Hoosac Girls Win WMass With Commitment to 'D'
AMHERST, Mass. — Early in the second quarter of its Western Mass title win, the Hoosac Valley (22-1 overall) girls basketball team turned a steal into a transition hoop to take a nine-point lead.
On the ensuing possession, the Hurricanes trapped a Sabis ballhandler just as she passed midcourt, forcing a floating, cross-court pass resulting in a long 3-point attempt. That shot missed the mark. Hoosac secured the rebound and converted on a layup during its next possession.
About one minute later, an interior blocked shot by Sabis forward Kelsie Jacobs led to a long outlet pass over halfcourt, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to score in transition. Hoosac defenders retreated in time to halt the Sabis' Janaiya Sanchez from advancing past the arc. Sanchez pulled up for a 3-pointer that also landed off target.
All afternoon, the Hurricane girls used various types of pressure defense to force Sabis into long-shot attempts and turnovers en route to a 72-41 victory, a testament to a sound coaching philosophy and the commitment to it made by individual players.
"It's kind of a different style that's been evolving for us the last two years now. It's really been strong," Hoosac coach Ron Wojcik said. "We can go to something else, if we have to, but the kids have really bought into it. That's been the thing. This group of kids have bought into this pressure and this system."
Entering Saturday, the Hurricanes allowed an average of 35.6 points per game in 22 games. In three postseason games, they are holding opponents to 40 ppg, including a 71-41 win over No. 3 Granby in Tuesday's Western Mass semifinal win.
Sabis coach Thomas Campagna said his team's foul trouble was a hindrance early in the game, though he credited a "swarming" Hurricane defense for forcing what he estimated as 27 turnovers in the first half. Wojcik describes his system as simple, but relentless.
"It's just pressure. It's a different kind of style. We press, not just full [court], but three-quarter, half," Wojcik said. "But we don't stop the pressure the whole possession. You're either going to get a quick shot, layup or turnover."
With 5:36 to play before the half, Jen Gale forced a Sabis turnover on the defensive end and dribbled coast-to-coast for a layup to take a 26-14 lead. In the first minute of the second half, Gale was part of a defensive effort that relegated a Bulldog possession of at least 20 seconds exclusively to the perimeter, before causing a steal and converting a layup on the offensive end to extend the Hoosac lead to 16 points.
"We look to run the floor and wear the other team out," Gale said. "Not as many other teams are in as good a shape as we are, so we just like to run."
Even when a Sabis ball-handler saw an opening in the Hurricane defense, it seemed to vanish just as quickly as it came. In the third quarter, Jaliena Sanchez threw a pass to a cutting Chelsea Ako-Brew in the lane, but it was the pressure defense that seemed to force her into putting extra velocity on the ball as it went off the forward's hands and out of bounds as Hoosac players converged in the lane.
Almost all individual efforts by Janaiya Sanchez to assert herself offensively were met staunchly, like when a slippery ball-handling move shook one Hurricane just inside the perimeter, giving her a clear path to the hoop. Disciplined Hoosac defenders blocked a driving layup attempt, maintaining all of its positive momentum moving into the fourth quarter.
When asked what the key is to winning so many of their games by such large margins, junior Emily Rosse said, "definitely our defense."
"We just get turnovers and we swamp them as much as possible. It just gets in their head. Like when we trap, they just don't know what to do, so they pass it around and usually throw it out of bounds," Rosse said.
The No. 1 Bulldogs (19-6 overall) were were held to 41 points or fewer for the third time this season on Saturday, after averaging 48 points per game during their entire season. Not once had Sabis lost by double digits.
The Hurricanes are certain to have their defense tested in the Division 3 state semifinal, scheduled for Tuesday at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield at 2:15 p.m. According to Wojcik, his squad has other styles of defense it can implement. Though, he has no reason to alter a system that has worked so well to date.
"We'll go with it as long as we can. We've kind of made up our mind that we're committed to this," Wojcik said. "And we can adjust. We have different versions of this, too. If someone's beating our more aggressive style, we can, kind of, tone it a little bit and matchup, not so many traps. It's been working for us, so we'll stay with it."