When Annie Alosa was named Salem girls basketball coach before the 2011-12 season, the Blue Devils had won just 14 games combined over the previous two seasons.
Alosa was just 24 at the time. And during her first winter the team went 8-14 and this reporter overheard a skeptical fan saying how she maybe was too young for the position.
But it should be clear to everyone now that Alosa was the right fit for a struggling Salem program which has only won one state tourney game in the last seven years.
The young coach has her young team — three juniors, a sophomore and freshman start — playing hard and winning. The Blue Devils are 11-7 overall and 10-5 in Division 1. After a slow start, they’ve won seven of their last eight.
They have wins over first-place Pinkerton and a Londonderry squad that has four returning starters from last year’s Division 1 runner-up squad.
Alosa tried not to listen to what people outside the program and school were saying. She remained focused on the input of her coaching staff and the improvement of her players. Alosa’s varsity assistant coach is her father, Sal Alosa, who coached basketball at Gilford High years ago and also has been an AAU coach.
“Having my dad on the bench has honestly been the best experience for me,” Alosa said. “Who better than to have your back than the person who taught you the game and taught you the passion for the game? He has been phenomenal.
“I try not to listen to the rumble because I know what I’m capable of. But really it’s not me that does it — it’s the girls.”
Alosa certainly has her girls playing well. Salem hit its stride in January. It went 4-2 and junior guards Brenna Blakslee (17.3 ppg that month) and Emily Hickey (19.0 ppg in January) led the way.
Alosa, who was a three-year starter at Trinity and helped the Pioneers win the 2005 Class L title, was very young when her father coached at Gilford.
“But I remember just running around the gym watching the girls play,” she said. “I remember spending my birthdays on game day and his team singing to me and my twin brother. I spent a lot of time in the gym between my dad and uncle.”
Alosa was never coached by her dad.
“But he was always the person who pushed me,” Alosa said. “I told him that I wanted to be a really good basketball player. Now, as a coach, I tell him I want to be a very good coach, and he has never lets me settle. He’s always pushed me to be even better.”
Alosa takes the same approach with her players.
“She is a very intense coach, sort of someone hard to get a compliment out of,” Hickey said. “We’ll have a good practice but never great. But then she will tell us what we have to work on, which I think is really good before games. ... After a game, it will be like, ‘You had a really good game but tomorrow in practice let’s work on this, this and this.’”
Before Alosa took the position at Salem, she served two years as an assistant coach at UMass Lowell and one year as an assistant at Adelphi.
She had her own goals in her mind on how long it would take to turn around the Salem program.
“I try not to share with too many people where I saw them sitting the first year I was there as opposed to this year and even next year,” Alosa said. “They are kind of right where I felt they would be.”
One of Alosa’s main goals last year was getting her players to believe they are capable and to believe in the program.
“When I got to Salem, just meeting the girls in the program already, I just felt like they had so much ability,” she said. “Sometimes it doesn’t come out until they really start mentally believing in themselves.”
Alosa, who finished her master’s degree last year in sports management and is an assistant in special education at Salem High, saw a lot of positives last year as the season progressed.
“So I was really excited coming into this year,” said the 26-year-old coach.
Salem’s two signature wins over Pinkerton and Londonderry have helped boost the players’ confidence. The Blue Devils won 51-48 victory over the Astros in the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament.
“After that we played North Andover really strong (52-49 loss) and we almost beat them and they ended up winning the whole tournament. So I think at that point, we actually believed we could play with anyone and we’ve been playing teams very strong since then,” Blakslee said.
Salem beat Londonderry 71-62 last Tuesday. Londonderry has been the runner-up in Division 1 each of the past two years.
“I think after (Londonderry) our team really believes that we really are a good team, and I think that coach is such a huge part of that,” Hickey said. “Since I got here, it’s been about us more than anybody else. I think to turn a program back on the winning track, it’s so much about who we are and how we execute.”