HARWICH – Monomoy Regional High School first-year girls basketball coach Bill O’Connell recognizes his team has been presented with many challenges this year, and he understands some of those challenges are unavoidable given the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coach has come to learn that Monday isn’t always his players’ best day of the week as they return to the floor following an off-day on Sunday. The Sharks weren’t at their best Monday night during the opening minutes when they hosted Sturgis East in the first round of the Cape and Islands League Lighthouse Tournament, though it didn’t take long before the team settled in.
Monomoy found its footing in the second half of the first quarter and never looked back, cruising to a 42-16 victory over Sturgis East to set up a matchup between the third-seeded Sharks and second-seeded Cape Cod Academy in the tournament semifinals at 4 p.m. Wednesday at CCA.
“It’s a weird season because we didn’t start until Jan. 12, so when we have one day off it sometimes feels like a week,” O’Connell said after his team improved to 9-3. “Sometimes on Mondays it’s a little tough to get the motor running after having pretty much all of Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. I think we saw a little bit of that tonight.”
Shots started to fall for the Sharks midway through the first quarter, as they built a 13-0 lead over the sixth-seeded Storm by the end of the frame. Sophomore guard Melissa Velasquez helped spark Monomoy by scoring seven points in the first eight minutes of action.
Velasquez, a Harwich resident, finished with a team-high 12 points after recording five more during the third quarter. Senior Leah Nash of Chatham was the only other Shark to reach double figures with 10 points, while junior forward Caroline DiGiovanni of Harwich finished with six points.
At the defensive end of the floor, Monomoy maintained the relentless full-court pressure it’s displayed throughout the year. On Monday, it caused fits for Sturgis East at every turn.
“We’re all good on defense,” Velasquez said. “We don’t have to rely on just one person, we all really work together. We kept pretty much the same team from last year, so that’s helped a lot.”
One player returning from last year who’s taken a massive leap during her second year at the varsity level is freshman AJ Gates, a Dennis resident who played on the team as an eighth grader last season. Gates only finished with four points against the Storm, but her impact for the Sharks often extends beyond the box score.
She was one of the team’s best players in the first-round victory, forcing three steals and grabbing five rebounds while providing the team with a never-ending boost of energy.
“She’s one of our best players,” O’Connell said of Gates. “She could easily be a starter, but for us it’s kind of good for her to come in and sink her teeth into tired opponents. She’s an intense defender and can rebound well.”
Monomoy will face a much tougher test against a CCA team it went 1-1 against during the regular season.
As much as the players would have loved to have been playing in a state tournament like in years past, Nash said it’s been enjoyable to battle familiar foes with a league title on the line in an inaugural tournament set up to create a postseason amid the pandemic.
“It’s definitely super exciting,” she said. “Just the fact that we have a chance to win the Cape and Islands League is really cool because we haven’t had the opportunity to do that before. It’s exciting to have a chance to be at the top of the Cape.”
Monomoy Boys Roll
Bill O’Connell wasn’t the only Sharks coach to earn his first postseason victory Monday night. Prior to the girls game, first-year boys coach Dan Taylor earned the first playoff victory of his Monomoy coaching career when the boys team thumped Falmouth Academy 50-20 in its first-round matchup.
“It’s cool that they’re doing this,” Taylor said when asked about the uniqueness of a league tournament rather than playing in a state tournament. “It’s given the kids something to look forward to all year other than just the league schedule, so I think it’s pretty neat to have some kind of tournament format.”
Twelve players recorded points for the Sharks, as Taylor emptied the bench and gave everybody playing time in the lopsided win. Senior Aidan Melton scored a team-high 13 points, while junior Dan Gould and eighth grader Finn Hyora added five points apiece to help second-seeded Monomoy improve to 10-2.
The boys were scheduled to host Rising Tide in the tournament semifinals at 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com