2024 Gazette Girls Basketball Player of the Year: Ava Azzaro, Northampton

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) drives the ball past Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) during the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals last month at Chicopee Comp High School.

Northampton’s Ava Azzaro (13) drives the ball past Worcester South defender Naima Bleou (5) during the MIAA Div. 2 girls basketball state semifinals last month at Chicopee Comp High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer 

Published: 04-26-2024 3:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Staring a six-point deficit square in the face in the fourth quarter of the MIAA Division 2 girls basketball quarterfinals, Northampton senior captain Ava Azzaro wasn’t ready to call it quits on her high school career.

The No. 7 Blue Devils were on the road against No. 2 Walpole – a team that had ended their season in a 28-point loss the year prior – and needed a spark fast or they would once again be making a sorrow-filled trip back to Hampshire County.

Azzaro then took the game over, scoring six straight points to give Northampton life. She then dished out an assist on the go-ahead bucket that gave the Blue Devils a lead late in the game. And in the final minute, Azzaro went 4-for-4 from the line to put it away and give Northampton a 55-52 win to advance her team to the D2 Final Four – the furthest the program has gone in the new state tournament format.

Her marquee moments on the big stage, eclipsing the 1,000-point mark and averaging 18 points per game is exactly why Azzaro was selected as the 2023-24 Daily Hampshire Gazette Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

“It’s just amazing,” Azzaro said. “There’s no other way to describe it. It’s the most fun year of high school basketball I’ve ever played in my whole life. We made so many great memories that will last forever. This is all I’ve ever wanted and more. Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to make a difference in girls basketball at my school. I didn’t know how I was gonna do that, but I guess this year was a pretty good way of doing it.”

Throughout the season, Azzaro scored 30 points or more in two games (against Longmeadow and Springfield International Charter School, both wins), put up 20-plus points nine times and reached double digits in every game except for two – where she scored eight and nine points, respectively, in two victories.

Northampton head coach Perry Messer said Azzaro was one of his favorite players he’s ever coached during his very long career, noting her relentless work ethic as one of the reasons why.

“The reward of seeing how much she’s grown in the last four years is hard to describe,” Messer said. “This is what you coach for. To see her reap the rewards – she’s earned that. She’s worked when nobody else is watching and she’s always done that. I’m proud of her, and she’s shown that if you put your head down and work, good things happen to you.”

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Azzaro was gifted with terrific athletic ability, but she reached all of her potential and more because she matched that athleticism with a drive and determination like no other.

The saying “work when no one is watching” gets thrown around loosely at times, but that is precisely what Azzaro did while a member of the Blue Devils.

“I worked the hardest that I could literally all the time,” Azzaro said. “Even when I was tired, I told myself, ‘I gotta keep going,’ because when you’re tired and still going hard, that’s when it really is going to pay off. Even when you feel like you wanna stop, it’s all worth it in the end.”

This season was the perfect storybook ending for Azzaro, capping off an incredible career with a Final Four run alongside her coaches and teammates – people she views as members of her family.

“The only word I can describe these four years with is family,” Azzaro said. “I come from a big, Italian family, so it really means more than just basketball to me. My teammates and coaching staff were a family. They were always there for me and each other whether it’s basketball or not. That’s what Northampton is, and it’s amazing I was able to be a part of it.”

Next season, Azzaro will attend Roger Williams to further her academic and athletic careers. 

When Northampton fell to Worcester South in the Final Four, instead of being complacent or taking time off from basketball, Azzaro got right back in the gym. According to Messer, that’s how she was – always ready to get back to the grind at any time – when she walked through the doors as a freshman four years ago, and that’s still how she is now.

Ava Azzaro is always ready for the next challenge ahead.

“She’s the same beautiful kid she was when I first met her,” Messer said. “She’s been a riot for all four years. Ava has a personality like no other, she always brings a smile to your face and makes everyone around her better people. Unbelievable kid, and I can’t say enough about her. She’s already in the gym grinding because she’s ready to play next year. She wants another good four-year career. She always wants to grind, and she’s gonna be successful in life because of it.”