Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New England JamFest 2012 - Event Recap

It was a big weekend in New Hampshire for girls AAU basketball. You had the New England SummerFest in Nashua which was hosted by the NE Crusaders. The tournament had 75 teams, including some of the top high school talent in New England and over 25 D-II and D-III college head coaches in attendance.

The AAU State Tournament also took place the same weekend. The Crusader’s tournament definitely stole some of the thunder away from the state tourney though, as most of the teams at states were grade 7 or younger and there wasn’t even an 11th grade division. So while the NH Notebook was in Nashua for most of the weekend for the SummerFest to scout the local talent, we also did make a pit-stop at the Sports Zone in Derry on Sunday to check out the 9th and 10th grade championship games at states.

Crusader Black Team Continues to Dominate
By now anyone who follows girls basketball in NH should know about the Crusader Black team. They’re a group of star players from the Class of 2014, with most being from southern NH – and they are one of the top 15U teams in New England. And this past weekend they once again showed why that is the case, dismantling opponents with their smart, fundamentally sound team play. They are unselfish, move the ball and execute well on offense and on defense they talk and play good help defense. This is a stacked roster from top to bottom, but they really do play great team basketball as well. Their NH players are Aliza Simpson (Londonderry), Clairee Putnam (Windham), Courtney Walsh (Central Catholic), Ali Glennon (Bedford), Rachel Collins (Bedford), Kelsey Brown (Tilton) and McKenzie Brown (Bedford).

Kelsey Brown is new to the team, but she is adjusting nicely. This weekend she showed a solid mid-range game and the ability to see the floor and feed the ball into the post. Putnam continues to show blazing speed and is just a scrappy player who gets right in your face while playing defense and hustles. Walsh meanwhile is the glue that holds the team together, as she is very unselfish really has a great all-around game. She is the type of player who would fit right in on any team. During one game on Saturday she had a smooth pull-up jumper on the baseline right in a defender’s face. All of these girls are really working hard and over the course of the spring and summer will go head-to-head with some of the top players in the country.

Simpson (pictured above) became the first NH player from the Class of 2014 to receive a scholarship offer, as New Hampshire made her an offer recently.

Speaking of 2014’s…
The NE Shooting Stars 15U team also has some of the state’s top sophomore talent. They had a blowout win in one of their games on Saturday before going up against the Crusader Black team on Sunday morning. You had some fun match ups in this game with Haley Driscoll and Caroline Conrad from Bedford playing against her high school teammates Collins, Glennon and McKenzie Brown. You also had half of Londonderry’s varsity roster playing in this game, with Simpson playing for the Crusaders and Jaime King, Elisabeth Caron, Jordan Marett, Devon Hickey and Taylor Collins all playing for the Shooting Stars. So pretty much the entire team for Bedford and Londonderry were playing in this game. And the scary part is, they’re all only sophomores!

In the end the Crusaders won easily, as their depth and size was just too much for the Shooting Stars to handle. Still, Driscoll and King both had very good tournaments. Driscoll attacked the basket at will and also played tough defense, while King showed good shooting touch from the outside. Marett has also really improved her shooting, while Conrad played smart and unselfish at the point. She made good passes and good decisions with the basketball. Also playing well for the Shooting Stars this weekend was 5’9” wing player Emily Hickey (Salem).

Another sophomore who had a solid tournament was 6-foot-1 forward Elisabeth Giegerich. Giegerich plays for the Rhode Island Breakers, an elite team consisting of many of her prep school teammates at Tabor Academy. Giegerich is a very intriguing prospect due to her size, physically, skill and quickness. She rebounded well and immediately looked to fire outlet passes to start the fast-break.

Other 2014’s who impressed were Bailey Marshall (yes, another Bedford player!) and Melissa MacLeod (Winnacunnet). Both are very athletic, versatile players. Marshall can play the 1 or the 2, while MacLeod can play the 3 or the 4.

Crusader Blue Loses Twin Towers, Still Posts Impressive Win Over Lone Wolf
It was just a few weeks ago at the Crusader Jamboree when 6-foot-2 Katharine Fogarty (committed to Marist) and 6-foot-1 Meghan Green (has been offered by both UNH and Hartford) formed the “Twin Towers” for the Crusader Blue team, which has all players from the Class of 2013. This weekend however, both of them had switched programs and were playing for the Rivals.

While losing that duo hurts the Crusaders, they still played well this weekend. In one of the most competitive, intense, high-level games of the weekend the Crusader Blue team was able to beat a very good Lone Wolf 16U team out of Vermont. With no Green or Fogarty the only NH player left on the Crusader roster is Kate Cole (Merrimack). Cole is a 5’8” two-guard who played solid ball. She rebounds well for a guard, played tough defense, was strong with the basketball vs. defensive pressure and hit some clutch free throws down the stretch.

Rockettes vs. Crusaders Game Features Many of NH’s Top Juniors
Saturday’s game between the Granite State Rockettes and the Crusader White team was a who’s who of 2013 recruits from NH. Led by the strong play of Allie Hartford (Manchester Memorial), Dina Pitsas (Milford) and Katherine Johnson (Manchester Central) the Rockettes were able to build a solid lead early on. Hartford was running the point, controlling the tempo, making pin-point passes and creating offense from her dribble penetration. Pitsas was hitting shots, rebounding and showing a great all-around game, and Johnson was very active on both ends of the floor, crashing boards and converting shot attempts inside. Also playing well for the Rockettes was guard Ellie Flaum (Hollis-Brookline) who is quick, can really shoot the basketball and could be in for a breakout year next season. Maggie McGown (also from Bedford) missed this game but played well for the Rockettes on Sunday.

Leading the way for the Crusader White team was Bernadette Connors (Windham), Madison Gibbs (Bishop Guertin), Megan Hartnett (Tabor), Summer Choate (Nashua North) and Jillian Gilman (Trinity). The team was out of sync early, but got better as the game went on. Then in their later game on Saturday the Crusaders had an impressive win, as Hartnett caught fire from beyond the arc with 4 three-pointers. Choate energized the team by going all out on every play and forcing turnovers.

Another Solid Showing for Crusader Red
The Crusader Red Team is made up of some of the top freshman players from NH, as well as a couple from Maine and Massachusetts. I caught their late game on Saturday, which was an impressive win. Madalina Jeans (Windham) shot the ball well in the mid-range area as well as the outside, Peace Kabari (Phillips Exeter) continues to show tremendous athleticism on rebounds and drives to the rim and Casey Evans-Driscoll was once again the most physical player on the floor as she dominated the paint on both ends and hit shots inside.

The team was playing without Taylor Choate (Nashua North), who was out with a minor knee injury. Also playing well was JJ Daniell (Hanover). The team had a tough end to the weekend, losing to a good Maine Wave team on a jumper with 15 seconds left on Sunday. To be fair though, they played that game with only 6 players.

Girls AAU States – Shooting Stars and Crusaders Take Home Titles
The Crusaders Gold team played up not one but two age groups as a team of 8th graders playing in the 10th grade division. Not only did they win the championship but they won it in a landslide over the runners-up NH Spartans. The Crusaders are a team that is essentially made up of all the top 8th grade talent in NH. They were led by Madison Springfield (Conant), Nikki Tucci (Bedford), Sara Messler (Oyster River), Bri Purcell (Bedford) and Courtney O’Connell (Bedford). That’s right, there is even MORE talent coming up the pipeline for Bedford! O'Connell is extremely athletic as she has great leaping ability and also twisted and turned her body to avoid the defender on onside finishes. Purcell is small but tough as nails and plays with a lot of heart. She can really handle the basketball and made some great dishes. Springfield is an impossible match up with her size at 5'10" and ability to shoot, drive, pass and virtually play all 5 positions on the floor. Messler is a fundamentally sound post player, and Tucci is a lightning quick combo-guard with above average skill and knowledge of the game. You can expect these girls to really make some noise over the next few years.

In the 9th grade division at states it was the NE Shooting Stars who defeated the NH Flames for the championship. The Shooting Stars were playing without star guard/forward Val Martin (Pinkerton) and Hannah Neild (Campbell) and Brittany Roche (Londonderry) saw limited minutes. But players like Kylee Julia (New Hampton) and Tori Florence (Goffstown) stepped up to hit some big shots and take care of the basketball, allowing the Shooting Stars to hold on for the win. Julia hit shots from all over the floor, while Florence effectively ran the offense.

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