HOPKINTON – The basketball regular season is roughly 25 percent complete.
If the season was an average 26.2-mile marathon, the athletes would be approximately halfway through mile six. If it was the Boston Marathon, the athletes would be sprinting past the Framingham MBTA station.
At Hopkinton High School – located less than one mile from the Boston Marathon start line – the Algonquin Titans and Westborough Rangers were eager to continue an athletic journey of their own, competing in the Mary Korbey Invitational Girls Basketball Tournament on Dec. 29 and 30.
The tournament, meant to honor the late Mary Korbey’s dedication to Hopkinton basketball, featured four I-495 rivals: Algonquin, Westborough, the hometown Hopkinton Hillers, and the Milford Scarlet Hawks. While all four teams were eager to lift the tournament trophy, each squad also sought to build momentum and enter 2024 strong.
Both squads fall short in semifinals
Algonquin and Westborough entered the tournament looking to make an assertive statement, but the semifinal matches left more questions than answers for both squads. The Titans, who entered play 2-2 on the season, faced Milford in the opening round of the four-team competition, losing 41-33.
Though the Titans led through the first quarter, Milford’s strong defense allowed the Scarlet Hawks to pull ahead. And while Algonquin never threw in the towel – coming within two points of reclaiming the lead just after halftime – Milford proved too much to handle, and relegated the never-say-quit Titans to the consolation match.
Algonquin’s Brooke Adams led the team with nine points; senior captain Sophie Hjerpe added eight.
“I’ve seen some improvements and just overall swinging the ball. I think, in the beginning of the season, we lacked ball movement. There’s been improvements there. Communication. There have been improvements in communication,” first-year Algonquin Head Coach Kashawn Hampton said after the semifinal.
While Hampton said the team has “an opportunity to be good and excel,” he noted that the players are still getting used to new coaching leadership.
“There’s a whole new system that’s been implemented. The [players] are getting used to me, my style, and also learning all the systems we have. It’s all new to them. There are some girls on this team that are seniors, that are juniors, that are playing a different style of basketball,” he said.
Westborough, which came into the tournament 2-1 following a double-digit loss to rival Shrewsbury, fell to Hopkinton, 56-36, in the tournament nightcap. The Rangers, like the Titans before them, led after the opening quarter, riding Rachel Carpenter’s three 3-point makes to a 14-10 lead. Carpenter would end the night with 12, and Kate Sams would add another 11, but it wasn’t enough for Westborough, and the Hillers outscored the Rangers 15-3 in the third quarter.
The Hillers would win the tournament over Milford the following day.
Consolation game offers Titans, Rangers shot at redemption
Just before Hopkinton secured the tournament victory, the Titans and Rangers met in the consolation game, giving each squad an opportunity to lick their wounds, gain some momentum, and enter 2024 on the right foot.
Though both sides started their semifinal matches strong, it was the Westborough team that found early consolation-game success. The Rangers, buoyed by Carpenter’s two treys, led 10-8 after the first quarter. Named to the All-Tournament Team after the game, Carpenter was integral to Westborough’s success, leading all consolation-match scorers with 16 points.
“She is one of the hardest workers on the team. She works on her game in the off-season, she’s breaking down film, she comes to school early to get shots up. You can tell,” said Westborough Head Coach Erin Studivan.
And while Carpenter was automatic throughout the tournament, Algonquin found ways to limit the damage. The Titans controlled the game after the Rangers’ quick start, ultimately outscoring Westborough, 26-9, in the third quarter en route to the 59-39 victory. Hjerpe, who earned All-Tournament Team honors, registered a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds), while Ashlee Dameri (15 points) and Adams (13 points) also had “Titan” performances.
“I think that we had a deep conversation. We had to understand just how talented we are and we needed to be a bit more aggressive. I think we have all the tools that we need to be successful – we just have to apply them. I told them we have a bunch of leaders here that need to step up. They did, and because of that, it showed on the court,” said Hampton.
“I think this is a great group of girls – focused, driven – and I’m excited to be here,” he added.
Although Westborough fell short, Studivan was happy with her team’s effort.
“They hustled. I was proud of them for hustling. We didn’t give up the whole game,” she said.
The Rangers won’t have to wait long to exact revenge – Westborough and Algonquin will meet again on Tuesday at Algonquin. This marks the second straight year that the rivals have had back-to-back matchups in the middle of the season; the series was split 1-1 last year.
Studivan said her team will have a “new plan” and will “come together” to strategize in the coming days.
“It’s tough – that’s our third loss in a row by a substantial amount – but I think that we have plenty of team chemistry. I think telling the girls ‘focus on it now, shake it off when you get back.’ We come back [to practice] on Monday – new year, new team,” said Studivan, who seemed to embrace the opportunity to compete against the Titans once more.