Hopkinton girls’ basketball, led by first-year head coach Mike Mahoney, gears up for the playoffs

Hopkinton senior Lizz Holmes prepares to attempt a layup during a win over Stevens on Jan. 19.

Hopkinton senior Lizz Holmes prepares to attempt a layup during a win over Stevens on Jan. 19. ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-09-2024 10:36 AM

Even though Mike Mahoney came to Hopkinton as a new head coach for the Hawks’ girls’ varsity basketball team this summer, the program has operated like a well-oiled machine from the very beginning of the season.

Hopkinton graduated eight seniors from last year’s team that reached the Division III semifinals, but leadership from returning players, particularly senior captain Lizz Holmes and junior captain Shaylee Murdough, has been a major asset.

“I think they quickly get the respect of the rest of the group,” Mahoney said. “They listen to me, too, but it’s nice to have those other voices that they can go to as well, kind of an extension of what I’m telling them.”

The regular season concluded on Thursday, and Hopkinton will be the No. 2 seed in the Division III playoffs which begin on Wednesday. The team will have a bye for the first round and play its first game in the quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 17.

The Hawks started the season with an eight-game winning streak before a 34-28 loss to Gilford on Jan. 16. Their only other defeats came at the hands of Mascoma Valley (54-31) and St. Thomas Aquinas (66-48) over the last two games of the regular season. It was the first time this year that Hopkinton’s normally stingy defense allowed more than 43 points in a game.

However, Mahoney said the focus has remained on getting everybody healthy for the playoffs. Murdough injured herself against Somersworth at the end of January and hasn’t played since, while neither Holmes nor fellow seniors Katie Brown and Keegan St. Cyr played in the final two games.

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And while the losses came without those key players, Mahoney noted that it still allows his team to refocus ahead of the biggest games of the year.

“We made some mistakes that were uncharacteristic of us, but I also think it’s a good learning experience, too, where we’re playing really well, but we have things to work on,” he said. “We have things to fix before the tournament if we want to get where we want to go. There are times you can lose and take something positive from the game, and hopefully we do that.”

Overall this season, though, Hopkinton’s had little trouble with top teams in Division III. Against the other teams in the division that have won at least 10 games, the Hawks are 5-2.

But Mahoney knows it’ll be an immense challenge to beat some of these teams for a second — or potentially a third — time this year.

“We’ve had success against some of those teams already, but it’s hard to beat good teams multiple times,” he said. “We have to keep watching film and making adjustments. I like us when we’re out there and focused and healthy. We’ve shown we can hang with anybody. It’s just a matter of making adjustments and keeping our eye on the ultimate goal.”

Hopkinton justifiably has its eye on a championship, but regardless of how long the Hawks’ playoff run lasts, it’s been as positive a first season with the program as Mahoney could’ve hoped for.

“This group has been terrific to work with,” he said. “They work hard, and they really pick each other up and play together, and I think that’s been a big part of our success this year. It’s really been an enjoyable year, and I’m just hoping that we can keep it going for a couple more weeks.”