LOWELL -- You won't find a better one-two tandem on the hardwood than Westford Academy's dynamic senior duo of Samantha Hyslip and Hannah Hackley.
Hyslip and Hackley, each of whom is a four-year varsity performer, not only bring out the best in each other, they raise the level of the play in their teammates on a Grey Ghost club that is one of the top girls basketball squads in the state.
"They are starting to play like they believe they are two of the top 10 players in the state. And I think they are," said Westford coach Russ Coward. "They've played varsity for four years now and we expect a lot from them. They've really led the charge, and basically won games for us."
With Hyslip and Hackley leading the way Westford is off to a 4-0 start. They each turned in solid efforts in the Grey Ghosts' 49-42 victory over defending Division 1 state champion Central Catholic in the finals of the Commonwealth Motors Christmas Classic.
Hyslip, a senior forward who will be attending Stonehill College on a basketball scholarship, scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Central Catholic and was named the tournament MVP. Hackley, a senior guard who will be playing basketball at Amherst College, a perennial Division 3 power, checked in with 13 points and eight rebounds in a win that gives Westford lots of momentum heading into Dual County League play.
The victory was especially sweet for Westford since Central Catholic had eliminated the Grey Ghosts from the state tournament the past three seasons, including the Division 1 North title game last winter.
"Obviously, it's a real nice win," said Coward. "It doesn't take away the sting from last year's defeat, but you can tell your program is improving if you can occasionally beat a great team like Central Catholic. It means we're on the right path this year, and we're a team that is going to be pretty tough to beat."
Hyslip averaged a double-double last winter, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds a game while being named the DCL Large School Division MVP. An outstanding soccer player in the fall, Hyslip has no weakness in her game, routinely making her presence felt at both ends of the court.
"She does everything well," said Coward. "The best way to describe her is she's relentless. She's relentless to the point where it sometimes gets her in foul trouble. She tries to make every shot, she tries to make every play, and if there's a rebound out there she's going to try and get it."
Hackley can play anywhere on the court. She is an excellent shooter, runs the floor well and can play under the basket. Hackley was a DCL All-Star last season.
"She's definitely our biggest outside threat," said Coward. "She has a great shot. She's an excellent passer. And she can play down low as well."
Coward feels the best is yet to come for both Hyslip and Hackley, each of whom should raise their game to an even higher level in college.
"Sam is going to fit right in (at Stonehill) and she's going to get bigger and stronger over the next couple years," said Coward. "She can rebound, she can set screens and she can also shoot from the outside. I think she's going to step right in and get a decent amount of playing time.
"Hannah has the potential to be a very good Division 3 player. She can be an important player for a program that made the (NCAA Div. 3) Final Four last year."
As well as Hyslip and Hackley have played in the early going this season, the Grey Ghosts' possess outstanding depth and athleticism, which makes it hard for opposing teams to key on stopping any one player.
The Sennott twins, Cathryn and Rebecca, bring intensity, grit and guile to the starting lineup. Sophomore point guard Karly Bigham is doing a great job running the offense. Allia Connolly and Anna Collins, each of whom is an outstanding field hockey player, are skilled players with lots of experience.
"This team is very athletic," said Coward. "Sam and Hannah are, obviously, the focal points for our team. But this lineup is deep.
"Cathryn and Rebecca Sennott have been playing for four years and are excellent basketball players, too. Karly is an excellent passer and I'm really happy with how she's developed. We have subs who are very comfortable with their roles and I'm very happy with their play. We're very lucky to have this type of depth and talent."
Come tournament time, Westford will be playing in Division 1 Central this season. But right now the Grey Ghosts are focused on making a run at the DCL Large crown.
"Beating Central was certainly exciting," said Coward. "But we've been talking at practice the last couple days and I told the girls to not let that be the best win of the season."
Perhaps no team in the area heads into January with more momentum than the Chelmsford boys, who upended Lowell, 72-57, in the Large School finals of the Lowell Spinners/IAABO 95 Greater Lowell Basketball Tournament over the holiday break.
"I'm happy for the kids," said Chelmsford coach Charlie Micol. "It's certainly a win we want to build on. We still have a lot of goals left this season. The (MVC) is very, very strong. But these kids have a lot of confidence now.
"We played some very good teams in the tournament. We defended well, which is kind of our backbone. We had kids make shots. It's nice to be playing well. We have to stay healthy. If we do that, and continue to work and get better, we can have a really good year."
The Lions got major contributions from several players en route to winning the tournament title.
Junior guard Jack Campsmith was named the tournament MVP. Campsmith scored 17 points against Lowell, and had 18 points in a semifinal victory over Pelham. An outstanding all-around athlete, Campsmith also excels on Chelmsford's football and baseball teams.
"I'm glad it's basketball season right now," said Micol. "He doesn't play in a spring league, a summer league or a fall league. He just shows up when basketball season starts and plays well. It's nuts. He's a three-sport throwback. As the season goes along, he's just going to get better and better. He's a great athlete and a great kid."
Voshon Holmes, who scored 20 points against Lowell, and Jackson Gamer, who had 17 points and 11 rebounds against Pelham, were named to the all-tournament team.
Brad Hausler, Mike Calicchio, Matt Kuda and Nick Beati have also been playing well for Chelmsford, which has won three straight since dropping its season opener to Methuen.
"This off-season a lot of our kids put a ton of time into developing their game and it's paid some early benefits," said Micol, whose Lions were 9-13 last season. "We're a tough matchup for teams because we have a little bit of size. We have plenty of depth and we're athletic. It's a really good group. They're pretty humble. The big thing is these guys are very unselfish. They pull for each other. If someone makes a mistake they aren't all over them."
The Tyngsboro boys are off to a 6-0 start under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Crowley, and junior forward Austin Coene has been leading the charge for the Tigers, who finished with an 11-10 record last season.
Coene has been an unstoppable force down low for the Tigers. He is averaging 19.5 points and 13 rebounds, emerging as a dominant force at both ends of the court.
"He's definitely a leader on our team," said Crowley, who was a highly successful girls basketball coach at Lowell and Tyngsboro. "The two things that have impressed me most about his game are his rebounding ability and his free throw shooting. He has a knack for getting to the line and he's able to close out games from the line."
Coene has been an impact player at Tyngsboro since his freshman season. So Crowley knew he was inheriting a good player, but he has quickly learned just how skilled Coene is.
"I saw a couple games last year and I was just impressed with his overall game," said Crowley. "I didn't realize how great a kid he is, too. He's just a pleasure to coach. He's very athletic. He can run. He can jump. And he has a good feel for the game.
"He averaged almost 20 a game last year so it's no surprise to me that he's putting the ball in the basket. He's a matchup nightmare. He's hard to stop and he's just going to get better. We're trying to work on his post game because I think he can hurt teams inside and out. He was a little reluctant to get down there in the beginning, but he's really getting to the free-throw line down there."
Coene works well with his teammates. Point guard Drew Hurynowicz is an offensive force, who does a nice job distributing the ball. Tom Jacobs, David Walker, Ben Foley and Paul Sickinger have also been key contributors in Tyngsboro's fast start.
"We're playing well," said Crowley. "They've bought into everything I've been trying to teach, so I've been lucky in that sense. Now we have to build on this start."
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