For years now, when you mention Norwell, the first thought goes to their big three. Three guards, tons of experience, tons of talent and tons of wins. Now Kaylee Fuelling, Maiah Shelton and Lauren Bales are gone and Norwell will rebuild. But they will do so with a group that coach Eric Thornton says could be as good as any group that he’s ever had at Norwell.
With what he has had in the past, that thought has to be awfully encouraging.
Back to the fold for Norwell will be seniors Mackinzie Toliver and Emily Todd. Toliver has vastly more experience of the two, certainly learning a lot behind and next to that senior trio of guards. Toliver comes back at Norwell’s leading returning scorer after averaging 7.4 points per game for Norwell during their big 2020-21 season. She made 60 three pointers during the course of last season.
“I haven’t coached a grittier or more intelligent player than Mackinzie. She competes so hard while having that emotional balance that helps our team in those big moments,” Thornton said. “Mackinzie has great floor vision and awareness, and her ability to stretch the defense is a huge asset in creating gaps for both herself and her teammates. She simply doesn’t get enough credit for her defensive play, and her leadership from the many battles she’s been a part of will be critical to the growth of our very young but talented team.”
Todd averaged 1.9 points per game with less time because of the deep guard lineup of Norwell last year, but brings a lot of high level play to the team and will be expected to contribute much more as a senior.
Also back as a guard is Kennedy Fuelling, who almost immediately established herslf as a deep threat during her freshman season. As good of a shooter as she is, the seven point a game scorer showcases a lot of the toughness that made her sister such a threat for years at Norwell.
“No doubt that her role changes this season, not just because we need Kennedy to do more, but also because she can. Her versatility on offense makes her difficult to guard, while her defensive instincts improve our opportunities to score in transition. Off the court, Kennedy’s sense of humor brings enthusiasm to our team, and the atmosphere of working hard and having fund that she helps create is highly contagious,” Thornton said.
The fourth major returner for Norwell is Skyla Tomasek, who is the primary inside presence. Tomasek, analytically, is a top player for this group. She averaged 3.7 points in 2020-21 but will come into this season as one of the more refined interior players in the Northeast 8 Conference. Her defense is another big strength to help lead this group.
Thorton expects four sophomores to join this group immediately as he will be comfortable going eight players deep. He says that he sees a lot of similarities between this Class of 2024 group and the group that graduated last season after so many years on varsity. Joining Fuelling in that class is Makenzie Fuess, Annabelle Johnson and Lilly Norris on the perimeter as well as forward Haley Green.
“Makenzie Fuess is going to really surprise some people this year that may not know about her, but she’s a gym rat, she’s always shooting with her dad and working on her game. She’s going to give us a lot,” Thornton said.
Johnson will play point guard minutes for the Norwell, using gap splitting ability and quick hands to help with the historically strong Norwell dribble drive offense. Norris will be able to play four positions on the floor while Green will back up Tomasek inside.
The depth Norwell has and the excitement behind Thornton really shows.
“When you talk about these sophomores, it brings me back to this group that we just lost. There are a lot of similarities, a lot of success at lower levels that they are used to winning. That tradition will carry on with them,” Thornton said. “I think this group could be as good as any group that we’ve had.”
Because this is Norwell. Eric Thornton is one of the longest tenured coaches in the area and one of the most successful. He has had so much talent over the years, but he sure does know how to get the best out of his players. We aren’t buying in to Norwell fully yet (see below), but reality dictates that this is still going to be one of the area’s very best programs.
Even if they start slow, by season’s end they will be a title contender.
“There is a great source of pride these girls have in being a Norwell girls basketball player. The tradition has been there, these girls will continue that. Their goals won’t be any different than what we’ve had in the past. They understand what that means to carry that on,” Thornton said.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
As noted, there is only a little bit of experience back. And that experience certainly didn’t need to handle the heavy workload with last year’s senior class being some of the best guards and players in the area. Only about 20 points per game (32% of scoring) return so Norwell has a lot to prove before they can move back up the rankings.
November 13 vs. Angola
Norwell gets a few games in before this and obviously the NE8 games are most important. But this one is always chaotic and fun, especially inside the confines of The Castle.
Who could Norwell be with almost an entirely different team? This is going to be a big test, their second big test of the season probably. Angola isn’t going to pull punches. They are young too but a lot of their youth saw crucial time last season. This could be the best game in the area this year, next year and years beyond because of what both programs have in the pipeline.
If Norwell can compete, contend or even win this game, it will really be something to build on.
Skyla Tomasek, Junior
Tomasek averaged 3.7 points per game as a sophomore as she really got her varsity feet wet. Now, she is going to be someone that Norwell really leans on, based not only on her size but her growing experience as she has been improving every summer. If Norwell can separate themselves on the interior, they will still be in the fold challenging for the NE8 title.