STILLWATER — There are no seniors in the starting lineup of the Cambridge girls basketball team this season.
There aren’t even any juniors. For most of the season, the Indians’ starting five has been comprised of four sophomores and a freshman.
However, three of those sophomores are returning starters from Cambridge’s run to the Class C state semifinals last season. Twins Sophie and Lilly Phillips and Fiona Mooney have led this year’s Indians to a 16-1 record overall and a second straight berth in the Wasaren League championship game. The title game is set for Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Stillwater High School against Tamarac, a rematch of last year’s game won by the Bengals.
“We knew we would compete, but we’re so young,” said first-year head coach Bob Phillips, who is also the twins’ father. “It’s been a nice mesh between the returning players and the young players moving up. We can create problems in different ways.”
“We thought it would be a little bit of a struggle, just because we lost five seniors and we lost a lot of height and strength,” Lilly Phillips said. “But all of the girls that have come up for their first year, we used to play with them on modified and our first year on JV, so we’re all really used to each other.”
Now, however, the Indians have some retooling to do, as Mooney suffered a broken wrist in Tuesday night’s victory over Stillwater. She is Cambridge’s power forward, able to play the post and drive to the hoop.
“We all feel terrible, she means a lot to our team,” Bob Phillips said Wednesday, adding that Mooney is likely out 4-6 weeks, but could come back sooner. “She’s a big-time post presence, she’s a big strong girl who is a good rebounder and runs the court well. She can body up with bigger post players like the Logan Thaynes of the world,” he added, referring to Hoosick Falls’ 6-foot-2 center.
Bob Phillips said the Indians will look to players like senior Brecke Gifford and sophomore McKayla McLenithan, who took over at center when Gifford injured her ankle before Christmas break.
“They’ll have to do things to pick up the slack, and we have long, lanky guards — they may have to play more in the post than usual,” said Bob Phillips, who took over the Indians’ reins when former coach Tony Bochette stepped down after last season. “Everyone will have to elevate their game.”
The Indians have been doing that all season in the wake of the graduation last June of five seniors who helped Cambridge to a 25-2 record, a Section II championship and a berth in the state Class C final four.
“The five people we lost were really important to our team last year, but the girls who came up this year are really filling in the gaps that they left behind,” said Mooney before Tuesday’s game. “The group we have this year, even though we didn’t play together last year, we’ve played together growing up, from fourth grade up.”
Sophie Phillips added that they have all played AAU basketball together in the offseason.
Mooney and the Phillips twins are all 5-11, and all average in double figures. Sophie Phillips (16.2 points per game) runs the point, while Lilly Phillips (14.7 ppg) shares the 2 and 3 spots — shooting guard and swingman — with freshman Stasia Epler, a good outside shooter. Epler and McLenithan have both been starting since just before Christmas. Ruth Nolan, Rhiannon Darling and Abby Maher have also contributed.
“We’re not that tall, but our speed helps with that, and our basketball knowledge,” Lilly Phillips said. “We have a lot of kids with experience.”
“Last year, we had the five seniors,” Bob Phillips said. “This year, the experience is in that sophomore class. Last year, they were able to sneak up on people a little. This year, they’ve had bulls-eyes on their backs, they’ve gotten everyone’s best shot and junk defenses. But they’ve handled it well.”
The Indians’ experience shows with their offensive flow — like last year, quickness on defense leads to steals, which sparks their transition offense.
“The whole team is getting each other open looks — we all hit open shots, we all make great passes to each other, we’re not a selfish team whatsoever,” Sophie Phillips said. “So we’re all looking for each other, and we keep passing to get the most open look.”
Cambridge suffered its only loss, a 61-57 setback to Hoosic Valley on Dec. 11, but avenged that loss with a 61-45 win on Jan. 18.
“That was a huge win for the whole team,” Sophie Phillips said. “It took a lot of strength, mentally and physically, for our whole team because they’re such an aggressive, really good team.”
“That (loss) was a little wakeup for us — that we can’t rest on what we did last year, we have to dig deep,” Bob Phillips said.
A repeat Class C sectional title will be tough against a field that includes the likes of Valley, Lake George, Warrensburg, Hoosick Falls, Greenville and Maple Hill — especially missing a key player like Mooney.
“We’ll rally around Fi’s injury, do what we need to do and see what happens,” Bob Phillips said.