Prospect Hill Academy Lady Wizards CHAMPIONS

  
 

Photos by Correen Demers

By Sara Harris

 

U Mass Boston’s Clark Athletic Center was alive with drama and excitement as soon as the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers Huskies (20-3) and the Prospect Hill Academy Lady Wizards (18-0) arrived for the 11th Annual Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization Girls’ Basketball Championship Game this past Friday night. Both teams kicked off the tournament the week before as the #1 seeds and undefeated in their leagues—EMK at 12-0 in MCSAO’s Division II and PHA at 12-0 in MCSAO’s Division I. As the home team based upon “tie breakers” the Huskies from the Fenway area of Boston chose to wear their menacing black uniforms with piercing red and white trim. The Kennedy squad marched into the Clark Athletic Center as a team on a mission, dropped off all of their non-essentials behind their bench and then assembled under their basket. The Huskies kicked off their pre-game warmup with a drill that required them to glide energetically around their side of the court in disciplined precision—loudly chanting “defense, defense, defense”, causing their followers to go wild and the Prospect Hill supporters to go silent.  

On the other end of the court, the Lady Wizards dressed in white uniforms went about their business with noticeably less intimidation, exactness, energy and enthusiasm—some shooting, some dribbling and a few just standing around chatting with each other. Shortly thereafter, PHA would begin a more organized team warmup. However, at no time could one notice a Prospect Hill player looking down the court at the Huskies’ entourage. While all this was happening, the Lady Wizards head coach, Brian Harris, sat with Correen Demers—one of his assistants and a former player for him—in the first row of the spectator stands, opposite the team benches and just off the court from his players warming up. They sat there relaxed eating popcorn. Eventually, after more spectators arrived, Harris and Demers moved over to his team’s bench area passing the scorer’s table where coach gave the popcorn to his managers to finish.

Just before tip-off, came the time for the introduction of starting players and coaches from both teams. The Huskies were announced without incident. Not so for the Lady Wizards. All PHA coaches’ and four of the five starters’ names rang out over the public address system. However, Fabiana Paul, their starting Sophomore small forward, was accidentally but noticeably left out. This would be the last time in the championship contest that Paul would be left out of anything—especially on defense. She started the game controlling the weak-side block to corner area in the Lady Wizard’s stifling zone defense. She then moved out to cover 1-on-1 Ana Marcelin, a Senior small forward and shooting guard and the leading scorer in Division II while PHA’s other four players continued to play zone. When Paul needed a break or the coaches wanted to mix it up a little, fellow Sophomore, Sara Merina, would step in and accept the challenge of covering Marcelin. Both players complemented each other to give Marcelin all that she could handle on both ends of the court inside and outside of the key. Paul a nd Merina would be called into service to be the “shut down” 1-on-1 defender for the game because Prospect Hill would be without the services of their Junior defensive specialist and the team’s “Defensive Player of the Year, Marley Durham.

Marcelin, averaging 19.6 points per game during the season and 24 points per game during the tournament, would be held to 10 points in the first half leading all players on both teams in scoring. But, Marcelin would get these points shooting below 30% from the floor and playing all 16 minutes of the half. Marcelin came into the game logging under 10 minutes per half and shooting over 60% from the floor. EMK had the leading scorer at half time. But, Prospect Hill had the lead—23-16—behind 11 points from their back court guard tandem of Junior Agar Felix and Freshman Ashley Cadet, supported by 8 points from Kaleesha Joseph, the Freshmen center. Joseph would only play limited minutes in the first half because of some pain in her knee. When Joseph was out, the Lady Wizards would rely on Sarah Blaise, a Senior, and Imani Dottin, a Sophomore, to control the defensive middle and prevent any easy scoring by the Huskies.

There were long moments during the tournament title game, both early and late, where play by both teams resembled a tag-team wrestling match more than a basketball contest. This did not bother the Lady Wizards. Solid for Prospect Hill in this type of game, especially in rebounding on both sides of the court, were Niah Carvalho, a Senior starting forward and Tracy Beauvois, a Junior reserve who would back up both the power and small forward positions. Joseph would play much of the second half and finished the game with 12 rebounds, Carvalho added 7 rebounds. Beauvois, playing her best game of the year only scored 4 points. However, she controlled the glass leading all rebounders on both teams with 15. More importantly, all PHA front court players routinely irritated the Huskies holding them far below their team’s 31 rebounds per game average. The Lady Wizards forced Marcelin, who was the Huskies leading rebounder in addition to being their leading scorer, to attempt to operate outside of the key most of the game. Marcelin would be held to 5 points in the second half—finishing the game with 15 points—a total below her season and well below her tournament averages. The Huskies’ second and third leading scorers, Tyalie Campbell and Ashlee Montgomery, would also be held below their averages—scoring only 7 and 5 points respectively. Also, Kennedy’s second leading rebounder, Junior forward Mary Sheard would fouled out of the game in frustration early in the second half. PHA outscored EMK in the second half 20-11 to secure a 43-27 victory.

The Prospect Hill Lady Wizards’ triple threat of Felix, Cadet and Joseph collectively poured in 19 points in the first half and added 18 points in the second to finish with a combined total of 37 points. Separately, Felix and Joseph scored 11 points each. Cadet had 15 points to tie Marcelin for game high scoring honors. As a team, the Prospect Hill crew averaged 49 points per game during the tournament. More impressively as a team during the playoff run, the Lady Wizards held their opposition to an average of under 30 points per game.

At the end of the championship affair, Felix, Cadet and Joseph were announced to be 2015-2016 MCSAO Division I League All-Stars and Coach Harris received the MCSAO Division I “Coach of the Year” award. The three players and the head coach had garnered the same honors at the end of the 2014-2015 season.

Harris had previously taken 16 teams from Somerville High School to post-season tournament play in 18 seasons there as head coach. Prior to Somerville, he had accomplished the task with three out of five teams at Arlington Catholic High School. In his four year as the varsity coach at Prospect Hill Academy, Harris’ charges have reached post-season play every year with this being their third straight appearance in the championship game.

Coach Harris attributes his team’s success in this year’s title game to his eating popcorn before the game. He needed to show his players that he was not nervous and they should not be, so pre-game he sat and ate popcorn. This game was a game for which Harris’ players should confidently feel that they were prepared and ready. It may be a big game, but it was just a game. So why be nervous? However, Harris was having trouble convincing himself of this. He actually ate very little popcorn because his stomach was too upset and jittery. But appearances were everything. Actually, the Prospect Hill players’ relaxed pre-game demeanor helped to settle down Harris. According to the coach, the credit for the Lady Wizards’ success in the title game and all year belonged to PHA’s team leaders—especially team captain, Niah Carvalho. Harris boasted during post game festivities “All year long Niah has been hard working, dependable, mature, disciplined and focused. Even when sitting on the bench and agonizing to be on the court playing, Niah has learned to put her ‘team’ before herself. Niah has demanded that her teammates to do the same. I don’t want to soon forget the magnitude of this moment, but next year we could be back here celebrating again if we can find other leaders like Niah and our other seniors, Sarah Blaise and Karenah Harewood.”  

The team managers finished eating the popcorn for coach. His stomach was the better for it. At the end of the game, the Lady Wizard crowd went wild and stormed the court. Almost everyone directly involved with the team—players, managers and coaches—took pictures with the trophy. Ashley Cadet took the trophy home with her for the weekend. Hopefully, the hardware soon makes it safely back to Prospect Hill Academy. Regardless, the basketball season is over. The Lady Wizards are 19-0 and undefeated. The Lady Wizards are MCSAO Division I regular season champions. The Lady Wizards are 2015-2016 Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization Tournament CHAMPIONS.

   
    
   

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