They are together again, a link to one of the greatest seasons in the history of Lynn girls basketball.
Head coach Tom Sawyer, an assistant coach of the 2004 Lynn Classical girls basketball team that went 20-0 and advanced to the Division 1 North finals at Tsongas Center, has two players from that team, Ashley Donovan and Irene Saranteas, assisting in the program as coaches this season.
There is another strong Rams connection as well. Cara Bandini, whose sister Mary, was a starting player for that famed contingent, is the coach of the Classical freshman team. Their father, Dennis, is the junior varsity coach.
“I’m very excited to be a part of the program again,” said Donovan, who graduated from Classical in 2006. “Basketball was such a big part of my life all through childhood and high school and I’m just really happy to be giving back to Classical.”
A two-time Northeastern Conference All-Star, Donovan will forever be remembered for hitting a game-tying three-pointer from the corner against Gloucester in the final seconds to send a thrilling home game into overtime. Classical prevailed in the extra session to keep its perfect regular season on track.
“That was a big shot to keep us undefeated,” recalled Sawyer. “We ended up winning it in overtime against a very good Gloucester team.”
Saranteas was a key contributor to the 20-0 Rams as well. Sawyer feels that the 5-11 frontcourt standout was on her way to becoming the conference MVP as a junior before a back [shattered vertebrae] injury hampered her campaign.
Saranteas played one season of basketball at Westfield State for coach Andrea Bertini, a former Salem High star. But the constant pain from the lingering back injury ended her career.
“I’m glad I got the college athletic experience and tried it,” said Saranteas.
Saranteas is in her second year as a coach in the Classical program. She’ll be working with the Classical forwards during practices.
“My role is to toughen up our post players,” said Saranteas with a smile. “I just bang into them all practice long. It’s a great feeling to be a coach and giving something back in basketball. It’s different to be on this end of it. There are some days you want to jump in and keep playing basketball with them. Working with coach Tom Sawyer is awesome. He knows the game so well. I feel like I’m learning something every day still.”
Saranteas has been working closely with junior Kristen Lauria, who is a strong college basketball prospect.
Saranteas majored in Special Education at Westfield State and is a special education teacher in the Lynn school system.
Donovan graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Health Sciences and just completed her doctoral studies in Physical Therapy. She said basketball played a big role in her development as a person and scholar-athlete.
“I grew up in Lynn and so many people in this community helped me out along the way and developed not only my basketball skills but as an overall person,” said Donovan. “I hope to give these players the same lessons that all my teachers and coaches gave me.”
Both Donovan and Saranteas played for varsity teams that were coached by Gene Constantino, now the Classical principal. It was Constantino who brought Sawyer on board an assistant coach for the 2003-4 season.
Sawyer remembers well the daily contributions and commitment to the team of the two then-sophomores, Donovan and Saranteas.
“I saw what Ashley and Irene could do as player skill wise but also in terms of dedication and commitment and love of the game and that is very hard to teach and Ashley and Irene certainly had a love of the game and because of that, they got better and better as players,” said Sawyer.
Sawyer said he’s happy to have appointed three Classical alumnae, Bandini, Saranteas, and Donovan to his coaching staff.
“As a head coach, it’s really pleasing to be able to give three former players their first opportunity as coaches and you can really see that they love it as much as I do and that comes through with their interactions with the kids,” said Sawyer. “They’re not only good coaches, but good role models as well.”