I continue to be impressed by the job that Winnacunnet Head Coach Jay McKenna does with his Warrior basketball team. The guy flat out gets the most out of his players. That team plays so hard for him it's unreal. He has them playing smart, team basketball and tough, hard nosed defense. What like most about what he has done with his team is that they play the game the right way. They play hard and they keep their mouths shut.
More importantly, McKenna has led them to a 5-1 record so far, with the only loss coming in overtime to Trinity. They've beaten South on the road, Memorial on the road in a blowout, they blew out Salem, and they also beat Pinkerton. That's pretty impressive for any team. But it's even more impressive because on paper, Winnacunnet is a middle of the pack team in Class L at best. Preseason I had them ranked in the 11-14 range.
They graduated a lot of talent off last year's team, including Jared Gillis (24 points last year vs. Central and he was the heart and soul of the team) Ryan Dubois (Mr. Versatility hit game winning shot vs. Exeter in the tournament), Nate Vincent and Nathan Roe. And oh yeah, there was that Ratcliffe kid who played last year but not this year.
So who's left this year? Well their two best players are senior guards Ryan Dunn and Jesse Gould. Dunn is a three year starter at the point. This is Gould's first year as a starter, but he had some big scoring games off the bench last season. After I watched him drop 16 on Memorial in the quarterfinals last year I knew he'd be a breakout player this season. Then there's Harry Knowles. A very good player. But McKenna didn't know whether he'd be on the team until right before the season started. And he was very rusty when I saw Winnacunnet in preseason scrimmages, apparently still in football mode.
But other than those three, Winnacunnet doesn't have a ton of talent. They have a group of tough, scrappy role players. This group includes Nick McGrail, Shawn Munson, Steve Cronan and Cody Rahn.
The Warriors are not a very fast team. They're not the most athletic. And other than the 6'5" built-like-lineman Rahn, they don't have much size. But they're very scrappy. They'll fight and claw you for the full 32 minutes. They're also a very disciplined team. And although they're not the fastest team, they just play so hard out there that they actually force a lot of turnovers off of their full court press and half court trap. They flock to the ball and get right in your face on defense. And they're very unselfish on offense.
This is all a credit to the coaching of McKenna. And while Gould may score the most points, the two most valuable Warriors are Dunn and McGrail. These two kids are only 5'9", 5'10" at the most, and they're not the fastest or most athletic guards around, especially McGrail. But these two players are both an extension of Coach McKenna out on the floor. McKenna has turned these two kids into such leaders out there it's incredible. They're two of the smartest players in the state, basketball IQ-wise. Both are disciplined, unselfish, fearless and play extremely hard.
And watching McKenna interact with the two of them it is clear that they have bought into the system he has put in place. It's as if Winnacunnet has three coaches. One on the bench, and two on the court.
McKenna has his two leaders, they have bought into the system. They play their butts off and they play the game the right way. All of this in turn rubs off on the rest of the team. The result is everyone playing hard, playing in-your-face defense, diving on the floor for loose balls, setting hard screens and making the extra pass. In turn all of that results in a 5-1 record for the Warriors.
All of this goes back to the leadership and coaching of McKenna. It's only 6 games into the season. But right now he's my pick for the Class L Coach of the year.
I know that some might be picking West's Sam Carey for the award right now. And while he has done a great job with that team, West has more talent than Winnacunnet does. West is the fastest, most athletic team in NH. And they have the Player of the Year to this point, Richard Valentin. True, the Blue Knights don't have much experience, other than Valentin the only other West player to get varsity minutes last year was Sammy Abdalla and he didn't play much. And while they have speed and athleticism to burn, they lacked discipline when I saw them play in the QCIBT. They were a MUCH more disciplined squad when I saw them play Trinity last Friday. That is a credit to Coach Carey.
So for those reasons I would vote Coach Carey second, Coach McKenna first for Class L Coach of the year. Of course, there is still a long way to go in the 2009-2010 basketball season. And West plays at Winnacunnet on Groundhog Day. That should be quite the chess match.