Standard Bearers: St. Mary’s Girls Claim 2020 State Championship

There will be another banner-raising ceremony at St. Mary’s High School.

The St. Mary’s girls basketball team completed what may have been the program’s greatest season ever – which is really saying something – with a 53-37 victory over Rockland in the state semifinal at the TD Garden in Boston.

The St. Mary’s High school girls basketball team is pictured on the famed parquet floor at the TD Garden after defeating Rockland, 53-37, in the Division 3 state semifinal.

The MIAA canceled the state championship game due to the COVID-19 virus and St. Mary’s was declared co-champions of Massachusetts for the 2019-20 season. It was St. Mary’s third state title since 2011 under head coach Jeff Newhall.

The game at the Garden and the entire journey illustrated why the Spartans were so successful in a season that produced a school-record 25 victories.

Seniors Olivia Matela, Gabby Torres, and Jannise Avelino stepped up all season with their leadership and stellar contributions on the court.

Junior All-Scholastic candidate Maiya Bergdorf continued on the road to a likely college basketball scholarship with 13 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Rockland. Nicolette D’Itria had eight points versus Rockland while completing a superb third season as a starting guard. Ninth grader Yirsy Queliz took a big step forward in her game and the confidence with which she plays is awe-inspiring.  The backcourt of D’Itria, whose fundamentally sound game is second to one, and Queliz, the freshman phenom, should be among the state’s best in the 2020-21 season.

Key reserves Van Nguyen and Alyssa Grossi saved their best moments for the State Tournament. Nguyen came off the bench at the Garden to deliver a three-pointer from the corner and seven clutch points overall. And Grossi’s huge effort against Amesbury in the North Sectional final pushed St. Mary’s over the top against the No. 2-seeded Cape Ann League powerhouse.

Newhall and his staff deserve much credit for their leadership and in-game adjustments. For example, the decision to go to a four-guard offense against Rockland was bold and brilliant and paid dividends in the crucial second half. The inbounds plays and set plays that Newhall has implemented throughout his career have constantly befuddled opposing defenses and led to uncontested baskets.

The Spartans (25-2) averaged 71 points per game while allowing 41 points per game this season. The road to the Massachusetts crown included two wins in South Carolina, along with the Walter Boverini and Spartan Classic championships.

A decade of excellence

In the three state championship seasons in 2011, 2014, and 2020, the Spartans compiled a 73-8 record. Newhall talked about the past decade of basketball that has clearly established St. Mary’s as one of the best high school programs in the state.

“We have been blessed with a large number of tremendous student-athletes in our girls basketball program over the years,” said Newhall. “Winning a third state title to me shows the strength and depth of our program, that it’s been consistently at or near the top of Massachusetts for over 10 years.

“More importantly every girl that has graduated from the St. Mary’s girls basketball program has gone on to college, some as scholarship basketball players, but more as academic scholarship students. Bottom line and our program is living proof: You win consistently when you have a combination of good players, excellent students, and solid all-around people.”

And though Jeff Newhall wouldn’t say it – you need a great coach to bring it all together and to inspire the players to buy in to the philosophy and work ethic you’re trying to incorporate on and off the court.

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