Photo: Belmont’s sophomore guard Irini Nikolaidis drives to the basket in the Marauders’ 55-42 victory over Stoneham, Dec. 23, 2014.
If one player on the Belmont High School Girls’ Basketball team epitomizes the style of defensive intensity that is becoming the team’s identity, it is an off-the-bench, in-your-face 10th grader.
“I just love playing defense,” said sophomore guard Irini Nikolaidis after being a spark-plug in the Marauders’ 55-42 victory over Stoneham at the Wenner Field House on Tuesday, Dec. 23.
The second-year varsity player is fast becoming a game-day headache to opposition point guards who challenge the Marauders. With a doggedness and athletic Esprit on the court, Nikolaidis faces up to opponents with long arms threatening to poke the ball or deflect a pass as she uses her quickness to stay in front of them.
“I tell the girls on the bench if they want to know how to play defense, they should watch [Nikolaidis],” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart, as the Marauders now stands at 2-1 with a match away with Reading High School on Friday, Jan. 2 next on the schedule.
Belmont took control of the game early as the team’s big front line of senior center Linda Herlihy, junior Sarah Stewart and senior Elena Bragg dominated the boards and transitioned nicely on offense as Stewart (6 points) and Herlihy (a double-double with 10 points and numerous rebounds) benefited from assists from freshman point guard Carly Christofori (6 points) who attacked the Spartan defense from inside and from the wings.
Up 16-11 after the first, Belmont spread the scoring around in the second with Nikolaidis hitting four of her 9 points, freshman Jenny Call (3 points) hitting a three for consecutive games and junior Samari Winklaar – who sang a wonderful rendition of the “National Anthem” before the game – buried a jumper for her 2 points to give Belmont a 32-21 lead at the half.
The Marauders’ team defensive pressure forced Stoneham to take outside shots and not able to utilize its best player, senior center Olivia Gaughan, who was held to 12 points.
The Marauders quickly upped its advantage to 17 points (38-21) in the first three minutes of the third quarter, led by forward Bragg who scored from inside, on the outside and via a great pass from fellow senior Sophia Eschenbach-Smith (2 points) to score six of her team-high 13 points in the third quarter, building Belmont’s lead to 45-28 at the end of the eight minutes.
The two-digit advantage allowed Hart to play the entire bench with scrappy junior guard Meghan Ferraro (1 point) scoring for the second of three games while the third freshman on the team, Gretta Propp (3 points), got on the scoring sheet with a basket and a made free throw.
As for Nikolaidis, the game comes down to going all out so not wanting to let down her teammates.
“I say to myself, ‘I have to get that ball,'” she said.