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Giant turnaround for Brady girls’ basketball

  • Coach Aaron Brochu watches as Shannon Drouin runs the ball down the court in a drill during Bishop Brady's girls' basketball practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Coach Aaron Brochu watches as Shannon Drouin runs the ball down the court in a drill during Bishop Brady's girls' basketball practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

  • Coach Aaron Brochu plays defense on Sarah Thomas during a drill at Bishop Brady's girls' basketball practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Coach Aaron Brochu plays defense on Sarah Thomas during a drill at Bishop Brady's girls' basketball practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

  • Coach Aaron Brochu tells the Bishop Brady girls' basketball team about changes to their schedule before their practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

    Coach Aaron Brochu tells the Bishop Brady girls' basketball team about changes to their schedule before their practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

  • Coach Aaron Brochu watches as Shannon Drouin runs the ball down the court in a drill during Bishop Brady's girls' basketball practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • Coach Aaron Brochu plays defense on Sarah Thomas during a drill at Bishop Brady's girls' basketball practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)
  • Coach Aaron Brochu tells the Bishop Brady girls' basketball team about changes to their schedule before their practice; Thursday, February 7, 2013. The Bishop Brady girls's basketball team has had their first winning season in more than 10 years.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor Staff)

The last time the Bishop Brady girls’ basketball team had a winning record was 2002, when the Green Giants finished 10-9 in Class I (now Division II), and they haven’t reached the postseason since 2008. But Brady is sitting at 13-2 this season and poised to take one of the top four seeds in Division III.

This is the first year in D-III for the Brady girls (the boys still play in D-II), and that move down is clearly part of the success story. But there’s also a new coach, Aaron Brochu, and a new attitude among the players.

“We’re very serious this year and that’s what’s been lacking in the past,” said senior Tori LeBlanc, a four-year starter

for the Giants. “And Coach Brochu has instilled a motivation in the program that it hasn’t had before.”

Brochu graduated from Merrimack Valley in 1989, was on MV’s Class I title team that year, and he was the junior varsity coach at Pembroke Academy for the past five years. He watched Matt Alosa build the Spartans into a powerhouse program and said it was a valuable learning experience and influence. Brochu even sounds and acts like Alosa on the sideline, an observation confirmed by a reliable source.

“My dad (Albert) says the same thing,” Brochu said. “He says that my posture and body language remind him of Matt.”

Having his own program has always been a goal for Brochu. He’s also been looking for an opportunity in the girls’ game because, “I have twin daughters (7-year-olds Maya and Delia) and I wanted them to be around some positive role models.”

“Aaron did a good job for me, implementing what I wanted with the JV program, and we worked well together,” said Alosa, whose sister, Maggie, plays on the Brady team. “I think his demeanor works well with the girls. Not that you need different coaches for boys and girls, any style can work for either, but I think Aaron is a good fit in the girls’ game.”

Even though it’s the first year for Brochu at Brady, some famous names have maintained continuity in the program. Tom Hardiman, who won championships as a player and coach at Brady, and Tom Cassidy, who was on Hardiman’s 1962 title team, have been connected to the girls’ program in recent years and stayed through the coaching change.

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect this year, but we had been working hard all summer with Mr. Hardiman and Mr. Cassidy, and we were really just determined to make it better,” said junior Taylor Ong, a three-year starter.

Ong, a 5-foot-10 forward, has been a dynamic force this season. She leads the team in scoring (12.7 points per game), rebounds (6.1) and steals (2.8), and is third in assists (2.1).

“Taylor has been our most consistent player,” Brochu said. “She’s our leading scorer and gets most of the attention when we’re on offense, but she’s also doing all the little things as well.”

Sophomore Sarah Thomas, a 5-7 guard, has come on in the second half of the season and is second on the team in scoring at 8.7 points per game. LeBlanc contributes a little bit of everything (4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg, 2.5 rpg), as does junior guard Riselly Deoleo (5.2 points, 3.1 assists, 2.1 steals), who also directs the team’s emotional compass.

“Selly is our vocal leader,” Brochu said. “She leads the charge coming out for warmups and coming out of timeouts. In the locker room, she’s the one hooting and hollering and getting people riled up for the game. She’s done that piece wonderfully.”

Sophomore center Natasha Velez rounds out the five who have started every game this year for Brady. The 5-11 Velez (8.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg) is new to the school and has brought a toughness the program lacked in recent years. In many ways, she embodies the Giants’ new identity as a defensive-oriented team that plays with an edge.

“We want them to play as hard as they can for 32 minutes, use their athleticism to force turnovers, and get out and run and get some layups,” said Brochu, whose team is allowing just 31.9 points per game.

Brochu also has been clear on his big-picture goals, which is part of the new serious approach and “motivation” that LeBlanc mentioned.

“I think setting yourself up for anything less than a championship is not fair to the girls,” Brochu said. “As a coach, my expectation has to be to hang a banner, and I think the girls sense that and they’re hungry for it.”

While Brady is definitely a contender for the D-III title, that probably wouldn’t have been the case if the Giants were still in D-II. Of course, that makes perfect sense considering the D-II schools range in size from 1,304 to 623 students and Brady has 362, which makes it the third smallest school in D-III.

Still, despite that size disadvantage, this Brady team may have broken the string of 11 straight sub-.500 seasons, regardless of division.

“It was getting tougher and tougher for us to compete in D-II; I think this team could have, but it was tough in previous years,” said Fred Vezina, the Bishop Brady athletic director who was also the coach of that ’01-02 Brady girls’ team, the last to have a winning record.

“We just didn’t have enough specialized basketball talent. We had some great kids, some hard workers and some good athletes, but in D-II you have mostly specialized kids, and our kids are almost all multi-sport athletes.”

No matter what happens at the end of this D-III tournament, the Brady girls are a lock to host at least one playoff game. For a team that went 12-42 over the last three years, that’s quite a turnaround.

“I’ve never been in a playoff situation in basketball, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen here,” LeBlanc said. “I’m so excited to get to do that now and to do it at our school and have our fans there cheering. It’s going to be really exciting.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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