Brittany Lomanno was seated in a classroom at Billerica High with her fellow captains Wednesday afternoon, discussing the Indians’ sterling 12-1 start on the court.
During the course of a 15-minute conversation, Lomanno could not sit still, constantly brushing dust off the corners of the desk or fixing piles of papers so they were aligned perfectly, even though she had already fixed them several times.
As soon as a basketball-related question was directed her way, however, her head immediately popped up, eyes wide as if she were trying to allow you to see the replays of the game she was re-living mentally.
It is little things like her meticulousness and the enthusiasm with which she and her teammates have approached the season that have made the difference for a Billerica squad that, frankly, no one wants to play.
A year ago, Billerica earned the fifth seed in the Division 1 North tournament with a 17-3 record, but the team was abruptly dispatched by 12th-seeded Central Catholic, 63-57, in the first round.
“Since the day we lost, I was looking forward to the season. The day after, I was training,” said Lomanno, now a senior point guard.
The loss would fuel not only the players, but third-year coach Chris Doneski as well.
“We’ve emphasized pushing them a little bit more and having the expectations raised to get a little more out of them,” said Doneski. “They’re pretty highly motivated. It shows up when we need it.”
Doneski started this season focused on his team’s conditioning and discipline.
From Day 1, the players have run more sprints than they ever did last season. To Doneski’s delight, it went over well.
“We started a lot harder,” said captain Kayla Leverone , the starting two guard. “It was so different than last year. We were shocked.”
“He has his whole practice planned, every second of it. He gets very serious,” added the team’s third captain, Shannon Hayes , a junior forward.
“But,” said Lomanno, “we wanted to work that hard though. With the talent we have . . . we appreciated it.”
With that newfound motivation, Billerica started the season by ripping off five straight wins before getting stymied by defending Division 3 state champion Pentucket.
At game’s end, Pentucket had prevailed for the second straight year, rolling to a 59-39 win.
“We had to just move on and turn the page,” said Leverone.
“It was huge motivation,” said Lomanno, “definitely a turning point.”
Since then, the players have refocused their energy on doing the little things right, and playing as a team.
The chemistry has clearly transferred onto the court: The Indians responded with seven straight wins, culminating with a 58-51 victory Tuesday night at three-time defending state champion Andover.
Billerica relined on a balanced attack, with junior Shannon Hayes (14 points), Lomanno (13), and senior forward Danielle Nickerson (12) combining for 39 points.
It is impossible to discuss the Indians’ success without mentioning their pregame routine.
This past fall, the players watched the football team getting hyped up in their prepractice preparation.
The girls initially found the yelling and jumping odd, and did not quite understand why they needed to get so excited for practice.
Since then, they have adopted the routine, with a few slight modifications. It starts with some hand-clapping and noise-making and ends with a resounding “Ohhh yeahhhh” from Hayes that has the swagger and tone from the film “Remember the Titans.”
“Now we’re superstitious about it; we do it before every game,” said Hayes. “It helps us focus and helps the younger girls not be too nervous heading out there.”
Doneski added, “As clichéd as it might be, it helps them. It’s good. It gets them loose and focused and ready to play.”
And it has made a difference for a program determined to make a long tournament run.
Healy becomes Reading’s all-time leading scorer
Entering Tuesday’s game at Watertown, Olivia Healy was 21 points shy of becoming the all-time leading scorer at Reading High, boy or girl.
The previous record, 1,547 points, was set by Mark Wilson in 1985.
The 5-foot-10 guard/forward not only shattered Wilson’s 28-year-old record, but she also set a program single-game scoring mark in the process, pouring in a career-high 42 points in a 56-39 victory, as the Rockets remained perfect at 13-0.
Reading coach Kim Penney credits Healy’s poise as an integral part of her success, plus she noted a desire to step up and take a leading role after senior guard Morgan O’Brien tore an anterior cruciate ligament before the season even started. Losing O’Brien, who scored 31 points in last year’s Division 2 state final and has committed to play at Assumption, was a crippling blow.
Healy is “an unbelievable competitor, the most competitive athlete I’ve ever been associated with,” said Penney.
“She’s at a higher level than anyone we play, just an unbelievable offensive player . . . she can play any position. And the fact that she expends just as much energy, or more so, on the defensive end . . . you don’t see that very much in a prolific scorer. When she had 42, she was taking charges and even blocked a shot from the paint that went all the way to the back court.”
Despite her talent, Healy understands her team is more important than her own statistics.
“She’s one of 13 girls on the team — she gets that,” said Penney. “In order to be great you have to make everyone else around you great, and she does. She could care less about the points. She just wants to win.”