With a number of key pieces back in the fold, the Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ basketball team is looking to build off its success from last season.
It was a season in which the Panthers boasted 11 wins, their most in five years, and cracked the tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 campaign. However, W-H will have its hands full trying to fill the shoes of four integral pieces from that run in three-year starter and two-year captain Taylor McVeigh, three-year starters and 201617 captains, Sophie O’Brien and Sarah Saccardo, and spot-starter Chloe Roberts, all of whom have graduated.
“In general, they will be a tough unit to replace more for the character, heart and leadership they brought every day than anything else,” fifth-year Panther head coach Jenna Olem said. “Their work ethic and accountability was such a big key to our success.”
But there will be no dwelling on what has been lost, as W-H seems to be in good hands going forward. Captaining this season’s club are juniors Kathryn Dunn and Erin Leahy, and seniors Halle Julian and Alyssa Nicholson.
Dunn, who moved into the starting lineup about a quarter of the way through last season, brings a lot to the table on both ends of the floor.
“She is another player that can play and defend so many positions,” Olem said. “Her ability to get to the basket and finish through contact will be huge for us this year. She never hesitates to hit the floor and consistently make those important hustle, momentumchanging plays for us.”
Leahy pumped in 7.3 points per game, snatched 6.4 rebounds per game and dished out 2.6 assists per game in 17 contests as a starter last season before going down with a torn ACL in early February. She initially wasn’t expected to be back until midseason, but looks good to go, which is a breath of fresh air for the Panthers.
“We will obviously be cautious with her until we feel she is fully ready, but there are no limitations,” Olem said. “Erin’s length, size, athleticism, speed and basketball IQ are what makes her such as special player. Her ability to play and defend all five positions makes it possible for us to flexible with our rotations. Once she starts hitting outside shots with more consistency, it will be very hard for teams to stop her.”
As for Julian and Nicholson, this will be their first season inserted into the starting lineup, and both are expected to contribute big minutes down low.
“Halle [Julian], again, has incredible quickness and athleticism for someone her size,” Olem said. “She is a natural shot blocker and great rebounder.
“Alyssa [Nicholson] has shown she can be a game changer when she is isolated in the post and can score consistently from underneath. She also alters every shot on the defensive end when her hands are up and active on defense.”
As Olem adjusts to her new lineup, she has made a change in the Panthers’ offensive game plan. Over the past couple of seasons a major part of W-H’s offense has been predicated on pounding the ball into the post, which is something the team will be trying to stray from.
“[We are] trying to spread out the offense a little bit with five-out or four-out sets,” Olem explained. “A lot of our offense will come directly off of our fast break, which has looked really good already. We have many players that can play a variety of positions with their length and speed.”
However, something that will not be changing is what W-H prides itself on the most, and that is being a defensiveminded team. Last season the Panthers had the ability to suffocate opposing offenses on any given night, as they allowed just a tick over 43 points per contest, and Olem said she absolutely expects the same level of play on the defensive end of the floor this winter.
“Defense is the most important aspect of our game simply for the fact that defense gives you the opportunity to win every game, especially on nights when the shots aren’t falling” she said. “We continue to have a lot of the same philosophies using different presses, match up trapping zones, and man to man.”
W-H will open the season on Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. with a home game against Bridgewater-Raynham.
“While we suffered a heartbreaking loss in the first round of the tournament and it was the end of the seniors great run they put together, I honestly think we are set up for long-term success with the young kids we have in the program that are not only great athletes, but have a lot of basketball experience and high playing IQ,” Olem said.