By Gianna Addario
---- — It’s only natural that Beverly High girls basketball coach Matt Smith is looking forward to this coming season. After all, the Panthers have had a wildly successful fall sports season in virtually all sports, and Smith is hoping that some of those good vibes continue into the winter athletics.
“Hopefully, the success of the girls fall teams will spill over to basketball,” said Smith, now in his 13th year as the Panthers’ head coach.
“The girls saw what it was like to win and enjoyed winning, which hopefully carries over to the winter. I couldn’t be happier with the success of field hockey, volleyball, cross country and soccer — it’ll only help us.”
Slowly but surely, Smith is incorporating a new style of play for the Panthers, and he said that so far the team has really bought into it. It’s less about set plays and more about running a fast break offense, which will coincide with the overall speed on the team.
“The atmosphere at practice has been great so far. The girls have been energized, myself, as well,” Smith said.
“We have a good core or players who participated in every conditioning workout over the summer (the same one that the football team participated in) and went to all of the summer league games. This is a good sign.”
With a solid nucleus back, the Panthers have their second leading scorer from last season back in the fold in Andrea Zelano, who, along with Jill Stirrat and Abby Carnevale, is this year’s senior captain.
“We have a significant amount of juniors who have played in varsity games and know what that’s like, so we are experienced,” Smith said.
Believe it or not, Smith isn’t solely focused on winning itself; instead, he’s more about teaching the girls how to win. The Panthers have a combined 11-29 record the past two winters and haven’t qualified for the state tournament since 2010.
Now, they’re looking to turn things around and focus on a winning campaign.
A year after suffering several close losses to Northeastern Conference foes, Smith is doing all he can to ensure those setbacks become wins in 2012-13.
“Most of the current members of the team were a part of those overtime and last-second games,” Smith said. “I’ve run through those games, as well, and I know what we have to change and what we need to do differently to win them.
“We’re not going to be a one or two-dimensional team. We’ll have multiple options at the end of games.”