The girls varsity basketball team has officially begun their preparations for a new year, and first-year head coach Megan Puopolo is hopeful that the Rockets will build off last season’s success by clinching a spot in the MIAA tournament.
“I want to get 10 wins, I want to make the tournament,” Puopolo said. “I think that we have the leadership and experience, so I’d definitely say that’s a goal and then it’s to make sure the girls are improving [every day].”
Puopolo inherits a team that is young, talented and athletic, and which should be competitive against other Bay State Conference foes like Braintree, Wellesley and Weymouth. But for now, she’s just focused on making sure the team’s ready for their first regular season contest against Dedham High School on Dec. 16.
Patch chatted recently with the head coach about her goals and objectives for the season.
When did basketball become a major part of your life? I have three older brothers, and that was always sort of what we did after school. We played basketball all the time. I always played them one-on-one, and they’re 10 years older, so I could never beat them. So that was my goal in life—to beat them in basketball.
When was the first time you played organized basketball? I started playing organized in fifth grade. I played on my first travel team. I think not just basketball but the whole idea of getting together with the team and working toward a common goal and being part of something that’s bigger than you drew me in, and ever since then I just loved it. Then I went on to play with the middle school and high school teams.
What’s something you remember most about playing basketball in high school? I played for a team that was a cross-town rival, so we were in the same town, but two high schools, so that was always a heavy rivalry. When I was a senior, we went to the state championship, and for some reason, I played really well in those couple of playoff games. I just remember that whole run and the journey going to the playoffs. We rode on a coach bus, and there were Gatorades for us and that was such a big deal [to our team]. We played at Eastern Connecticut for the playoffs, so going to that big arena, I really remember that whole experience. That’s what I want to be able to give these kids [here in Needham].
How’d you get involved in coaching? Where did you begin your career? I played at Suffolk and did what I could for that team. I also played softball there and I played under Elaine Schwager; she was the assistant athletic director and she really helped me to understand the importance of teamwork. It was through her that I met Cherise Galasso, and that kind of established my connection with WPI [Worcester Polytechnic Institute], and that’s where I really learned everything [about coaching]. Cherise Galasso taught me more than I learned in the first 14-15 years of playing basketball, so I think to see the game from a different point of view, I felt like I always saw that little bit of it and that’s why I wanted to coach. To be able to work under someone so talented and so knowledgeable about the game was an amazing experience.
Have you ever coached high school basketball? I’ve coached AAU [Amateur Athletic Union], so that was a great experience and I do have experience with this level. Then the freshmen at WPI were 18 years old, so it’s not a far jump from the seniors and juniors here [at Needham]. I think the important part is really for me to make sure [my players] think when on the court that this is what we’re doing and then enjoy their lives when off the court.
What are some challenges you’re expecting to encounter this season, especially as a new coach? I think some challenges going in is just the new style that they have to see and they have to buy into and to get everyone to buy into that. I’m excited about what I’ve seen; we’ve only had three days, and so we’ve already started putting in an offense and a defense and just putting in all the little things. The other problem we might have is that I haven’t seen the other teams, so as much as I’m going to try to get out to look at other scrimmages, I think that might be a challenge. But we’ll just have to face those things as we come to them, and we’ll make adjustments during the game. I think they’re very talented, they’re an athletic team, and so hopefully we can use that characteristic to really take other things away from teams.
Your squad has four scrimmages coming up prior to the season opener against Dedham High School. What are you hoping to gain from these games? I think for them to just put it all out there and not be afraid to make a mistakes, because scrimmages are the place to do it. I’m hoping we’re going to be a fast team and with that comes a lot of turnovers, so just keeping their heads up after thinking next play, next play. They're going to forget the plays we’re going to put in, and that's inevitable. They’re going to forget what to do here and there, so I just want them to think this is just a first-second scrimmage because we’re going to make the corrections. But also I want them to support each other. We’re going to give everyone an opportunity and see who can shine when the pressure's on a little bit.
Who’s one player or coach that you look up to? What have you learned from him or her over the years? I’m a big University of Connecticut fan. I love Jim Calhoun just because he’s from this area and I feel I could follow in his footsteps. But I'm also a Ray Allen fan. He’s the type of person that has so much dedication, and I think not a lot of people think the NBA has players like him. He goes in and shoot every time, all the time, and just puts so much dedication into his game.
What’s an average game day like for a head coach of a high school basketball team? I think starting from the night before, I’m just making sure that everybody’s ready at practice and being prepared, and having everything ready when you get to the school. It’s a little bit different in high school because there’s probably a little less travel time, but if we have time to go through a shoot around or anything like that or just talk at the school, but if not, I'll let them shoot around and then do a talk and then have them warm up. For me, it’s just making sure I have everything I need to be prepared, and I think that means having a backup plan. I think if you put in enough preparation during the week or coming up to the game, you’re going to be pretty good, but I like to have that stuff on the sidelines with us, so we can draw it up when and if we need it.