through now,” Newhall said. “They’ve really kept it together. We’ll miss those four seniors from last year. But from day one I felt a cohesiveness that takes a little bit of time for other teams to develop. I’m hopeful that’s a sign of good things to come.”