NORTH EASTHAM – It’s difficult to imagine the Nauset Regional High School girls’ basketball team’s season starting any better.
The Warriors were dominant in every aspect of Friday’s opener. Offensively, they scored in the paint and knocked down 3-pointers. Defensively, they forced countless turnovers, many of which led to easy breakaway layups at the opposite end of the floor.
There wasn’t much visiting Nantucket could do to slow down Nauset, which cruised to a lopsided 90-22 victory behind strong performances by seniors Avery Burns and Korin Mereste, both of whom turned in two of the most productive games of their respective careers.
“It’s just so exciting to play in a game with everybody,” said Burns, who exploded for a career-high 38 points despite not playing the final 5:55 of action. “It feels good to be out here and have the opportunity to play this year.”
The Warriors (1-0) put on a show for the crowd, which was limited to two spectators per Nauset player due to COVID-19 protocols. It wasn’t only Burns who had a career day; Mereste also shined in the post, finishing with a career-high 20 points in addition to 15 rebounds.
Another Nauset senior, Makayla Hutchinson, added 11 points in her return to the lineup following an injury that sidelined her for much of last season.
“We got a really nice contribution from Makayla, who sat out all of last year for the most part with a broken leg that she suffered in the second or third game of the season,” said Nauset coach John Piemontese. “It was great to see her back out there — she’s our best defender and contributes quite a bit.”
It didn’t take long for the Warriors to pull away from the Whalers (0-1). Nauset jumped out to an early 18-0 lead and didn’t allow a basket until Nantucket junior guard Maclaine Willett sank a jumper from the top of the key with 2:18 remaining in the first quarter. The Warriors led 26-4 at the end of the first quarter and 50-11 by halftime.
As one-sided as the game was, it was clear that Piemontese did what he could to slow his team down at points. There were multiple occasions when the Warriors forced a turnover and were about to score an easy basket when Piemontese instead called a timeout before his players could score.
“I told their coach that there wasn’t any intent to embarrass them in any way,” Piemontese said. “I just have four really good seniors. I think they’re probably four of the best seniors in the state.”
Along with Burns, Mereste and Hutchinson, forward Ashley Ross is the fourth senior on the squad. She serves as a co-captain alongside Burns and Hutchinson and chipped in eight points in the win.
Among the most impressive aspects of the Warriors’ performance was the team’s ability to execute fast breaks. It didn’t matter if Nantucket missed a shot or Nauset forced a turnover, whenever the Warriors got the ball near their own basket, they quickly advanced it to the front court. Often it was Burns who was out ahead of the pack, scoring an uncontested layup with ease.
“I think that’s one of Avery’s best specialties — she’s always one of the fastest people down the court,” Mereste said. “When you turn, you almost always have Avery there.”
“And I always know Korin is going to hit me with the pass,” Burns replied.
All it takes to recognize the chemistry between Burns and Mereste is to listen to them talk for a few minutes. When asked if their on-court rapport took off during the preseason, Burns is quick to point out that the four seniors have been working well together for years.
“It’s been going like that since fifth grade,” she said. “The four of us seniors have been playing together since fifth grade and I think now it’s showing that it’s really coming together. It’s natural for sure.”
It wasn’t just the fast break that was working. Mereste had her way inside throughout the game. The six-foot-two forward said she wants to be more active inside this year and stake her claim as the best post player on the Cape.
“I’ve been working really hard at getting better,” said Mereste, who’s committed to play NCAA Division I basketball at Quinnipiac University. “I know I’m going to have to play real hard against real tall girls at the next level, so I’m trying to push it regardless of the competition.”
And then there was Burns, who not only used her speed to dribble past defenders but also knocked down jumpers, too.
“Avery was fantastic,” Piemontese said. “I know one of her personal goals is to get to 1,000 career points, and she’s on her way.”
As thrilled as they are to be playing, Burns and Mereste feel this was the year Nauset could compete for a state title, and they’re admittedly disappointed about the unavoidable realities that come with conducting a season during a global pandemic. Learning there won’t be a state tournament was a major blow.
“It’s definitely a bit of a letdown. You can’t hide that fact,” Mereste said. “We’ve been playing together since fifth grade and we’ve all been so excited for this moment — to finally be seniors on the team and to get all of the leadership opportunities and the playing opportunities and to try to get as far as we could.”
Friday’s season opener gave Mereste the opportunity to once again take the floor with the three girls she’s called teammates since fifth grade, and that’s the special feeling she’ll cherish this year.
“The motivation, in general, is that we all just want to play,” she said. “We know we’re lucky to have this opportunity to be here.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org