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By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It has been a special season for the Needham High School girls varsity basketball team in 2019-2020. An 18-2 regular season allotted the Rockets the No. 2 seed in Division I South. Entering the season, many believed Needham would be a state championship contender. So did the Rockets, and after finishing the regular season with three straight wins and a first place finish in the Reilly Winter Classic, they still do.
One main reason for Needham’s success this season has been the play of senior captain and St. Leo’s committed point guard Kiki McIntyre, who’s averaged around 20 points a game. Another plus for Needham heading into the tournament is its health. Last season, Needham’s front court was short-handed once star forward Caroline Klemm went down with a leg injury. The Rockets were able to make a run to the Division I South finals, but ultimately fell to eventual state champ Braintree due to a lack of a threat in the paint like Klemm. With Klemm healthy and McIntyre excelling, the Needham girls have reason for optimism heading into the tournament. Add in the emergences of strong outside shooters such as junior guard Madison Shaker and sophomore guards Lucy Dorion and Avery Johnson, and the expectations are through the roof.
“I think to keep this run up, we just need to take every game one by one and never look past anyone,” said McIntyre when asked about her team’s general outlook heading into the postseason. “We are focused on our first game, which is Attleboro, and never losing sight that we most definitely can go home that night with the season over, so that thought definitely urges us to work so much harder in the gym and practice the way we want to play. We need to just continue playing the best basketball we can play and if everyone does their role then I believe we can do great things in this tournament.”
Needham’s two defeats this season came at the hands of a pair of Herget Division rivals, Walpole (56-48 on December 28) and Braintree (51-50 on February 7). As fate would have it, both the Rebels (13-7) and Wamps (10-10) are on Needham’s side of the Division I South bracket as the respective No. 7 and 10 seeds. In order to make a run at the sectional and state championships, the Rockets could very well have to go through either or both Walpole and Braintree, a task that McIntyre says that if it comes into fruition, would bring about some obvious extra motivation.
“There are a lot of tough teams, and the fact that we had a little slip-up to Braintree gives the other teams more confidence that they can beat us,” said McIntyre. “But, I think we are ready for them all, and like I said before, they are in the far back of our minds. We are taking it game by game, almost as if it’s a completely new season and we are 0-0. When we get to that time where we have to see them in the later rounds it’ll definitely be a great matchup, but I think we are 100 percent ready for whoever we meet.”
At the time of print, Needham will take on Attleboro in the opening round on February 26. If victorious, the Rockets will face the winner of No. 7 Oliver Ames and No. 10 Walpole in the quarterfinals this weekend.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as game highlights, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.