Girls basketball preview: High-powered Northampton looking the part early in 2023-24

Northampton’s Sarah Molnar (2) takes a shot against Amherst in the third quarter of the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off game Friday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

Northampton’s Sarah Molnar (2) takes a shot against Amherst in the third quarter of the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off game Friday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) puts a three-point shot against Amherst in the fourth quarter of the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off game Friday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

Northampton’s Bri Heafey (5) puts a three-point shot against Amherst in the fourth quarter of the Pioneer Valley Tip-Off game Friday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 12-20-2023 12:00 PM

Modified: 12-20-2023 5:08 PM


The Northampton girls basketball team has consistently been a strong program, though they’ve hovered around the .500 mark the last couple of seasons. This year, all early signs point to them surpassing that and being serious contenders when it comes time for the postseason.

It’s been five seasons since the Northampton girls basketball team started 4-0; the last time the team pulled that off was in 2018-19. This year, the Blue Devils opened up with wins against Pittsfield, Minnechaug, Amherst and Chicopee, a run made all the more impressive because three of those four games were away from home. So far, head coach Perry Messer has liked what he’s seen. 

“Obviously I know that the kids, the upperclassmen over the last few years have been putting the time and effort in. I knew we had some talent coming in with them and kids have been working out over the course of the last year, getting stronger,” Messer said. “So we expected we're gonna have some success and stuff but we still gotta learn and grow.” 

Basketball is very much a team sport, but good chemistry and experience can go a long way in addition to talent. The upperclassmen on Northampton this year have been playing together for years, and combined with their knack for putting the ball in the net, should be key pieces this season. 

Messer expects seniors Ava Azzaro and Chloe Derby, and junior Bri Heafey to be key contributors, but the list goes on and on when it comes to potential difference-makers on the team. The depth the group has this year is impressive, even though they’ll be missing senior Jordan Hutchins and sophomore Imanni Power-Greene with long-term injuries. 

“Bri and Ava and Chloe, those are the three that should consistently put the ball in the hole for us. (Senior) Sarah Molnar has got a nice shot. I think Sarah’s played extremely well to start the year... as a senior, she's stepping up and leading by example,” Messer said. “And Teagan (McDonald) last year...she did accept the responsibility to play against the best player on the other team.” 

Hutchins is also a senior leading by example, despite her inability to get on the floor during a game. She’s been diligently working through rehab and has been attending every practice, supporting and helping her teammates in whatever way she can. 

The team’s chemistry is part of the reason they’ve had such success early. That’s thanks in part to how long many of them have been playing together. Their ability to know where everyone is on the floor and their teammates’ tendencies has made everyone able to shine when they’re on the court. 

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“Number one, I think the one thing that they've been doing is starting to look for each other, playing the game unselfishly, making the next pass, making the easy pass. When you might see a little bit of a contested shot, they're willing to find the next player, the next pass and make it an easier shot,” Messer said. “So they're playing together, playing for each other and that goes a long ways to being successful, when you aren't worried about who's doing what and you're worried about the end result, good things happen.” 

As much as the offense is keyed in, the defense has been the main reason they’ve picked up wins in their first three games. It’s easy to see on the scoresheet when the offense is contributing, but from Messer’s perspective, the defense has been top-tier to start the season. 

“They buy in on the defensive end on the floor,” Messer said. “They've been working hard on defense, and the young guys have got to learn some of that stuff. But the upperclassmen are setting the tone and I think our first three games we played pretty well defensively. If you do that, you're going to be in games.” 

The season is long and there’s a lot of it left, but if Northampton can keep staying in games, they’re going to be in a good spot in the weeks to come. 

Northampton

COACH: Perry Messer

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Valley League/2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 13-9

ROSTER: SENIORS — Ava Azzaro, Chloe Derby, Jordan Hutchins, Sarah Molnar; JUNIORS – Brianna Heafey, Teagan McDonald; SOPHOMORES – Emmeline Marks, Imanni Power-Greene; FRESHMEN – Neoma Lane, Emme Calkins, Annalise Oravec, Makayla Fydenkevez, Liv Joensen

Amherst

COACH: Erin Klaes

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 17-4

ROSTER: SENIORS –  Raye Hegarty, Zola Higham, Shannon Klaes, Francesca Sloan; JUNIORS – Niyama Adadevoh, Neena Chinappa; SOPHOMORES –  Yairelis Bachand, Rowan Howe; FRESHMEN – Keira Cunniffe, Ursula Lundquist, Aliya Morales-Fernandez

OUTLOOK: It’s looking like it might be a bit of a retooling year for Amherst. Erin Klaes stepped in as the team’s new head coach, and the squad graduated important seniors including Tessa Kawall, Audrey Bowen and Sara Hastie, among others. They’ve gotten off to a rougher start this season, dropping their first three contests against South Hadley, Frontier and Northampton. 

The team will lean on their entire senior class for leadership on and off the court, and will look to players like Zola Higham specifically for scoring. Both Shannon Klaes and Francesca Sloan have also stepped up early offensively, as well as junior Niyama Adadevoh. 

Belchertown

COACH: Jason Woodcock

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Central/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-11

ROSTER:  SENIORS – Laura Cote; JUNIORS – Chloe LaRoche, Logan Moses, Gianna Picardi; SOPHOMORES – Alexa Karabetsos, Isabel Moreau; FRESHMEN – Avery Cooper, Morghan Litz, Aubrey McCin, Lia Pikul, Isabella Vozzella

OUTLOOK: The Orioles are looking to improve on a state tournament appearance last season, and they have good news on that front – leading scorer Chloe LaRoche is back with another year of experience under her belt. 

It’s a younger team for the Orioles this year – they’ll have just one senior, Laura Cote, and half of the team are freshmen.

Easthampton

COACH: Brian Miller

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin West/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 18-3

ROSTER: SENIORS — Kayley Downie, Sophia Faginski; JUNIORS – Shelby Clark, Addison Barr, Grace Pappadellis, Veronica Rapoza, Christine Raymond; SOPHOMORES – Kyleigh Dorman, Madison Urban, Samone Young; FRESHMEN – Camilla Corsello

OUTLOOK: The Eagles are in an interesting spot this season. They only lost three seniors last season, but those three players – Lauren Morse, Maria Belfakih and Jessica Cloutier – were integral to their team. 

That said, they have a pair of seniors in Kayley Downie and Sophia Faginski who were both 150-plus point scorers last season. Those two will be crucial members of the team this year. Eight of the 12 players on the team are also returners, bringing valuable experience that should keep the Eagles in a good spot. 

Last year the Eagles got to the Class B Western Mass. semifinals and the Round of 16 in the MIAA Division 4 tournament. They’ll be looking to match or better that performance this season. 

Frontier

COACH: Dave Machon

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin North/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 13-8

ROSTER: SENIORS — Molly Gates, Hailey Hutkoski; JUNIORS – Claire Kirkendall, Olivia Machon, Ashley Taylor; SOPHOMORES – Whitney Campbell, Macy DeMaio; FRESHMEN – Jazzy Hayes, Harper Modestow, Abby Schreiber, Skyler Steele

OUTLOOK: Though the Redhawks lost their leading scorer from last season, Kylie Laford, Frontier has shown no signs of slowing down this season. 

The Redhawks are off to a hot 4-0 start, including a dynamite 39-31 victory over Amherst on the road. The team returns power forward Hailey Hutkoski along with junior guard Claire Kirkendall, who are expected to anchor the team as they look to keep their momentum going. 

They’re also getting contributions from everywhere in the lineup – a pair of freshmen, Skyler Steele and Harper Modestow, are currently the second and third top scorers on the team, followed closely by sophomore Whitney Campbell. 

Gateway

COACH: Elijah Robbins

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County North/5 

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 5-10 

ROSTER: SENIORS — Kyleigh Bilodeau, Alexi Bonenfant, Kaitlyn Maynard; JUNIORS – Amy Fisk; SOPHOMORES – Rylan McCaul, Eliza Mueller, Anna Niles, Lily Peloquin, Grace Renault; FRESHMEN – Ella DeMoss, Addison Green, Charlotte Hansen; Eighth grader – Tricia Thieme

OUTLOOK: The Gators are already just two wins away from tying their total from last season, racing off to a 3-0 start this year. 

Gateway graduated just two seniors last year, and the majority of their team are returners. Though last year’s leading scorer Alexandra Henrichon isn’t on the team this year after transferring over to Hampshire, the Gators haven’t had any trouble scoring with senior Kaitlyn Maynard and sophomore Anna Niles. 

If they can keep up the defensive energy that’s been helping them early in the season, Gateway could have a strong year in the Tri-County League North. 

Granby

COACH: Megan Szlosek

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin West/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 3-17 

ROSTER: SENIORS — Sophia Gagnon, Grace Roy; JUNIORS – Mabel Carillon, Cassandra Flaherty, Autumn Sicard; SOPHOMORES – Kaitlyn Curran, Mylin Laliberte, Aubrey Parent; FRESHMEN – Brenna Moreno, Eleanor Szlosek, Kalli White

OUTLOOK: Last season, Granby didn’t win its first game until Jan. 27, well into the new year. This year’s team didn’t need quite that long; it’s currently on a three-game win streak with victories over Mount Everett, Hopkins and Ware.

Both wins have been within a six-point difference, gutsy victories that show the potential that this year’s Rams team has to win tight games. 

Junior Autumn Sicard and sophomore Aubrey Parent have led the way on offense, but the entire team has been chipping in when needed. They’ve already matched last year’s three-win total, and it looks like Granby could be on its way to a much improved season. 

Hampshire

COACH: Sydney Cloutier

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 7-15

ROSTER: SENIORS — Emma Allyn, Alice Jenkins; JUNIORS – Alyssa Colon-Garcia, Julianne Moro, Destiny Saltis, Kat Simmons, Mary Thibault; SOPHOMORES – Jayden Hamel, Alex Henrichon, Makayla Labrie; FRESHMEN – Addie Miklasiewicz, Shayne Moynahan

OUTLOOK: It’s a young contingent leading the way for the Raiders this season. 

Two freshmen are leading the offense for Hampshire in Shayne Moynahan and Addie Miklasiewicz. Despite the youth, both Moynahan and Miklasiewicz are seasoned veterans on Hampshire; the 2023-24 campaign will be their third year with the team. 

Hampshire also picked up Alex Henrichon, who led Gateway in scoring last season and who’s been contributing secondary scoring early along with junior Destiny Saltis. 

Holyoke

COACH: Andrea Enright 

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Valley League/2 

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 13-8

ROSTER: SENIORS – Victoria D'Amico, Jaylaness Santiago, Nayshalee Torres, Amilyan Treadwell-Mercedes; JUNIORS – Tryanna Ayala, Kylie Blaha, Evangeline Cauley, Xenedy Jacobs; SOPHOMORE – Jayviana Dejesus, Kiara Perez; FRESHMEN –  Jaelyn Colon, Jaylyana Lozada, Genesis Rivera

OUTLOOK: Last year’s Holyoke team relied primarily on three players to score – seniors Bianca Ortiz-Cordero, Ashley Vazquez and Amilyan Treadwell-Mercedes. Those three players combined for 1,034 points between them a year ago.

Ortiz-Cordero and Vazquez are both gone, leaving a pair of gaping holes that Treadwell-Mercedes and her teammates will try to fill. It’s going to be a learning curve, evident by their 0-4 start to the season, but Holyoke still has players able and willing to step up this season. Sophomore Kiara Perez has looked strong early and could serve as a good complement to Treadwell-Mercedes this season. For now, at least, the Purple Knights are focused on getting that first W. 

Hopkins

COACH: Amy Cyr

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Franklin North/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 7-13

ROSTER: SENIORS — Jessica Campbell, Cassidy Fyden, Cassidi Mushenski; JUNIORS – Margaret Potter; SOPHOMORES – Chloe Kosciusko; FRESHMEN – Nora Dowd, Cora White; EIGHTH GRADERS – Morgan Augustin, Anna Conklin, Laney Crutch, Olivia Earle, Juliana Eichenlaub, Kiely Kinchla

OUTLOOK: The Golden Hawks are extremely young this season – nearly half of their roster are eighth graders, and three-quarters of the team are underclassmen. Pair that with a tough schedule to start the season and it’s going to be a steep learning curve for the new players on the team. 

Losing Kasey Earle, Chloe Jekanowski and Sadie Cyr hurts Hopkins offensively, but a couple of X factors will be seniors Cassidi Mushenski and Jessica Campbell, who are both returning to the team after a couple of years off and could provide a good boost to the young squad. 

PVCICS

COACH: Sean Ho 

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County South/5 

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 1-17

ROSTER: SENIORS –  Lydia Allen, Macy Campbell, Azalais Capitaine, Sarah Nicolson, Mahri Hayden, Tanaiya Davis, Nina Zorzi; JUNIORS – Amirah Chabi-Yo; SOPHOMORES – Isabella Cestero, Abigail Nicolson, Emma Vasovic; FRESHMEN – N/A 

OUTLOOK: The Dragons have matched their win total from last season with a victory over Westfield Tech, and now will look to improve upon it. 

Expect Amirah Chabi-Yo to be one of the team’s standouts this season. 

Smith Academy

COACH: Dave Zononi

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County North/5 

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 5-15

ROSTER: SENIORS — Emilia Neves, Emma Moynihan; JUNIORS – Caitlin Graves, Piper Higuera, Alexa Jagodzinski, Madison Zononi; SOPHOMORES – Anna Scagel, Emma Tisdell; FRESHMEN – Molly O’Brien, Selena Romero

OUTLOOK: It hasn’t been the easiest of starts for Smith Academy, which is 1-3 to start the season. The Falcons have historically been a team that can score by committee, and they picked up their first win Tuesday against Pathfinder with seven different players scoring points.

Luckily, their top scorers are juniors and sophomores this year, meaning that they’re in a good spot now and will be down the line. Juniors Alexa Jagodzinski and Caitlin Graves and sophomore Anna Scagel have been the team’s top performers so far. 

Smith Voc

COACH: Kristin Marciniec

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Tri-County South/5 

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 8-11

ROSTER: SENIORS — Jayanna Daniels, Annalise Kaczenski, Molly Smith-Eilenberg; JUNIORS – Maggie Lauder, Maggie Sharpe, Makayla Tatro, Caitlin Willard; SOPHOMORES – Natalie Gaudette, Sofia Zina; FRESHMEN – Julianis Suarez

OUTLOOK: The Vikings are looking to improve up to a .500 record this season and earn a state tournament berth, though they’ve dropped their first two contests so far. 

Makayla Tatro has been one of the team’s top performers so far, and will look to lead the offense this season. Losing senior Kora Kelly last season will be a tough blow for the Vikings, but the team also returns Maggie Lauder, the third leading scorer from last season. 

South Hadley

COACH: Paul Dubuc

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 14-8

ROSTER: SENIORS — Drew Alley; JUNIORS – Ava Asselin, Sophia Butler, Caitlyn Dean, CC Gurek, Maddie Soderbaum; SOPHOMORES – N/A; FRESHMEN – Taylor Bullough, Cara Dean, Kate Phillips

OUTLOOK: South Hadley lost just two seniors last year, but they were two incredible seniors – Alex Jackson and Kacie Levreault. Filling those shoes won’t be easy, but head coach Paul Dubuc is confident in his group to continue to play South Hadley’s classic brand of basketball – strong defense that will limit its opponents opportunities. 

This is also a junior-heavy team, with just one senior, Drew Alley, on the roster this year. The Tigers are a team that often scores by committee. Freshman Cara Dean is off to a fantastic start offensively, but every other player on the roster can put the ball in the basket; six players have cracked double-digits in scoring so far. 

The Tigers are 2-2 to start the year, but lost those two games to Chicopee Comp and Hoosac Valley by just an average of five points.