Girls basketball for all ages flourishing on the Vineyard

Sam Hargy reached for a rebound in the Vineyard eighth grade girls game with Dartmouth. Julia Bettencourt backed up the play. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Girls basketball of all ages is flourishing on the Vineyard – from the sixth- and eighth-grade travel teams all the way up the varsity and junior varsity teams at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

The varsity team beat Nantucket on Sunday to even their record at 6-6, putting them in great position to qualify for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) tournament. The JV team also beat Nantucket this week.

Meanwhile both the sixth- and eighth-grade travel teams are heading to the playoffs this weekend. The eighth-grade team has compiled an 11-3 record on the season, and they are ranked 8th in the entire state by a prominent sports website.

This upswing can likely be attributed to the creation of travel teams a few years ago for the younger players, which allows young players to work on fundamentals and also play more competitive and aggressive teams from off Island.

Previously, the only option for younger players was to play in a recreational league made up of Island players only. The best players were usually split up and spread around, so many of the more talented players never got a chance to play together on the same teams.

The move has arguably paid off in a big way, as the travel teams have introduced young players to a tougher brand of basketball at a younger age while also creating a feeder system for the varsity and JV teams at the high school.

“I think overall our program, and the quality of play overall, is on the rise,” said varsity coach Lisa Stewart. “The trick is to not only get them playing at a younger age, but get them playing tougher teams from Cape Cod, and some of the same players they might see at the high school level.”

Varsity and JV

In a conference showdown on the road Friday, the varsity Vineyarders shook off a rough start and battled the Somerset Berkley Raiders in the second half before losing 70-63. The Vineyarders trailed 40-30 at the half, but managed to tie the game at 63-63 with less than two minutes in the game.

The Raiders drained a three-pointer with 90 seconds left, and padded their lead after the Vineyarders were forced to foul. Maggie Riseborough led the Vineyarders with 20 points and nine boards, while Katie Stewart recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Jennie Lindland had 14 points in the loss.

Coach Stewart said her team showed courage and toughness in the game.

“We came all the way back, but it was a situation where we let them get off to a good start and couldn’t quite catch them. But we fought in that game and I think we showed character. They are a good team,” she said.

But the coach said the game showed there was room for improvement. “We can’t give up 70 points. We’ve been scoring a lot, now we just need our defense to be a little better,” she said.

The coach said the team started with more of a run-and-gun style team, but is now transitioning to more of a half-court attack led by Riseborough and Stewart in the paint.

The team had an easier time against Nantucket on Sunday, using a balanced scoring attack to handily defeat their intra-island rival, 65-49. Stewart led the team with 21 points and 15 rebounds, while Riseborough pitched in with 14 points and 11 boards.

The Vineyarders led 36-24 at the half. Hailee McCarthy helped the home team put things away in the third quarter by hitting three consecutive baskets, including a three-pointer, while coming off the bench. “Hailee gave us a real spark off the bench – she was great,” the coach said.

The Whalers’ standout Jess Halford had a monster game, scoring 34 to lead all scorers.

“[Halford] is a real talent, a prolific scorer. I wish we had attacked her more, but she is hard to stop,” Coach Stewart said.

The Vineyarders traveled to Chatham on Wednesday and they play a big conference game at home Friday against Coyle Cassidy. The last time the Vineyarders played Coyle the two teams played neck and neck and were tied after three quarters before the Vineyarders lost by 12 points.

In that game Riseborough had to leave the game after suffering a neck injury. “Coyle is a team that beat [Bishop] Feehan twice and we played them really well at their place the last time,” the coach said. “I think it will be a good game on Friday.”

The Vineyarders will have to win four of their last seven games to qualify for the MIAA tourney.

The JV team beat Nantucket at home on Sunday by a final of 42-22. Lucy Hackney had 13 points, Emily DeBettencourt had 10, and Miranda Tokarz had five points. The JV squad is 2-6 on the season.

Travel Teams

The 8th-grade girls basketball travel team, ranked number eight in the state by the web-site, stand at 11-3 this week following a frustrating 53-51 loss to Dartmouth at home on Sunday and an easy win over Lakeville the same day.

Coach Maureen Hill said the game came down to the wire against Dartmouth, who came into the game with a 9-2 record and were ranked number nine in the state. “It was intense, both teams were evenly matched,” she said.

Erin Hill had 15 points, Whitney Schroeder had 12 points, and Mya Houston had 8 points. Molly DeBettencourt came off the bench to score 8 for the Vineyard.

The Vineyarders also played Lakeville at home later in the day and rolled by a final of 53-17.

Schroeder scored 12 in the win, and Samantha Hargy and Erin Hill each had 11.

The 8th-grade team now heads to the first round of the travel-team playoffs this weekend in Dartmouth, and will open against Harwich at 10:20 am on Sunday. If they win their first-round game, they will likely play Dartmouth in a rematch of last weekend’s barnburner.

“We’re quickly forming this rivalry with Dartmouth,” coach Hill said. “I think the girls want a rematch. I think it would be fun.”

Meanwhile the 6th-grade team is also headed to the playoffs after compiling a 7-7 record on the season. Because the Vineyard 5th-graders won their tournament last year, they host the tournament this weekend on the Island.

The Vineyard 6th-graders this week beat Barnstable 23-19 at home, led by Lily Pigott and Ashlee Moreis who each had 8 points. They also lost 40-16 to Sandwich.

Coach Hill said the travel team program has been a real success story. “We’ve always had good athletes,” she said. “I think we just needed them to play teams from off Island so they weren’t playing the same kids every week, the same kids they see every day in school and around the Island.

“You can see great strides being made from the start to end of the season with these teams, they are learning to play together… they might be playing together for years.”