Monday, June 27, 2011

Memorial Girls Summer League - 6/22 Recap

Many of the top girls basketball teams in NH are competing in the Memorial Girls Summer League, as teams get ready for their upcoming winter seasons. The league consists of 13 teams, with most of them being Division I or II schools from the southern part of NH. The opening night of the league was this past Wednesday, and the NH Notebook was on hand to take in all of the action.

Here is our recap of the games, a look at who the top teams and players will be next season, and also some girls basketball transfer news.

Dominance of the D-II's
The biggest story that came out of Wednesday night's action was the dominance of the Division II schools, specifically Windham, Bedford and Hollis-Brookline. All 3 of these teams were matched up against D-I schools, and all 3 of them won in lopsided games. Throw in Lebanon and Souhegan, and you have your preseason top 5 teams in Division II girls basketball this winter (not necessarily in that order).

Windham was playing without their best player (Kerry White) and one other starter (Kelsey Schiebel) but they were still able to beat Nashua South going away, 47-29. This is a very good team. They made it to the quarterfinals last year where they came THIS close to knocking off eventual undefeated champion Souhegan. They also return their entire team this winter, plus they add to the mix a player who is one of the top incoming freshmen in the state in Maddie Jeans.

Windham was missing a pair of key players, and South had most of their top returning players there, yet Windham still led this game by double digits throughout. Leading the way for the Jaguars was sophomore Clairee Putnam, junior Bernadette Connors, sophomore Brianna Angelini, junior Amanda Schiebel, freshman Maddie Jeans and senior Ashley Adamson.

Connors is a versatile player with a well rounded skill set. The 5'9" wing player made a very strong drive and finish at the rim, then on the next trip down the floor she stepped out and knocked down a jumper from just inside the three-point line. Adamson is a 5'10" forward and will once again be a nice compliment to White in the paint. Jeans is a 5'7" wing player who is very strong and athletic. She is a good perimeter player who showed good range on her jump shot, and also has the strength to finish inside against taller players. Angelini had a nice drive and and-1 finish towards the end of the game as well.

Windham moved the ball nicely on offense, and defensively they played hard and made it VERY difficult for South to score the basketball.

The next game was between Bedford and Alvirne. Again it was D-I vs. D-II, and once again the D-II team dominated. Bedford won it easily, 48-18 and making a statement that they too will be a team to be reckon with this coming winter. In Alvirne's defense they were playing without 3 of their top 4 returning players (Sandi Purcell, Taylor Carbone and Veronica Moceri). But still, anyone in attendance for this one had to be impressed with Bedford, especially since they too were missing one of their best players (Katie Prothro).

Like Windham, Bedford also had a well balanced scoring attack, and many girls who played well. They have the best and deepest incoming sophomore class in NH, and they didn't disappoint in this game. It really is hard to believe that one school can have such a talented group of girls all from the same class, but that is what Bedford has with their sophomores Rachel Collins, Ali Glennon, McKenzie Brown, Haley Driscoll and Bailey Marshall. Another player from this class who also played well in this was guard Caroline Conrad.

Collins, Brown, Glennon and Driscoll in particular played very well in this contest. Collins (pictured above) was on fire shooting the basketball. She can hit shots from all over the floor, whether in close, mid-range or outside the arc. She has a smooth, compact stroke and a soft touch inside of 15 feet of the basket. Collins is also a very good defender, and at one point she made a nice steal around half court and took it in for the layup. Driscoll meanwhile is also a much improved player. The 5'10" forward plays hard all the time and in my opinion she will be one of the state's best defenders over the next 3 years. She can defend and rebound the basketball very well, and if her offense catches up to the other parts of her game watch out. Brown and Glennon both have tremendous upside. Brown scored and rebounded the basketball inside, and also showed the versatility to make plays on the perimeter as well. On one play the 6'1" Brown caught the ball on the right wing, faced up to the basket, made an up-fake, then put the ball in her left hand, drove right past her defender and finished at the rim with her left hand. The 5'11" Glennon is another versatile player who can do a little bit of everything. She had some nifty dribble-drive moves and inside finishes in traffic in this game.

Others who played well for Bedford were junior guard Maggie McGown and senior forward Nicole Marinelli.

And then you have Hollis-Brookline, who may actually end up being the best of the 3 teams, because of their experience. Unlike Windham and Bedford, who will rely heavily on the play of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, Hollis will have some very good senior leadership. Hollis' top 4 players will all be seniors this season, including Katie Stopera, Kelsey Berry, Olivia Gillis and Jillian Gillis. All 4 of them can defend well, they can all shoot the basketball and handle it against defensive pressure. They've also all been playing together for a long time. They don't care who scores, just that the team scores. On any given night any one of those 4 players could lead the team in scoring, so teams can't just focus their defense on 1 or 2 players.

Berry didn't play in this game, yet Hollis still looked very good as they cruised to the win. They were scheduled to play against Bishop Guertin, which would have been a very fun match-up to see if BG brought all of their best players as both Hollis and BG are expected to be top 5 teams in their respective divisions. But Guertin wasn't able to make it, so in stead Hollis played against a fill-in team consisting of players from Memorial, Concord and Bedford. Hollis won the game 58-45, although it wasn't even that close as the Cavaliers led at one point 57-26. Scary to think how lopsided it would have been if berry was in there.

Since their top players are all guards, Hollis is definitely a team that likes to run. They are able to really play the game at a fast pace and put points up in a hurry, in the half court or in transition. They pressure the basketball defensively, and have lots of girls who can hurt you on offense. Stopera and the Gillis twins all played very well and unselfishly in this game. Another player who Hollis was missing in this game was 6'2" center Rachel King. King saw limited minutes last year as a junior, but if she can continue develop her skill set she would bring an added dimension to this squad.

Londonderry Will be Young but Talented
You know you have a powerful program when you can graduate a senior class as talented as Londonderry's and still be considered a top 5 team the following year. Part of it is that this will be a down year in girls D-I. There won't be as many quality teams this year as there has been in the last couple years, and the top 4-5 teams also won't be as good as they have been. But still, the fact remains, if I were to rank my top 5 teams in D-I Londonderry would be one of them. And considering they're graduating their entire starting lineup (Allie Moloney, Danielle Crutcher, Savanna Butterfield, Catherine Cloutier and Jaymi Uphold) as well as a pair of key reserves (Amy Johnson and Christina Pescia).

So how is it that Londonderry will still be a top 5 team? Well for starters, they had a pair of guards coming off their bench last year who would have both started for pretty much any other team in the state in Lindsey Bolduc and Aliza Simpson. You can expect these 2 to form one of the top back courts in NH. On Wednesday night the Lancers played against a Concord team that continues to be in rebuilding mode. Londonderry won it handily, 48-12. Both Bolduc and Simpson saw plenty of minutes in this game, and fans who were there got a glimpse of what is to come this winter with the 2 talented guards leading the way. Simpson is a very good point guard who can score the basketball at will, but also has outstanding court vision and is very unselfish. She simply put on a show in this game vs. Concord, running the point and making the right plays all the time, attacking the rim, and making some nifty passes. Bolduc is an off-guard who can shoot the ball from the outside, drive to the rim and also play tough defense.

This team is much more than just Bolduc and Simpson, though. After all, both of them played on varsity last year, yet it was Londonderry's JV team which went undefeated en route to a JV state title. That JV team included players like Kirsten Enwright, Devon Hickey, Maeve Holland, Elisabeth Caron, Christina Milliken and Katherine Mary, all of whom will be hoping to get varsity minutes this winter, as well as Jamie King (another incoming sophomore who played varsity for Londonderry last year as a freshman). Another player who got a good amount of playing time for Londonderry in this game was 5'10" forward Casey Evans-Driscoll, who is part of an incoming freshmen class which some folks say is just as good as the freshman class the Lancers had this past winter. That is a scary thought for the rest of Division I girls basketball. Evans-Driscoll played hard and did a nice job on the boards and getting the ball to the outlet man in Wednesday night's game vs. Concord.

It will be interesting to see how this Londonderry team develops over the summer and fall. They are a very young team, but also a very talented one. They also still have NH coaching legend John Fagula on the bench. And in a down year for D-I, that should be enough for them to be a top 5 team at the least.

Stacy Transferring to Pinkerton
Speaking of teams you can expect to finish in the top 5 this winter, you also have to look at Pinkerton. Last week I was informed that former Manchester Memorial guard Kayla Stacy will be transferring to Pinkerton. Stacy is a 5'4" combo-guard who is quick, can handle the basketball, defend well and shoot it from just about anywhere. She played varsity as a freshman for a Memorial team that made it to the D-I semi-finals. And now she'll compete for a starting spot in the back court for a Pinkerton team which is once again expected to be one of the division's best squads.

The Astros graduate their 3 starting guards from this past winter (Katherine Harris, Danielle Kimball and Michelle Reid). Harris was their best player and is headed to play at Division I Bucknell University. The advantage that Pinkerton will have over pretty much any team they will play against this year however, is that they will have a pair of 6'0" post players. 6'0" Sarah Goodwin and 6'0" Mariah Bonneau are both returning starters and they'll both be seniors this season. Not many teams will be able to match up with both of them inside.

Stacy joins an Astros back court that will be very deep but also very young. Junior Sam Breslin and sophomore Colleen Fortier were both key players off the bench last year and are both expected to compete for starting spots this year. You also have junior guard Elizabeth Laing, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Laing is expected to be back on the court for this season, and with her speed and athleticism she has as much potential as anyone on the roster. She just has to get healthy and refine her skill set. Other returning varsity players in the back court for Pinkerton are Brandi Bonneau (Mariah's little sister), Corina Moore and Lindsey Pellerin, all of whom got some valuable playing time on varsity last year as freshmen. These girls will all be competing with each other for starting spots and playing time in the back court. There is a lot of talent there, but also a lot of inexperience. Just like Londonderry, Pinkerton will be another team that will be interesting to watch develop over the course of the summer and fall. And also like Londonderry, Pinkerton also has one of the best coaches in the state in John Barry. Barry has a good system and always gets the most out of his players. I expect the Astros to once again be a top 5 team in D-I.

Stacy transferring to Pinkerton definitely hurts Memorial, who lose a player that likely would have been a varsity starter for them for the next 3 years. Another one of their projected starts for next year, junior Danielle Fletcher has a tendonitis injury and it's uncertain when she will return to action. As a result Memorial is a team that is currently lacking depth, and will rely heavily on the play of Amra Elezovic and Allie Hartford.

Sleeper Teams in D-1: Keene and Central
Last year was definitely a tough one for both Keene and Manchester Central. The 2 schools had a combined record of 9-27. But I for one would be SHOCKED if both of them finish outside the top 10 in D-I this winter. As of right now they are my 2 sleeper teams for next season.

Keene returns 3 of their 4 best players, including returning all-state player Ashley Clough. Clough will be a senior next season and has a good chance at being a first team all-state player this time around. Cailey White is another forward will be a senior next year and is a returning starter, and Allison Yeaw returns after being a key player for the Blackbirds last year as a freshman.

Central meanwhile was in action on Wednesday night as they took on Merrimack. While Merrimack put up a good fight, Central won it fairly easily. The Little Green led by between 8-12 points for most of the game, despite the fact that they were playing without junior forward Katherine Johnson (one of their better returning players).

Central only graduates 2 players off last year's team. Most of the team is back, including Johnson, Ashley Giampetruzzi, Shannon O'Neil, Sam Gauthier, Chanel Robinson, Zoe Stamoulis, Megan Cleary and Jill Graff. Most of these girls were getting their first playing time at the varsity level last year. They took their lumps last year, now they're ready to win some games.

In their game vs. Merrimack on Wednesday night, O'Neil hit back-to-back threes to put Central up 20-11. Robinson followed that up with a nice mid-range pull-up jumper in traffic. Giampetruzzi was also playing well for the Little Green. Gauthier (will only be a sophomore) played better as the game went on, showing a nice shooting touch from the outside and the ability to get by her defender with the dribble.

Other Notes from Wednesday Night's Games
The final game of the night was a "city game" between Trinity and Memorial. It ended up being a shootout between Trinity's Lia Nawn and Memorial's Amra Elezovic. Trinity jumped out to a quick 13-3 lead led by the hot shooting of Nawn, a 5'9" senior guard. Elezovic, a 5'11" senior then answered back with back-to-back threes of her own.

Junior guard Meredith Farrell also played well for Trinity. She is a quick player who can handle the basketball and did a nice job of finishing in transition. Farrell will only be a junior, and forward Kelleigh Murtaugh also played well. Like Memorial though, Trinity is also a tea that seems to lack depth. Nawn will really be looked upon to carry the team and put points on the board. Opposing defenses will definitely key on her and she'll likely see a lot of box and 1's.

Still, Trinity was able to build a sizable lead on Memorial, leading by double digits for most of the way and they led 27-15 at halftime. The Crusaders then made a 2nd half comeback, which set up a pretty exciting finish to this game. Elezovic and Hartford led the comeback for Memorial. Elezovic drained a three to cut into the trinity lead, only to have Nawn come right back and hit one of her own from the top of the key only about 10 seconds later.

Hartford then made a pair of nice finishes at the rim. On one of them she made a crossover dribble to go by her defender and then scored, and just a couple plays later she got to the rim for a nice and-1 finish. That made it a 42-37 Trinity lead.

Then Elezovic hit her 6th three-pointer of the game to make it 42-40 Pioneers with just under a minute left. After a Trinity turnover Memorial had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds. Hartford and Elezovic both got good looks from long range, but they both went off the rim. Trinity won it 42-40.

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