Wellesley girls’ basketball coach Glen Magpiong was in the midst of a two-month bicycle trip across the country this past summer, not thinking so much about basketball until he received a surprising text message from Patty Hickey, the school’s athletic trainer.
The message contained a picture of a new student named Sofie Paulsen , who has developed into an integral part of the 2017-18 campaign.
Paulsen, who hails from Norway and participated on the country’s U16 national team last year, came to Wellesley via an exchange program called AFS-USA. Luckily for the 17-year-old Paulsen, the first player she met from the Wellesley team was senior captain Kelcie Zarle.
“She brought me to her club team so I could start playing basketball right away and be a part of the community,” Paulsen said. “Kelcie really helped me.”
“Sofie and I became good friends and I was just glad to be there for her and make sure that she was having an easy time transitioning,” Zarle said.
Zarle invited Paulsen to play AAU in the fall with the Mass Mavericks before inviting her to captains’ practices. After open gyms and initial play, it was time for her first season on a school team.
In Norway, competitive basketball is limited to club teams. Paulsen said she likes the ability to play for many teams at once year-round. But her experience stateside, specifically with Wellesley, has served as a rewarding social experience.
“I like this much better because there’s a community,” Paulsen said. “You got to school together, you go and get food, have team dinners and practice two hours every day.”
As an exchange student, the basketball court is both a place of familiarity and comfort as well as an opportunity to engross herself in her new surroundings.
“You get friends during sports and this has really helped me build friendships with the people here,” Paulsen said.
“She is definitely a great addition to the team and I always wonder how we got so lucky to have her,” Zarle said. “Like she seriously could have gone to stay with any other host family in America but somehow ended up here in Wellesley. Maybe it is coincidence or maybe it is luck, but either way I am very happy that Sofie ended up here.”
From the first official practice, Magpiong said the senior brought a special spark.
“From the get-go she was who she is,” Magpiong said. “Her personality is infectious. She gets the game of basketball and she’s a terrific teammate.
“She’s everything a coach would look for in a player.”
The 5-10 guard’s basketball experiences span from European Championships to Nordic tournaments. Her favorite game was at the European Championships, in which she hauled in 20 rebounds against Scotland.
“We went and played against Poland, Romania and all the really good teams, so you get a lot of experience,” Paulsen said. “We’re getting a lot better by playing against teams like that.”
At Wellesley, the 17th-ranked Raiders (13-5) have qualified for the state tournament and despite a limited background in the team’s history, Paulsen is elated for the opportunity. She is third in scoring behind Zarle and junior Brooke Guiffre at 9.3 points and shares the team lead in rebounds (4.8 per game).
“I know we can go as far as we want to if we just keep pushing each other in practices,” Paulsen said. “We just need to keep on working and we could go far, that would be so cool.”
Her biggest takeaway came from her experience as a new member of the Wellesley community. She lives with current Wellesley senior Maddie Blaber and family.
“Not many people leave their hometowns when they’re young,” Paulsen said. “I’ve learned to be open to a new community and be open to everyone in the world.”
Fenway head coach John Rice knows a thing or two about winning titles. Under his stead, the Panthers (13-2) have won 17 Boston City League championships, and after their 54-45 win over New Mission (11-3), they find themselves competing for yet another.
Still, Rice is cautious about looking too far ahead to the City League title game, scheduled for Feb. 22 at Madison Park High School. Fenway, the North champion, has a bye into the semifinals on the 21st against the Latin Academy/Snowden winner.
“I’m not trying to sound like a professional coach, but I can’t overlook games,” Rice said. “We’re playing Arlington Catholic on Thursday, it’s Senior Night, they’re the Division 2 state finalists and they beat us at their home place. So we’re just gonna get ready for Arlington Catholic.
“That’s going to get us ready for the City [League], but we don’t know who we’re playing or when we’re playing just yet.”
Like most years, Rice has plenty of talent. Patrolling the paint, he has 6-foot-3-inch Me’ara Carter, who put up 10 points and 11 rebounds vs. New Mission, and 6-1 Cynthia White.
Against the Titans on Tuesday, the duo helped Fenway create numerous second-chance opportunities as a result of their dominance on the offensive glass. On the perimeter, talented senior Shania Tarver, who missed Tuesday’s game, plays alongside Nattaly David, a sharpshooter who drained 3 3-pointers against an aggressive New Mission defense.
Despite stressing the importance of taking the rest of their season one game at a time, however, Rice acknowledged the intensity of his team’s longtime rivalry with New Mission, saying their success helps his team stay focused throughout the long season.
“We’re really the two marquee programs in the city, so we need each other,” he said. “We would be sleepwalking half the time without each other.”
■ Some of the state’s top talent will be on display at the Comcast/ Dvinci Energy Basketball Classic, which takes place this weekend at Woburn High, starting on Saturday. Veronica Burton and undefeated Newton South (17-0) take on Fontbonne (13-2) at 12:30 p.m, followed by Asiah Dingle and Archbishop Williams (15-2) squad facing host Woburn (14-1) at 2 p.m.
In the other bracket, Braintree (15-2) will take on Westford Academy (13-3) at 3:30 p.m., before Bishop Feehan (13-4) plays Belmont (14-2) at 5. The finals will be played on Monday, starting at 2 p.m.
■ Braintree handed Cathedral its first MIAA loss of the season on Monday, 62-57 in Boston. Previously, Cathedral’s only losses were to out-of-state teams in tournaments in Washington, D.C., and Patterson, N.J.
■ Masconomet, Woburn and Mansfield are all riding 11-game win streaks heading into Wednesday. Masconomet’s margin of victory has been 28.4 points over that span, while Woburn and Mansfield have won by an average of 18 points and 17 points, respectively.
Players of the Week
Lily Cunningham, Melrose — The junior guard scored a game-high 17 points in Melrose’s 65-55 win over Wakefield, which clinched its first Middlesex Freedom title since 2010.
Asiah Dingle, Archbishop Williams — The senior scored 26 points in a loss to No. 2 Cathedral, before a 28-point outburst helped the Bishops score a 60-56 double-overtime victory against No. 9 Bishop Feehan.
Ashley Sampson and Katelyn Mollica, Foxborough — Sampson and Mollica poured in 23 points apiece in Foxborough’s 81-32 win over Canton.
Gabby Torres, St. Mary’s — The sophomore was key in all three of St. Mary’s wins, hitting a winning layup in their 53-52 win over Nauset, 19 points in a 70-50 win over Austin Prep, and 21 points in a 80-48 win over Mystic Valley.
Games of the Week
Newton South at Westford Academy, Thursday, 5:30 p.m. — Veronica Burton and Newton South (17-0) head to Westford (14-3) in a matchup between two top five teams in the state.
Walpole at Natick, Thursday, 6:30 p.m. — No. 16 Walpole heads to No. 13 Natick in a late-season Bay State Conference matchup.
Bishop Feehan vs. Belmont, Saturday, 5:00 p.m. — Anna Shaughnessy and No. 9 Bishop Feehan take on No. 12 Belmont in the semi-final round of the Comcast/Dvinci Energy Basketball Classic.
Braintree vs. Westford Academy, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. — The No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the state face off in the semifinal round of the Comcast/Dvinci Energy Basketball Classic.
Boston City League Tournament — The City League tournament kicks off on February 20th, with the final set for Feb. 22nd at Madison Park.Greg Levinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Correspondent Tyler Blint-Welsh also contributed to this story.