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For someone who normally wears blue as the head coach of the Cumberland softball and Burrillville cross country teams â and had sported touches of red during past stints with the Tolman and Cranston West girlsâ basketball squads â Marty Crowley found himself having to adjust to green and gold this winter.
But aside from changing his athletic wardrobe, Crowleyâs transition to the Massachusetts girlsâ basketball scene and the extra competitive Hockomock League as the head coach of King Philip High of Wrentham, Mass. has been a seamless one.
After 20 seasons as a head coach in R.I., including more than a decade with the Broncos, where he won a Division III title in 2003, Crowley took on the next challenge in his coaching career when he crossed state lines to take over a program that hadnât reached the postseason in recent memory.
But that changed this year. Blessed with a hard-working team whose calling cards are depth and tenacious defense, Crowley saw his Warriors post a 14-6 record, winning seven straight games at one point, and land a well-deserved berth in the upcoming Division I South Sectional tournament.
âI heard itâs been nine or 10 years since our team last made the tournament,â added Crowley. âThat was one of our goals coming into the season. Our first was to be the team that nobody wanted to play, and I think we accomplished that, and our next goal was to make the tournament.â
When Crowley stepped into the K.P. gymnasium for his first practice back in November, he wasnât exactly sure what heâd expect from his new team. But since that first day, heâs had a blast, and reaching the playoffs has only added to the fun.
âItâs been awesome,â added Crowley. âItâs been fun, and the whole experience has been enjoyable. Between the administration and the staff, itâs a great school district, and more importantly, we have great kids, and theyâve been a pleasure to coach.â
Heâs also enjoyed working with his coaching staff, which not only includes freshman and junior varsity coaches, but also an assistant varsity coach and a familiar face in former Broncos head coach Lindsay Rachlow, who was also one of his captains on his 2003 championship team.
âHaving Lindsay by my side has been great as well,â added Crowley. âSheâs a great addition, and itâs nice having somebody whoâs been through the wars with you as a player and is now a coach by your side.â
While his experience at K.P. has been incredible, so has the competition his squad has had to encounter in the rough and tumble, black-and-blue league simply known around this part of New England as âThe Hockâ.
Playing in the upper Kelley-Rex division of the league, the Warriors wound up with a 10-6 mark, which surprisingly, was only good for fifth place in the six-team group.
Five of K.P.âs defeats have come to the schools above them in the standings, Franklin, the 12th-ranked team in the recent Eastern Mass. Top 20 poll, and North Attleboro, Attleboro, and Mansfield, which have popped in and out of the poll during the season.
âThe Hockâs a great league,â said Crowley. âIt always has been. You look at the scores up and down our league and you could tell there was a rock fight. You talk to any coach in our league and they will tell you, night in and night out, itâs a battle, but come tournament time, youâre battle-tested.â
The Warriors will surely enter the tournament a battle-tested bunch, and that extends from their starting five to the last player on their bench.
Depth has been the name of the game for K.P., and Crowley has been a man in motion on the sidelines, going to his bench early and often during games and employing as many as 11 players at critical moments.
âWe have 10 kids in our rotation,â said Crowley. âWe had a stretch this year when we had seven different leading scorers in seven different games. And thatâs the beauty of our team. Itâs not one kid thatâs more important than the other; everyone has been equally important.
âWere fortunate that we have the depth we have. We run a lot of short shifts that last 3-4 minutes, and then weâll sub out and the next group will come in. The starters get minutes, the bench gets minutes, and everybodyâs playing.â
This depth has helped the Warriors defensively, and K.P. has been superb in this department. In 10 of their games, the Warriors have allowed fewer than 43 points.
âThe kids bought into our system of defense coming first,â offered Crowley. âWeâre going to play defense, weâre going to be physical, and weâre going to challenge you. If youâre not aggressive defensively in our league and you sit back, then these other teams are going to take advantage of you.â
One game that saw the Warriors play exceptional defense came a week and a half ago in a thrilling 56-51 overtime win over Attleboro, which back on Jan. 7, had blasted the Warriors by 20 points. That win was the sixth in the seven-game win streak, and it halted a five-game streak by the Bombardiers.
That was just one of quite a few highlights to the Warriorsâ season. Their 68-42 win over Stoughton on Jan. 31 gave them their 10th victory of the winter, which not only assured them of a .500 campaign, but also landed them their long-awaited berth in the South Sectionals.
Two days later, thanks to the Norfolk Recreation Department, the Warriors took their act to the TD Garden to play on the Boston Celticsâ famed parquet floor during halftime of the Celticsâ game against the Orlando Magic.
âThe whole day was fun,â said Crowley. âWe took the train in from Norfolk, and the kids went out and scrimmaged each other in their practice jerseys for six or seven minutes. It was awesome. One girl even hit an NBA three.â
With the South Sectional tournament expected to begin next week, Crowley hopes his Warriors can provide another highlight or two, but like their daily battles in âThe Hockâ, the competitionâs going to be difficult.
As many as 14 Division I teams are expected to qualify for the tournament, either by placing in the top two in their respective divisions or reaching the .500 mark, and depending how a few games around the South play out, the Warriors could wind up with a home game in the opening round.
âA lot of teams still have games this week, so thereâs going to be a lot of road trips and a lot of fast food,â Crowley said with a laugh. âThe scrambleâs on to get information on teams you donât know, so youâre out there scouting teams and calling a few coaches you know for stuff.
âThere are a lot of heavy hitters in the South. Thereâs Brockton, Needham â the Hockâs going to have seven (of its 12) teams in the playoffs. But weâre going to work hard (this week) in practice and weâll be ready to play.â
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24