Sunday, December 26, 2010

Early Season Hoop Thoughts - Girls Edition

I've also gotten a chance to see plenty of girls basketball action, between summer and fall leagues, preseason scrimmages and most importantly regular season contests. Here are some early season thoughts on girls hoop in NH.

Games I've seen so far: Trinity @ Manchester Memorial, Winnacunnet @ Alvirne, Merrimack @ Alvirne and Dover @ Timberlane

My Take
Right now it looks like Londonderry and Winnacunnet are a notch above the rest in Division I. No surprise, as the Lancers and Warriors were ranked #1 and #2 in the preseason. All eyes will be on them when they square off in Hampton on January 28. Will they both still be unbeaten going into that game? Only time will tell.

After that you have lots of parity. The other 8 teams listed here are all good teams, not much separates them and all could end up going to the final four if they can play well as the season goes on.

Additionally, the top teams in Division II (Lebanon, Souhegan, Oyster River, Kennett, Hollis) could all play with anyone in D-I (except maybe Londonderry and Winnacunnet). A good chance to see this firsthand is at the Nashua North Holiday Tournament, where you have match-ups like Alvirne vs. Souhegan, Nashua South vs. Souhegan, Dover vs. Portsmouth and Dover vs. Bedford.

That being said, here's a look at where my current girls Division I Power Rankings currently stand. Like usual, I don't simply copy and paste the standings off the NHIAA website, anyone could do that. What I do is look at things like strength of schedule, who's playing well lately, injuries, common opponents, etc. in the Power Rankings. So that if any 2 teams on the list played each other on a neutral floor the team ranked higher would be the favorite.

The Favorites...

1) Winnacunnet
I saw them play a few times during fall league action, including 3 times against Mass. power Central Catholic. But they never had their full roster all there playing together. But when I saw them play at Alvirne they did. And they were very tough. Most teams around will really have trouble breaking their full court press. And even if you do cross half court they have a very tough, active zone defense. They're fast and they have excellent ball movement. Guards Kirsten O'Neil, Anna Sullivan and Aviana Morrison can all really shoot it and play tough defense. Samantha Corcoran and Carly Gould bring size, skill and rebounding. Corcoran is automatic if you give her any room at all to shoot it anywhere inside 15 feet. And if the defense collapses on her then the 3 guards will kill you from the outside.

"Ed B just keeps on steamrolling folks over at Winnacunnet" said one D-I coach. "They're the favorite in my opinion until someone proves otherwise. I don't think Londonderry has the horses or depth to stay with them."

Winnacunnet's next 3 games after the break are against Timberlane, Trinity and BG. Those will be good measuring stick games for all 4 teams.

2) Londonderry
The Lancers are 4-0 so far. Their first 3 wins were against bottom of the division teams, but they did outscore their opponents by a whopping 102 points in those games. They did get a tough test from BG though, and escaped "The Nest" with a 58-55 win. With names like Butterfield, Bolduc, Cloutier, Crutcher, Uphold, Crutcher and Simpson, it is no secret that this is a team that is loaded with talent. They have as much individual talent as Winnacunnet. If they can play as a team and as consistently as the Warriors they might just be the ones cutting down the nets in March.

Other Top Contenders to Make Final Four...
3) Pinkerton
The Astros graduated 3 of their top 4 players off last year's team and other than star point guard Katherine Harris they don't have much varsity experience. And before the season started head coach John Barry seemed unsure of what to expect from his team due to injuries.

"Serious rash of injuries" he said. "Half of team injured or ill."

Yet here they are, with a 3-0 record. All 3 wins have been by double digits, including a win at Trinity and a 15 point win over #5 ranked Timberlane. You really have to be impressed with their start given the injuries and lack of experience. If Pinkerton keeps this up and ends the season as a top 3 team you will likely see Harris get Player of the Year and Barry get Coach of the Year (or at least 1 of those 2 them will get it).

Harris is the best defender in the state. Seemingly every pass an opponent makes, she either steals it or deflects it. She puts intense ball pressure on whoever she's guarding. And offensively she's very unselfish, always making the extra pass. Harris and fellow senior Danielle Kimball combine to form one of the best back courts in NH.

4) Bishop Guertin
A good team who is young but they're better players (Green, Hayner, Gibbs) have all been playing together for a long time and all play basketball year round. Add in a couple of solid seniors in Jenny Fallon and Lauren Stelmash and one of the state's best freshmen in Jamie Sherburne and you have a pretty good team. There's been a lot of talk about how Winnacunnet and Londonderry are a notch above the rest. Well if that's the case BG must be pretty darn good because they gave the Lancers all they could handle on Tuesday night, only losing 58-55. And that's their only loss so far.

5) Timberlane
Boy is Timberlane a nice surprise. The preseason #11 ranked team is now in the 5 spot. The Owls hot start likely comes as a surprise to everyone except head coach Bruce Johnson and his girls. They beat preseason #3 ranked Memorial on the road and also beat preseason #7 Dover. That's a couple of pretty good wins right there. Timberane's lone loss is to the current #3 ranked tea Pinkerton. The Owls are a tough, gritty team with good shooters and very good defense. Emily Rose is a versatile ball player, Katie Matatall is a lethal shooter, while Meghan Short, Paige Travaglini and Rebecca MacDougall are all very underrated players. Watch out for this team.

These next 3 are also Final Four contenders, their order can certainly be debated...

6) Dover
As I watched Dover and Timberlane square off last Tuesday night, I knew I was watching 2 teams who are both legit Final Four contenders. The 2 teams were so close talent-wise I can't justify having them being separated on here by more than 1 spot.

Other than Winnacunnet and Pinkerton, Dover and Timberlane are as good as it gets as far as the best defensive teams in the state go. Dover is led by point guard Allie Mahan and center Jamie Boyatsis, who provide a nice inside-outside combination. The Green Wave are at their best when pressing teams full court, forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets. In the half court they pound it inside to Boyatsis. Dover also has some solid role players, including the Lynch twins, Megan Walcek, Emma Johnson and Laura Hambrook. Not only did Dover play to a near draw vs. the now #5 ranked Owls, but they also beat Trinity and blew out Exeter.

7) Manchester Memorial
Tough to figure who's better between them and Dover. Both teams barely beat Trinity and had close losses to Timberlane. And both teams blew out bottom of the barrel teams in their other game. We'll just have to find out for sure when the 2 teams square off on February 1 in Manchester.

I did see Memorial's impressive comeback win over Trinity on opening night. The Crusaders started off shaky, but then picked up the intensity and effort defensively. They were led by their "Big 3" of Amra Elezovic, Ashley Gendron and Allie Hartford. Senior wing Taylor Leonard returned from injury, and Christa Sopel also did a nice job in a supporting role. This will certainly be a team to watch as the season goes on.

8) Alvirne
Definitely a team that could end up finishing higher than this. But like I said, them, Dover and Memorial are all pretty interchangeable (remember we're only 3 games into the season). I've seen them twice now (plus a few times during fall league and preseason) and I've liked what I've seen. Yes, they lost by 25 to Winnacunnet. But that score is a little deceiving, as Alvirne cut the lead to just 13 with 4 minutes left in the game. The Warriors made a run to push it up to 18 and then both teams emptied their benches. That was the only loss the Broncos have had this far.

Alvirne is all about their guards. Deanna "DJ" Purcell, Katie Donovan and Sandi Purcell. When they're all playing well this team can play with anybody. Senior Taylor Carbone is also a solid player, and gives the head coach Steve Tracy 4 players who can all score in double figures on a given night.

The question mark is the same as Memorial and Trinity have. Are they soft? Can they be pushed around by more physical teams like Londonderry, Dover, Timberlane and Winnacunnet? And also for Alvirne, do they have an inside presence? Forward Maya Desfosses is a solid player, and Carbone and Donovan both have the versatility to go in the paint and score/grab boards. But they really struggled to contain Samantha Corcoran in the lane for Winnacunnet. So the Broncos could struggle vs. teams with a dominant post player. Their strategy against those teams would surely be to speed the pace of the game up.

Other dangerous teams...

9) Nashua South
Of the four unbeaten teams in D-I, the Purple Panthers are definitely the team that's flown under the radar. Then again, they're the one unbeaten team that has yet to beat another team ranked in the preseason top 10. South has had a soft schedule thus far. How will they do when it gets tougher?

10) Trinity
1-3 record for Trinity, ouch! A tough start for a Pioneers squad that was #4 ranked before the season and had lofty expectations coming in. They're still holding out hope that Jasmine Theroux will be able to return from a torn ACL late in the year. Even without her, this is a sleeping giant. They're a team with plenty of talent that could be dangerous if they can all play together as a unit.

Meanwhile in Division IV
Senior point guard Kelley Collins notched the 1,000th point of her career Monday, finishing with 27 as the Groveton High School girls' basketball team downed Woodsville 57-28 to start the season 4-0 in Division IV. Congrats to Kelley!

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