MANCHESTER - When the Burr and Burton Academy girls basketball hits the hardwood for their season opener next Wednesday spectators may a notice a few changes to this year's team.

One of the changes is at the head coaching position with Ed Panzarino - who was one of the assistant coaches last year - taking over for coach Terry Merrow who had coached the team for three years.

With Panzarino now in the head coaching position, he said spectators may notice some differences in the way team plays. One change, he said, is that the team will play more of the west coast style of a basketball - an up tempo, run and gun, style of play.

"It will be a work in progress throughout the season, but I think for the most part we want to get out and go," said Panzarino.

Members of the Burr and Burton Academy girls basketball team participate in a drill during practice earlier this month.
Members of the Burr and Burton Academy girls basketball team participate in a drill during practice earlier this month. (Gary Baker photo)
"We want to get up a lot of shots in a game."

Another significant change from last year is that Panzarino has placed a greater emphasis on defense - something he said the team has taken to heart.

"I'm all about defense. I think that starts it. So, we will be very good defensively," said Panzarino. "There will be a lot of man to man and we'll be on the ball and we'll force you to make decisions. Everyone plays defense this year. They all bought into it so they're really working hard on defense."

While this year's team is young, many of them not only have significant varsity experience, but there is also a comfort level that exists between some of them as they have been playing together for several years, Panzarino said.

Former captains Rory Halligan and Devin Brown are the only two members of last year's team not returning as both graduated last year. Halligan was the team's starting point guard while Brown was the starting shooting guard and one of the team's top defenders.

One of the players that Panzarino expects to play a significant role, at least on the defensive side of the ball, is junior guard Hayley Sabol who moved up this year from junior varsity.

"Hayley Sabol is probably the best on ball defender we have. She's incredible," said Panzarino. "She's so fast and so smart. She's always yelling, always talking, and she really does a fantastic job on the ball."

Junior Deidre Walsh, who is a front runner for the starting point guard position and saw some minutes last season, is another good on ball defender who Panzarino expects to make a significant impact on defense along with sophomore center Hannah Nicholson.

When the season does begin, Nicholson will also play an important part in the team's offense.

"Hannah will definitely be a focal point of what we want to do on the offensive side," said Panzarino. "A lot of her points last year were hustle points, rebounds and loose balls and things like that. So, we want to give her the ball where she can do the most damage this year."

In addition to being a catalyst on offense, Panzarino said Nicholson is also one of the team's leading rebounders.

Junior Olson Humphrey - who is the team's best rebounder - will not only provide a threat on the glass, but she is also one of the driving forces of the team.

"Olson really makes the team run too because she rebounds, but at the same time she is a great interior passer," said Panzarino. "So, if they're doubling her she always makes the right pass. So, it's kind of nice to have that down there too."

Panzarino also expects junior Maggie Oliver, who will see time at the guard and forward positions, to make significant contributions throughout the season.

"She's our most improved player. She's come back with a vengence this year. Offensively, defensively, she could play one through five. She could run the point and then play center for Hannah," Panzarino said.

Another important aspect of this year's team is their depth - something Panzarino said will help give the team a number of different looks in putting a lineup on the floor.

Senior forwards Brianna Brockett, Angelina Gaiotti, and Allessandra Gaiotti, along with junior guard Hailey Brockett are expected to play a key role in the team's running game, but can also help in other offensive schemes as well.

"They could be playing forward and guard too," said Panzarino. "So, we could go really big if we wanted to and we also have a very, very, very quick team that we could go small with. So the opportunities of different lineups could really pose some trouble to the other teams I think."

Angelina Gaiotti, who Panzarino said has some good post moves and is a good rebounder, will likely back up Nicholson at the center position.

Guards Tessa Roberts and Stephanie Boucher - who are new to the team this year - as well as guard Hailey Brockett will all come off the bench and will be looking to score while sophomore forward Natalie Johnson will give the team a defensive presence.

"Natalie is probably our second best rebounder. She's just very physical and really gives us a defensive presence," said Panzarino. "And that's towards the end of our bench, which is kind of nice. Haley Goodrich (junior guard) can also come of the bench and shoot a little bit and she's a very good team defender."

The Bulldogs open their season against Springfield on Wednesday at BBA beginning at 7 p.m.

The junior varsity gold team will also open their season against Springfield on Wednesday at home beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The donation of two non-parishable food items - which will be donated to the Manchester Food Cupboard - may be made in place of the cost of admission.

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