2022-23 Gazette Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Tessa Kawall, Amherst

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 04-20-2023 3:17 PM

Tessa Kawall has always been a supremely talented basketball player — Amherst head coach Ralph Loos often calls her a “freak” when talking about her athletic ability.

But until somewhat recently, Kawall could sometimes let her emotions get the best of her on the court. When she was on, nobody could touch her. If she got in her own head, she turned into her own worst enemy and could get into foul trouble in a heartbeat.

It all came to a head this past summer — Loos was coaching a team of western Mass. athletes at the Bay State Games, a summer basketball showcase in Boston. Kawall was on the team as well, and the West squad made it to the championship game. With the clock winding down and four fouls already to her name, Kawall let her temper get the better of her again.

“Instead of playing smart and taking a step back and really grounding myself, sometimes in the games I just reach,” Kawall said. “I just remember having my fifth foul, fouling out and just having that be a really bad moment because I knew that the rest of the team needed me.”

Loos and Kawall got into a heated argument after the foul, and Loos recalls regretting how he acted in the moment, afraid that he might have scared Kawall away from his team for good. Instead, that game served as a turning point for Kawall. As a senior, she led the Hurricanes in nearly every major statistical category as the club reached the Western Mass Class A championship game and advanced to the Sweet 16 in the state tournament. Her heroic performance for the Hurricanes this year helped her be selected as the Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year.

“Some people have a really straight (path in life)...they know where they’re going, they know how they’re getting there, the path is simple. I think for Tessa, especially with basketball, it’s been a bit of a curvy path for her,” Loos said. “She might not have taken the direct route to being the best player in western Mass., but she got there.”

Kawall’s basketball journey started in the third grade, when she joined a team that was epically bad in New Haven, Conn. It was a young team with players 8-10 years old, and there were no real tryouts — everybody made the team.

“We lost almost every single game, and one of the biggest changes that I remember when I came to Amherst was when I first joined the Suburban team in fifth grade and we lost a few games, all the girls on the bench would be crying,” Kawall said. “I knew exactly how it felt but it felt really different knowing that there was going to be a next game, that there was always an opportunity to do better. From a young age, I knew loss is a part of the process.”

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Kawall continued to play through middle school and joined an Amherst program that was on the up and up — her class ended up being a pivotal part of the Hurricanes’ return to prominence. Suddenly she was on a team where success became the expectation and soon, the norm.

But despite the team success and her inherent skill, it took a while to realize that actually, she could be pretty good — great, even — at this whole basketball thing.

“The change in her this year, it really was startling,” Loos said on Kawall. “To see when talent and effort match up is a really satisfying thing as a coach. I can help with the x’s and o’s and I can help with skill stuff or whatever, but you can’t make a kid want it.”

Where she plays after Amherst is still up in the air. It took a couple of her friends committing to play collegiately to start thinking that she could do that, too — it wasn’t until January, just a few months ago, that she thought seriously about it.

“I just remember thinking about how this is the end of my career playing basketball, but they have this opportunity to play four more years and do something that they love so much,” Kawall said. “I remember feeling like maybe that’s really something that I want to do.”

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Ava Azzaro, junior, Northampton

Audrey Bowen, senior, Amherst

Maria Belfakih, senior, Easthampton

Chloe Denhart, senior, Northampton

Sophia Faginski, junior, Easthampton

Sara Hastie, senior, Amherst

Bri Heafey, sophomore, Northampton

Tessa Kawall, senior, Amherst

Amilyan Mercedes-Treadwell, junior, Holyoke

Lauren Morse, senior, Easthampton

Bianca Ortiz, senior, Holyoke

Makayla Tatro, sophomore, Smith Voc

Ashley Vazquez, senior, Holyoke

Chloe LaRoche, sophomore, Belchertown

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

Niyama Adadenoh, sophomore, Amherst

Emma Allyn, junior, Hampshire

Liz Colon-Garcia, senior, Hampshire

Sadie Cyr, sophomore, Hopkins Academy

Chloe Derby, junior, Northampton

Kayley Downie, junior, Easthampton

Kasey Earle, senior, Hopkins Academy

Sophie Higham, senior, Amherst

Jordan Hutchins, junior, Northampton

Addie Miklasiewicz, eighth grade, Hampshire

Madysen LePage, junior, Belchertown

HONORABLE MENTION

Macie Bolton, senior, Belchertown

Chloe Jekanowski, senior, Hopkins Academy

Ali Jenkins, junior, Hampshire

Kora Kelly, senior, Smith Voc

Maggie Lauder, sophomore, Smith Voc

Nany Mares, senior, Amherst

Teagan McDonald, sophomore, Northampton

Sam Moran, senior, Hampshire

Emma Moynihan, junior, Smith Academy

Aubrey Parent, freshman, Granby

Daisy Venditti, senior, Hopkins Academy

Kalli White, eighth grade, Granby

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