Friday, November 2, 2012

Girls Basketball Top 10 Teams - Fall Edition

Wow, I must say that I am blown away by how much traffic the boys basketball top 10 teams column has gotten over the past couple days. Even though right now is the peak time for football season that column has gotten more page views than any football article on this site all year, and it's not even close! Clearly there is a lot of people out there who just can't wait for high school basketball season!

As promised, here are your updated top 10 girls basketball teams in the NHIAA, with the 2012-2013 season now just over a month away. Below are the rankings, followed by my reasoning behind them.

1. Bishop Guertin
2. Londonderry
3. Lebanon
4. Bedford
5. Pinkerton
6. Nashua North
7. Winnacunnet
8. Alvirne
9. Manchester Memorial
10. Merrimack Valley

Now, here's why I ranked the teams that way:

1. Bishop Guertin - they have two Division I prospects on the same team, they have the best sophomore player in the state and every player in their rotation will likely be playing college basketball someday. That's pretty impressive stuff for the BG Cardinals, who are your defending D-I state champs. They went 21-1 last year and they have all 5 starters back. They have to be considered the favorites to repeat and as the #1 girls team in the state.

The returning starters are 6-foot-1 senior forward Meghan Green (committed to D-I BU), junior point guard Jamie Sherburne (has offers from D-I Niagara and D-II SNHU), Nicole Hayner, Megan Kerutis and Gigi Piercy. Also back is senior wing Madison Gibbs and junior forward Paige Parkinson will now finally get to suit up for BG after she had to sit out all of last year when it was discovered that she transferred to BG from Nashua North for athletic reasons. Both Gibbs and Parkinson would start for pretty much any other team in the state, which showed how deep this team is. This is a team that thrives in a press-and-run style of play. They're fast and they have a lot of girls who can flat out make plays. Green is the best player in the NHIAA, and Scott Hazelton won a title last season in his first year as a high school coach.

2. Londonderry...hard to rank them any lower than the #2 spot. They only lost to BG in the championship game last year by a few points, and if their star player Aliza Simpson didn't foul out with 5 minutes left in that game then who knows they might have won it. Like BG, the Lancers only graduated 1 senior off last year's team. There are 3 girls in the NHIAA who have D-I offers right now. 2 of them are on BG (Green and Sherburne). The other one Londonderry's Simpson, a junior point guard who has been offered by both UNH and Holy Cross. It was BG/Londonderry in last year's final and it would definitely be a surprise if we see a different match up in 2013.

In addition to Simpson, the other returning starters are Jamie King, Casey Evans-Driscoll and Katherine Dzenis. King and Dzenis are excellent outside shooters, and Evans-Driscoll is an inside presence with her ability to score, rebound and play tough, physical basketball. Junior forward Elisabeth Caron got plenty of playing time off the bench last year and she would be the logical choice to be the fifth starter with the graduation of Lindsey Bolduc (now playing softball at SNHU).

If there is one edge that Londonderry has on BG it is depth. BG went 7 deep last year, and while Hazelton has said in the off-season that he thinks his team could go deeper than that this year they still aren't as deep as the Lancers. Juniors Maeve Holland (who transfers back to Londonderry from Central Catholic), Jordan Marrett, Georgakopoulos, Taylor Collins and Devon Hickey can all play, and so can sophomores Jenna Conroy, Brittany Roche and Noelle Lambert. That's 13 pretty good players that Londonderry has. obviously not all of them are going to play regularly, but they'll be able to go 9 or 10 deep without much drop off to the bench and plus there will be more girls waiting for their chance in case of injury. Plus you have head coach John Fagula, who has been coaching longer and won more championships than any other active girls basketball coach in NH.

3. Lebanon - you definitely can't argue with the Lebanon Raiders in the #3 spot. In fact they could even make a case for being the #1 team, since they beat Pentucket over the summer and BG lost to them. Pentucket is one of the top teams in the entire state of Massachusetts. Lebanon beat them at a summer tournament, then lost to them in the finals (Trina Scheie didn't play in that game they lost though). Then in the title game of the Hoops for Hope summer league BG lost to Pentucket in a close game.

Still, there's no question Lebanon is the HEAVY favorite to win the D-II title this year, if they don't it will be an absolute shocker. They return 4 starters and 5 of their top 6. Not only that, but they get Scheie back in the lineup after a torn ACL caused her to miss her entire junior season last year. When she was a sophomore, Scheie was one of the top 5 players in the division.

Now this season Lebanon will have the 2 best players in the division, with Scheie and Moriah Morton. Morton was a first team all-state player last season and is arguably the best defender in the entire state. The other returning starters are guards Emily Kehoe and Taylor Friedman and forward Heather King. Morton, Scheie, Kehoe and Friedman are all seniors, they have all been playing together for a VERY long time and they form the best group of senior players in the state. I'm not sure if they the coaches will vote 5 girls from the same school onto the all-state team, but all 5 of Lebanon's starters deserve it. You also can't forget about 6th man Samantha MacDonald, a junior guard who would start for pretty much any other team in the state. They rotated just 6 players last year, but look for them to be even deeper now as Coach Kehoe says sophomores Chelsea Dow and Vanessa Fleury have both improved a lot.

4. Bedford - it would be hard to justify ranking the Bulldogs ahead of any of those top 3 teams. And at the same time if everyone on Bedford is healthy there's no way they are any lower than the #4 spot on this list. This team is actually pretty similar to Londonderry - both teams are VERY deep, they have a very strong junior class but not many seniors.

Bedford fell in the first round of the D-II playoffs last year to Windham. However star forward Haley Driscoll was injured and missed that game. Not only that, but Bedford and Windham should have never been playing each other in the first round - D-II has unbalanced scheduling and the NHIAA doesn't do anything to account for differences in strength of schedule. Bedford and Windham should have both been top 5 teams in the standings (with Lebanon, Hollis-Brookline and Coe-Brown being the other 3).

The Bulldogs are led by their talented junior class which includes forwards Driscoll (5-foot-10), McKenzie Brown (6-foot-1) and Ali Glennon (5-foot-11), plus guards Rachel Collins, Bailey Marshall and Caroline Conrad. These girls have played together all growing up, and Brown, Collins and Glennon have also been on the same AAU team for the past few years. Also watch out for senior guard Maggie McGown, who is a very good slasher who can also rebound and play tough 'D'.

I mentioned this is a deep team, right? Good, because you also have sophomores Sarah Zadei and Gabby Hunter coming up from JV to fight for minutes. And as if that wasn't enough, Bedford also has the most talented trio of freshmen in the state with point guard Bri Purcell, shooting guard Nikki Tucci and small forward Courtney O'Connell.

5. Pinkerton...there is definitely a drop-off after those top 4 teams, but Pinkerton is a solid pick for the #5 spot. The Astros are simply deeper and have more girls who play basketball year round than anyone else outside the top 4.

Pinkerton returns 3 starters and a total of 10 kids back from last year's team that won 14 games. The core of returning talent includes the junior back court of Kayla Stacy and Brandi Bonneau. Look for Stacy and Bonneau to form one of the state's best back courts for the next 2 years. They're both fast, they can both handle the basketball, shoot it and defend. You also have sophomore Val Martin, who can play inside or out, senior guards Sam Breslin and Liz Laing and junior guard Colleen Fortier. All 6 of these girls can flat out play. Juniors Lindsey Pellerin and Corina Moore have both also got solid minutes since they were freshmen and sophomore forward Jaime Caron comes up from JV to compete for minutes inside. Coach Barry has a system that has proven to work and win games - his teams are disciplined and fundamentally sound. he preaches patience and ball movement on offense and tough, aggressive defense.

6. Nashua North...Ricky Oliver has built a consistently strong program at North, and this year will be no different. They are another team that likes to get out on the break and run and press on 'D'. Nobody fits that style better than the Choate sisters, who enter their second (and final) season where they get to be teammates. Summer is a senior and Taylor is expected to have a breakout season this year as a sophomore - don't be surprised if she averages something like 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 steals a game.

The Choate sisters are both extremely fast, athletic players who are unselfish on offense and aggressive on defense. They will team up with senior Genevieve Gosselin to form one of the top back courts in the state. Gosselin is another kid who is fast, athletic and thrives in an up-tempo game.

North will have good balance, with their talented trio of guards as well as good size inside. Leading the way down low will be the duo of senior Sarah Amrein (5-foot-10) and junior Eden Tomaszewski (6-foot), who both got lots of playing time off the bench last year.

7. Winnacunnet...these next 3 teams (Winnacunnet, Alvirne and Memorial) were tough to rank. Hard to tell which order they'll end up in, especially this early. The Warriors graduated an extremely deep and talented senior class. Not only that, but their legendary head coach resigned. Because of that, I can't justify ranking them any higher than the #7 spot on this list. With that being said, this is still a program that has won more games than anyone else over the last 6 years. They return 2 very good forwards in Carly Gould and Melissa MacLeod and they had one of the top JV teams in the state last year.

Gould is a third year starter, while MacLeod started and had some big games early in the year last year as a sophomore before being sidelined for a couple weeks with an injury. They are both 5-foot-11 but are very quick and active on the boards. Maelan Castro is one of the girls coming up from JV looking to make an impact. There's no question Winnacunnet will be a little down this season compared to the past few years (they still have not named a new coach). But they should still have a pretty good shot to art least be a top 8 team and maybe even make another Final Four run. BG, Londonderry and Bedford should be three of your Final Four teams, and while Pinkerton and North are the favorites for that fourth spot you never know - if things really come together for either Winnacunnet, Alvirne or Memorial they could end up sneaking in there.

8. Alvirne - they only won 7 games last year but mark my words, this is a team on the rise. The Broncos only graduated 2 seniors so they have a lot of girls coming bac this year. Juniors Sandi Purcell and Veronica Moceri gives them one of the top 1-2 punches in the state. Both have good chemistry on the court together and are AAU teammates with the Rivals. Purcell played some great ball over the summer and could be a first team all-state player this year. 5-foot-9 wing Brittney Lambert is also a strong player who can shoot or drive. Another returning key player is guard Tori LaRoche, a good defender and hustler. Purcell, Moceri, Lambert and LaRoche are all juniors. They were a very young team last year but this year with most everyone back should be much improved. Next year when they're all seniors they could definitely make a run to the Final Four, especially with a very good coach in Steve Tracy. Sophomore guard Kaycee Carbone and Emily Barry both got solid playing time last year as freshman and look to contribute even more now.

9. Manchester Winnacunnet, Memorial is another team that as of right now has no coach. What they do have though is a very talented trio which includes senior point guard Allie Hartford, senior wing Danielle Fletcher and sophomore forward Makenah Grisson. Hartford is also a possible first team all-state player. She is a four year starter. Grisson is one of the most improved players in the state, and should be in for a breakout sophomore season. In addition to not having a coach a month prior to the season, the other concern for the Crusaders is depth. Amela Imamovic gave the team some very valuable minutes off the bench last year, but before resigning as coach to take the boys job at the school Jack Quirk told us she might not be playing this year. Either way, the team rely heavily on their 'Big 3' and if Imamovic doesn't play they will look for players like Jessica Sweetster and A Akot to step up.

10. Merrimack Valley...the Pride showed they can play with the big boys (or big girls) at this summer SNHU Summer Slam when they beat Trinity and only lost by 2 points to Londonderry and Memorial. MV returns their 3 best players, 4 starters and 5 of their top 6 players off a team that went 15-3 last year. So yeah, they'll be pretty good this year. Coach Raycraft's team is led by their 'Big 3' of senior point guard Jordan Filion, senior forward Rebekka Donovan and junior forward Mary Mullen. All 3 of them will likely end up being somewhere on either the first or second team for all-state. On any given night any one of the 3 could be the team's best player, which makes it tough for opposing teams to game plan against them. The other returning starter is senior forward Molly Mullen, Mary's older sister. With the Mullen sisters and Donovan the Pride will have very good size up front, especially for a D-II team. Plus they have a shooting guard with good size in Olivia Thurber (5-foot-9).

Ok, I couldn't keep the list to just 10 teams. Here's one more team that also deserves to be ranked:

11. could you forget about a team that won 15 games last year, blew out #1 seed Hollis by 20 points in the quarterfinals, made it to the D-II semi-finals and this year returns 3 of their top 4 players? The Jaguars must be in the conversation when talking about the state's top 10 girls basketball teams. Head coach Joe Mason has done a great job with this program. This is only the third year they've had a varsity team - they made the quarterfinals in year 1 and they made the semi-finals in year 2 - that kind of a start is simply unheard of for an athletic program in this state. This year look for Windham's 'Big 3' to be seniors Bernadette Connors and Kelsey Shiebel and junior Clairee Putnam. All 3 of them are guards, so look for this team to get out and run, unless they are playing Lebanon and especially if they are playing MV. These 3 girls have all been starters for 3 years now, so they have plenty of experience playing together. All 3 of them should be up there on the all-state teams too. Look for Lebanon, MV and Windham to have most of the all-state players in D-II this year. Windham also has other strong players, like junior forward Brianna Angelini, Amanda Sciebel (Kelsey's twin sister) and sophomore guard Madalina Jeans. That is a very talented group of girls to build a team around, and with a coach like Joe Mason there's no question Windham will make some noie this winter.

Just missing the cut: Nashua South, Dover and Trinity

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading the preview- BG coach did a presentation on skill drills at the NHBCO meeting this weekend- put 5 of his players through a progression of drills for us- some nice, skilled players. Also- regarding J. Fagula having most championships among active coaches- Gary Jenness- formerly of Groveton, currently White Mts. Regional has 12 girls hoop titles- how many for Fagula?