With very little height but lots and lots of speed, the Tewksbury High girls basketball team figures to rely on an up-tempo style of play this winter.
Junior forward Nicole Chaet, the team's leading scorer in 2010, leads a trio of returning starters who will be called upon to run and gun and keep things moving this winter if the team is going to be competitive in the rough and tumble Merrimack Valley Conference in 2011-2012. Chaet is the team's captain.
Also returning are two sophomores who started as freshman last year, point guard Sara Semenza and center Chelsee Porcaro. Senior guard Sheri Liggiero and senior forward Katie Doherty also return with plenty of experience under their belts.
In terms of height, however, the Redmen will be one of the smaller teams in the MVC, as Porcaro stands in at 5-9, and no one else on the team tops 5-8. The team's tallest player, 5-10 center Kelli Sugrue, a starter last year as a sophomore, has opted to concentrate on volleyball and will not return to the team this season.
But Chaet, who is also an MVC all-conference player in soccer, possesses outstanding athleticism, as does Liggiero, who was all-conference in field hockey. Semenza, a two-year starter on the soccer team and an outstanding performer in outdoor track last spring, brings tremendous quickness to the point guard position.
"My first team is very fast so I think that's going to pose some problems for some teams," fourth-year coach Mark Bradley said. "Most of the points in girls basketball are scored in transition anyway, so we're going to try to emphasize that this year."
Senior guard Katie Doherty, who saw significant playing time as a junior, is a likely starter at the shooting guard position, and junior forward Sam Laferriere will also be in the mix. Doherty was one of the team's top three-point shooters last winter.
"Katie has been shooting the ball well so far and that's going to be important to us," Bradley said. "We have to be able to shoot the three ball this year. We have to make teams defend us outside because that's going to create things for Chelsee inside."
Porcaro will be counted on to lead the team in rebounding and take on some tough defensive assignments as well.
"Her role has stepped up even greater right now (with Sugrue's departure)," said Bradley of Porcaro. "Chelsee's got a lot of basketball ability. She can shoot, she's got soft hands and she's a good dribbler. But she's got to be able to play aggressive post defense for us this year. She's going to be up against the other team's best forwards."
Sophomore guard/forward Shannon Semenza (twin sister of Sara) and senior guard Amanda Cossar will also see varsity playing time. Junior forward Caitlyn Morris, junior guard Melissa Peters and sophomore forward Nicole Hamel are the top candidates to round out the varsity roster.
Bradley hopes the team can carry some of the momentum it built last season into this year's schedule. After losing 10 out of their first 11 games a year ago, the Redmen won six out of their last eight games and finished the season 7-15 overall. Tewksbury qualified for state tournament play last winter, and finished the season with a strong showing in the St. Mary's Tournament.
TMHS opens the season against one of the top teams in the state, hosting Central Catholic on Monday. The Redmen will also play in the Melrose Christmas Tournament again this year.
"We've got a tough schedule," Bradley said. "And there are no easy teams in the MVC. But I'm excited. The girls have all been responding really well. Every day we get out there we're getting better and better. We're starting to bring it all together."