Girls basketball: Northampton’s Ava Azzaro scores 1,000th point in victory over Wahconah (PHOTOS)
Published: 02-12-2024 9:55 PM
Modified: 02-12-2024 10:05 PM
NORTHAMPTON — Needing just two points to reach the 1,000 point club, Northampton’s Ava Azzaro calmly stepped to the free throw line early in the first quarter of Monday’s game against Wahconah.
The senior sank the first free throw, took the ball and repeated the motion — as she has thousands of times before. This one was different though, as the resulting point set off the gymnasium’s buzzer and brought the action to a halt. She was surrounded by her teammates to celebrate, and her family quickly joined her on the court for pictures.
Northampton’s Ava Azzaro cashes in a pair at the line to give her 1,000 career points!— Garrett Cote (@garrett_cote) February 13, 2024
The forward adds a milestone to her standout senior season as family and friends join her on the court.@HampBlueDevils pic.twitter.com/n7WZfYUaEH
Azzaro finished the night with 17 points, and her big outing helped propel the Blue Devils to a convincing 66-33 victory over Wahconah.
“I just had to knock those down,” Azzaro said of the free throws. “There wasn’t really a moment where I thought they weren’t gonna go in. I just wanted to get it out of the way.”
Ahead of last week's game against West Springfield, Azzaro needed 18 points to reach the milestone. She had 16 after three quarters, but the Blue Devils were leading by 29 points – so head coach Perry Messer held her out of the fourth quarter.
She wasn’t held out solely because the game was out of reach, it was also the fact that the game was on the road. Azzaro wanted to eclipse 1,000 at home with of all of her friends, family and program supporters in the stands.
“I wanted my family, schoolmates, teachers around me supporting me,” Azzaro said. “I knew they’d all be here so that’s why we chose to do that.”
Since the new year, Azzaro has taken her game to another level. She had zero games of 20 or more points through December, but from January on, she’s tallied six such games – including two 30-point outbursts in a three-game stretch less than two weeks ago.
She averages 18.1 points per game, a team best for Northampton – the current No. 14 team in Division 2 according to the latest MIAA power rankings. Azzaro is one of three seniors on the Blue Devils’ roster, and she knows she’s going to be heavily relied on as the No. 1 option come playoff time – and that’s a burden she’s plenty capable of carrying.
When Azzaro joined the team as a freshman back in 2020, Messer knew he had a special player at his disposal. It wasn’t even the potential she had from a skill standpoint, but the simple fact that she wanted to win – and would do anything to help her team.
And then as her time with Northampton progressed, everything else developed. Her offensive game has been taken to new heights this year. Azzaro could always work harder than everyone to get a rebound and a put-back layup, or run the floor for transition baskets.
This year, she’s doing that and much more. Azzaro’s jumper is falling on a consistent basis, and her improved handle has allowed her to fake out defenders and create her own shot. And from the free throw line she’s nearly automatic.
“She’s just a great kid, and she’s a lot of fun to be around,” Messer said. “You can tell by her spirit and how much she’s loved by everybody. She puts a smile on your face every day when you go to practice. She’ll drive you nuts in games, but she’s had to deal with me screaming at her for four years. I [can’t say enough] about her hard work and athletic ability.”
Scoring 1,000 points is one of the most coveted accomplishments in high school basketball, and Azzaro is the latest Northampton player to get it done — the first since Amanda Mieczkowski accomplished the feat in 2020 (1,176 points). Even as she continued to approach the four-digit number with spectacular game after spectacular game, it still didn’t feel like the day would ever come.
Yet the feeling was better than Azzaro ever could’ve imagined.
“It was amazing,” she said. “We have such an amazing community here. I just wanted to be surrounded by that and I was. I really appreciated it.”
As for the game itself, Wahconah took advantage of the emotional distraction of Azzaro’s early achievement by storming out to a 12-2 lead.
But from there, it was all Blue Devils.
Heafey converted a field goal to stop the bleeding, then Azzaro dominated the rest of the half. Azzaro scored all 17 of her points in the first 16 minutes of the game, and accounted for all but seven of Northampton’s points on a 24-2 run that closed out the half. The Blue Devils held the Warriors to two second-quarter points to head into the break with a 26-14 lead.
The third quarter was played evenly, but it was evident that Wahconah was going to do everything it could to take Azzaro out of the game. The Warriors switched to a box-and-one defense, swarming Azzaro and sending double teams at her every time she touched the ball.
In response, it was Bri Heafey’s turn to take over the game. The junior guard poured in a game-high 21 points – including 16 in the second half – to help extend the Northampton lead. After only giving up two points in the second, the Blue Devils topped that by surrendering just one in the fourth.
“My team knows, if you’re gonna play for me, you’re gonna play defense,” Messer said. “I’m gonna coach them to play defense from the start of the game to the finish. Do things the right way, because it’s not about just tonight, it’s about what we’re gonna do the next game and in the tournament. We’re gonna have nights where we don’t shoot well, but if you can lock down on defense, you’ll still be in the game.”
While the Warriors were busy containing Azzaro, the rest of the Northampton squad benefited from wide-open jumpers beyond the arc. Heafey knocked down four 3s, Emme Calkins (nine points) drilled three and Sarah Molnar (nine points) and Teagan McDonald (four points) each cashed in one. Anna Oravec added six points as well.
“We work with all our kids, they all can shoot and they all can handle the ball,” Messer said. “We had girls step up. I said to them, ‘[Wahconah] is gonna give you open shots, they’re saying you can’t beat them.’ And I thought Emme and Sarah and Bri looked at the basket and were ready. I thought Anna pounded the glass and created some second and third-chance shots for us. All of our young players played well.”
Northampton (14-3) wraps up its regular season slate at home on Wednesday against Pittsfield. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.