Coe-Brown continues to be one of the best stories of the 2011-2012 girls basketball season. The Bears have now won 9 out of their last 10 games, including wins over Souhegan, Lebanon and on Tuesday night they defeated Windham 68-58 to improve to to 11-3 on the season.
Last Friday night they beat a previously undefeated Lebanon team by 15. Souhegan was last year' champion, Lebanon was last year's runners-up, and along with Windham all 3 of these teams were top 5 teams in the preseason. But Coe-Brown has beaten all 3 just in the last couple weeks - they are on a roll and right now they're playing as well as any team in Division II.
"Our 6 seniors have bought into everything I have asked them to" said head coach David Hartnett, who is in his first year with the program. "On Wednesdays we practice at 5:45 in the morning, but I told them after the game that they can have tomorrow off. They were pretty excited."
Coe-Brown led this game for virtually the entire way. Still, Windham was right there with them all game. That was, until the Bears made a run late in the 3rd quarter and early in the 4th to push their lead up to 20.
"We're held to a higher expectation this year" said 5'8" senior wing Meredith Grady, who is one of the seniors that has taken a leadership role on the team.
Before the season a lot of people were talking about this Coe-Brown team as being one that could be an improved unit compared to last year. But right now they are playing like legit title contenders.
"We expected it" said senior forward Allura LeBlanc, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds in tonight's win. "But I think we have shocked some people."
Windham was down 31-26 at halftime, and after senior forward Karry White made a nice pass from the high post to a cutting Bernadette Connors (game-high 17 points) for a layup they were only down 31-28.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars that is as close as they would get. Coe-Brown then went on a 32-15 run, and took a 63-43 lead with 7:09 left in the 4th quarter. At that point the rout was on. Give Windham credit as they continued to play hard and were able to make the final score more respectable. But game had already been decided, and it was clear that Coe-Brown was the better basketball team on this night.
The 2nd half run by Coe-Brown was all started by their defense. Just when Windham was starting to get some momentum going their sophomore guard Clairee Putnam (13 points) drove to the basket and attempted a reverse layup in traffic. But she was blocked by senior forward Meghan Ahern. Putnam stayed with the play, gathering the loose ball and putting up another shot in close. Once again she was blocked, this time by LeBlanc.
"This year we're more team-oriented" said Ahern. "We all try to see the ball and talk on defense. We've always been pretty aggressive on defense, but this year it's a lot more fun to play."
That possession was the turning point in the game. Coe-Brown picked up the ball, came down on the fast break, senior wing Meredith Grady (team-high 15 points) pulled up from the top of the key and drilled a three-pointer. After that shot by Grady the Bears were able to get a steal off their press, leading to a quick layup by Brandie Valentine. That made it 46-33 Coe-Brown with 2:30 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Bears just kept the momentum going from there. After Connors and Liz Peabody from Coe-Brown both slammed to the floor while showing some good hustle battling for a loose ball, senior Olivia Daigle hit a BIG three-pointer off the catch from the top of the key to make it a 55-40 lead for Coe-Brown.
Then came the high point of the night for the Bears. They had the ball with just 2.8 seconds left in the 3rd quarter and got the ball in the hands of LeBlanc. She hadn't even attempted a shot beyond the foul line all game and she had the ball around half court with about 1 second left, so Windham didn't have a defender anywhere near her. But LeBlanc took one dribble across half court and launched a shot attempt. It banked off the backboard and went in, just as the buzzer sounded.
"I was telling her to just dribble out the clock" said Coach Hartnett. "The Windham players heard me and started walking to their bench. Then she shot it and I said hey that might actually go in!"
With that shot, one team went to their bench pumped up and celebrating while the other team was disappointed that they were down by 16 points with just 1 quarter left to play.
Coe-Brown kept firing on all cylinders to begin the 4th quarter, putting the game out of reach. Grady hit her third three of the game right off the bat in the 4th quarter. Then the Bears got a quick steal, and Peabody converted the layup to make it 63-43. Windham was forced to call a timeout before they got ran out of and the building, and for Coe-Brown it was pandemonium as they headed towards their bench. The bottom line is that this is a Coe-Brown team that is playing with a lot of confidence right now and they're playing tough, hard nosed, TEAM Basketball.
"We try to push the ball on offense and hold teams to one shot on defense" said Coach Hartnett. "And when teams double us inside we can kick it out to our shooters."
Daigle and Grady can hit shots and they both know just when to push the tempo and when to slow it down. They are both very smart, mentally tough players. They simply play smart and they play hard. They are the ones who really make this team go, and they very rarely come off the floor.
LeBlanc, Peabody and Ahern give them a solid rotation inside. They night be undersized in the post, with LeBlanc at 5'9, Peabody at 5'8" and Ahern at 5'10", but all three of them are tough as nails, quick on their feet and flat out battle and scrappy for every loose ball and rebound and they go up strong with their shots in close. Ahern had 14 points and 8 rebounds coming off the bench. I'm pretty sure any team in D-II would like to have that kind of production coming off the bench!
Valentine and Sadie Steffen are both small but quick guards who are valuable role players for the team. They both made some great plays in this game defensively which turned into easy baskets on the other end for Coe-Brown. Steffen made a great steal in the 1st quarter, pushing it hard up the floor and finishing in transition, then Valentine had the play in the 3rd quarter where she made a steal and laid it in on the other end which pushed the Bear's lead up to 46-33. It's hard to believe both of them are only sophomores!
Yvonne Dean-Bailey, Kelly Turner and Brier Brooks also played valuable minutes off the bench for a Coe-Brown team that is VERY deep.
Like Coe-Brown, Windham also came into this game with a 10-3 record in Division II. However the Jaguars were playing without 2 of their top players off the bench - freshman guard Madalina Jeans and sophomore forward Brianna Angelini. Both players were on the bench but not in uniform. Even though neither player is a starter they both are valuable reserves, and with them both being out that forced Windham head coach Joe Mason to go with only a 6 player rotation. And when you're opponent is playing 10 kids and it's an up-tempo game it is understandable that Windham ran out of gas a little bit in the 2nd half.
Still, this is a Windham team that is certainly capable of making some noise in the D-II playoffs. The Schiebel twins Kelsey (8 points) and Amanda (6 points) as well as Connors and Putnam can all shoot it. Connors is a very good slasher as well, and White is a tough inside player who is also active on the boards. Senor forward Ashley Adamson is another solid post player. When Jeans and Angelini are in there they have a solid 8 player rotation that can compete with anyone.
"That's a very good team, and their starting 5 is as good as any 5 in the state" said Hartnett.
Windham is now 10-4 and still has to play 9-4 Souhegan (on Friday night) and 10-3 Portsmouth (last game of the regular season). They do however play both those games at home.
Coe-Brown meanwhile is in a much better position. They are now 11-3 and their last 4 games are against St. Thomas, Kingswood, Sanborn and Kennett. The toughest game their is the Kennett game, as they will have to go on the road to Conway for that one. If Coe-Brown wins all 4 of those games they will end the regular season with a 15-3 record, which would be VERY impressive considering they went 8-10 last year.
Both Windham and Coe-Brown will be dangerous come tournament time. Coe-Brown made a statement tonight though that they are the better team. The Bears are fun to watch and well coached. Would it have been a different game if Windham was at full strength? Probably. Would Coe-Brown still have won? I think so. It's hard to argue with the fact that Coe-Brown has now beaten Lebanon, Souhegan and Windham. However it does make you wonder how the Bears lost to Hanover last week 49-42, especially considering Lebanon had just easily beaten Hanover an the Marauders are only 6-6.
"Hanover coach Dan O'Rourke is the best coach in the state" said Coach Hartnett. "He had a great game plan for us, and we were out-coached that game. They slowed the pace way down, got us to play a half court game. We had to foul them and they just kept the ball in the hands of their 2 best free throw shooters. I think Hollis-Brookline is the favorite right now."
Considering Hollis is the only unbeaten team left in the division at 13-0, and the Cavaliers have already beaten Portsmouth, Coe-Brown, Souhegan, Bedford and Windham it's hard to argue with anyone picking them to win it. Hollis plays that pesky Hanover team on Friday night though, and it will be interesting to see how that score compares with the Hanover vs. Coe-Brown score from last week.