Hudson’s Torres making impact at UNH

DURHAM – She’s had staying power.

There have been a lot of things that could have pulled Hudson’s Amanda Torres away from being a University of New Hampshire standout basketball player.

Maybe being cut from tryouts for the Hudson Memorial School team in the sixth and seventh grade. Or her participation in gymnastics at an even younger age.

And then it was the struggle of her freshman year at UNH, where she not only had to contend with being the only freshman on the Wildcats squad, but also the sudden and unexpected loss of her biggest fan, her Mom.

But somehow Torres has persevered through it all to be the lead and invaluable player for the Wildcats in what is technically her senior season. However, it’s possible she could return next year with an extra eligibility year thanks to the NCAA’s COVID-related benevolance as this has been a shortened season.

She leads the Wildcats in scoring with 12 points a game, minutes played, assists, and is second in 3-pointers and 3-point percentage.

“I tell you, through the adversity she’s gone through, she’s evolved into an amazing, wonderful young lady,” UNH head coach Kelsey Hogan, herself a former Nashua North standout, said. “Her growth not just on the basketball side of things but the young lady she is today. I’m really proud of her. She’s gone through a lot more than anyone…

“We go as Amanda Torres goes.”

Torres realized she could play the game of basketball her eighth grade year, when a coaching change to current Alvirne girls head coach Frank Girginis helped her make the team. All she did that season was break the school’s single season scoring record in what she termed “a super, super fun year. I love Frank, he was my coach at Hudson for so long (in youth basketball). I was really happy he came back my eighth grade year.

“… He’s a really, really good family friend. I learned so much.

“That’s when I began to be focused and really love basketball. He put a lot of pressure on me in a good way. He was a hard coach, definitely where I learned to deal with hard practices, etc. I definitely wish I could have played him for longer.”

So then where to? She and her family decided Trinity of Manchester would be the best place for her high school career. There would be less sibling competition with her older sister who was at Alvirne, and the family knew a few people in town who had kids at Trinity. Torres played junior varsity her freshman season but then made varsity as a sophomore.

It was that season when she said she realized that “I could be really, really good.”

So the idea then changed. At Trinity, she was one of the youngest in her class, so the idea was, with her basketball ability, she could repeat her sophomore year at a prep school and perhaps enhance her game as well. Plus cut out the daily half hour drive for her grandfather to Trinity. Proctor Academy in Andover (NH) ended up being the choice.

Turned out to be the right choice.

“I loved Proctor for so many different reasons,” Torres said, noting that at first, living away from home took an adjustment she was able to make. And basektball-wise Proctor won two league titles in her three seasons as the point guard. “It was overall an amazing experience,” she said.

Torres said the point guard position fits her perfectely.

“I’m basically a pass-first type of player,” she said. “Definitely always looking for my teammates first. Point guard is the perfect position to do that. And I think this year I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve never been confident in my shot, but point guard has made me more of that distributor that doesn’t always have to shoot. But this year I’ve come out of my shell a lot, looking to shoot more and being more aggressive.”

At Proctor, she developed her 3-point shot, and if you add in her Trinity varsity time, she ended her Proctor career as a 2,000 point scorer. And against tough competition.

“I loved it,” she said. “I had a lot of friends from AAU who played on other (prep school) teams. The girls we played against were just such good compeition. And it was cool that ‘Oh, that’s my best friend from the summer’ and I’m playing against her.

“And the style of play was a lot faster than high school. It was more like the next level but not a crazy next level.”

She graduated from Proctor in 2017, but going into her senior year, all she had been receiving were Division II college offers. But at an AAU tournament, she spoke to UNH coaches – former UNH assistant coach Brendan Copes was the point person in her recruitment, but Hogan also became involved later. She visited, liked the idea of playing in New Hampshire, and it was truly her only Division I offer.

“It was close to home, which was always a big thing I wanted in a school,” Torres said, adding she liked the family atmosphere with the players. “It was an easy choice.”

And that came over schools like Merrimack and Southern New Hampshire University, where Torres also no doubt would have been successful.

Hogan actually saw Torres first when she herself was in high school and would see Torres was playing youth ball, “a little spitfire”.

“She was so quick, talking about getting to the rim at ease at that level,” Hogan said. So the future coach more or less kept an eye on her future star.

But Torres didn’t know that more hurdles awaited, not the least of which was the passing of her mother, Nancy Tardif.

“I remember being in the room, and getting the phone call from my Dad and having to rush home,” Torres said. “That was my freshman summer, and it just made my freshman year just mentally hard for me. It was like, ‘Do I want to be here?’ and other crazy stuff.”

“You can’t even imagine being in her shoes,” Hogan said. “Her family, knowing how close they were, it was hard. We knew we had to keep her close, and keep those check-ins. That first season, I’ll tell you, was really hard.’

Being a college student for the first time, and the lone freshman on the Wildcats, was also difficult. She’s the only senior now on the ‘Cats’ and has been the only player in her year the entire time at UNH.

“All that made the year tough to handle at first, having everything thrown at me,” Torres said. “But I had great upperclassmen with me, great seniors, so it was like I had so many older sisters.

“I think basketball-wise I wasn’t completely focused, the first season I was more focused on the outside, home, all of that.” But the second half of that season, Torres got more playing time, and her mind was a bit more refocused on her game and away from her other struggles.

Of course, today, she plays every game to honor her mother’s memory. Her father, Ceferino Torres, has always gone to every single game that he could, but her Mom would be at just about every one, along with her grandmother. “She’d be like the teen mom after every game, with a bag full of snacks for the ride home,” Torres said. “That was definitely the hard part of my freshman year, just looking into the stands and not having her there like I was so used to.”

Naturally, today it’s hard for her not to have her father in the stands, as due to COVID, no fans are allowed at UNH games. “I think it’s just as hard for him,” Torres said. “I know he watches all the live streams, my grandmother watches them, too. So I know they’re watching, just in a different way.”

With all the other distractions, Torres still had basketball, and focused on the adjustments she needed to make for the college game.

“I think prep school gave me help with the adjustment,” she said. “I was already used to the shot clock, but I wasn’t as used to the fast pace that there is with college basketball, but I was used to a little bit of a fast pace. It definitely gave me an edge, but college basketball is so different. But I adjusted more and more every year.”

Torres got a lot more playing time as a sophomore, but was still a role player off the bench, “doing the little things that were needed.”

Her junior year was the difference-maker.

“I got more confidence, knew I needed to step up into that role of a scoring threat,” Torres said. “I started to play my potential, kind of.”

Plus she blended in well with last year’s seniors, with whom she still remains close. “They had so much confidence in me, themselves, and that brought out the confidence in myself. I just needed to have that confidence. … It was like, ‘OK, I’m going to do it.'”

The other person that gave Torres confidence was Hogan, who constantly was a source of help through her first three years, through all the personal adjustments she had to make off the court as well as on.

“She was always the first one there for me if I had a bad day with (the loss of) my Mom, or relationships with boys. Kelsey was the first one to be there for that. Even things like schoolwork. Kelsey was always there for me off the court just as much as on the court.”

And that has continued this year, Torres said.

“This year, she’s pushing me, and I need her to be hard on me, and she does a great job of it,” she said.

“We have a great bond,” Hogan said. “Right now it’s her team, her time to shine because she’s put in so much work toward that.”

Torres, in Hogan’s terms, has always been “a slasher.” But this past offseason, Torres said she focued a lot on her jump shot, shooting 3-pointers, feeling she didn’t shoot as much as she should have her junior year and this year “people were going to play me as a driver.”

“This year it’s just doing more shooting to be more confident in game situations,” she said.

“Last year she was probably our most consistent player and our defensive lockdown,” Hogan said. “She was wearing a lot of hats. So we’re challenging her to add even more to that this year as she’s someone on our team everyone looks up to.”

Of course, the spring and summer had their own set of concerns. First, there was the question of whether Hogan, named an interim in early spring, would get the permanent head job. “I wanted Kelsey 100 percent, because I had full faith in Kelsey as coach, just from knowing her off the court,” Torres said. ” I didn’t want anyone new. Going into my senior year, I didn’t want a brand new coach.”

And then there was the pandemic. The off-season was different, no workouts or camps, so she feared that canceling the season would be next. But Hogan reassured Torres and her teammates that everything would be done to keep that from happening, including instituting the strict protocols the Wildcats and other UNH teams have had to follow.

The ‘Cats schedule is always in flux, as opponents change at a moment’s notice. They fill out a survey every time entering the field house, getting an approval bracelet. They are finally, this late into the season, allowed to use their locker room. They practice (but don’t play) wearing masks. Seats on a bus are permanent (no sitting next to a teammate), and no eating on the bus. And the players are tested three times a week. They self-swab themselves and then turn it in. And they’ve now gotten used to playing without fans, with the energy coming from the benches.

“I tried to be real positive about it,” Torres said. “When we came back in the fall, it looked more and more promising. … Knowing that my season was almost not a season makes me appreciate it even more. We’ve been really, really fortunate.”

This senior year, she’s made the adjustment of being a tough leader on the floor and using her voice more. Again, as a point guard, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on the court.”

“That (using her voice) is defintely not in her comfort zone,” Hogan said. “But she’s doing it. She’s being more vocal at practice, bringing those youngsters along, she’s being a role model on and off the court.”

It’s also the best she’s likely ever played.

“I think so,” she said. “Definitely with my confidence. I think there’s always more I can do in terms of being very aggressive. There’s always room for improvement, but I’m definitely happy with how I’ve played compared to a year ago.”

What’s the best part of her game?

“I think my defense has picked up in the last year,” Torres said. “But I’d say my ability to drive to the hoop.”

“I’d say in a game Amanda doesn’t have highs and lows, and that’s pretty much her mentality in life,” Hogan said. “She holds it in and she’s a fighter.

“She’s such a heavy defensive presence for us. … She’s playing almost 40 minutes for us. She’s doing everything.”

How about the future? Torres said she’s considered possibly playing overseas, but there is a lot more thought to playing that last extra year at UNH. She’s majoring in human development/family studies and also education and would undertake grad school studies. She wants to be a teacher of younger kids (kindergarten, first grade, etc.) but also sees herself someday being a coach.

But that will all be worked out in the coming months, and she’ll decide that with Hogan. “If it’s possible, it’s something I’m 100 percent with,” Torres said.

But first, she has a season to complete, a season when there were points in her basketball life she wasn’t sure she’d get to. For example, when she was cut in middle school, there were plenty of doubts. “It was really hard for me,” Torres said. “I continued with travel and AAU, and travel (ball) and everything. But there was always that thought that I’m not good enough, I can’t even make my middle school team type of thing. But I definitely would have continued playing, but I don’t know if I would have had as much confidence and love for the game.”

But now her confidence is at an all-time high. “Confidence for me is the biggest thing, and having Kelsey’s support behind me through it all. … Through my years of college I’ve grown up so much, and this year has really helped me with that.

“There are definitely still those very, very hard days for me.”

But Hogan’s support as well as the support of her teammates helps her. People telling her her mom was still watching from above wasn’t good enough for her.

“But this year has kind of been the year where I’ve been like, ‘Yeah, she’s watching me in a different way’, and it’s an opportunity for me to make her as proud as she would be of me.”