When the Oliver Ames girls' basketball team takes the floor Tuesday night at Nixon Gymnasium in their season opener against Sharon, they'll try not to buy into the hype.
It won't be easy.
The defending Davenport Division Champions return all but two players from a team that went 18-5 and advanced to the South-Sectional Semi-Finals a year ago.
"We’ve got to be careful and be mindful of what we need to do as a group and not let the outside influence us," OA head coach Elaine Clement-Holbrook said after a scrimmage against Braintree last week. "That’s what we need to do is just play at our absolute best."
At their best, the Tigers will be hard to handle for any team in the Hockomock League and beyond. With experienced starters and a deep bench, Clement-Holbrook says the Tigers, who won the Div. 2 State Championship in 2006 and 2010, will have more depth than they have had "in a long time."
OA returns senior captains Candace Steadman and Emily Romans, along with junior point-guard Asia Mitchell and the versatile scoring ability of junior Caitlyn Abela. They will also look for significant contributions from a slew of players like Kristen Ellis, Lexi Gold, Allie Brennan and Lindsay McNiece.
"I see Asia [Mitchell] stepping into a role where she has to be a floor general," Clement-Holbrook said. "Caitlyn Abela - she is someone who can score. Even as a sophomore she was someone who could score. Lexi Gold has stepped up in terms of adding another post presence. She’s a senior and has another year under her belt. Kristen Ellis has also done a tremendous job in the pre-season."
Holbrook also said to keep an eye on sophomore Kate Holloran, who will add to the Tigers versatility with her ability to play point guard, shooting guard - and even small forward.
Romans and Steadman have stepped in as captains, replacing former captains Jocelyn Paul and Nicole Bostic - the only two players OA will lose from last year's roster.
Clement-Holbrook said Steadman and Romans' leadership abilities, along with a solid core returning, have led to strong team chemistry.
"Candace and Emily know what goes into becoming a leader and in the off-season they were terrific," she said. "They really grew into their jobs.
"It makes a huge difference in terms of a learning curve. We’ve had a really long pre-season and its been really helpful that these kids remember a lot from last year. We’ve just got to get better at it."
"Getting better" involves boxing out and playing solid defense, the coach said - something the Tigers need to do in order to use their size, strength and athleticism to their advantage. With front-court players like Steadman, Gold, Ellis, and Allie Brennan, its unlikely that teams will be able to match-up in the post.
Clement-Holbrook said after scrimmaging Braintree that rebounding was something the Tigers needed to work on.
"We’ve got to make sure we use [our size] to our advantage," she said. "I was a little disappointed tonight with our lack of boxing out. With that kind of size there should be very little rebounds to be had, and Braintree had their way with us because we were out of position."
Doing the little things right will be needed for the Tigers to best last season's mark and advance in the state tournament, Clement-Holbrook said. But for now, they're staying focused on what is immediately ahead of them - beginning with Sharon Tuesday night.
"We’re going to take it one at a time," she said. "I don’t want to take anything beyond what we’re doing at this moment."
OA Girls' Basketball Quick Facts
Head Coach: Elaine Clement-Holbrook
Captains: Candace Steadman, Emily Romans
Key Returnees: Steadman, Romans, Mitchell, Abela, Gold, Ellis, Brennan, McNiece
Key Losses: Nicole Bostic, Jocelyn Paul
- Dec. 20 vs. Sharon
- Dec. 22 vs. Duxbury
- Dec. 27 Rivard Tournament
- Jan. 2 @ Duxbury
- Jan 6 vs. Stoughton
- Jan 10 @ Franklin
- Jan 13 vs. Mansfield
- Jan 17 @ Canton
- Jan 20 @ Foxboro
- Jan 24 vs. North Attleboro
- Jan 27 @ King Philip
- Feb 1 @ Attleboro
- Feb 3 @ Sharon
- Feb 7 @ Stoughton
- Feb 10 vs. Canton
- Feb 14 vs. Foxboro