By Gianna Addario
---- — Bounce Passes
A new season and a new coach have been a perfect elixir for the Swampscott girls basketball program.
Despite the frigid temperatures outside, the Big Blue are heating up on the court under first-year head coach Abrom Roberts.
Roberts is feeling pretty good about the start the Big Blue are off to. In fact, he’s even seen significant growth from the first game, a loss against Winthrop, to Wednesday’s win over a comparable Gloucester team.
Since that three-point loss to Winthrop, Swampscott has put together a string of four victories — including two against a young Danvers squad — and won the Malden Christmas Tournament championship after defeating Wakefield, then Danvers in the final round last Friday night.
“I really like the way we played in the tournament,” said Roberts. “The defense played well and I was also impressed with our offense, especially in the Wakefield game. We put up 47 points, which was our highest scoring game so far.”
Roberts is no stranger to the team; he coached the junior varsity last season before taking over the varsity from long-time coach Jack Hughes, who stepped down in June.
The transition has been a smooth one for Roberts and the team, who’s really stressing the importance of defense. “The past four wins have been because of it,” explained Roberts. “It’s all about defense.”
Of course, one of the main focal points of the Big Blue offense is senior captain Ara Talkov. The power forward is averaging 15.8 points per game and dropped in a 21-point performance in the tournament’s opening round.
Most teams are doing what they can do shut Talkov down and the Big Blue are fully aware of their opponents’ game plan.
“Everyone knows that Ara is the superstar on the team,” said Roberts. “But everyone also knows their role on this team. Opponents are going to do the best they can at keeping the ball out of Ara’s hands, and we as team have responded to that.”
That’s where Alexa Goldman comes in. A fellow senior captain, Goldman has been running the offense at point guard. She’s capable of bringing the ball upcourt with a full court press on her and can also shoot those long-range jumpers.
“Alexa has been great and has played tremendous, a real point guard,” added Roberts. “She runs the floor like a leader. When Ara isn’t open, Alexa looks for the other open person or can take the shot herself.”
The Northeastern Conference is pretty young across the board this winter, so with veteran leaders like Talkov and Goldman Swampscott can very well be a candidate for a league title and postseason run.
“The great thing about coaching these girls is that they’re hard workers,” Roberts said. “They’re playing well right now, but they have room to be even better.”
Salem dropped its opening two games, but since then has gone on a three-game winning streak.
The Witches are one of those above-mentioned young NEC teams, but head coach John Fortunato has seen a vast improvement from his squad.
“They are a great group of girls and realize they have a long way to go,” said the veteran coach. “For me as a coach, I’ve never had a team as young as this; sometimes I need to remind myself just how young the girls are.
“They’ve been winning, but what I like to see from the girls is that they understand that there’s still work to be done. I’m very happy with the team at this point, though.”
The Witches got by Revere, Everett and Malden and have a chance to make it four straight against Lynn Classical tonight.
Fortunato said the girls are getting better every time they step onto the court and if they can force more turnovers, they can be a better team.
Marblehead is one of the only teams in our coverage area that didn’t play over the holiday break. The Magicians, who last played back on Dec. 21, are back in action tonight against Gloucester (7 p.m.) at home.
Though Marblehead has only played four games, it has two wins over Saugus and Everett and is looking to get back on track after the loss to Winthrop before vacation.
Congratulations go out to Masconomet’s Nicole Femino, Ipswich’s Julia Davis and Swampscott’s Ara Talkov, who all won MVP honors in their respective holiday tournaments.
Femino combined for 32 points in the Chieftains’ wins over Beverly and Bishop Fenwick in the Masconomet Holiday Tournament; Davis dropped in 33 points and 24 rebounds for the Tigers in the Institution for Savings Holiday tournament, while Talkov led the Big Blue with 38 points between the two wins at the Malden Christmas Tourney.
Bounce Passes, a column on North Shore girls basketball, runs in The Salem News every Friday during the winter season. Contact Gianna Addario at GAddario@salemnews.com, 978-338-2615 and follow her on Twitter @GiannaAddarioSN.