By Carley Crain
For Springfield Central, competitiveness comes naturally. Going up against one of the best high school teams in the country, Cathedral Catholic, as well as nationally ranked player Isuneh Brady, didn’t intimate them. After all, they’re one of the better teams in Western Massachusetts. In their last full season, Springfield Central played in the Western Massachusetts Division I championship. They knew that heading into a game like this, confidence was a crucial part of their ‘uniform.’
“For me, before the game started it was all about playing a 6 foot 4 player, Isuneh Brady. But for me it wasn’t about that”, explained Central player Julia Bahati. “6-4 the better. I was just going to work twice as hard and show up. I am confident that I could have scored against her. It was just really good competition for me and I wasn’t really scared to go against her.”
Due to COVID concerns, Springfield Central hasn’t played together as a team for 29 days which was definitely a factor in their outcome vs Catholic. The team only had a few days to prepare to play one of the best teams in the country.
“We were on pause so we did not have a lot of time to prepare,” explained guard Amany Lopez. “When we did get back we were just working on our sets and playing hard defense. But we have played teams like them so we were used to it.”
However, having the opportunity to play at such a high-caliber tournament like the Spalding Hoophall Classic presented by Eastbay gives them exposure and opportunities for future basketball endeavors. Playing at the college level has always been a dream for many of the Springfield Central girls. To them, playing in college is an opportunity to branch out of the Springfield area, and make a name for themselves. Success in basketball can lead the way to a better life. Sports can and do have that power.
“We want to have that D1 look so that we can potentially go to college for free,” said Lopez. “We have been working hard on that.”
With the recent addition of James Gee as head coach, basketball isn’t always the top priority. Gee and the rest of the coaching staff emphasize that being an athlete is secondary. Developing a life outside of sport is the most important for success. Both Bahati and Lopez spoke about the competitive and tough culture Gee has cultivated, and how it has helped shape them into not only better basketball players, but as young women.
“He’s hard on us both on and off the court and he pushes us to do better on both sides,” said Bahati. “He is always on top of our grades and checking in with us, like if someone needs a study hall. He cares about us personally, not just about basketball.”
“He also just wants us to be good people. Everything he teaches us is to be a good person and to each other,” added Lopez.
Having a close-knit team has been crucial in Springfield Central’s success over the years. Being a teammate to them is more than just playing with each other on the court or shooting hoops together at practice. What happens off the basketball court determines how well they play collectively as a team.
“We have been playing together for a while now, about three years,” explained Bahati.
“When we get on the court, we already have that bond. It helps us work better together.”
Reflecting on their matchup vs Cathedral Catholic, they know they have a lot of work to do to better themselves as a team but remain excited about the remainder of the season.
With the pandemic canceling Hoophall last year, playing in this year’s tournament was extra special. Cancellations because of COVID especially have hit high school students hard but have fostered a greater appreciation for the opportunity to play the sport they love.
With the Omicron variant spreading like wildfire, Springfield Catholic’s season is up in the air. Every chance they get to play as a team is a moment to be grateful and appreciative, which means, no more taking opportunities like playing at the Hoophall Classic for granted.
Photo: Joe Arruda/The Student