It’s been five seasons since the Drury girls’ basketball team has been to the Curry Hicks Cage. But that’s a distant memory. That could all change come March.
"The last five years have really hammered it home how tough it is to get there," coach John Franzoni said. "We’ve had some close calls in the quarterfinals, but our goal this year is to try and earn a home game in that round and battle our way to get down there."
The Blue Devils return four starters off last year’s team that put them right at the top of the conversation in the battle for the North Division this season.
Senior Danielle Racette is back for her fourth varsity season. She’ll be running the show again from her point guard position. Ali Tatro and Shannon Garvey are the other two seniors, and both are returning starters. Garvey will play the 4, while Tatro will play the No. 3 spot.
The other returning starter is junior Morgan Lamarre, who will play in the No. 2 spot. All four are captains.
"I think with those four kids, our goals are certainly to get [to the Cage] and compete for it," Franzoni said. "If we don’t, we’ll be disappointed."
The fifth starter is slated to be Emily Moulton. She’s taking the place of Mariah Ferrara, who graduated. But it’s not a straight swap. Ferrara was a small, 5-foot-2 guard with an outside shot. Moulton is a 5-10 forward that can haul in the rebounds. That gives Drury three girls in the starting five that stand at least 5-9 to play in the paint.
Franzoni said the team needs to improve its rebounding from a season ago. Having that size should help.
"Right now we’re going with a little bigger lineup," he said. "We always talk about playing bigger and now we are bigger, so we got to continue to play bigger. They still got to work hard to get those rebounds because ... we know the competition out there is getting better and we have to make sure we’re getting better too."
Franzoni also has the ability to coach on more advanced tactics because the majority of the team is so experienced, both on the court and with each other. The Blue Devils play nearly year-round with each other in various leagues, which has brought them close.
The one place Franzoni thinks he’ll be able to use that to his advantage is on the defensive end.
"I think if you change on teams, you can hopefully keep them off balance, but you want to be very good at those things," he said. "I think when you have a veteran group that communicates so well with each other, you can look to change your defense a little more and see how the other team reacts to it."
Junior Megan Benoit and freshman Olivia Carlson will be the first ones off the bench. Benoit will spell the guards and Carlson will give the taller girls a breather.
After that, there’s Kasha Wissman, Mackenzie Bona and Amber Iacuessa, all of whom are juniors.
"The good thing about our team is we got 10 players that can all play," Franzoni said.
But in order to reach the ultimate goal -- a Western Mass. championship -- the Blue Devils can’t waste any opportunities. They are playing two fewer games than everyone else again, which means each game is a little bit more important.
"That first five-game stretch is pretty tough," Franzoni said. "You look at those 18 games on our schedule, there’s no breathers. It’s going to be important to win some early games, get some confidence, get those young kids in the rotation and see how we can grow as the season goes on."