NORTH ADAMS -- Strong play from a team's reserve players can go a long way toward forming a championship contender.
The ability to rotate 10 and 11 players consistently into the game has been a huge factor in the success of the Drury girls' basketball team this season. It's sure to be a big part of the game plan as the Blue Devils prepare for Thursday's Western Massachusetts Division II semifinal against Wahconah.
Freshman Olivia Carlson has seen some big minutes for the Blue Devils this season. None were bigger than the minutes she played in the quarterfinal victory over South Hadley on Friday night. She collected four rebounds and scored five points while filling in for Emily Moulton, who had four fouls. Carlson's biggest point came with 20 seconds to play when she hit a free throw to make it a three-point game. That margin held up in the 54-51 win.
Carlson has been playing tough for the Blue Devils all season long.
"She played well right from the get go," coach John Franzoni said Monday. "She played well in our [preseason] jamboree and then played very well against Taconic. She's been a big part of our rotation right along. She's also improved right along."
The freshman has scored 43 points in the team's 19 games this season, an average of 2.26. But, that's not her job. Like all of the Blue Devils, Carlson's focus is defense. That and rebounding.
She is fourth on the team in rebounding this season,
"You just have to forget you are a freshman and push back under the boards," Carlson said after Sunday's practice. "This group of girls makes it easy. We're all just a big family."
At 5-foot-10, Carlson matches Garvey and Moulton for the team's tallest player. That makes her the perfect candidate to fill in for either of the two starters. She's also filled in for Tatro on occasion.
"It's such a relief for me and Emily," Garvey said. "I know that if I get in foul trouble or if something happens to Emily, we have strong players coming off the bench.
"We have [Carlson]. And she doesn't play like a freshman. That's for sure."
Drury does allow middle school students to play on the varsity team. However, since Carlson is from Stamford, Vt. she didn't begin attending Drury until this year.
"I was just really excited to play," Carlson said. "I've been watching them play for four years, and I'm just really lucky with our group of girls. They have really accepted me. They make me work hard."
It didn't take long for Franzoni to realize she would be a key part of the team.
"She came right into the tryouts and was just very impressive," Franzoni said.
An open mind and the willingness to always ask questions and learn helped her earn a spot on the team. Carlson is always looking for ways to help the Blue Devils win. Whether that's in a game or during practice, she's happy to help.
"She has been a really key player for our team," junior captain Morgan Lamarre said. "She works hard in practice. She asks the question that a lot of the older kids don't even ask. She works really hard and plays really tough."
Carlson isn't the only player that has Franzoni excited about the future of the Blue Devils. But it's not the future Franzoni is focused on.
Amber Iacuessa, Kasha Wissman and Mackenzie Bona have all contributed as reserves. Megan Benoit has also played big minutes from the bench for Drury. She started nine games this year while Lamarre was out with an injury.
Drury continues its hunt for its first Western Massachusetts title under Franzoni. In his first five seasons as coach, he led his team to the semifinals or finals. This will be the team's first trip back since 2007. The play of his reserves has been a big part of that.
"We have a really strong freshman and sophomore class this year," Franzoni said. "For the second year in a row our J.V. team went undefeated, so we're excited about what these kids can do in the future. Olivia is right there leading the charge."
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