By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Grafton – It has been more than a decade since Grafton High School girls’ varsity basketball has had what might be called “contender status,” but that is all about to change as the Indians are back from a lengthy hibernation and are suddenly playoff-bound. The team’s latest triumph, a 41-36 Valentine’s Day victory over host St. Peter-Marian High School, raised the team’s record to 13-4 with just three games remaining before tournament competition begins.
“This is a new Grafton this year and we’re seeing some exciting basketball,” said third-year head coach Jeff LaCure, who is assisted by Ben LaCure and Jess Shlager. “I couldn’t be more proud of these kids. They’re a phenomenal group of young women.”
“I think it’s great to be going to the playoffs for the first time,” said senior co-captain Shelbe Turpin of the newfound buzz surrounding the team. “Everyone in school is remarking that the girls’ basketball team is pretty good this year.”
“I never thought that Grafton basketball would get this much attention,” added team leading- scorer and junior co-captain Gigi LeMay, who is averaging 14.8 points per game, third-best in South Worcester County League (SWCL). “It’s a new team and it’s been amazing because we have the potential, we have the ability, we have the heart, and we’re really putting it together. It feels great because we all know we worked so hard for this and it’s so great, especially for our seniors. We’ll be ready.”
This will be the team’s first foray into playoff territory since 2005. The Indians have never won a district championship or played in a district final. The squad has bonded from day one, said players and coaches, and that cohesiveness has been a major factor in the team’s success and will be moving forward.
“We have some older girls and some younger girls and we just all mesh together,” Turpin explained. “We’re not just a team that goes to practices and games together. We’re together at school; we hang out together and really blend well and make it work together.
“We’re really a family. We give each other the push when we need it. We give each other the hug when we need it – and we sometimes bicker like sisters and we hang out like sisters and that’s really the cool part. That’s how close we are.”
“Our chemistry together is so strong,” LeMay affirmed. “We can all depend on each other. If someone gets down, someone is always going to be there to help you out. You don’t find that always on other teams. We see other teams bickering on the court and we don’t have that. We know we make mistakes but we always help each other out.”
The team opened strongly versus St. Peter-Marian as they have done with most opponents this season. LeMay (12 points), Abby Rogers (8 points), Lauren Eddy (7 points), Meghan Montgomery (7 points) and Erin Tyldesley (5 points) helped open up a 32-21 halftime advantage. Grafton would maintain a double-digit lead until the final minutes when the Guardians pulled closer but could never overcome the deficit.
What strikes most upon observation of the team’s play is the balance up and down the roster with players contributing from freshmen to seniors. Everyone is chipping in making it more difficult for opposing coaches to develop a cogent game plan that might ordinarily focus on one or a handful of “go-to” players.
“We have an incredibly balanced roster,” LaCure explained. “We’re a tough draw every night because we have good guard play, “big” play, experienced play. We’ve brought in some first-year players that bring a level of talent and toughness. It’s a real great combination of experience coupled with a real deep team with a lot of talent and even more importantly, kids understand their roles.”
“These are not only really good student-athletes, they’re great student ambassadors for the town of Grafton,” LaCure said. “I never worry about these kids in the community. I know they’re mature and going to be making good decisions. They care about their team, the program and it’s been a magical ride so far for us. We saw it building but we know we can play better. We haven’t hit our peak yet.”
Members of the 2015-2016 Grafton High girls’ varsity basketball team are senior guards Shannon Graham, Shelbe Turpin and Theresa Romaniec, along with junior guards Destiny Cruz, Gabriella LeMay, Meghan Montgomery and forward Lauren Eddy. Sophomore guard Erin Tyldesley is joined by freshmen forwards Jordan Eddy, Calleigh Herren, guards Jenna Gordon, Anna Kopyra and center Abigail Rogers.