One more win. That’s all that stands between the seniors on the Watertown High School girls basketball team reaching their goal made years ago to win the state championship.
The Raiders have their shot in Saturday’s MIAA Div. 2 State Final against Longmeadow. The game will be played at 4:30 p.m. at Springfield College (follow the game live on Watertown News.) The title would also be Watertown’s first in girls basketball.
Head Coach Patrick Ferdinand took the Watertown job when the current seniors were in fifth grade. He met many of his current players that same day when they were holding a practice at the Waltham YMCA for the Watertown Travel Basketball team, and that day he planted a seed.
“I met them the night I got hired. One of their coaches invited me to come down,” Ferdinand said. “I said, I want you to think, anytime you get out of practice – state title at some point and time in your career. It is kind of interesting how things play themselves out.”
Senior guard and co-captain Nicole Lanzo said that day still resonates with her.
“I remember exactly where we were and it’s just crazy now we are seniors and we’re going to the championship,” Lanzo said.
Ferdinand said he saw the potential even back when the players were in middle school.
“I wanted that group to have a belief it could happen,” Ferdinand said. “There was such a good amount of them, too, playing and who loved playing.”
Senior co-captain Michaela Antonellis said some of the seniors have been playing together since they were in Biddy Basketball at the Watertown Boys and Girls Club when they were in second grade. The core has been playing together since they were in fourth grade. Now their goal is within reach.
“For all of us, its been, lets win a state championship together senior year,” Antonellis said. “Now that it is here, there are no words to describe it.”
Unfortunately, the team learned Thursday that Lanzo will not get to play in the final. She injured her knee early in Tuesday’s state semifinal against Oliver Ames.
“She’s a huge contributor, but I think (junior) Hannah (McMahon) will definitely step up, and we’ll have a few people off the bench,” Antonellis said. “Having her not play is definitely going to affect us.”
A Little Help from his Friends
Ferdinand has enlisted a cast of many to help his team succeed this year. He jokes that his staff is as big as the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
“I try to treat it like a college program,” Ferdinand said.
His assistant coaches this year are Josh Smith, Mollie Hamel, Gary McKissick, John Casace and Andrea Sufferdini.
He also gets help from boys basketball players who come to practices to give the girls a challenge. On Thursday he had senior Watertown basketball player Derek DiPietrantonio come down to simulate Longmeadow’s 6-foot-3 inch center, Kayla Mokwuah.
Ferdinand said he has received good wishes from many people around town, as well as he fellow Middlesex League coaches.
The Raiders’ journey to the state final has been a multi-year effort, with some heartbreaks along the way.
“We had a really good team the past couple years. We ran into these teams – sometime need to be a little luck … things have go your way,” Ferdinand said.
Last year in the state semifinal the Raiders lead at halftime, but ended up losing to Duxbury, a team that went undefeated and won the state title. In 2014, Watertown’s comeback fell short in the North Section final, and again lost to the eventual state champs, this time Arlington Catholic.
This year, Ferdinand said he thinks the Raiders have the right mindset. They had some losses earlier in the year which has helped the team focus.
“I think we are really grounded. We’ve got to this point,” Ferdinand said. “The last possible day we can play, we’re going to play. That’s a great thing. We’re lucky to be in that position.”
With the finals moving to Springfield, the Raiders will be traveling Friday and staying overnight in a hotel. Their schedule includes much more than just the game.
“It is a good weekend. We all get to go to a hotel and room together, so it’s going to be fun,” Antonellis said.
The team will get an hour of practice at Springfield College Friday afternoon, and then that night they will have a banquet with the other finalists. On Saturday they will take a tour of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Then it’s game time.
“This is my last game. It’s sad,” Antonellis said. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was 6 or 7 years old – I love basketball. This is my last game, I want to end on a good note.”