Setting the Scene: I hadn’t been to a game in Massachusetts yet this winter – in fact, it had been two years since I didn’t push the issue to get in for games last year – but I haven’t stopped paying attention. “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is certainly true for girls’ basketball in Berkshire County. The last time I made it to Wahconah’s gym was in 2018 for a clash of the Berkshire titans between them & Hoosac. Fast forward 4 years – they have a beautiful new building & facility, and they’re still at the top. Wahconah came in 9-1 with their lone loss being a 57-52 decision at Hoosac to start the season. Hoosac’s only blemish on their 7-1 mark was a late December defeat to Amherst. The Round 2 ‘run it back’ session couldn’t be missed.
Hoosac Valley 48, Wahconah 43
75 Words or Less: It looked like ‘No Wigington, No Problem’ early on as Wahconah turned up the heat & ran to a 19-6 lead, but in typical Hoosac Valley fashion, they had the answer, getting within 2 at halftime to set the stage for a 32 minute battle. It went back & forth after the break, but a 7-0 4th quarter Hoosac run gave them the lead for good to go 2-for-2 in the battle of Berkshire powers.
THE FULL STORY
The Wahconah Warrior speed & scrappiness took center stage in the early stages, as they dictated pace, looked a step quicker to everything, and jumped to a lead even without the services of leading scorer Grace Wigington.
It was Averie McGrath (Hoosac Valley 2022) that collected a tipped pass & finished at the rim for the game’s first field goal, but Wahconah ripped off seven straight capped by a three from Eva Eberwein (Wahconah 2022) to go up 8-2 at the midway point of the 1st. Pressure continued to make life difficult for Hoosac as the opening frame progressed, and threes from Emma Belcher (Wahconah 2023) and Olivia Gamberoni (Wahconah 2024), the latter coming just before the 1st quarter buzzer, gave Wahconah a 14-6 lead.
The hosts pushed the margin further in the opening possessions of the 2nd, with another Belcher trey and Gamberoni bucket giving them their largest lead at 19-6 just a minute into the quarter. However, they’d largely be stymied from there as Hoosac Valley started to settle in against pressure, limit transition opportunities, and use their own defensive activity to make Wahconah grind. Rylynn Witek (Hoosac Valley 2022) capped five straight Hurricane points with a make to get back within single digits, and with the margin still at 8 late in the half, they went into the locker room with a situation-shifting stretch. Taylor Garabedian (Hoosac Valley 2022) canned a three for her 7th point of the frame, then a Witek and-one off a McGrath drive & dump trimmed their halftime deficit to 23-21.
The first points of the 2nd half came from Wahconah, but Hoosac Valley got back to business early in the 3rd. McGrath, who didn’t score for the remainder of the opening half after her team’s opening points, got three the hard way and the beyond the arc way in a 40 second span to give Hoosac their first lead since that early 2-1 margin. Garabedian added a steal & layup to complete an 8-0 run, 14-2 if stretching back into the 2nd, before Wahconah stopped the bleeding by pushing the pace again. On two separate occasions, Wahconah ran off Hoosac makes and scored within seconds, and they briefly tied it late in the frame. Hoosac eventually went into the 4th leading 35-33.
Hoosac Valley used a Witek three & Garabedian free throw to stretch the margin to 6 in the opening minute of the 4th before Wahconah made their final push. Eberwein hit two free throws with 6:12 left, then Gamberoni added a bucket & followed it with a three exactly one minute after Eberwein’s free throws to give Wahconah its final lead of 40-39 with a 7-0 spurt. They’d go without a field goal until the final seconds though, as Hoosac followed with a run of their own. Gabby Billetz started it with a make at the 4:40 mark, then Witek scored again, and Ashlyn Lesure (Hoosac Valley 2025) got open & buried a big three to give the visitors a 46-40 lead with three minutes left. Wahconah had opportunities to cut back into the deficit, but in something that was a bit of a theme throughout, the free throw line wasn’t their friend. They went 1/4 from the line in the final 2+ minutes, including two 1&1 front end misses, to cap a 4/14 night. A McGrath drive & finish in the final minute made it a three-possession game and essentially iced a quality win for Hoosac.
Taylor Garabedian played an integral role in Hoosac Valley’s success and led three in double digits with 14 points. Averie McGrath added 10 while attracting plenty of defensive attention, and Rylynn Witek chipped in with 10. Wahconah, playing without Grace Wigington (19.9 PPG, 33 threes), got a game high 15 points from Olivia Gamberoni. Eva Eberwein and Emma Belcher chipped in with 10 points each.
Next Up: Three days in a row? Let’s go. This was Day 1 of a stretch that might make Hoosac Valley feel like they’re wearing Berkshire Mountaineers jerseys. They welcome 4-1 Lee to town tonight (Friday) and complete the back-to-back-to-back with a Saturday matinee against Granby. Wahconah gets a decent amount of practice time over the next couple weeks; they’re off until Tuesday, when they welcome Amherst to town for their only game of the week.
- Crazy that it had been two years since the last time I covered a high school game in WMass. I would’ve last year, but being the out-of-state guy, I never tried to push the question to ADs with spectator/media/whatever restrictions (same sentiment went into not getting to Vermont). I certainly don’t have the traction in the Berkshires & WMass that I do in other areas – visibility probably plays a part in that – but still felt great to be back in the Pittsfield area. Hopefully taking the next step east & hitting Springfield soon.
- For such a long stretch of this game, a lot of it came down to who was tougher & who ‘wanted it’ more. Wahconah dictated it early with their pressure, controlled pace, felt like they were first to everything, and they got up 19-6. Eventually Hoosac greatly limited Wahconah transition opportunities (handling pressure played a part in that) and turned into the team making Wahconah grind, getting hands on passes particularly in the half-court, winning the battle in the trenches, etc. But at the end of the day, it somewhat boiled down to what it often boils down to… making shots. Both teams had some offensive struggles, but both teams also got some good shots in the 4th quarter. Wahconah went through a long stretch in the 4th quarter where they didn’t convert. Hoosac Valley made a couple, including a huge Ashlyn Lesure three as the 2025 stepped up in that moment. Talking about ‘making shots’ definitely sounds like oversimplifying it, but sometimes, that’s just what it is.
- The names have changed over the years for Hoosac Valley, as have the skillsets. When I started doing this, it was names like Madi Ryan & Fallon Field. After that, it was Alie Mendel & Lexi Mercier. Then it was Annie Canales. There have been a couple Robinsons along the way. Now it’s Averie McGrath as one of Berkshire County’s leading scorers. The players’ natural abilities are all different, but Hoosac Valley teams seem to always have certain attributes – toughness, scrappiness, physically developed players that look like they’re no stranger to the weight room, and a primary forward that might be a little undersized in the height department but provides impact that can’t be overstated. I think Kailynne Frederick is probably the best example over the past several years, and Taylor Garabedian looks like she fits that bill. Winning in the trenches is often the best medicine on the road, and with some extra defensive attention dedicated to McGrath, Garabedian played a major role in her team’s success. From a scoring standpoint, it was mainly in the 2nd quarter, where she packed a little punch with 7 points to help cut a 13 point deficit to 2. From a defensive/rebounding/toughness standpoint, it was a constant.
- In 9 games, Averie McGrath has scored 20+ five times for Hoosac Valley, including 23 the first time around against Wahconah. This wasn’t one of those big scoring games – in fact, 10 points is her new season low – but her impact went beyond the books while still showing how she’s been one of the area’s most potent scorers. The defensive attention she drew allowed players like Garabedian and Rylynn Witek to have more room to work, it gave other guards like Ashlyn Lesure (a 2025 that could be next up for them) freedom & looks, and I thought Averie did pretty well to be assertive while not forcing & looking to get others involved. Fast forward to late in the 4th – Hoosac went on a 7-0 run, all from kids not named Averie including a big Lesure trey, and the thought crept into my head. ‘Are they giving this kid a little too much attention?’. Then Wahconah matched up out of a timeout (a necessary move IMO given time/score) and Averie got by her defender & scored. OK, maybe it wasn’t too much attention. Didn’t need to be a 25 point night to make similar levels of impact.
- I spent years watching Maria Gamberoni torch WMass defenses for Wahconah (and also on the AAU circuit for Mass Frenzy), and even a year removed from her last high school game, they’re still honoring her with stuff (presented with an area scholarship just last night). This was my first time watching the next in line though. Quick initial thoughts on Wahconah 2024 Olivia Gamberoni – different than big sis, more of the thunder to Maria’s lightning, but plays with a similar downhill speed & explosiveness and plays hard. Not the biggest, which is a Gamberoni trait as well, but I’m not sure if anyone wants to step in front of Olivia when she gets a head of steam. Strong, tough, invites the contact and dishes it out when attacking the rim better than most guards, and the effort & impact also comes on the defensive end & on the glass. I can see how the Gamberoni/Wigington mesh of attributes in the backcourt can be tough for Wahconah’s opponents to deal with.
- The 2021-22 season strikes again with the sentiment of ‘I should make sure both teams are at full strength first’. Part of choosing a Dalton trip on this night was for the game, but part was also to get eyes on Wahconah 2024 Grace Wigington. Grace, someone that I believe I’ve seen in a workout before but not in an under-the-whistle game, has been one of Berkshire County’s top scorers and its most potent perimeter shooter this season… and she was out for this game. If I knew that beforehand, honestly not sure if I would’ve made the trip. That being said, I’m glad I did. The guard-oriented Wahconah squad certainly missed the offense she provides as they had trouble putting the ball in the basket at times, but they showed something in grabbing an early double digit lead and then battling back after giving it up without her on the floor. Didn’t get a chance to see the player I was perhaps most interested in seeing, but the game made up for it.
- One very noticeable hole in the schedule this year is the absence of Hoosac Valley’s Berkshire County Coaches vs. Cancer event. The showcase, held on a Saturday around this time of year and generally featuring several Berkshire County vs. non-Berkshire schools, became an annual stop and was a day I always looked forward to. Obviously, the cause is a more than worthy one, and any opportunity to get a day full of basketball in one place and be able to cover several games, see many teams & evaluate many players is one that I won’t pass up. I feel like these day-long events are somewhat commonplace on the boys’ side but few & far between for girls. This was an exception, and I can only hope that it makes a return, whether it’s at Hoosac or somewhere else (Wahconah has a heck of a facility for it), in coming years.
- There are four schools in my coverage area (and all pretty close to each other, really) with similar spellings/pronunciation in Hoosac Valley (Cheshire, MA), Hoosic Valley (Schaghticoke, NY), Hoosick Falls, and Hoosac School (in Hoosick). The Hoosac School is a NEPSAC so I’m just pipe dreaming, but I’ve always wished we could put those four teams together for a tournament just to confuse everyone. Maybe we can at least get Hoosac Valley vs. Hoosic Valley? Anyway, I digress.
- Other notes: the last time I was at Wahconah, it did… not look like what it does now. New building, new facility, and no expense was spared. Beautiful spot! Also, shoutout to whoever controlled the music for keeping the party going. Nothing that really perked up my ears besides a surprise cameo from Biggie with ‘Hypnotize’, but the vibe in general was immaculate.