By Katie Harris
Photos by Correen Demers
This Friday, March 8, at 6:30 pm, the girls’ basketball state tournament championship game in the Massachusetts Charter School Athletic Association (MCSAO) will be played at the Clark Athletic Center on the campus of the University of Massachusetts in Boston. In this game, this year’s highest seeded team, the Prospect Hill Academy Lady Wizards (19-0) will face off against the third seeded Pirates of the Pioneer Charter School of Science II (16-2) from Saugus. This will be the sixth straight year that Prospect Hill has played in the tournament title game, while the Pirates will appear in the championship for the first time ever.
The Lady Pirates downed Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers (Boston) 54-24 in the quarter-finals, and then squeezed by The Academy of the Pacific Rim (Hyde Park) 47-43 in the semi-finals. On the court, Pioneer is led by junior Angie Batista, MCSAO’s North Division Player of the Year. Batista led the North Division in scoring during the regular season averaging 17.9 points per game. She is supported by five to six other teammates who are capable of scoring in double figures any given night with Norah Kisakya, Salma Ngokila and Maryam Ngokila each already doing this in one of their tournament games.
Prospect Hill Academy overpowered Salem Academy (Salem) in the quarter-finals 75-29 and followed this with a semi-final 76-25 crushing of Match Charter Public School (Jamaica Plain). The Lady Wizards offense depends on scoring from senior guard Ashley Cadet, senior forward Kaleesha Joseph and eighth grade guard Mia Mitchell who finished the 2018-2019 regular season as the North Division’s second, third and fourth leading scorers averaging 16.9, 16.1 and 12.9 points per game respectively.
Additionally, according to Prospect Hill’s coach, Brian Harris, “No player on PHA gets a chance to get on the court to show what she can do offensively until and unless she gives maximum effort and energy committing to individual and team defense.” Complimenting Cadet, Joseph and Mitchell as starters for PHA are senior Ashley Fortune, a forward/guard often assigned to shut down an opponent’s best scorer, and freshman forward Raiana Vass—a solid defender, the team’s second leading rebounder and fourth leading scorer. Supporting the starting five and indispensable in this year’s overall success are other team members— senior N’yshma Leroy (guard), sophomore Kim Esteban (forward) and freshmen Jahnee Balan (guard), Sophia Beckmann (forward), Carrie Bell (guard), Olyva Belizaire-Arrendel (forward) and Noor Saadan (forward/guard).
During the regular season the Lady Wizards were responsible for the Lady Pirates’ only two losses during back to back games against Pioneer in mid-January. According to Harris, “We may have won the games by scores of 63-49 and 39-28, but the Pirates were the only team this year able to physically push us around more than we could push them.” Harris and his assistant coaches—long time bench-mate John Collins and former Somerville High players Tashi Hamilton and Correen Demers—believe that the winner of this year’s tournament clash will not come from comparing stats of the teams or the results of earlier games. Rather, the team that will be crowned champion on Friday will be determined by whichever team that “plays the hardest, plays the smartest, plays as a team and makes the most good decisions.”
(1) Team Picture–Front Row (L to R): Kim, Sophia, Kaleesha, Olivya, Raiana, Noor
Back Row (L to R): Teagan Mae Collins (team manager), Mia, N’yshma, Carrie, Jahnee, Ashley F., Ashley C.
(2) Seniors–Front (L to R): N’yshma, Kaleesha, Ashley F. — Back: Ashley C.
(3) Assistant Coach John Collins & Starting 5–(L to R) Ashley C, Ashley F, Raiaina,,Mia & Kaleesha
(4) Noor, Carrie (with ball) & Sophia (L to R)
(5) Kim defending
(6) Jahnee warming up