WOBURN — The Woburn High girls’ basketball team still plays in the same style that saw it win five straight Middlesex League Liberty titles, but the competition around the league has become more balanced, which means most teams have a shot at making an impact.
“The league is stronger than ever,” said Woburn 11th-year coach Steve Sullivan (177-46), listing off all the teams around the league that will be tough to beat this year. “We are young and inexperienced but through hard work in our practices and in the games, we will get better as the season goes along. Our practices have been very competitive.”
Woburn’s approach is to play tough defense and run at every chance. If the transition is off a turnover or a long rebound, it often leads to easy baskets down the other end.
“The formula does not change,” said the highly-successful Sullivan. “We get up and try and play hard throughout the game. If we play defense the way we can, we should be able to win some of these games.”
Although the Tanners had a solid season, last year, including an exciting, last second victory in the tournament, what kept them from achieving even more was their shooting. Woburn has two of its top scorers back and several newcomers who could do well enough to open up more opportunities for all the players.
The Tanners will be led by senior co-captains Ashlyn Pacheco and Megan Roderick. Pacheco is a fourth-year player and third-year starter, while Roderick is a third-year player and second-year starter.
Pacheco (8.1 ppg), a League All-Star a year ago, will be Woburn’s top guard again and has the ability to create her own opportunities to score in addition to finding open teammates on the perimeter or underneath the basket. She will also be a top defender with the potential to come up with a clutch steal at any time.
Roderick (7.6) is also a good defender and the Tanners’ top returning shooter from the perimeter (23 3-pointers). She worked hard on her game over the summer and will be looking to make an even bigger impact this winter.
“Our captains have done a tremendous job,” said Sullivan. “They are doing a lot of great things for us and becoming great leaders. We are looking for both of them to do big things through their leadership and experience.”
One thing that helps Woburn’s formula work so well from year to year is the program’s ability to attract good athletes. Half of this year’s roster were impact players in the fall on the girls’ soccer team, including Pacheco, who was a captain on that team as well.
Twins Bella Sgroi and Grace Sgroi are junior guard/forwards who will figure more prominently this year because of their ability to excel in the system. Sullivan likes their ability to shoot the ball and is looking for contributions on offense from the pair.
A first-year player who has looked good in practice is senior Kelsey Doherty, a shooting guard forward. Sullivan thinks Doherty’s competitiveness at practice has made her a wonderful addition to the squad.
Graduation has left Woburn in need of toughness under the basket, and the Tanners should get it from junior Abbie Morrison and sophomore Jenna Taylor. Morrison, whose father Mike was a standout at Winchester High, is a forward/center who is a hard-rebounder and a physical player. Sullivan likes her intensity and toughness in the rebounding category. Taylor will fight for playing time with her strength around the rim and her shooting touch.
Rounding out the junior class is wing player Ciana Dickey and guard Bridget Guiendon. Dickey has been making hustle plays on both offense and defense during the preseason, while Guiendon has been using her smarts to contribute at both guard spots.
Sophomore Carly Dangora was a mid-season call up as a freshman, last year, and ended up making a key steal that turned into the winning basket in the tournament victory at Cambridge.
The guard will be looking to make a bigger impact as a sophomore with her good ball-handling ability and her hardnosed toughness on defense.
“She’s a player looking to take the next step after last season,” said Sullivan.
Carly has a twin sister, Casey Dangora, who brings toughness to the forward position, along with smartness and a good shooting touch.
The Tanner roster also includes a couple of promising freshmen in Meghan Qualey, younger sister of Kelsey Qualey, and Cyndea Labisserie, a top striker on the soccer team. Qualey is a forward with good basketball smarts who Sullivan believes is ready to make the jump to the varsity level. Labisserie is a guard/small forward who is athletic, a good defender, and who also possesses a good basketball IQ.
The Woburn girls open at Arlington (7 p.m.) on Friday.