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Pillars for success

Conn and Hicks’ play exemplifies the Centurions’ hard-working style

Posted: February 8, 2009 11:59 p.m.
Updated: February 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Saugus seniors Gabrielle Conn, left, and Nicole Hicks, right, have led the Centurions to the top of the Foothill League girls basketball standings. They have done so with record-breaking performances.

Saugus High fashions itself as having a blue-collar athletic program.

But being the underdog or being overshadowed rubbed Saugus girls basketball player Gabrielle Conn the wrong way.

On Jan. 13, after the Centurions defeated the more highly-regarded Valencia Vikings, Conn went off.

"All this talk in the newspaper saying Valencia and Canyon have it and Saugus will go three," she began. "Just to come out and win that and shut everybody up ... We are going to take it on everybody now..."

Conn, along with senior Nicole Hicks, have led the Centurions to their first-place positioning in the Foothill League.

And they've done it in blue-collar fashion.

Hicks, a little guard with street-ball instincts, is leading the Foothill League in scoring at 19.2 points per game.

Conn, an oft-injured undersized banger in the post, is leading the league in rebounding.

Maybe the little and oft-injured parts gave reason to people thinking Saugus would be the No. 3 team in the Foothill League.

There were an abundance of other good reasons as well.

The Centurions were 7-9 before league tipped-off.

Canyon's and Valencia's teams were seen as slightly more talented.

And Saugus had a new head coach in Kent Eaton.

"We started from scratch this season," Hicks says. "We had a lot of new teammates, a new coach, a lot of changes. We got through them though."

Mainly because Hicks and Conn have been the glue.

Both are four-year varsity starters.

Together, they are usually the start and finish of the Saugus offense.

"Off the rebound, Gabrielle gets the ball to Nicole. When the ball's in Nicole's hands, anything can happen," says Saugus head coach Kent Eaton. "Nicole can beat anyone up the court in league. She becomes the focus because she's that knife that goes through. If they do stop her, they have to double her. Then you have (the other players) open. It's dangerous."

The Centurions are lucky to have Conn playing as well as she has.

The 5-foot-11-inch power forward tore her ACL late last season.

Going into her freshman year, she tore the right one.

"The second time, I hate to say it, it was routine," Conn says. "I was still in physical therapy."

Her strength has increased as the season has gone on.

When she encountered Valencia the second time this season, she backed up her words.

The 18-year-old scored 20 points and grabbed 21 rebounds.

She's scoring 12.6 points and pulling down 11.8 rebounds per game.

"She has an instinct for the ball I don't know how to teach," Eaton says. "She uses her body so well. I hate to give her secret away so I'll stop at that."

Hicks, 17, has secrets of her own in her back pocket.

The daughter of Kenn Hicks, a streetball player who helped organize streetball events in Venice that brought NBA stars like Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas, Nicole blends the disciplined game with the one played on blacktops.

Hicks has averaged 26.4 points per game over the past five Foothill contests and 19.2 on the season.

"Her nickname is ‘Dwayne Wade,'" Conn says of her teammate. "She does her up and under or a hook. In the West Ranch game (on Tuesday), she went to pull back, put a spin move on, then went up for a layup."

Hicks' 3.5 steals per contest has also propelled the Centurions' defense.

In a twist, the blue-collar tandem have become royalty at the school.

Hicks broke the school's career steals record on Jan. 16 against West Ranch.

The record is now 363.

She is 22 points away from tying the school's single-season scoring mark, set by Holly Ingersol, of 447 points.

On Friday night, Conn tied the school's career-scoring record of 1,225 points, set by Sheridan Arredondo.

Conn and Arredondo are the only two players in Saugus girls basketball history with over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.

"These will probably be Saugus Hall of Fame girls," Eaton says.


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