Friday, December 7, 2012

Girls Basketball Division I Preview

2011-2012 was a big year for the Bishop Guertin girls basketball team under first-year head coach Scott Hazelton. First they beat 5-time defending champs Winnacunnet to end their 84 game winning streak. They went on to lock up the #1 seed in the D-I playoffs. The Cardinals then topped off the season by defeating Londonderry in the title game.

This season BG has all 5 starters back and they only graduated one player (Cassie Dauer) off last year's state championship team. Not only that, but junior forward Paige Parkinson is also eligible to play now after sitting last season out when the NHIAA found out that she transferred to BG for athletic reasons.

So BG is definitely the favorite to make it back-to-back titles. However it is by no means a sure thing, as Londonderry and Bedford could end up being just as good. BG, Londonderry and Bedford are the 'Big 3 in D-I'.

Here is a breakdown of all the top teams in girls D-I.

The 'Big 3'...

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.

"We have our whole starting 5 back from last season, plus our top two off the bench" said Coach Hazelton. "We also added forward Paige Parkinson who will help tremendously. We currently do not have our starting 5 picked yet. The girls are still fighting for spots. Sophomore Sarah Shields has moved up from last year's JV team. She will be expected to play big minutes."

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) 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 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.

"The biggest story in our Division, I think is the elevation of the Bedford HS team into Division I, and how they are going to be an absolute legit threat to everyone they play" said one D-I coach. "In my opinion, they are loaded with talent, they are well coached, and they have kids that are lock down defenders and can attack the rim and shoot lights out. Congratulations to the Bedford girls and Coach Thomas for continuing to bring quality basketball to NH and Division I."

The other top teams are...

4. 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 guard Sam Breslin and junior guard Colleen Fortier. All 5 of these girls can flat out play. Juniors Lindsey Pellerin and Corina Moore have both also got solid minutes since they were freshmen. 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.

5. 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.

6. Winnacunnet - 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, Molly Britton and Kelly Dolan are three 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. 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.

7. Manchester Memorial - like Winnacunnet, Memorial is another team that has a new coach, with Maureen LaRoche taking over for Jack Quirk (now coaching the Memorial boys team). She has 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. Amela Imamovic gave the team some very valuable minutes off the bench last year and also returns to the team to now take on a bigger role. Jessica Sweetster and AJ Akot could also play important roles in the team. Last year's freshman sensation Peace Kabari transferred from Memorial to to Phillips Exeter. If she stayed at Memorial then the Crusaders would be the definite favorite for the fourth spot in the Final Four.

"Our strength’s are our Senior leadership with Allie Hartford, Danielle Fletcher and Amela Ivanovic, as well as our ability to play tough tenacious defense, and having numerous ways to play basketball" said Coach LaRoche. "We will mix it up - fast break, quick hitters, non-call offenses where our kids will read the defense, and a prepared plan for each team we play. We also have some kids that can shoot the basketball, so that always helps. Our kids’ attitudes and work ethic is absolutely outstanding, and they are committed to improving and competing hard every night to earn post season opportunities. I think the biggest weakness will be lack of height. We don’t have a tall post player but we have a very good post player in sophomore Makenah Grisson, who in my opinion, could impact the league if she keeps progressing at the rate that she is. Makenah does not know how good she can be. She had the perfect college frame, has a good shot, can drive and finish from perimeter, and is known for her deflections on defense. Look for her to counter our height deficiency."

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 back 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.

"We're a veteran team in the fact that they were all with me in my system in some capacity but they were all very young and most were swingers last year except Sandi, Veronica, Tori, and Brittney" said Coach Tracy. This is Sandi and Veronica's third year now with me since I put them in the mix right as freshman the year we made it to the final four. This year at least another year older and still together and they will be again next year with the exception of one senior. We are relatively small but becoming quicker and pushing it up more. We want to be both running first, and composed and executing in the half court second."

These next four teams will also be very tough. All four of them are evenly matched, so don't read too much into how I have them ranked...

9. Salem - this team could definitely surprise some people. After years of struggling they brought in Anne Alosa to be the new coach last season. In her first year she had the Blue Devils playing hard and playing much more competitive basketball than they had bee previously. She got them to believe they could win. Now in year two Salem returns 3 starters and 8 key players from last season. The returning starters are guard Brenna Blakslee, Emily Hickey and Amanda Bickford. All three of them are junior guards. Blakslee and Hickey are both potential all-state players.

Danielle Donovan, Kelsey Perrault, Ayla Rowell, Alyssa Kolbert and Lizzy Twomey are also back and ready to contribute.

"Our team this year is a mix of maturity and youth" said Coach Alosa. "Our expectations are to take it day by day and continue to pride ourselves in our “team first” philosophy and working on the intangibles.

10. Trinity - I think this team could definitely surprise some people this year. They graduate their two best players from last season in Lia Nawn and Hannah Willard, but they had a transfer come into the program as well as a group of fast, talented freshmen.

Jillian Gilman, 6-foot-2 senior center, transfers in to Trinity from John Stark. She is a very good rebounder. Look for junior guards Meredith Farrell and Lizzy Meehan to do much of the scoring and ball handling. Sophomore guard Hope Willard is a solid shooter as well. Matt Courchesne is the team's new head coach, and it will be interesting to see how much he plays his freshmen. Amanda Torres, Elizabeth Graveline and Ashley Hill are three of the top freshmen players in the state. All three of them play for the same AAU team and they excel when playing an up-tempo style. So you have three really good freshmen, a senior transfer and a new coach. Lots of new faces here. If the younger players are able to gel with the older ones this team could be pretty dangerous.

11. Nashua South - hard to believe I have them ranked this low. After all, they were the #9 seed last year and they return 3 starters and 7 girls from last year's team. Not only that, but their best player Caitlyn Perry is back, and she is primed for a big senior season at point guard. The Purple Panthers also have a talented freshman guard in Jocelyn Chaput.

The other returning starters are seniors Jenn Gaudet and Sarah Voorhis, and sophomore Abby Hearn-Gordy is a solid player who came off the bench last year but has the talent to take on a bigger role this year.

12. Dover - hard to believe I have Dover ranked this low. Like I said though, Salem, South, Trinity and Dover are all really close - they're a tossup. Heck, these four teams aren't very far at all behind Memorial, Alvirne, etc. With the teams ranked in the #4 - #12 spots you are going to see A LOT of parity.

As for Dover, you know what you're going to get from a Dan Casey coached squad - a team that is physical, plays hard nosed defense and patiently works the ball around in the half court on offense. Expect a lot of games in the 30's and 40's and not much fast-breaking when Dover is playing. They don't have much offensive firepower, but with the sophomore back court duo of Katie Boyatsis and Abby Tilton they have enough offense to hang with just about anybody. Junior forward Molly Wotton is also a returning starter and is a solid inside player.

Other teams to watch out for...

13. Merrimack - the Tomahawks look to rebound this year after going just 2-16 last year and missing the playoffs. The chances of that happening are pretty good, since they have one of the division's top players, a new coach who has won as many games as just about anyone in the state over the past 5 years and a talented freshman.

Senior guard Kate Cole is a four-year varsity player who can flat out score the basketball. She has had multiple 30+ point games, and is a potential first team all-state player this season. New head coach Shawn Flynn comes over from Campbell where his Cougars were in the D-III title game for each of the past 5 years. And 6-foot-1 freshman center Kaitlyn Petrocelli looks to make an immediate impact at Merrimack.

14. Manchester Central - how good Central is depends largely on whether or not senior forward Katherine Johnson is able to return to the lineup from a knee injury. She got hurt over the summer and had surgery. If she was healthy though the Little Green would have a very tough inside duo with her and fellow senior forward Megan Cleary. But if she misses the whole season that will definitely make it tougher for this squad to win games. Either way, look for Cleary, Samantha Gauthier and Mary Soares to all play key roles as returning varsity players.

Preseason All-State Team
1st Team - Meghan Green (Bishop Guertin), Aliza Simpson (Londonderry), Jamie Sherburne, Sandi Purcell (Alvirne), Allie Hartford (Manchester Memorial), Carly Gould (Winnacunnet)

2nd Team - Haley Driscoll (Bedford), Rachel Collins (Bedford), Kate Cole (Merrimack), Katie Boyatsis (Dover), Caitlyn Perry (Nashua South), Jaime King (Londonderry)

Honorable Mention - Taylor Choate (Nashua North), Veronica Moceri (Alvirne), McKenzie Brown (Bedford), Nicole Hayner (Bishop Guertin), Kayla Stacy (Pinkerton), Brandi Bonneau (Pinkerton), Melissa MacLeod (Winnacunnet), Megan Kerutis (Bishop Guertin), Ali Glennon (Bedford), Casey Evans-Driscoll (Londonderry), Brenna Blakslee (Salem), Emily Hickey (Salem)

Preseason Player of the Year - Meghan Green

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