The start of the 2011-2012 high school basketball season is officially here. Divisions III and IV on the girls side have already gotten their seasons. So before those divisions get too deep into their season here is an in depth look at what to expect this season.
Campbell and Groveton are the reigning champs in D-III and D-IV, respectively. Both teams are once again expected to be near the top of the standings and possibly repeat as champs. But both teams will also face some tough competition in order to make that happen.
Campbell is the defending champs in this division. Last year they had as good a team as you're going to see at the D-III level. If they were in D-I or D-II they would have still won a lot of games, they were that good. The Cougars were led by their 'Big 3' of Kristin Hrubowchak, Becca Arnone and Liz Pettis. Conant won the title in 2010, but Campbell was able to beat them 3 times last winter, including a win in the title game to avenge their loss to the Orioles the year before.
Conant had a 'Big 3' of their own, with Brooke Springfield, Kim Daniels and Holly Hodgman. Looking at this season though, Campbell has 2 of their 3 stars returning as seniors this season (Arnone and Pettis), whereas Conant's 3 stars have all graduated. Conant also graduated key players in Emily Coll and Staci Keenan. They are likely in for a building year this season. Springield's younger sister Madison is also a star in the making, but she's only in 8th grade so she's a year away from being able to play for Conant.
With Springfield (now playing at Southern NH University), Hrubowchak (now playing at Plymouth St.) were 2 of the top players to play in this division in recent memory. Inter-Lakes also loses its star player in Angie Michalski (now playing at Merrimack College). The Lakers also lost their point guard, as junior Marissa Merrill transferred to the Holderness School.
With Arnone and Pettis, Campbell has the best dynamic duo in the division. They would both start for any team in the state, regardless of division. Both of them can play inside or out, they're both very skilled and physically strong as well. They are arguably the 2 best players in the division and they're hungry for another title. Campbell also has a very good coach in Shawn Flynn and a standout freshman guard in Hannah Neild.
When you consider all of that the Cougars must be the hands down favorites to repeat as champs, right? Wrong. Watch out for Bow, because they might just be the team who wins it all come March. Campbell might have the division's best duo, but Bow is a deeper team. The Falcons return a lot of talent from a team that made it to the quarterfinals last season and they have a Player of the Year candidate in Lyndsey Nerbonne. They also had a key player who missed nearly all of last season due to injury in 5'11 forward Sunday Swett, who is now healthy and back in the lineup. Nerbonne is an explosive point guard who can score at will and is also a very good defender. Other returning starters for Bow are junior forward Dina Tischofer, senior forward Jill Chergey and senior 2-guard Savanna Stanley. So you have 4 starters back plus Swett returns from the injury, so it's basically like Bow returns 5 starters, and then you also have junior G/F Suzanne Barry coming back who was a key player off the bench last season.
While it looks like a 2 team race in this division, you have to also mention Fall Mountain, White Mountains and Newfound. All 3 of those teams will be very strong and will contend for the other 2 spots at SNHU come March. Jordan Phinney is an athletic guard who can really shoot it - she gives Newfound one of the top 5 players in the division. White Mountains also has one of the division's top 5 players in 5'10" forward Bryanna Bennett. Bennett averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds per game last season as a junior. They also return key players in Chelsea Payer, Brennah Couture and Payton Curtis. As for Fall Mountain, they came THIS close to beating Conant in the semis last year and they return a pair of standout guards in Jess Zabielski and Jenn Allen. Both of them are seniors and have gained some valuable experience over the last couple years in big game situations. They give the Wildcats one of the top back courts in D-III, although they will miss the inside player of Erin Maclean and Monica Torney who both graduated.
A couple of sleeper teams in this division are Somersworth and Farmington. Somersworth has a consistently strong program, they were the only team to beat Campbell last season they return a number of quality players from last year including junior guard Rachel Hill. Farmington meanwhile only won 3 games last season but they are a sleeper team because they return nearly everybody from last year's team and their JV team went 17-1 last year.
Preseason all-state picks: Becca Arnone (Campbell) Lyndsey Nerbonne (Bow), Liz Pettis (Campbell), Jordan Phinney (Newfound), Bryanna Bennett (White Mountains), Jess Zabielski (Fall Mountain)
Championship Game Prediction: Bow over Campbell
Groveton girls basketball is the most underrated athletic program in the NHIAA. Since 1988 they have won 15 state titles. That's right, 15 titles! They were runners-up in 3 other years, too. This is simply a program that wins games and wins titles, year after year. They have currently won 4 consecutive Division IV (Class S) championships. Tim Haskins has been the coach of all 4 of those teams and he enters his 6th year at the helm. Before that it was Gary Jenness (now in his 6th year at White Mountains) who built the program up and won 11 titles in 28 years at Groveton.
It really is a shame that a program could have that much success over such a long period of time yet they don't seem to get a whole lot of recognition, especially in the southern part of the state. Well it's about time they get their due.
So the here's the question you have to ask when looking at the 2011-2012 season in D-IV - do the Eagles have what it takes to win their 5th straight title and 16 title in the last 25 years? Or is it someone else turn?
Well, maybe. It's hard to bet against Groveton, but if there's a year they don't win the title this might be it. They will still be a top 3 team, but they have a young team this year. Plus Littleton and Derryfield were both also very good last year and they return more of their top players than Groveton does.
Groveton graduates their best player in Kelley Collins (now playing at NHTI). Collins was a 1,000 point scorer and one of the top players in the division for the last couple years. They also graduated a tough inside player in Jessica McKenzie. They're also a young team, with 2 seniors, 1 junior, 7 sophomores and 4 freshmen on the roster.
Littleton might be the favorite to win it. They gave Groveton a very tough game in last year's semi-finals before falling 37-30. They return all 5 starters from that team, including senior point guard Julia Winn who might be the best player in the division. She's lightning quick and can drive into the lane off the dribble and make plays. Also watch out for Alyssa Keefe and Taylor Glidden, who are both very good players who return for the Crusaders.
It looks like it's a 3 team race in D-IV, with Groveton, Littleton and Derryfield. Derryfield went 18-0 in the regular season last year before falling to Moultonborough in the semis. The Cougars return plenty of talent from that team, including the reigning Player of the Year in D-IV Bethany Kalliel. Kalliel can score the basketball in a variety of ways and is very versatile. Look for sophomore point guard Hannah Comeau to also have a big year for Derryfield.
Moultonborough could also be a tough team, but they suffered a big loss when Morgan Fuller transferred to Brewster Academy. Fuller was the best freshman player in the division last year, and she will be missed on the Panthers for sure. Still, with Megan Uehlein, Kaitlin Slippy and Brittney Hale all coming back this is still a team capable of getting a top 8 seed.
Preseason all-state picks: Bethany Kalliel (Derryfield), Julia Winn (Littleton), MaKenna Burke (Groveton), Colleen Corliss (Pittsfield), Liza Bourdon (Sunapee), Alyssa Keefe (Littleton)
Championship Game Prediction: Littleton over Groveton