In a couple of past articles I mentioned how the Lebanon High girls basketball team was the hands down favorite to win the 2012-2013 Division II title. I said that if they lost even just one game it would be a shocker. Well, the gap between Lebanon and the rest of D-II has officially been closed.
A major reason the Raiders were such a heavy favorite to win it all this year was because of their talented group of seniors - in particular Moriah Morton, Trina Scheie, Emily Kehoe and Taylor Friedman. These four girls have been playing and winning games together since 4th grade. However Scheie and Friedman will be focusing on other sports this winter and will not be playing basketball.
"Trina wants to focus on soccer and will be playing winter soccer in Bedford" said Lebanon head coach Tim Kehoe, the 2011-2012 NHBCO D-II Coach of the Year. "Taylor is playing winter field hockey. They both feel it will make them better for the sport they want to play in college. In this day and age there is a lot of focus on specialization."
Now it is up to Morton, Emily Kehoe and the rest of the team to step up if they hope to win the title. Morton (a 5-foot-8 guard who was a first team all-state selection last year) and Kehoe (a 5-foot-7 guard).
"I wish them the best, but we have to focus on the kids that our committed to our program this year" Coach Kehoe said. "It hurts, but we will still be solid."
Morton is your preseason Player of the Year in D-II, and Emily Kehoe averaged 11 points and 4 steals per game last season. And while Scheie and Friedman aren't playing, Morton and Kehoe will still have plenty of help. Look for 5-foot-11 junior forward Heather King, 5-foot-5 junior guard Samantha MacDonald and 5-foot-10 sophomore center Vanessa Fleury to also be impact players.
"Heather is bigger and stronger than last year and is now playing her natural position" explained Coach Kehoe. "She averaged 9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last year and this year will be even better. Sam in my opinion is very underrated and should be one of the best point guards in D-II. Vanessa is a true back to the basket player who will make us bigger and help with our one weakness from last year - rebounding."
So the starting 5 will be as good as any in the division, but depth could be an issue.
"Our bench will be young now so we have to work hard to develop them but that's why you have a season" Coach Kehoe pointed out. "We will have to stay healthy now, but they are looking forward to the challenge."
Lebanon has had heart-breaking losses in the Final Four each of the past three years, and Morton and Emily Kehoe have been key players on all three of those teams. In 2010 when they were freshmen they were 21-0 going into the championship game vs. Kennett. But then half the team (including Scheie) came down with food poisoning and Kennett won the title.
In 2011 when they were sophomores they built an 18-4 lead on Souhegan in the finals. But then Jane White hit a a half court buzzer-beater at halftime and a game-winning 3-pointer and the Sabers won the title. Finally, in 2012 when this group was juniors Scheie suffered a torn ACL during soccer season. She missed the whole basketball season but the Raiders still made it to the Final Four. Unfortunately they again ran into White and Souhegan. The Sabers won, and then went on to win their second straight D-II title.
2012-2013 was supposed to be THEIR year, though. They would be returning four starters, they were going to be getting Scheie back healthy, Morton and Scheie were going to be the two best players in the division, and the whole starting lineup (including King, Kehoe and Friedman) were potential all-state players.
Lebanon is still the favorite, but the gap between them and the rest of the division is much smaller now.
Both Scheie and Friedman made the all-state team this fall, Scheie in soccer and Friedman in field hockey. The soccer team fell in the quarterfinals, but Friedman helped lead the field hockey team to the D-II championship. Neither player has committed to a school yet for next year.
Still, I can't help but think of all the athletes over the past few years who have gone on to play college sports AND play more than one sport when they were in high school. Staying in Lebanon, how about Jake Woodward and Cody Patch? Woodward is now a pitcher for St. John's University, but when he was at Lebanon High he not only played baseball but also basketball (was 2010 D-II Player of the Year in basketball). Patch is now playing football at Dartmouth, but when he was at Lebanon High he also played basketball.
Last year's girls basketball Gatorade Player of the Year was Kirsten O'Neil from Winnacunnet. In high school played both basketball and soccer, and is now playing soccer at San Diego State. Staying with Gatorade Player of the Year award winners, Zach Mathieu from Pinkerton won it for boys basketball in 2010. He played basketball and baseball in high school, and is now playing baseball at Franklin Pierce.
Matt Cannone, Lindsey Bolduc, Mike Montville, Liz Pettis, Joe McCarthy, Jake Finnegan. The list goes on and on with athletes who played more than one sport in high school and still went on to one of them in college. Perhaps it is different now, though?
"As far as Trina and Taylor go, unfortunately most (soccer and field hockey) winter programs involve weekends and Sundays which conflict with winter sports." said Coach Kehoe. "But I do agree that the three sport athlete is a dying breed."
So with that, Lebanon gears up for another run at the title. Their first game is December 7 at home vs. Pembroke. The Raiders' toughest competition in D-II should come from Merrimack Valley and Windham. They travel to Penacook to take on MV on December 11 and they have a date with Windham on January 21.