In just their third year of existence, the NH Elite program won NH AAU State championships in both the 9th and 10th grade divisions. The tournament was held this past weekend at the Rockingham Athletic Club in Plaistow, NH. NH Elite's 10th grade team was led by Jourdain Bell (Bishop Brady), Brett Hanson (Manchester Central), Austin Franzen (Merrimack), Luke Testa (Pinkerton), Ryan Brown (Bedford) and Zach Bergeron (Campbell).
Their 9th grade team was led by Joe Bell (Bishop Brady), JT Thompson (Phillips Exeter), Spencer DeLand (Farmington), Connor Walsh (Trinity), Julien Buffalino (St. Paul's) Anthony Primavera (Winnacunnet) and Bryant Holmes (Exeter). Joe Bell played for both teams.
"We did it by playing unbelievably great man defense" said NH Elite Director Dustin Freeman, who coached the 9th grade team while Trinity assistant Matt Lemieux coached the 10th grade squad. "Our defense negated opposing teams who were more athletic. A huge part of our 10th grade team is the Bell brothers, they played great defense. And on the 9th grade team Joe Bell and JT Thompson were absolute lockdown defenders. Thompson is tough as nails."
In NH Elite's 10th grade team's first game of the tourney they beat the NH Rivals 76-61. It was a very impressive win, as the Rivals had players like Kabongo Ngalakulondi (Manchester Memorial), Oumaru Kante (Manchester Memorial), Zack Jones (Manchester West) and Wade Gop (Manchester Memorial).
Then they beat the NEB Family 79-48, followed by a 65-54 win over the GS Raiders.
"Luke Testa played with unreal confidence" said Freeman. "On his high school team he played scared, but we let him play. He had some huge steals for us in the win over the Raiders while going up against Andrew Houde (Newport)."
The team then defeated the DC Blue Devils 65-36. On the tournament they averaged 71 points per game and only gave up an average of 49 points per game.
"Jourdain is our best player, along with Brett Hanson" Coach Freeman explained. "They got to the rim, or kicked it out to our shooters like Franzen and Testa. It made us tough to defend. Zach Bergeron did great as well, and Ryan Brown did a good job on the boards. Hanson is now 6-foot-1 (he was only 5-foot-8 a year ago) and he had a triple double in the championship game."
As for the NH Elite 9th grade team, they beat the NH Rivals 78-45, then topped Mass Evolution 79-59. In the quarterfinals they defeated a tough NH Fire team, followed by a semi-final win over Jack Zimmerman (Bishop Guertin) and the NH Spartans.
"JT Thompson played great defense and is a great floor general" said Freeman. "Joe Bell also played great defense. We always had him guard the other team's top scorer, whether it be Kabongo, Houde or KJ Matte."
In the championship game the NH Elite 9th graders needed overtime to defeat Mass Evolution 82-77 in a thriller. They played this game shorthanded, as both Joe Bell and Primavera missed the final. Ryan O'Neil (Marshwood HS in Maine), Holmes, Buffalino, Thompson, Walsh and Gallant all stepped up to get the win and the trophy.
"Connor Walsh is only but 6-foot-1 but is very strong and skilled for a big" Coach Freeman said. "He averaged 15 points per game for us on Sunday. Spencer DeLand averaged 15 rebounds a game for us, he's 6-foot-4 and was a force on the glass and has a ton of upside. He took 9 charges in 4 games at Super Regionals."
In addition to winning the 9th grade NH state title, this squad also made it to the semi-finals of the Super Regionals in Foxboro, MA before losing on a buzzer-beater 68-66 to the tournament's eventual champs. At last weekend's state tournament they had 6 different players score 20 points or more in a game.
"Bryant Holmes is the son of Exeter head coach Jeff Holmes" Freeman continued. "He played JV this year as a freshman but he's going to be very good. Buffalino is a great floor general. He played for Con-Val this year but is transferring to the St. Paul's School. Overall as a team we played better 'D' than we have in the past. Ryan O'Neil was our co-MVP for the tournament."
NH Elite is also an up and coming program on the girls side.
"On our girls 10th grade team Emily Benway (Spaulding) is a player to watch" said Coach Freeman. "She's a 5-foot-10 two-guard. She has a good motor and was Spaulding's second leading scorer last season as a sophomore. On our 9th grade team we have Meg Knollmeyer (Winnacunnet), Regan Williams (St. Thomas) and Chloe Pelletier (Epping). Knollmeyer is a skilled big, and I expect her to start for Winnacunnet next year. Regan Williams was a key player this year for St. Thomas, and Pelletier was a leading scorer for Epping as a freshman."
Overall it was a very successful weekend for the NH Elite program, who also made the finals in the 6th grade division.
"Every kid on our boys 9th grade team has a 3.0 GPA or higher" Freeman concluded. "We don't pick our players based on talent, we pick them based on character."