Angola caps busy two weeks with NECC Tournament triumph

Angola’s Lauren Leach shoots a free throw during a career scoring game in January 16’s NECC Tournament title game against Lakeland. (Photo by Steve Bowen/Bowen Arrow Photography)

Following Angola’s 55-45 victory over Lakeland in the NECC Tournament championship on Saturday at Westview, there a lot of smiles, hugs and posing for pictures.

But looking at head coach Nick Burlingame and his players, you could also sense something else – relief.

Winning four games in five days was no easy feat for the Hornets. But the condensed schedule wasn’t sure over the course of the week. In fact, Angola’s victory over the Lakers ended a string of nine games in 14 days – all wins.

“It has been a long couple weeks,” said Burlingame. “I am really proud of the girls. They just continue to stay the course and work hard. Everyone came together and made plays. It has been like that all season.”

And just like all season, it was the leaders at the point of attack. Senior Hanna Knoll finished with 17 points in the victory that after a strong start in the first quarter was never really in doubt. Junior Lauren Leach led all scorers with 25 points.

“It has been rough playing a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Leach said. “It has been challenging, but it feels good to know that we can get through it, play together and trust in each other.”

The Hornets (14-3) had a three-week break from mid-December up to Jan. 2. During that time, Burlingame’s team, which stood at 5-3 after a 28-point loss to Homestead on Dec. 12, tried to find answers for the struggles, including losses to league foes Garrett and Fairfield.

During the run to the NECC Tournament title, the Hornets beat both the Railroaders and Falcons to avenge losses and show just how far they had come.

“I don’t think it is just one specific thing,” said Burlingame when asked what the difference has been. “We are learning each other and growing together. You can have Xs and Os and things like that, but in the end it comes down to belief in each other and putting the team before the individual. We have slowly done that throughout the course of the year.”

The final few weeks of the regular season hardly offer a reprieve for Angola. The team will play six games over the next two weeks, including a home non-conference showdown with Norwell next Saturday, a big barometer game with sectional play looming.

While the Hornets got to enjoy their tournament victory on Saturday, there is still more work to be done between now and the playoffs.

Angola’s Riley Pepple brings the ball up the court during January 16’s NECC Tournament title game against Lakeland. (Photo by Steve Bowen/Bowen Arrow Photography)

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