Even now, Holyoke girls’ basketball coach Dr. Enright recalls the first time she saw Bianca Ortiz play. It’s the kind of moment that stays with you, even if Ortiz says she doesn’t remember it.
Enright wasn’t coaching in Holyoke yet, but she had heard of this middle schooler who was lighting up the field. Ortiz’s mixed intramural team head coach asked Enright to help out from time to time, and although she was usually busy, that day she had an opening. She headed out to see exactly what Ortiz could do on the hardwood.
“There’s what looks like an eighth-grade male standing there. [on defense] and [Ortiz] just go up, she does [the shot] — and she doesn’t remember, I don’t know if she knew the guy or not — but she jumped out at him and said “And one!” and hits it, and then she makes both free throws,” Enright said. “I’m sitting there like a trainer, I want to rip him a new one. As a woman, it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
That kind of fiery passion defines Ortiz’s game, and it’s what makes the southpaw one of the most feared players in Western Massachusetts. She was selected as Women’s Basketball Player of the Year by the Gazette.
Ortiz, nicknamed “B” by her coaches and friends, has been playing basketball since she was five years old and knew early on that it was the sport for her.
“I played softball when I was 12, 13. I tried but I didn’t really like it, but I knew basketball was my passion and my love,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz started out with the Our Lady of Guadalupe CYO basketball team in Holyoke and rose through the ranks playing for various AAU youth teams and programs. Although she worked tirelessly to hone her basketball skills, it was clear early on that she was generally one of the most skilled players on any court she walked on, and she usually played against bigger and stronger competitions.
“[With] my talent against other girls, I would always play and play against older girls,” Ortiz said. “It was actually harder and more fun for me.”
It’s a theme that came up repeatedly for Ortiz when talking about her basketball career — she thrives when faced with a challenge. While some players may back down in the face of adversity, Ortiz rises to face it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an eighth grader standing between her and the hoop, or her coach calling her in during a particularly tough practice. No matter the obstacle, Ortiz has a focused approach to the game – improve yourself and help his team win.
“We need her to score, she has to score, but her points are not at the forefront of her mind. That’s what needs to be done to win the game, to achieve our goals,” Enright said. “She got injured quite early on in our away game at Longmeadow. We taped her in, tried to put her back on and it was clear she wasn’t going up and down the pitch.
“So she’s on the bench and she’s just coaching,” she continued. “She brushes off the kids who are struggling, at half-time, talks to the coaches saying, ‘That’s what you need and that’s what I think. And I think for this last part of the season and for next year, we will count on her… She played a huge role [of our team]it started from the first year, but now it’s your team.
Despite an ankle injury, Ortiz had the best season of his high school career. She scored 340 points in 18 games. This included his 1,000th career point in his final game of the season, a playoff game against Worcester South. Normally a cool, calm and collected player, Ortiz was a little shaky knowing she had the chance to reach such a milestone as a junior.
“During the warm-ups and just at the start before the match even started, my emotions were there, [and] I was a little nervous seeing all these people,” Ortiz said. “It was a big achievement for me. I was looking forward to reaching 1,000 points before I left high school, so it was very big.
It helps that Ortiz is surrounded by teammates she grew up playing with. This year’s squad was brimming with chemistry and highly skilled players like Yamaya Perez, Ashley Vazquez, and Kleriz Matos, among others. They will lose some of that next year with the departures of Perez and Matos, but Ortiz will return to anchor the Purple Knights. She will also serve as an inspiration for the next generation of Holyoke basketball players who will come after her.
“It was really cool to know who she was when she was eight or nine years old and to see her grow and mature and now mentor younger kids. She appreciates the opportunities she’s had so much, [and] the kids think she’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen,” Enright said. “It’s just cool for me to watch these kids grow up and the cycle of [watching] they mature, then they become the idols of the youngest.
• Yamaya Perez, senior, Holyoke
• Ashley Vazquez, junior, Holyoke
• Bianca Ortiz, junior, Holyoke
• Lauren Morse, junior, Easthampton
• Delaney MacPhetres, senior, Amherst
• Tessa Kawall, junior, Amherst
• Gabby Walz, senior, Granby
• Avery Klingensmith, senior, Belchertown
• Ava Azzaro, second year, Northampton
• Bri Heafey, Freshman, Northampton
• Kylie Laford, junior, Frontier
• Kaitlyn Mackin, Senior, Frontier
• Olivia Marion, senior, South Hadley
• Talia Uribe, senior, South Hadley
• Chloe Jekanowski, junior, Hopkins
• Kleriz Matos, senior, Holyoke
• Maria Belfakih, junior, Easthampton
• Nessrine Bentley, senior, Easthampton
• Emma Czarniecki, junior, Hampshire
• Alex Jackson, junior, South Hadley
• Sara Hastie, junior, Amherst
• Alexa LaFlamme, senior, Belchertown
• Jessa Troy, senior, Belchertown
• Chloe Denhart, junior, Northampton
• Kacie Levrault, junior South Hadley
• Meg Carey, senior, South Hadley
• Makayla Tatro, Freshman, Smith Voc.
• Emma Allyn, Hampshire
• Tessa Boisvert, second year student, Smith Voc.
• Liz Colon-Garcia, junior, Hampshire
• Kayley Downie, second year, Easthampton
• Rina Damon, senior, Easthampton
• Sophie Higham, junior, Amherst
• Kora Kelly, junior, Smith Voc.
• Chloé LaRoche, freshman, Belchertown
• Madysen LePage, second year, Belchertown
• Daizany Mares, junior, Amherst
• Bailey McCoy, senior, Smith Academy
• Amanda Novak, senior, Smith Academy
• Sloane Spanknebel, Senior, PVCICS
• Drew Alley, second year, South Hadley