AYER – With eight veteran players in its ranks, there is certainly a lot of hype surrounding the Ayer Shirley girls’ basketball team this season. By the looks of early practices, and factoring the success of last year’s team, there are some lofty goals in the program this season, and expectations are for a very successful season on Washington Street.
The Panthers feature 3 seniors and 5 juniors, and all of the juniors have been at the varsity level of the program since they were freshman. With this experience the Maroon and White are far ahead of the curve in getting reacclimated together this basketball season.
“You’re starting in a different place as a coach (with experience),” Ayer Shirley girls’ basketball head coach Corey Phillips said. “You’re building off of what you’ve already done, instead of starting and putting everything in from scratch. I’ve noticed that the first week, I can say things, way easier and they understand it and get why we’re doing it, instead of having to go into detailed explanations.”
Phillips, in his third year as head coach of the varsity, says most of the girls in the program only know his coaching, and with that comes consistency, and a level of comfortability with the style of play. Having played in state playoff games and having won state playoff games, Ayer Shirley has the goals set this season much higher than what most teams aim for. Last season the Panthers lost in the round of 16 of the state tournament to Westport, a game in which Ayer Shirley led in the fourth quarter.
“Last year we tied for the league title, and a couple of the teams in our league are very good,” Phillips said. “So they’re going to be pushing beyond that… We’re pushing for (the season beyond the season), and last year there was a shift (in mentality) that maybe we can win this thing… There’s no moment in a game that’s going to be big for them.”
It will be a brutal schedule to start with six games before Christmas break. The schedule in the beginning doesn’t have any give-me’s, as the Panthers will be challenged early and often before the break.
Ayer Shirley should be well positioned to handle the early gauntlet as they have the right approach to practice, maximizing their efforts with the right attitude and a hunger for coachability.
“Their ability to be coached is night and day for me,” Phillips said. “I can do so much more with them. Coaching details that they’re not getting personally affected by. They’re like ‘give me more, give me more, give me more,’ so that I think is the biggest jump. Because you know the ceiling just gets so much higher when the players let you take them where you want to take them.”
Tess Arakelian is a four year varsity player that is stout on defense, can shoot and attack the rim, and will offer a bit of everything plus quality experience. Ava Murphy is a four year starter, who will return mid-way through the season, but figures to make a big impact upon her return. Murphy scored 11 points per game as a freshman. Ana Montoya didn’t play last year as a junior, but returns as a senior, and will be a force in the paint with sheer toughness.
Emily Churchill will serve as one of the captains as a junior. Churchill leads by example, is tough, and likes to be challenged in practice. She will be the team’s point guard, having played as a freshman, which she developed into after it not being her previous position.
Lauren Reardon is a guard who will guard the best player on the opposing team. Offensively Reardon likes to attack the rim. Both Reardon and Churchill have been starting since their freshman year.
Maleah Figueroa is a natural scorer who is maturing mentally with the game. Scoring has come easy, but now Figueroa is buying into the little things that occur on the court, like defensive responsibilities and understanding the system.
Grace Cormier is the physically strongest player on the team and the definition of her game can be characterized as pure toughness. Taylor New might be the most improved junior on the team from her freshman year. Kelsey Peterson, Lorelei Levy, Aneliese Eberle return to the varsity and have really taken the next step in their development. Kiley Hoeske, Natalie Padilla, and Chasya Wilson are three newcomers to the team looking to build experience.