Staying power

It had the makings of a bad high school rumor.

One person hears something, passes it along to another, and another, and before you know, it’s practically true.

Except this time, it was the truth.

The five seniors on the Milford High School girls basketball team found out they’d lost their head coach, Steve Signor, through the grapevine, and it didn’t go over well.

“We all didn’t find out at the same time,” Adelle Pitsas said. “We found out in school. We all actually freaked out and it came as a big shock.”

A big shock might be an understatement. The seniors had played for Signor since they were freshmen, and all of them had a big part in the Spartans’ back-to-back final four appearances.

“I was in AP Biology with Kaitlyn (Matthews) and she said she heard something,” Becca Cleary said. “I had a breakdown and I said ‘Kaitlyn, what are we going to do?’ I was really emotional. I told (Jessica Ryan) and I started crying again. It was bad.”

After working with Signor during the summer, the Spartans were not only
surprised by the departure of a coach some of them thought of as family, but by the unknown – who was going to replace him?

“It was really close to the season and we didn’t have a coach,” Pitsas said. “The interviews didn’t start until two or three weeks before tryouts started.”

Pitsas and Ryan were a part of those interviews, and what they heard from Rich Parent helped to calm their nerves.

“He sounded like (Signor),” Ryan said. “He was very analytical and very set on defense and offense. He was very structured and organized. That’s what we liked.”

Parent, who is a teacher at Milford, had been an assistant coach for Dan Murray and the boys program when it won back-to-back championships, and after being hired, he quickly tried to learn about the team he was taking over.

“I really didn’t know much more than that (Milford had made the final four),” Parent said. “They were going from a situation with high expectations and the fact that they liked (Signor). Now it’s a situation where they don’t know this person and their expectations are still high.”

And it didn’t help that the transition wasn’t smooth at first.

“We were frustrated,” Pitsas said. “We were thinking, if our plays worked so well last year, we don’t we stick with them. But after looking at film, we realized this is going to work.

“(Signor) always said, we have to buy into it in order for us to be successful. I think that what we had to do was buy into it. When we bought into (Parent’s) philosophies and plays, it went really well.”

Pitsas helped along the transition by serving as a translator between Parent and the rest of the team.

“Adelle is great at that sort of stuff,” Parent said. “There are many times when we’re teaching things that she would translate from what they’d previously learned. A lot of the stuff isn’t that different, it’s just being presented in a different way. She was really good at that. She really is the leader on the team.”

On the court, it doesn’t seem like much has changed. Milford already has wins over perennial favorites Lebanon and Portsmouth to go to 8-0 in Division II, and the Spartans took home the championship trophy from the Nashua North Holiday Classic, where they defeated Division I teams North and Winnacunnet.

“We’ve played Nashua North the past three years in that tournament and we’d never beaten them,” Matthews said. “I think being able to accomplish that was huge, especially for us seniors.”

Friday will be Milford’s biggest test, as the Spartans will host Coe-Brown (9-0), a team that returned a lot of key players from last year’s runner-up and was picked by many to finish at the top of the division this year.

“I think at this point, we’re ironing out the wrinkles,” Parent said. “They’ve seen it all, little by little, and now we’re getting better at the small details.”