It took the Saugus girls basketball team until Feb. 4 of last season to pick up their 13th win of the season.
When the Centurions entered the gym Thursday night, they had already reached that number. By the time they left it, they eclipsed it with a 69-29 win over Poly of Sun Valley.
Coincidentally, it’s been burying the memories from a myriad of down seasons that’s helped lift Saugus out of its rut to begin the year.
“The past always seems to catch up with you,” said Saugus coach Jason Conn. “I’m trying to get them thinking about the future. I don’t care what happened back then.”
Trying to forget the past will only take you so far, though. The addition of a press coupled with a greater focus on defense in general has helped Saugus average 65.8 points through 15 games. Conn didn’t see much defense from last year’s team.
“We started five freshman last year,” Conn said. “They didn’t know how to play defense. Now, we are a very good defensive team. We have speed, quickness and we’re in overall good shape. We can keep pressing all night and nobody gets tired.”
One of those five freshman starters from last year’s team was Monique Febles, who led Saugus with 17 points and six assists Thursday. Libbie McMahan added 13 points and seven rebounds and has paired with Febles on most nights to provide the Centurions the bulk of their points.
“I think there’s a lot more teamwork, a lot more sharing the ball,” Febles said. “There isn’t any greediness. Nobody is trying to take control of the game.”
Sophomore Maliah Sourgose added 12 points and seven rebounds. Osato Omoregie had six points was at the forefront of Saugus’ new-found press and led the team with six steals. Omoregie is one of the team’s two seniors.
Coaches around the Southern Section took notice of Saugus’ up-and-coming roster. The Centurions were ranked second in the opening Division 3A poll, despite not making the postseason last year and not changing divisions.
“Good thing is, I have most of these girls for the next three years,” Conn said. “You just see a lot more confidence and maturity from this year’s group. I think that’s only going to get better as time goes on.”
Conn acknowledged that he’s scheduled a variety of competition levels for the team’s preleague slate. He’s also well-aware of what lies ahead in Foothill League play, with the likes of Canyon, Valencia and Hart.
“They’re hurdles for us,” Conn said. “I don’t want them to be overwhelmed. Those are senior-oriented teams. We got to take things one step at a time. They know if they panic in those types of games, bad things will happen.”
Canyon and Valencia met in last year’s CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA final. The Vikings won the title, but also lost four of their five starters. Still, they pose a threat at the Foothill League title. Canyon poses the biggest threat, returning Boise State signee Rachel Bowers and Talia Taufaasau, an All-CIF performer last season. Saugus placed fourth in league last year behind Hart.
The Centurions will finish out their preleague schedule Wednesday against Pacifica (No. 15 in Division 3A). Then comes time to put their superb start to the test, opening league play against Valencia on Jan. 9.