This is by far the most wide open this division has been in a long time. Prior to last season this division was dominated by Campbell and Conant for the previous four years during the Brooke Springfield/Kristen Hrubowchak/Rebecca Arnone era. It was essentially a two team race.
Then last last year it was a little more wide open, but was still a top-heavy division as there were 5 very good teams at the top and then a big drop-off to everyone else. Those 5 teams were White Mountains (the champs), Campbell (the runners-up), Bow and Newfound (put up valiant efforts in semi-final losses) and Fall Mountain (barely lost to Newfound in a great quarterfinal game).
But the division is even more wide open this year. Why's that? Well Campbell (graduated Arnone and Liz Pettis), White Mountains (graduated Bryanna Bennett and Brennah Couture), Newfound (graduated Jordan Phinney and Emily McArthur) and Fall Mountain (graduated Jess Zabielski and Jenn Allen) all graduated their two best players.
Meanwhile two teams are moving down to D-III from D-II. They are Kearsarge and Bishop Brady, and both teams are expected to contend for a home playoff game. Kearsarge made it to the D-II title game last season, and they would likely be the favorites to win the D-III title this season. However their best player Morgan Church transferred to Proctor Academy. Not only that, but Robert Bennett (last year's NH Notebook D-II Coach of the Year) resigned and is now an assistant coach for the Keene State College women's basketball team. Brady also has a new head coach in Aaron Brochu.
Bow is the Final Four team that returns the most talent, including potential D-III Player of the Year Lindsey Nerbonne. So that means Bow is the favorite to win it this year, right? Wrong. This past Friday night, in the season opener for both teams, Bishop Brady CRUSHED Bow 43-24. It was a statement win for Brady, as they now have to be considered serious title contenders.
Speaking of title contenders, the other teams who have to be in that conversation are Campbell, Somersworth, White Mountains and Conant. Here's a closer look at each of the teams to watch out for. They are listed alphabetically, since this division is too wide open to rank the teams this early.
Bishop Brady - so Bow is a serious title contender, and on opening night not only did Brady beat Bow but they crushed them. So yeah, that makes Brady a contender also. The Giants only went 6-12 last year in D-II and missed the playoffs. But Coach Brochu has them pressing on 'D' and running on 'O'. In the win over Bow they were led by Tori LeBlanc, Selly Deoleo, Sarah Thomas, Taylor Ong and Maggie Alosa.
Bow - they have senior point guard Lindsey Nerbonne, who is a 4-year varsity player and two-time all-state player. They also return senior forwards Dina Tischofer and Suzanne Barry who both started last year, plus 6th man Kirsten Bresson. That's foru of their top 6 players from a team that went 19-2. If that doesn't make them at least a contender I don't know what does.
Campbell - I saw the Cougars play last weekend at the Oyster River Jamboree. For a D-III team they looked VERY good. Sophomore guard Hannah Neild was shooting the lights out, just like she did at the Hoop Mountain Girls Showcase in October. Campbell also returns senior guard Alyson O'Donnell, who really emerged as a very good player last season. Add in sophomore guard Kylee Julia (a transfer from the New Hampton School) and you have one of the better back courts in the division. Inside loom for Alexandra Trevains to once again be a solid contributor. They will miss head coach Shawn Flynn (now coaching the Merrimack High girls), as well as Arnone and Pettis. But they won their season opener 75-30 over Mascenic and they are once again title contenders with new head coach Robert Allen at the helm.
Conant - the Orioles struggled last season, as they were only the #12 seed in the tournament. But in their defense they had just graduated the 3 players who carried the program for the previous four years - Brooke Springfield, Kim Daniels and Holly Hodgman. Well don't expect them to be down again this year, as there is a new Springfield in town. Madison Springfield (Brooke's little sister) is primed for a breakout freshman season. She was the best JV player in the state last year as an 8th grader. She is 5-foot-11 and can play all 5 positions on the floor. Conant returns 7 girls from last year's team (not including Springfield). Also look for a solid season from senior Teresa DiTommaso, who is a third-year starter (she started on the Conant team that was the D-III runner-up in 2011).
Somersworth - where there's a Hill there's a way, and the Somersworth Hilltoppers have a player who is as good as any in the division in senior guard Rachel Hill (yes, that pun was intended). Hill has been the team's best player since she was a sophomore. And even though soccer is her specialty (she broke the state's all-time record for goals this fall) she has continued to get better at basketball as well. Somersworth was the #6 seed in the playoffs last season and they only graduated 1 kid off that team. Two years ago thy were the only team all year to be division champs Campbell and there are also quite a few girls still on the team from back then.
White Mountains - don't be surprised if the Spartans repeat as champs. They will miss the inside presence of Bennett, as well as the experience and scoring punch of Couture, but they will still be very tough. White Mountains has both of their starting guards back from last year's championship team, including Payton Curtis and Chelsea Payer. Both of these girls are scrappy, smart, fundamentally sound players and tough defenders. Olivia Conway and Kaitlin Wood also return, and they were both key players on last year's team as well. The bottom line though is that you simply cannot count out any team that is coached by Gary Jenness. The guy has won as many titles as any basketball coach in the state, and he always gets the most out of his teams.
Other teams to watch out for...
Kearsarge (led by Anna Cahill), Newfound Regional (led by junior guard Amber Plummer) Fall Mountain Regional (led by sophomore forward Morgan Ferland) and Monadnock Regional (led by senior forward Haley Wilder).
Preseason All-State Team:
Lindsey Nerbonne, Sr. (Bow), Rachel Hill, Sr. (Somersworth), Madison Springfield, Fr. (Conant), Hannah Neild, So. (Campbell), Payton Curtis, Sr. (White Mountains)