Defending Champ OA Girls' Basketball Team Looks to Continue Legacy in 2010 Season
The Tigers will feature a new cast from last year, but the tradition is still there.
The Oliver Ames girls' basketball team made history last year. After dropping its first game to Foxboro, they won 25 straight en route to a State Championship.
But this is a new season and the new-look OA Tigers have a very young squad. Six of the first seven players in last year's rotation were seniors; Lauren Battista, Jackie Bliss, Tessa Dern, Taylor Horne, Sarah Hurley and Lauren Vatalaro. While Battista earned much of the attention, Coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook stressed how important this group was as a unit.
"Those kids never complained and were so unselfish." Clement-Holbrook explained
There's a lot to be said for chemistry and sacrifice. More often than not, the teams with strong leadership and established roles for the supporting cast are the ones who come out on top. Every piece of the puzzle has to come together at the right time and everyone has to buy into the message and into the legacy of the OA girls basketball tradition.
"Our legacy started with the group that went to the Garden in 2000, and I learned a lot from that experience," Clement-Holbrook said.
That legacy resurfaced in 2006, when Battista and her classmates were just in eighth grade and watching every step of the way from the bleachers. Then in 2010 they had their chance to relive that experience, but on their own terms; they were no longer just watching and dreaming, they were now the ones in the spotlight.
The 2010 squad, and not just the seniors, learned about the hard work and dedication required to take their talents to the next level. They bought into the message of defense, teamwork, and unselfishness. They played against arguably some of the best competition in the state every day in practice. And they learned to focus and commit themselves to each other as they took their journey deep into the tournament.
"This is our legacy, and it is this team's responsibility to pass that message on," said Clement-Holbrook.
Despite only returning Nicole Bostic from their seven player rotation, Coach Holbrook is confident that this is not the typical "rebuilding year."
While the offseason officially began that Sunday after their State Championship in Worcester, the recent try-outs and practices were the first real look at what Coach Holbrook is working with this season.
"They're going to be good; it's just a matter of how hard they are willing to work. You can have a boatload of talent, but without chemistry it won't amount to much."
With a high turnout and competitive try-outs, Coach Holbrook is focused on the fundamentals. She knows what it takes to build a successful unit, and she is starting with the basics now.
"I want to give the kids a fair shake and establish comfortable roles," Clement-Holbrook explained. "I want them to feel comfortable and confident in those roles and then expand their responsibility; then we can build on that."
The focus now is to find the right combinations of people to fit different needs.
Holbrook explained, "We are young, but we have size. I can put in a group to play man-to-man defense, a group that can press, and a big line-up."
Last season was magical and the returnees have the advantage of taking part in that incredible journey. But Coach Holbrook stresses that even though they were members of a State Championship run, they are a very young team. In essence, even though there are familiar faces, this is a very new team: the talent is different, the chemistry is different, and the roles are different. Thankfully, they all are eager to learn, Clement-Holbrook said.
"They need to be given time to put the pieces together," said Clement-Holbrook. "They are sponges right now; they want to learn, and they want to be great."
The girls will be tested early with a contest against a talented Scituate team. Oliver Ames opens its season at Scituate tonight at 6:30 p.m. It will also look forward to a rematch against rival Foxboro, who issued OA it's only loss last season and look to be a strong opponent again this year.
The league is recently realigned into Big School (kelly-Rex) and Small School (Davenport) divisions, which may affect how competitive Oliver Ames' schedule is leading up to the post-season.
"We only play our rivalries, like Franklin and North Attleboro, once. I think we won't get the best competition, but I will try to reserve judgment," Clement-Holbrook said.
While the Hockomock league realignment does not play well into the theme of legacy and tradition, the annual Sue Rivard Holiday Classic will remain, uniting the past and present OA Tiger basketball enthusiasts. Sue Rivard coached Clement-Holbrook in the past and serves as her mentor now. The girls always play in a holiday tournament over Christmas break, but it was typically not at home. Four years ago, with the brand new gym and new facilities completed, Holbrook established the Holiday Classic at OA in Rivard's name to honor her mentor.
While some things have changed, mainly the line-ups and the schedule, the tradition of Oliver Ames Girls Basketball remains. It is just up to this team to own that tradition.
Much of their success will be determined by how well they buy into their new roles and how effectively they transmit the message and legacy of their former teammates.
It helps to have experienced and knowledgeable coaches on the sidelines, Clement-Holbrook said. Assistant Coach Kelly Hurley joined Clement-Holbrook on the sidelines for both the 2006 and 2010 title runs. Junior Varsity Coach Katy Raby is a former player at Bridgewater State and Freshman Coach Kristin Marani (formerly Kristin Scalia) was Clament-Holbrook's point guard when OA went to the Garden in 2000.
Valuable teachers and willing learners make for a very promising starting point. But that's just what it is; a starting point. It is this team's responsibility to take the lessons of the past and make this season their own.
"There's talent in the pipeline," said Clement-Holbrook. "Now, how bad do they want it?"
Girls' Basketball Quick Facts
Last Year's Record: 25-1
Captains: Nicole Bostic, Jocelyn Paul (the only 2 seniors)
Coaches: Elaine Clement-Holbrook (Head Coach), Kelly Hurley (Asst. Coach); Kate Raby (JV Coach), Kristin Marani (Freshman Coach)
Schedule: Open the season at Scituate on Wednesday December 15th at 6:30PM; Home Opener is Friday December 17th against Attleboro.
Other Key Returnees: Juniors - Emily Romans, Candace Steadman, Jen Byron, and Lindsay McNeice Sophomores - Asia Mitchell, Caitlyn Abela, and Allie Brennan
Key Losses from last year's squad: Lauren Battista and the entire senior class (Jackie Bliss, Tessa Dern, Taylor Horne, Sarah Hurley and Lauren Vatalaro)