The Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ basketball team finished the 2017-18 season with an eight-year best 13-9 record.
Trust the process.
For the Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ basketball team, that’s the perfect motto.
With a roster that consisted of just two seniors to complement six juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen, the Panthers boasted an eight-year best 13-9 record and cracked the tournament for the second straight season. But, back in Division 1 South for the first time since 2012 due to realignment, 11th-seeded W-H bowed out to sixth-seeded Wellesley, 46-37, in the first round.
“The most important goal we start with each year is qualifying for the state tournament,” fifth-year W-H head coach Jenna Olem said. “So, in that aspect we met a very important goal.”
W-H opened the winter red-hot, winning its first seven contests – highlighted by a 67-64 double-overtime season-opening victory over Bridgewater-Raynham, a 60-57 win at Silver Lake and a 3-0 trip to Florida which resulted in a tournament title.
“We got off to a hot start for whatever reason,” Olem said. “[It] could’ve been strength of schedule [or] new players kind of just playing without a conscious.”
But, the return trip home, which began with a 56-38 loss to Duxbury, wasn’t as kind for the Panthers as both B-R (67-47) and Silver Lake (66-52) defeated them comfortably the next time around.
“When you start seeing league teams or teams for a second time, everyone has made adjustments,” Olem said. “Most teams have gotten much better from when you see them in early December.”
But, despite the second-half struggles, the Panthers remained upbeat, improving on the little things. They finally nailed down their 11th win – to clinch a spot in the postseason – with a 51-36 triumph over Pembroke and in their second match against Duxbury, they held the Dragons to 40 points in a four-point loss.
“It was just important to stay focused and stay positive each day,” Olem said. “To play present was also a point of emphasis. No season goes by without having to withstand some adversity.”
The Panthers were often buoyed on both ends of the court by their junior captain and Patriot League All-Star duo of Kathryn Dunn and Erin Leahy.
Dunn averaged a team-high 11.3 points, 1.9 assists and 1.8 steals and was second with 5.7 rebounds per game.
“She is our most reliable scorer,” Olem said of Dunn. “Kathryn plays very level-headed. She never gets too high or too low. I think a real underrated aspect of her game is her ability to defend great players and crash the boards. She is such a tough kid and seems to be involved in every play.”
Leahy, whose 2016-17 season came to an abrupt end after she sustained a torn ACL in W-H’s tournament clincher, led the Panthers on the boards, averaging 8.5 and ranked second with 9.0 points, 1.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
“To not have played in one basketball game, while most every varsity player plays all offseason, and then come out and play every night and go hard every practice is very admirable,” Olem said. “I think next year, Erin will be able to play much more freely and I have a strong feeling that because she will now be able to work on her entire game over the off-season she will have a great year for us.”
The Panthers also received significant contributions in spurts from freshmen Reese Codero (10 points Dec. 19 vs. North Quincy) and Rylie Harlow (seven points Dec. 21 vs. Hanover), sophomores Brittany Gacicia (nine points Feb. 8 vs. Plymouth North) and Olivia Martin (22 points Feb. 15 vs. Quincy) and juniors Leah Badger (seven second-half points Feb. 6 vs. Pembroke), Anna O’Neill (14 points Jan. 23 vs. Plymouth South) and Olivia Johnson (nine points Jan. 23 vs. Plymouth South).
“I thought everyone made solid progress and jumped up to another level this season,” Olem said.
Olem also lauded her two seniors and quad-captains – Halle Julian and Alyssa Nicholson – for assisting the Panthers’ transition to a significantly younger team than the year prior when they had five seniors.
“Halle and Alyssa are great kids,” Olem said. “They did a great job keeping everyone together and keeping everyone positive all season long.”
Olem said she fully expects the Panthers to take another step forward next winter.
“I think the girls all got a taste of what it means to be a successful team, what it means to work hard, and the importance of doing the little things on the floor,” she said. “In the offseason, I know most of my players play together in summer league, summer tourneys, and fall league as well as on other AAU teams. I expect everyone to take a big jump next year because they had a ton of experience this year.”