“2017-2018 MCSAO Champion Crowned”

Photos courtesy of Assistant Coach Correen Demers and Team Photographer Fatima Benmimoun

By Katie Harris

This year’s Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization (MCSAO) girls’ basketball season started with 21 schools divided into three divisions—North, Central and South. Any team with as many wins as losses or better during the regular season, regardless of division, would earn a berth in the MCSAO’s end of season championship state tournament. Nine teams qualified for this tournament. The Prospect Hill Academy Lady Wizards (14-1), the North Division regular season champion, qualified as the second seeded team—bested only by Community Charter School of Cambridge (14-0), the Central Division champion and the #1 seed. Additionally, PHA’s only loss this year was a 40-24 setback to Cambridge late in January.

Last year, Community Charter and Prospect Hill entered the tournament as the top two seeds, eliminated all other tournament qualifiers and squared off in the championship game. Community Charter walked away last March as state tournament champion besting Prospect Hill 45-43. Thus, the Lady Wizards had reached the state tournament championship game at the end of the last four MCSAO seasons and only wore the champion’s crown once—at the end of the 2015-2016 campaign.

#9 KIPP Academy (8-5) started this year’s tournament with a first round game at #8 Boston Preparatory Charter (10-6). KIPP, with a 47-18 win, earned a quarter-final date with #1 Community Charter School of Cambridge. The other quarter-final clashes were #7 Foxborough Regional Charter (10-6) v. #2 Prospect Hill Academy, #6 Pioneer Charter School of Science in Saugus (9-3) v. #3 Roxbury Preparatory (12-2) and #5 Academy of the Pacific Rim in Hyde Park (13-4) v. #4 Boston’s Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers (14-4). Postponements due to weather moved all quarter-final games from the University of Massachusetts at Boston to home court games hosted by the four highest seeded teams. Community Charter prevailed 52-40. Prospect Hill eased to a 72-23 win. Roxbury Prep triumphed 70-53. Kennedy won 51-39. The PHA Lady Wizards were led in the quarter-finals by Junior forward Kaleesha Joseph with 31 points and 15 rebounds, Junior floor general Ashley Cadet with 16 points and 8 assists, 7th grade sharp-shooter Mia Mitchell with 9 points and 8th grade forward Raiana Vass with 6 points.

Six days after originally schedule, the semi-finals were held at the Clark Athletic Center on the campus of U Mass Boston. The Lady Wizards were matched against the Roxbury Prep Wolves and the Community Charter Cougars faced off against the Kennedy Academy Huskies. The reigning champs and undefeated Cougars from Cambridge were stunned in overtime by the lower seeded Huskies 50-47. Prospect Hill stayed committed its task at hand despite Junior center Samaya Belizaire-Arrendel fouling out and several players getting into early foul trouble, including Joseph and back-up Senior center Imani Dottin. Most of Prospect Hills’ fouls were created trying to contain Roxbury’s 8th grade daredevil guard Taina Mair who slashed and dashed her way to 23 total points. PHA stayed on course with a 77-51 semi-final win led by Cadet with 39 points and 8 assists and Joseph with 29 points and 17 rebounds.

With U Mass Boston again unavailable, the MCSAO state tournament championship game, which pitted Prospect Hill Academy against Edward M. Kennedy, was moved to KIPP Academy, a neutral site gym in Lynn. This was Prospect Hill’s fifth straight appearance in the title tilt. Kennedy moved out to a stunning early lead of 12-1 on four made three-point shots. In the first half, Prospect Hill could not whittle into this eleven-point lead and was down 24-13 at the half-time buzzer.

Coach Brian Harris and his coaching staff—long-time assistants John Collins, Correen Demers and Katie Harris, together with cousins and first year assistants Tashi and Renay Hamilton—came up with a creative and experimental defensive plan that the team had never practiced. Furthermore, every player, individually and collectively, was asked to commit 100% to the questionable plan. The second half started, the bench continuously chanted “Defense, defense, defense”. Prospect Hill put together a series of defensive stops followed by fast-break lay-ups by several players and made 3-pointers from Cadet and Mitchell. Eight minutes, and three time-outs used by EMK, into the second half, the Lady Wizards had outscored the Huskies 19-4 and were up by four points. When the final buzzer sounded, Prospect Hill (17-1 overall) was on the winning end of a final score of 46-37 led by Cadet with 20 points and Joseph with 17 points.

Five minutes later, Prospect Hill’s five seniors—Fabiana Paul, Semhar Habtom, Imani Dottin, Carla Minoche and Thais Velasquez—stepped up to half court to receive the trophy as 2017-2018 Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Organization State Tournament Champions. Additionally, the team received a plaque designating Prospect Hill the 2017-2018 undefeated MCSAO North Division Champions (10-0). Cadet and Belizaire-Arrendel were recognized as North Division All-Stars. Joseph received hardware as the “Most Outstanding Player” of the North Division for the second consecutive year. Coach Harris collected his fourth award in five years as the North Division “Coach of the Year”.

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2017 – 2018 SCHEDULE & RESULTS

MCSAO — NORTH DIVISION REGULAR SEASON

12/8/17 Excel Academy 71-24 W

12/12/17 @ Edward M. Kennedy61-33 W

12/19/17 @ KIPP Academy49-36 W

12/21/17Pioneer I 45-17W

1/3/18  KIPP Academy50-33 W

1/9/18 Salem Academy  59-21 W

1/12/18 @ MATCH54-20 W

1/17/18 @ Pioneer I  48-13W

1/19/18 Academy of the Pacific Rim  59-17 W

1/22/18 @ Excel Academy  48-26 W

1/26/18 @ Pioneer II  62-36 W

1/28/18 @ Community Charter  24-40 L

1/30/18  @ Salem Academy   48-15 W

2/1/18  Edward M. Kennedy51-47 W  

2/13/18  Pioneer II 76-45 W

MCSAO TOURNAMENT

Quarter Finals

3/5/18 Foxborough Regional72-23 W

Semi-Finals

3/9/18 Roxbury Prep  77-51W

Championship

3/10/18 Edward M. Kennedy 46-37W

OVERALL RECORD      17 – 1

2017 – 2018 ROSTER

PLAYERS

PLAYERS

1Ashley CadetG

2Kaleesha JosephF/G

3Carrie BellG

4Mia MitchellG

5Fabiana PaulF/G

10Ashley FortuneG/F

11Semhar Habtom G

12Raiana VassF

14Haylon CummingsG

15Imani DottinF/C

20N’Yshma LeroyG

21Thais VelazquezG

22Aida GirmaF

23Carla MinocheG/F

30Samiya Belizaire-ArrendelC

STAFF

Athletic Director—Head Coach—Brian Harris

Assistant Head Coach—John Collins

Assistant Coaches—Correen Demers, Tashi Hamilton, Renay Hamilton & Katie Harris

Managers & Scorekeeper—Ashley Richardson, Gesmina Cemesca, Claire Joseph & Teagan Mae Collins

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