Late run gives Winnisquam hope for future
|Winnisquam senior Carolyn Hajdusek drives by a Franklin defender during action in Tilton earlier this season. Hajdusek was the Bears’ leading scorer at 11.7 points per game. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)|
March 14, 2011TILTON – After graduating eight players from a 14-4 season last year, patience was the key word in Tilton this winter. Despite starting the season 0-10, the Winnisquam Regional High School girls' basketball team won three of its final seven regular season contests and has a large junior class that will be back next year as seniors.
"I think it's important that the kids recognize the process is more important than the product," said Winnisquam coach John Billings. "People tend to measure results by the scoreboard and I think that's a bad way to do it. Towards the end of the season, the progress showed with a close game against Gilford and the win over Belmont."
Winnisquam got into the win column with a 56-44 win over Franklin on Jan. 25, and then beat Farmington by 18 points on Feb. 4. After falling by just one point to Gilford late in the year, the Bears closed out the regular season on Senior Night with a 41-33 victory over Belmont.
The squad was matched up against Hopkinton in a Division III play-in game on Feb. 18, and the trip south saw the Bears come out on the wrong end of a 45-30 final.
"I thought we played the best we could at that play-in game," said Billings. "It was a good game for us and the kids played hard. It was a 15-point difference but I think it was a lot closer than that. We did the best we could and I'm certainly pleased with the way the Winnisquam kids put forth an effort."
The Bears lose three players to graduation, as Carolyn Hajdusek, Stephanie D'Abbraccio and Audriana Mekula all played their final games for Winnisquam.
"Carolyn had that courage to take the biggest shot and make the biggest play," explained Billings. "Steph was someone who was always positive and leaves a huge leadership void for us. And Audriana is just an exceptional person. She was someone who truly understood what it is to give effort and take the extra step to be a better player. I think her void might be the biggest one because of all she brought to the team."
Hajdusek was the team's leading scorer with 11.7 points per game.
Junior Hannah Willcutt paces a group of returnees that should be fun to watch next winter. Willcutt was the leading rebounder on the Winnisquam team, as she averaged 5.6 boards per game. Classmates Mackenzie Burdick, Taylor O'Connor and Sara Andrus make up the core for next year's squad.
"Those four kids can really set a tone for Winnisquam," said Billings. "If they put in the work, they can leave the same mark on the program that the kids from last year's team left."
The four juniors highlight a sizeable class that really came on strong down the stretch run.
"My expectation is that that class will continue to work hard and develop," stated Billings. "Just because they started to have some success as juniors, doesn't automatically mean they'll have success as seniors. We want to be like Conant, Campbell, White Mountains. We want to be as good as them and it takes a commitment to be like that. If they decide to do it, I think there's a talent level at Winnisquam that allows them to do that."
Billings has enjoyed his time in Tilton, and looks forward to the future of the program.
"I've been at a lot of different places in my short coaching career but there's no other community and group of people I've had more fun coaching than at Winnisquam," he revealed.