Every year the kickoff to the girls AAU season is the Crusader Jamboree, put on by the NE Crusaders. This year's event featured some of the top talent in New England, including teams from the Crusaders and the Rhode Island Lightning programs. It's a great event, I just really wished they kept score during the games!
As far as players from NH go, Madison Springfield (Conant HS) stole the show at this event. It's scary to think she is only a freshman. Springfield and Aliza Simpson (Londonderry HS) are on the same team with the Crusaders, which should be a fun duo to watch. Unfortunately Simpson suffered a sprained ankle during the team's first game and sat out the rest of the day. Also sitting out was Ali Glennon (Bedford) with a knee injury which she suffered during the D-I championship game last month.
This event also featured a number of local players who won state championships with their high school teams this winter. Those players include Glennon, McKenzie Brown and Nikki Tucci (all from Bedford) and Courtney Walsh (Windham, NH) who led Central Catholic to the MIAA Division I state title.
The players who stood out the most were...
Class of 2014
Courtney Walsh, 5'7", Central Catholic HS - What's not to like about the way Walsh played? She was one of the top defenders and most unselfish players in the gym. Yet at the same time she still showed the ability to score the basketball in a variety of ways - with floaters, hitting the 3 ball, on put-backs, in transition. She pressured the ball on defense, hustling after loose balls and getting back on 'D' for back-tips. She also made some great passes, showing not only unselfishness but good instincts as well. Walsh makes the game look easy and does all of the little things well. She's the kind of player who could fit on any team, any style of play. She already has an offer from Stonehill, and if she keeps playing like this more will come.
McKenzie Brown, 6'1", Bedford HS - a solid performance for another potential scholarship player. She already had the deadly 15-foot jumper, then this winter she really improved her post moves. Now Brown is expanding her game even more, taking her defender off the dribble and going to the rim, and doing so with either hand. She was also really getting after it on the defensive end, battling for steals until the game's final whistle. Brown also crashed the offensive boards, going hard after a rebound and going back up with a strong finish.
Clairee Putnam, 5'5", Windham HS - Putnam once again showed why she is one of the top guards in the state. She hit threes, she got to the rim off the bounce with some nifty dribble drive moves, she knows when to take it all the way to the rim and when to kick it out. Putnam is quick, athletic and played tough on-the-ball defense. She made plays on both ends of the floor, and it seemed like the pace of the game always picked up when she was out there.
Melissa MacLeod, 6'0", Winnacunnet HS - MacLeod played some great defense off the ball, hustling over and jumping the passing lane for a steal followed by a deflection. Then right after that she got back on defense and altered the shot of an opponent going up for a layup. Later she made a good take and went up strong with it inside. MacLeod is a long, athletic player who can dominate the post but also play out on the perimeter.
Claire McCarthy, 6'3", Oyster River HS - a rapidly improving big who battled inside and also hit the 15-foot jumper.
Tighe Loche, 5'5", Portsmouth HS - another player who has shown considerable improvement this past season, Loche is a very quick combo-guard who can handle the ball and play pressure 'D'.
Allison Yeaw, 5'10", Keene HS - a Versatile wing player, Yeaw spaced the floor and hit shots off the dribble and the catch.
Class of 2015
Casey Evans, 5'10", Londonderry HS - Evans continues to be one of the most aggressive and physical players in the state, in addition to being on the top rebounders around. She got after it on the offensive boards, and went up strong with all shots inside. Evans used her strength to battle for position on the low block, where she has improved her footwork.
Katie Boyatsis, 5'9", Dover HS - a new addition to the Crusader program, Boyatsis has good length at the guard spot, she saw the floor well and got her teammates involved.
Class of 2016
Madison Springfield, 5'11", Conant HS - by now everybody should already know about Madison Springfield, after the BIG freshman season she had this past winter at Conant. But at this event she really showed that she is a force to be reckoned with. Springfield can play all 5 positions, and dominated on both ends of the floor. On 'D' she zeroed in on the ball, made steals and exploded to the rim for some strong finishes. She hit some tough scoop shots and leaners in traffic, and also drilled a 3-pointer off the catch. Springfield led the break, finished on it and was a beast inside on the boards, going up strong with put-backs. She consistently beat her defender off the dribble and drove to the rim with a purpose. Plus she has a toughness and mean streak that you love to see, but is rare in players that young. The sky is the limit for this phenom.
Nikki Tucci, 5'6", Bedford HS - Tucci has a scorer's mentality, and she has a very soft touch from anywhere on the court within 18 feet of the rim. Not only does she have a soft touch but she also has a very fluid shooting motion. Tucci also showed good toughness, ripping the ball right out of a bigger player's hands and laying it in the bucket. She scored off the bounce, taking it strong inside against bigger players and finishing over their outstretched arms.
Sara Messler, 5'10", Oyster River - Messler showed a strong inside-outside game, hitting the outside shot off the catch but also driving it inside for some tough finishes. She ran the floor well and made a nice change of direction move with the ball while pushing it on the break. She also rebounded and blocked shots.
Courtney O'Connell, 5'9", Bedford - very athletic wing player who excels in an up tempo game. O'Connell played hard, went strong to the rim and after rebounds.