WESTFIELD – Watch out Lady Huskies (UConn), the Westfield 6th grade girls are closing in!
After capping off their 2017-2018 Suburban and CYO seasons with championship wins this past weekend, this core group of girls has now won 54 consecutive games dating back to last summer.
While they are realistically only about halfway to Connecticut’s 111 wins in a row, Westfield’s strong play is starting to draw attention nonetheless.
“I’ve had more than one opposing coach tell me this season that their mission is to beat us”, said John DeLand, CYO head coach and Suburban assistant coach. “And that makes it a lot of fun when you know the other teams are bringing their best efforts and game plans when they face us.”
Likewise, Westfield head coach on the Suburban side, Patrick Strange, began his Suburban Championship post game speech Sunday evening by praising the competition from Chicopee.
“I want to thank these girls and coaches from Chicopee who played a great game and for continually pushing us all season long,” coach Strange said.
Push them they did, closing to within six points early in the second half before Westfield starting point guard Lexi Sanchez drained a three pointer to put the Bombers up 34-25.
Westfield never looked back, pulling away for a 46-32 victory in front of a packed gym at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. Westfield forward Lindsey DeLand led all scorers with 17 points and fellow forward Gianna Strange added 14, including three 3-pointers. Sanchez had six points in total and Ali LaPanne, Emma Goodreau, and Abby Dorunda chipped in for nine more.
One day earlier, Westfield finished off its Western MASS CYO season with a 43-23 win against the MIGS from Springfield. That win, Saturday, in front of a loud full house at St Mary’s Academy in Longmeadow, completed the girls’ 15-0 CYO Division 1 season.
In Saturday’s championship game, Westfield jumped out to an early 16-2 lead and used strong defensive play from Paige Hutkoski, Ava Pedersen, and Jahneesa Armstead to protect the lead the rest of the way. Westfield’s front court starting trio of DeLand, Strange, and LaPanne combined for 28 points and their guards chipped in 15 more from Sanchez (8 points), Eliza Burger (3), and Aavry Albert (2) and Alejandra Strange (2).
The win streak began back in summer ball, on the outdoor courts in Wilbraham. Westfield went undefeated in the summer heat and beat Belchertown 29-8 in the finals.
Westfield started off its 2017-18 winter season campaign by sweeping through the West Springfield and Wilbraham tournaments which included title wins against Pittsfield and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish (Springfield). They then embarked on their Suburban and CYO regular season play, which saw them play nearly 40 games over a three-month span.
While playing in two Division 1 leagues arguably lets Westfield see the best competition that the Pioneer Valley has to offer and, with that being said, not every win came easily. Back in December, down eight points with under three minutes to play in enemy territory to an aggressive Tantasqua team, the Whip City girls closed the gap to two with 40 seconds to play, and after a Tantasqua free throw, Gianna Strange saved the day with a 3-pointer as time expired in regulation. The home town girls would win by three in overtime thanks to a DeLand layup and two key free throws from LaPanne. The team would use that game as an impetus for the remainder of the season.
Westfield has had to endure countless practices and scrimmages and weekends devoted almost entirely to basketball. But with the support of assistant coaches Erik Pedersen, Adam LaPanne, and Scott Hutkoski, Strange and DeLand have put an emphasis on skills and sportsmanship and all the coaches agree that the biggest reward they receive is seeing each girl improving at something individually while still having fun as a team.
And while the streak will no doubt end some day, their improvement and fun never have to. – Courtesy of John Deland