For Maddy Springfield, basketball is art, each game a new blank canvass.
Always has been, always will be.
And her gallery is full, a showcase of athletic expression and much success.
But her earlier work, for all its headline-grabbing attention, gaudy numbers and titles and awards, has given way to something more nuanced, a critic might argue.
Perhaps the parallels are easy to spot, but the shades are subtler, smoothed with wisdom, growth and a new focus.
Springfield, 20, the former Conant High School and prep school phenom from a well-known basketball family in the Hoosiers-like hamlet of Jaffrey, who won scoring titles and state titles and player-of-the-year honors, these days is expanding her hardcourt portfolio as a starter for nationally ranked Bentley University.
It’s all good. In fact, it’s very good.
Returning for a few hours tonight to one of her hoop playgrounds as a youth, Franklin Pierce University, she seems as content and comfortable as ever. The Falcons are ranked sixth in the WBCA Division II coaches’ poll and fourth in the D2SIDA media poll, and they are undefeated in six starts.
A 5-foot, 11-inch junior guard, Springfield is playing well, and the team, with just one returning starter, is playing well.
Bentley, averaging 86 points a game, will try to go to 7-0 when it clashes with the Ravens. Tip in Rindge is at 5:30.
Franklin Pierce has its hands full; the Ravens are 1-4, their lone win against Nyack College, and they have not played since Nov. 20.
Springfield’s education as a basketball player, she will tell you, has been an enjoyable journey. Discovering new layers and testing her limits keeps it fresh and challenging, she said.
“With the college game, you have to understand the game so much more; it’s really about your basketball IQ, and is it good enough,” she said. “You have to appreciate defense and know personnel. It’s all about preparation. Here, you better learn to defend, or you’re not going to play.”
At Conant, she was for three years the team’s do-it-all star and 1,000-point scorer. She led the Orioles to a state title and opposing coaches voted her Miss N.H. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year in 2015.
She prepped her sophomore year at Marianapolis in Connecticut, but returned to play for her father, David, at Conant her junior year.
She began her collegiate career at Division I Holy Cross before transferring to Bentley, in search of a better fit.
She is quick to tell you that she found what she was looking for. She plays for one of women’s basketball’s winningest programs and for one of the sport’s winningest coaches, Hall of Famer Barbara Stevens.
She’s studying business, and she described the chemistry of this year’s team as “special.”
“We’re close; there’s a level of selflessness,” Springfield said. “I think we all see it and the coaches see it. We’re working hard and we’re having fun.”
Stevens, who occupies a lofty place in her sport as one of only five coaches with 1,000 career wins, said that’s true.
“We have a lot of players contributing who didn’t see a lot of playing time (last season),” Stevens said. “The fact that they waited, and paid their dues, I think they appreciate their role now. It’s neat to see them all embrace this.”
Springfield said playing for Bentley, and just as much for that matter playing for Stevens, comes with inherent expectations. It’s part of the territory, she said, but if there is pressure it doesn’t come from within.
Bentley won its lone national title in 2014, the culmination of a 35-0 season. Stevens had won her 900th game earlier that season. Her career winning percentage is .784; only three coaches — Pat Summit, Geno Auriemma and Tara VanDerveer — have averaged more wins per season.
“Honestly, it’s hard to put into words what it’s like,” Springfield said, referring to playing for Stevens. “Every practice, every film session, every conversation you’re so invested in what she’s saying. She guides us, and she helps us build on what we’re good at, and she puts in our minds that perfection can be a goal.”
Springfield is averaging 6.5 points and five rebounds a game this season. She is shooting 41 percent from the three-point arc. Last year, in spot time off the bench, she made 14 of 41 threes. She had eight points and eight assists in one of the team’s two games against Franklin Pierce.
The Falcons rank ninth nationally in field-goal percentage (.481) and fifth in three-point accuracy (.440). They are winning games, on average, by 27 points. And they are putting up big numbers mostly on the road; the team has played just once at home so far.
Stevens said the road-heavy start has been a plus almost because being away together has allowed her young team to bond and “begin to develop who we are” away from the pressure of performing in front of your fans as you’re still forming.
She called Springfield someone “who works as hard as any player we’ve had,” and the consummate teammate.
“If she were to have the choice of a team win or a school-scoring-record number of points, it’d be the win for her,” Stevens said. “She has a consistent demeanor; you can count on her being there and being present every day.
“As a coach, as the years go on and you see all the changes and when so much of the focus is on individual play, I truly appreciate someone like Maddy. She was that way last year when she didn’t play as much, she’s that way as a starter. … Everybody loves Maddy.”
Springfield plays alongside sophomore Kate Meriggioli, another first-year starter, who averages 14.7 points a game. She hit for 26 in the team’s last game, a win against Bridgeport, and is second in the Northeast-10 in three-point percentage.
Senior center Victoria Lux comes in 44 points shy of 1,000 for her career.
Off the bench, five players are contributing between 6.5 and 9.5 points a game.
The Ravens are led by junior guard Mya Mosley, who provides 10 points, four assists and 3.8 rebounds a game. Freshman Izzy Lipinski averages nine points and eight boards, while shooting 62 percent from the floor.
But as a team, Franklin Pierce shoots just 36 percent from the field.
Bentley swept Franklin Pierce last year, winning by counts of 114-50 and 65-50.
Springfield tonight will play in a fieldhouse where her father carved out his own legend in his collegiate playing days, and where her older sister, Brooke, also toiled many times while playing for Southern N.H. University.
She will play before family and friends in yet one more game. But it’ll be a blank canvas, again, a fresh 40 minutes of expressing what she does best.
“So far, it’s been awesome,” she said Tuesday. “I love accepting a different role this year, taking one step at a time and doing what the team needs most.
“I’m thankful every day that I’m here in this organization, that most people don’t get to experience.”