CHESTNUT HILL — Brimmer and May coach Beth Bourque let out a laugh when she considered her unconventional starting lineup. It was made up of three sisters (including twins), an eighth-grade shooting guard, and a 5-foot-4 center. That’s right. Five feet, four inches. At center.
“It’s really not traditional,” she said with with a chuckle.
But it worked.
Together, Bourque’s impossible-to-duplicate roster finished the season with a never-before-achieved NEPSAC Class E title when it beat Falmouth Academy last week, 33-23.
For Brimmer and May, it was the first New England championship for any girls’ team in school history. With a unique blend of athleticism, grit, and a knack for not taking themselves too seriously, Bourque’s abnormal collection of players became unlikely champions.
Spectators took notice of the Gators’ lack of height as soon as they walked into a gym. Then the snickers started when Brimmer and May (17-3) prepared for the opening tip. Sophomore center Jordan Rockland , from Marlborough, would step to center court and be dwarfed by 6-footers.
Before the team’s semifinal win over Wooster, a referee commented on the absurdity of that day’s matchup.
“They don’t have anybody taller to take this?” Rockland remembered being asked.
“No, just me,” she answered happily.
“Do you think you’ll get it?” the referee kidded.
Rockland didn’t reach the shoulders of Wooster’s center that day, and she laughed right along with the official and her opponent.
In the final against Falmouth she battled with two more relative towers who stood about 8 inches taller than she. But she never concerned herself with the result of the tip. It was a mere formality. Instead, she focused on playing physical defense in the post alongside senior forward Nicole Gates . Neither had played in the paint before this season, but together they held Falmouth’s forwards to 6 points total.
“We’ve got some battle wounds,” Rockland said, looking at her forearms. “But you gotta get in there and dig for the ball. They’ll try to push you around because they know they can, because they’re like twice the size of me.”
“But we don’t take it,” interrupted Gates, from Framingham, who also stands 5-foot-4. “If they’re gonna push us, we’ll push them right back. If they’re gonna be physical, it doesn’t matter how small we are, we’ll be physical right back.”
Gates’ twin, Heather , provided the team’s offensive spark. Named the title game’s MVP, she finished her career with over 1,300 points. Before the season, she never expected to make a run at a championship. When the final buzzer sounded, reality finally began to settle in.
“It was kind of surreal,” she said. “We were all amazed. We knew it was going to be a close game. We were just so happy. It was the perfect way to end the season. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
The youngest sister, Kristin , a sophomore forward, provided athleticism on the wing with Maria Aguilar Morneno , a 5-foot-7 eighth-grader from Newton with an outside shot that helped her pour in 22 points in the semifinal.
Quiet and stone-faced during games, the running joke on the team is that no one on the team can make Aguilar Morneno grin when she’s on the court. But after grabbing the title, listening to music by Rhianna and celebrating in the Loomis Chaffee locker room with her teammates, she beamed.
Beaver Country Day finishes undefeated
Smiles mixed with tears for the girls from Beaver Country Day in the immediate aftermath of their title, just a few hours after Brimmer and May’s girls walked away with theirs.
“They were talking in the locker room and there were tears,” said Beaver Country Day coach Sherry Levin . “Tears of joy, but also tears because it’s over. When you share something so intense and the journey is such a common collected goal, you do develop close bonds and ties.”
The Mariners (25-0) relied on their cohesiveness to navigate the postseason and beat Kimball Union Academy, 52-33, capturing the Class C title, and the first undefeated season in program history.
When Eastern Independent League All-Star Ciara Dillon , a guard from Brookline, went down with a knee injury in the tourney, others had to step up in the team’s fast-paced scheme.
“Anybody who’s experienced an undefeated season knows what goes into it mentally and physically,” Levin said. “And you need a little bit of luck. We weren’t lucky at one point and everybody pulled together and banded together as a team collectively and understood what it meant. It wasn’t going to be one person that made up the difference, it was going to be the whole unit. And they did it.”
Senior captains Kaila Duarte (from Dorchester) and Adi Alicea-Cordero (Dorchester) led the way along with junior captain Stephanie Soto-Rivera (West Roxbury). Contributions from senior Karen Rathjens (Sudbury) also helped keep Beaver Country Day perfect.
Rivers ends near
the top in Class A
A balanced score sheet pushed the Rivers School girls to about one minute away from their first Class A championship. After moving up from winning the Class B title, the Red Wings rode their depth of talent all the way to the title game against Noble & Greenough. Boston College recruit Emilee Daley (Sharon) averaged 11 points per game, junior Jen Berkowitz (Wayland) averaged 10.4, Kristen Daley chipped in with 10 per game, while Vanessa Edgehill (Franklin) averaged 9.4.
Despite the move up in class, coach Bob Pipe carried big expectations for his talented roster, which made the 42-41 last-minute loss to Nobles in the final that much more difficult to swallow.
“We expected to be where we were,” Pipe said. “And we’re proud of what we were able to do. But of course it still stings. They made plays down the stretch and we didn’t make enough.”
The future is bright for Rivers, however. Daley was the team’s only senior, and 6-foot-3 freshman Julia Thissell (Hopkinton) will be back to form a formidable duo with Berkowitz in the paint.
Lexington Christian looks to next year
A lineup full of young contributors helped Lexington Christian Academy win the EIL two seasons ago. This year, those young contributors, now seniors, helped LCA make it all the way to the Class D final.
Led by senior guard and league MVP Victoria Nguyen (Woburn), captains Sarah Woods (Medford) and Kallan Roys (Billerica), and sophomore forward Caroline Niland , they went on a furious 15-2 run in the second half to get close, but fell to Hamden Hall, 43-38.
“We were very proud that we came back,” said coach John Vining . “But we know we could’ve beaten them. Number one, the players were happy that they didn’t quit and they worked hard and they fought all the way back. Number two was a hint of regret that we couldn’t put away some of our shots earlier to put away the difference. But it was an incredible run.”
Lexington Christian will have a new look next season, as some players move on and others step into bigger roles, same as it will be at Brimmer and May.
The Gators’ starting five sat in the school’s athletic office last week, days after winning their championship, wondering how they’ll do without their senior twins, Heather and Nicole Gates, next season.
It will be different, they decided. But as their unique look proved this season, “different” may not be such a bad thing.
“Look at what we did this year,” Heather said.
One-point loss tough for Algonquin
By the time Algonquin Regional boys’ coach Brian Doherty sat down with his players in the team film room on Tuesday, everyone had gotten over the heartbreak.
The Tomahawks (20-2) lost to St. John’s last Sunday in the Division 1 Central semifinals, 52-51, but the way in which they lost made it especially difficult to accept initially.
With Algonquin trailing by four, with just seconds remaining, senior Brad Canova sank a 3-pointer and appeared to be fouled during the shot. Had a foul been whistled, Canova would have had a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line, but no call was made. Moments later, the clock struck zeros on Algonquin’s season.
“It’s one of those things,” Doherty said. “It’s a tough way to lose, but you never want to leave the game in the hands of the officials. If you beat them up early, you never have to worry about it. . . . We should’ve taken care of business earlier and we never would’ve put ourselves in that situation.”
Algonquin rallied from a 20-point third-quarter deficit to pull within striking distance.
After the game, Doherty chose not to comment on the officials’ non-call, but told reporters, “I’ve got a video I’m going to show them.”
As it turned out, the video was posted online before Doherty ever had a chance to do anything with it. He did not reach out to the officials after the game to discuss the non-call, and he doesn’t expect to hear anything from them about the play.
As a one-time official himself, Doherty understands the nature of the job.
“I don’t comment on officials and no one should,” he said. “As a coach or a player you don’t comment on something like that. It is what it is. Let everyone else do all the talking that they want. But it’s not fair to the officials. They’re doing their job. They’re human. It happens. Just move on.”