A Hoop ‘Sleeper’ Set to Put Opponents to Bed in Sectionals

Photo: Melissa Hart, Belmont High Girls head coach, at practice on Monday, Feb. 24.

In his preview of the MIAA state tournament, the Boston Herald’s High School Insider blogger Danny Ventura rates both the Belmont High School Boys’ and Girls’ teams as the “sleeper” teams of the MIAA Div. 2 North sectional playoffs that began Monday.

After being told her team is being described by that term, Melissa Hart, head coach of the Belmont High Girls squad, gave a quizzical look.

“I’m going to have to look up the definition of ‘sleeper team’,” said Hart as her team enters the tournament as the fifth seed and will play Danvers in the first round on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

For ESPN commentator Dick Vitale, a classic sleeper team in the NCAA tourney “is a team seeded fifth or lower in the bracket” that “are dangerous … capable of making deep runs in the big dance.” Ready for the upset, he said.

But Hart wonders if her team, which  should be considered as not as strong as the teams they are meeting in the playoffs. The Girls lost four of six games to undefeated or one loss teams and the other two times to teams in the Div. 1 playoffs.

“I mean, no one necessarily expects us to win but could?” said Hart. “No respect. That’s fine,” she added.

Hart’s team is coming off a great campaign that is sparked by a unrelenting defense and, especially in the final six games which it went 5-1, where the team’s outside shooting began falling. In fact, the possible second round game for Belmont could be a rematch against Bedford, which the Marauders beat by 12 points in a post-season tournament last week.

Despite having the same record and defeating the Buccaneers head-to-head, Belmont was made the lower seed after a coin-flip by the MIAA, preventing Belmont from hosting a second playoff game.

At practice Monday, the mood was upbeat as the girls were going through drills on specific points that Hart felt needed to “correct.”

“I think we’re a threat,” said Hart, pointing out how well balanced the team is – Hart regularly uses nine players in a game –   and a good make up of strong inside players – led by senior center Linda Herlihy and scoring leader Elena Bragg – and tough-noise guards with senior Sophia Eschenbach-Smith and freshman Carly Christofori.

“We have a good make up and that allows us to get away with having one player not having a great night. It doesn’t hurt you that much,” said Hart.

As practice ends, Hart believes being a sleeper could be an advantage in the playoffs.

“So we can be pretty dangerous when everything is working for us and it has in the past two weeks,” she said.

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