Rachel Carpenter eats, sleeps and breathes basketball

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Rachel Carpenter eats, sleeps and breathes basketball
Westborough High School junior Rachel Carpenter began playing basketball when she was in elementary school. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

WESTBOROUGH – While most students “catch some z’s,” Westborough’s Rachel Carpenter is hitting threes.

As early as 7:15 a.m., roughly an hour before school officially starts, Carpenter is in the gymnasium, dribbling around, putting up shots and perfecting her craft. The 5-foot-8-inch shooting guard practices relentlessly, and she estimates that between all her different workouts, she shoots over 1,000 shots per week.

Carpenter dedicates almost all of her time to basketball — she admitted her life is “pretty much basketball 24/7” — and although her around-the-clock practice schedule can be exhausting, she never truly grows tired of the sport.

“I just genuinely love basketball. Basketball is my whole life, so everything that I do — it’s never something that I have to do, or that I’m forced to do. It’s something I get to do — that I love to do,” Carpenter told the Community Advocate.

Carpenter started hooping in elementary school and “never really stopped.” Yet, it wasn’t until middle school that she discovered her affinity for the three-point shot — something that has come to define her athletic career.

Carpenter, a self-described confident shooter, models her game after AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark, who has wowed the basketball world with her three-point prowess. Carpenter is just as comfortable from behind the arc.

“[Clark’s] a really good shooter, and she shoots a lot off the dribble: She’s not just a pure catch-and-shoot player. I feel like I, besides shooting, generally have good awareness of the court [and] dribbling,” said Carpenter. “I’m also a pretty good passer and facilitator. But, yeah, shooting is kind of what I like to do.”

At the Mary Korbey Invitational Tournament in Hopkinton, Carpenter’s adept shooting was on full display. With 1.9 seconds remaining in the quarter, Carpenter dribbled just beyond the logo at mid-court, stepped back and nailed the long-range shot just as the buzzer sounded. After the tournament, Carpenter was placed on the all-tournament team, adding to her already-lengthy list of awards and accolades.

Rachel Carpenter eats, sleeps and breathes basketball
Rachel Carpenter is a member of the Westborough basketball team. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Carpenter said her three-point shot is practically muscle memory. Once she gets “in rhythm,” she tries not to think too much, trusting her instincts, looking at the back of the rim and focusing on her follow-through. The Mid-Wach League all-star said that after thousands of shots at practice, seeing the shot go through the hoop is rewarding.

“It always feels good in the moment. Hitting a shot, and you’re running back on defense. You can’t really beat that feeling,” she said. “Basketball is the type of sport where, even if you’re the best player in the world, you can always learn something new… You can always get better. You can never stop improving.”

And while shooting is Carpenter’s strength, she also boasts good assist numbers.

With several seniors graduating from last years’ team, Carpenter, a junior, has become one of the Westborough Rangers’ respected leaders. Westborough Head Coach Erin Studivan called Carpenter “a great role model.”

“Rachel is one of the hardest working athletes I’ve had the pleasure of coaching. She always shows up to practice. She’s early, and she’s ready to work… She’s focused in practice, which is what we need. She’s a great leader on the team, both in practice and games,” Studivan said.

“She’s the first one in the gym, and the last one to leave,” Assistant Coach Kayla Tonucci said.

Though Carpenter said she has individual goals, she stressed that her statline doesn’t matter nearly as much as the team’s performance. She described the team as a “tightknit group,” saying everyone knows each other, practices are “energetic,” and that “everyone is friends off the court.”

“I want to be the best player I can to help whatever team I’m on. I know that if I keep getting better, that’s only going to enhance the other players around me… As a teammate, I don’t really care about how many points I’m scoring. If I see an open girl, I want to hit them because I know it doesn’t matter how many points I score. If everyone else gets involved, I think we’re going to have a better shot at winning the game,” said Carpenter.

Rachel Carpenter eats, sleeps and breathes basketball
Rachel Carpenter has become one of the region’s most prolific three-point shooters.

In the “offseason” — if there is one for Carpenter — she plays on the Massachusetts Huskies AAU circuit, spending her springs and summers competing throughout the Bay State. During the “club” season, the always-practicing Carpenter often participates in back-to-back workouts. As part of the organization, Carpenter has traveled to Pennsylvania, Chicago, Ill., and Atlantic City, N.J.

Carpenter also uses her basketball talent to give back to the community. In her free time, Carpenter volunteers with Westborough’s Special Olympics program, sharing her passion with dozens of eager athletes.

“Having the opportunity to play basketball 24/7 isn’t something that most kids have, and I feel like being someone to help them out and pass my love of the sport onto them is really special for me. They enjoy it, too, and it makes me happy to watch them play; they’re smiling and running around,” Carpenter said.

When she’s not competing, practicing, or volunteering, Carpenter spends time with her family, which — ironically — only means more basketball. Carpenter’s twin brother, Alex, plays on the Westborough boys varsity team. Her mother has been “super supportive” of her basketball pursuits, Carpenter said, and her father, who she described as her coach, has been big into basketball for years, helping her grow athletically.

“I’m just really grateful to have people in my life that never denied me any opportunity. They drive me around everywhere to various workouts and it just makes me feel really supported by everyone around me,” she said.

On weekends she doesn’t compete in games, Rachel, Alex, and their father will go to the gym to practice. Rachel and Alex will often engage in one-on-one pick-up games, which Rachel described as “competitive.”

“It’s definitely special to be able to practice against someone like him,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter still has her senior season of basketball on the horizon, but as a junior, she’s starting the process of potentially getting recruited to play at the collegiate level. She’s been reaching out to coaches and “getting her name out there.”

“I’d definitely be really grateful for the opportunity to play in college,” she said. “That’s something that I’ve definitely been working on — probably in middle school I decided it’s something I want to do.”

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