Over the past 2 weeks we've gotten an early indication of who 2 of the favorites might be in this winter's NHIAA girls basketball season - Manchester Memorial and Londonderry. Londonderry won the SNHU Summer Slam tournament on July 29, and on Wednesday night Memorial won the Nashua CC Summer League championship.
The SNHU Summer Slam tournament took place 2 weeks ago at Souther New Hampshire University in Manchester. It had 12 teams, including many of the top teams in Division I and II. Londonderry won the tournament title, defeating Memorial in the championship game 31-17.
Then this week was the playoffs for the Nashua Community College Summer League, with semi-finals taking place on Monday and the finals on Wednesday. In the semis Memorial got their revenge, beating Londonderry 39-32 in a physical, hard fought game. Then in the finals the Crusaders cruised past city rival Manchester Central 43-25 to capture the league crown.
Both Londonderry and Memorial have to be feeling good about the way they are playing this summer, and their chances in D-I this winter. The NH Notebook was on hand at Nashua CC this week, and here's a look at what we saw.
Monday Night's Playoff Action
Londonderry and Alvirne got byes into the semi-finals. In the first 2 games Monday night it was Central vs. Bedford and Trinity vs. Memorial. The winner of the Central / Bedford game would take on Alvirne in one semi-final, and the winner of the Trinity / Memorial game would go up against Londonderry in the other semi.
Central returns most of their team from last year, and they have been playing some strong ball this summer. They went up against a Bedford squad playing without standout point guard Bri Purcell. The Little Green prevailed to advance to the semis where they would meet Alvirne.
Next up was Trinity vs. Memorial. It was a queen city showdown, and a rematch of last year's 8 seed vs. 9 seed preliminary round game (won by Trinity). It was also one of the first games for Trinity's new head coach (Kevin Gibbs) as well as Trinity's incoming transfer Hannah Fabiano. Gibbs formerly coached the NHTI women's basketball team, and before that he was the girls coach at Bishop Guertin. Fabiano was one of the top freshman players in the state last year, helping to lead Campbell to the Division III title. The other similarity with these teams is the player who started at point guard for both of them is transferring to a prep school. Amanda Torres (one of the top sophomore players in the state last year) transferred from Trinity to Proctor Academy, and Angelina Marazzi (Memorial's starting point guard last year) transferred to Northfield Mount Hermon.
As for the game itself, Memorial got off to a strong start going up 14-7. They were getting strong play from 5-foot-11 sophomore forward Jenoyce Laniyan. Laniyan is rapidly improving her game. She's an athletic kid who runs the floor well with long strides. She is expanding her game to the perimeter, as Laniyan stepped outside and drilled a 3-pointer off the catch. Then she went inside and hit a tough turnaround bank shot.
Trinity was hanging in there, as Shannon Roberge was shooting the ball well, and Eireann Kolden, Hope Willard, Ashley Hill, Fabiano and Elizabeth Graveline were also playing well. Despite the loss of Torres, Trinity has a strong core of returning players. And with Fabiano, Roberge and Kolden they have 3 of the top sophomore players in the state.
Memorial had a narrow 25-24 lead at halftime. Memorial forward Makenah Grisson will enter her senior season just 134 points shy of 1,000 career points. While Grisson can definitely score she has also been making some good passes, as she hit Laniyan right in stride on the break for a strong finish. Then Grisson made another nice dish, this time finding fellow senior Jessica Sweetster for a layup.
Incoming freshman guard Keltina Francis was also contributing, with a 3-pointer followed by a nice floater in the lane. Memorial's other freshman guard Haleigh Shea was also playing well, with a nice steal on one play, and later a strong finish on the break. Then Laniyan had a pair of strong finishes inside, with the second one coming off a nice dish by Peace Kabari.
Memorial hung on for a 53-44 win.
"I have to give credit to Elizabeth Graveline" said Coach Gibbs. "She has been playing through an injury. She broke her nose recently, but still came back the next day and played 2 games in 1 day."
Next up was the first semi-final game, Central vs. Alvirne. Central advanced with a 44-35 win. Both teams were hitting a lot of 3-pointers early on. Jess Baker hit a 3 for Alvirne, then Caitlyn Vincent answered with a 3 of her own and a mid-range pull-up jumper.
Alvirne got solid play from sophomore forwards Amanda Wetmore and Marissa Sweeney. Wetmore has a good inside/outside game. She can face up from the high post and either hit the shot or put it on the floor and take it to the rim. Sweeney really came alive in the 2nd half, attacking the rim and making some strong finishes inside. Sweeney hustled hard after loose balls. Also playing well for the Broncos was Emily Barry, who is very quick off the dribble when slashing to the bucket. She also stepped outside and hit the 3.
Meanwhile Central was getting strong play from 5-foot-10 junior forward Amanda Gaudreault and guard Sara Swetland. Gaudreault had back-to-back strong finishes inside, and Swetland showed a solid handle, finishing and shooting ability. Natasha Velez and Mary Soares provide a strong inside presence for the Little Green.
With the win, Central punched their ticket to the title game on Wednesday night. But who would they play? That would be decided in the last game of the night on Monday, as Londonderry took on Memorial. This was much more intense than your typical summer league game. It was a hard fought, physical battle.
Londonderry graduated Gatorade Player of the Year Aliza Simpson, but they have a strong core of returning players who played key roles on their D-I championship team from last year. Junior guard Jackie Luckhardt, senior forward Casey Evans, junior forward Ashley Berube, senior forward Tara Burke, senior guard Noelle Lambert were all out there in this game. Plus the Lancers welcome the return of senior guard Jenna Conroy, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. They were playing without senior forward Brittany Roche, who was on the bench but sitting out with an injury. The Lancers were being coached by new head coach Nick Theos, who takes over for the legendary John Fagula who has retired.
Memorial jumped out to the early lead, as Kabari hit a jumper followed by a scoop shot by Grisson. Then Memorial got a steal, which led to a fast break layup by Kabari. Lambert hit a 3 to cut the Crusaders' lead to 8-5, but then Laniyan hit a 15-footer off the catch to make it 11-5 Memorial.
Londonderry ran a nicely executed fast break, as Evans ripped down a rebound, got it ahead to Conroy, who made a good long pass on the break to Burke for the layup. That cut the Crusaders' lead to 11-9. But then Kabari answered back, making a nice steal before pushing it hard up the floor, making a strong move to the rim for 2. Then Kabari showed great tenacity on the offensive boards, grabbing a rebound, going up strong, getting to the line where she made 2 FTs. Grisson then made a good pass over to Shea for a layup. It was 17-10 Memorial at halftime. That's right, Londonderry only had 10 points at the half. The Lancers were missing some very makeable shots, and not having Roche and Kelsey Coffey out there hurt them. But you also have to give a lot of credit to Memorial for playing such tough, in your face defense. Kabari and junior guard Abbey Morrison in particular were really playing tough 'D'.
Grisson hit a 15-footer to start the 2nd half and extend the Crusaders' lead to 19-10, their largest lead of the game. Lambert answered with another 3, but then Grisson came right back with a layup to make it 21-13 Memorial. Kabari hit a tough turnaround jumper, and then Luckhardt drove into the lane and hit a floater. Then Grisson responded by hitting a runner off the glass to make it 26-18 Memorial with 10 minutes left.
Londonderry kept fighting though, as Evans converted a strong put-back followed by a tough drive and finish by Lambert to cut the Memorial lead to 28-24. Kabari answered back with a clutch shot, making a strong finish on a leaner inside. Luckhardt then made a great play to keep her team in it, driving the length of the floor, getting into the lane before hitting a tough floater. That cut the Memorial lead to 33-28. Sweetster is a valuable role player for this team and is a very unselfish player.
But then Grisson scored inside, Memorial got a quick steal, and then Grisson scored again. That made it 37-30 Crusaders with only 1 minute left, and from there they held on for the 39-32 win. Both teams scored 22 points in the 2nd half, so the 1st half was clearly the difference in the game. You can definitely expect both of these teams to be contenders in D-I this winter.
Championship Game: Memorial 43 Central 25
Memorial was the favorite going into this game, and they jumped out to a 14-7 lead early on. Morrison hit a mid-range jumper. Central was hanging in there, as Gaudreault made a good finish on a leaner off a dish by Swetland.
Kabari was having another good game. She was rebounding well, driving strong to the rim, and also banked in a 3-pointer. Memorial led 24-14 at halftime.
Grisson continued to make nice passes, as she made a good extra pass to laniyan on the break for a layup. Laniyan runs the floor very well for a big.
Swetland made a good finish along the baseline, and Devin Lacroix was also playing well for Central in the back court. Vincent hit a step-back 3-pointer for the Little Green. But Memorial responded, as Kabari made a good steal near half court and took it all the way in for the easy layup. Morrison was also playing tough on the ball defense for the Crusaders.
Swetland hit a pull-up jumper in the lane, and then Velez went up strong inside for 2. Morrison continued playing well for Memorial though, with a nice slash to the rim before hitting a floater in the lane. That gave Memorial a 33-22 lead. Swetland answered back with a nice move inside and tough finish.
Then there was a loose ball which Memorial came up with, starting a fast break. Morrison made an and-1 finish. Then on a baseline out of bounds play, Grisson made a good cut, catching the pass in stride and hitting a leaner. Kabari then hit a floater to make it 41-25 Memorial with just 1:55 left. The Crusaders cruised to the 43-25 lead.
"Then focus of our participation in this year's summer league was to build a 'player led team', to establish leadership and to increase communication on defense to sharpen our rotations" said Memorial head coach Maureen LaRoche. "Offensively we have kids that can score so we maximize this by allowing kids to attack the rim off off of defensive reads instead of cookie cutter plays. The kids like each other and work very hard. They are committed to having a productive season. We are in the Assumption College tournament this weekend and we will be playing in a competitive fall league. I am proud of their individual improvement, their effort as a team and their commitment to continue to improve this fall."