Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spartans Fall Classic - Girls Tourney Recap

We continue our coverage of this past weekend's Spartans Fall Classic with the girls tournament recap and player evaluations. The tourney was held at the RIM sports complex in Hampton and run by the NH Spartans AAU program and its director Chris Coates. The NH Notebook was in the house all weekend to cover the high school divisions.

The MA Huskies took home the championships in both the Varsity Division and the 9th Grade Division. They beat the NE Rebels 62-38 in the finals of the HS Division and they defeated the NH Spartans 53-22 in the finals of the 9th Grade Division. The Huskies had multiple teams in both divisions which all played well. Their coach Hank Desantis had to be pleased. The HS Division especially was loaded with talented college prospects, so to win by 20+ in the finals is very impressive.

The Huskies were led by two of the top young prospects in the entire state of Massachusetts in Anna Kelly and Shannon Murphy. Both are future D-I college players. Despite the fact that a MA program won titles in both of the high school age divisions, there was a lot of NH talent in action. Some of the the top local prospects included Taylor Choate (Nashua North), Sarah Thomas (Bishop Brady), Ashley Coneys (St. Thomas), Kelsey Coffey (Londonderry) and Nicolette Arnold (Pinkerton). This was our first look at Arnold, a freshman phenom who has a bright future ahead of her.

MA Huskies Win Championships in Both Varsity & 9th Grade Divisions
The Huskies 16U squad was led by the inside/outside duo of guard Anna Kelly and Shannon Murphy in the post. These two feed off each other very well, and both are among the top players in the MIAA. I can't put into words how quick and tenacious Kelly is on both ends of the court - you really just have to see it first hand. She's a pleasure to watch play. Kelly can shoot it from the outside but excels most when creating off the dribble, as she is able to knife her way to the rim, driving past her man or splitting multiple defenders with an array of dribble drive moves, with an uncanny ability to weave through a defense while changing speed and direction with the basketball. She's always making things happen, putting pressure on the defense, making the extra effort to keep possessions alive and is a menace on defense. Kelly is a 5'6" junior from Lexington High and already has a handful of scholarship offers.Kelly avraged over 25 points a game and scored over 50 in a game last season as a sophomore.

As for Murphy she is only a sophomore and is as skilled and agile any kid you're going to find at that size and age. Murphy (Watertown HS) has a very high ceiling and will play D-I college ball somewhere, no question about it. Her ability to defend the post, finish inside and rebound at such a high level and at such a young age is incredible. Murphy runs the floor well and also has good court sense (knowing when to set picks, floor spacing, defending picks, etc).

Ironically, the Huskies first game of the tournament in pool play on Saturday was their toughest game. It was the Huskies vs. the NC Blaze and it was the best, most hard fought game we witnessed at this tournament. The NC Blaze proved to be the only team that the MA Huskies played who could hang with them. The Huskies won the match up 51-42 in a game that was even closer than that final score would indicate. It was neck and neck, a 1 or 2 possession game throughout. Kelly used her blazing quickness to get to the rim for an and-1 finish and then Murphy hit a tough fade-away baseline jumper at the buzzer to end the 1st half. The Blaze were hanging tough, battling the Huskies on every possession. They matched up well with the Huskies at each position. The Blaze were led by 5'10" Paige Anderson (Winchendon School), 6'0" Annie Donahue (Chelmsford HS), 5'7" Brittani LeBlanc (North Middlesex Regional) and the Acton-Boxborough trio of 5'10" Emma Crooks, 5'7" Kristin Ropiak and 5'10" Caroline Maxwell. Murphy had an and-1 finish inside off a strong drop-step move, and the Huskies hung on for the 51-42 win. This was a very good battle.

In the title game vs. the NE Rebels the Huskies jumped out to a quick 19-7 lead and they led 45-22 at halftime. That's right 45 points in the 1st half alone. They were hitting on all cylinders, and after having some tough luck with a lot of shots rimming out vs. the NC Blaze, Kelly was putting on a show in the finals. Other key players for the Huskies were 5'10" junior forward Sam Leone (Ashland HS), 5'6" senior guard Allie Hester (Sutton HS) and 6'0" senior forward Sabrina Ulsh (Bellingham HS).

The NH Spartans suffered a heartbreaking 2 point loss to the NE Rebels in the semi-finals, falling 48-46. 6'0" forward Emily Pettigrew (Newburyport HS) showed a very solid inside game for the Spartans, battling for points and rebounds while also stepping outside and hitting the. Also playing well for the Spartans in defeat were Sarah Thomas (Bishop Brady), Nicolette Arnold (Pinkerton), Madison Allen and Carli Loiselle of Pembroke and Ashley Coneys from St. Thomas. Arnold hit a clutch 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and her team down 47-43 but the Rebels were able to barely hang on for the win.

The Huskies jumped out to a quick lead in the 9th Grade Division title game as well, as they jumped on the Spartans 30-13. They were a bigger, faster team. The Spartans were missing a couple of key players though, including freshman phenom Nicolette Arnold and forward Melanie Lamar. Helping to lead the way for the Spartans was freshman guard Hannah Driscoll, who is consistently one of the team's top scorers. The Huskies pressured the ball on defense and pushed the ball hard on offense, finding the open man and converting on good shot attempts. They went on to win 53-22.

Now, here's a look at the top local prospects at this weekend's tournament...

Class of 2015
Taylor Choate, 5'7" Guard, Nashua High North - one of the top players in the NHIAA and a preseason candidate for girls D-I Player of the Year. Choate once again showed that there are few players in the region who are tougher to guard off the dribble than her. Choate is just as good driving and finishing with her left hand as she is with her right, making her a even tougher player to guard. She continues to show an uncanny ability to slash to the rim with tremendous athleticism and finishing ability. She is also very active on defense and quickly turned steals on 'D' into layups on the other end. At one point she slashed to the rim, using explosive quickness before finishing with her left hand. On the next trip down the floor she again blew by her man off the bounce, got inside before faking the pass and finishing the layup for another great move.

Sarah Thomas, 5'7" Guard, Bishop Brady - One of the best all-around players at the tournament. Thomas is a natural 2 but can also play the 1 if need be. She does everything you could ask of a combo-guard. She can shoot, slash to the rim, she also showed a good mid-range game, stopping on a dime and popping in a 15-footer. Thomas plays hard on both ends and is a tough defender. She made some good passes and overall is fundamentally sound player who makes plays and helps her team in a variety of ways.

Emily Barry, 5'9" Wing, Alvirne HS - Definitely an underrated player, Barry played well during summer league action for Alvirne and she showed continued improvement over the weekend. Barry is a versatile wing who excels when slashing to the rim, as she is very quick off the dribble for a player her size. She got to the rim at will and either scored or got fouled, but never forces things and always let's the game come to her. Barry also hit the 3 and hustled on defense for steals and loose balls.

Jaime Caron, 5'10" Forward, Pinkerton Academy - Caron has the size and toughness to score and defend in the post, but the versatility to step outside and hit the 3 or mid-range jumper.

Class of 2016
Ashley Coneys, 5'10" Wing, St. Thomas Aquinas - Toughness is the first word that comes to mind with regards to Coneys' play. She's a competitor and doesn't back down from anybody. Coneys can play inside or can face up from the wing and take her man off the dribble. She is strong physically and plays with a chip on her shoulder which you like to see. Coneys is one of the better defenders we saw at this weekend's tournament and had some strong finishes inside. She also had a great bounce pass on the fast break, leading to a layup which was one of the best passes we saw all weekend.

Ashley Hill, 5'6" Guard, Trinity HS - A strong weekend for Hill, who has grown a couple inches and continues to develop her skill set. She showed more confidence and decisiveness with the basketball in her hands, seeing the gap in the gap in the defense and instinctively driving through it. Hill has also improved her ability to finish at the bucket, with a number of and-1 finishes in traffic after strong drives. In one game she hit back-to-back 3-pointers off the dribble, and later hit a smooth mid-range jumper after a nice hesitation dribble. Hill made some solid passes and played tough defense.

Carli Loiselle, 5'10" Forward, Pembroke Academy - Loiselle has good size and skill set. She can post people up but also has strong mid-range game. She is active on the offensive boards, and really hustled hard for points and rebounds in the paint. Loiselle has good toughness and a versatile inside/outside game. Later she hit a tough leaner inside for a tough and-1 finish.

Kaitlin McDermott, 5'7" Guard, Dover HS - An athletic 2-guard, McDermott can shoot it or take her man off the dribble. She's a tough slasher who had some strong drives and finishes at the rim. She also showed a solid mid-range game, stopping some of her drives in the lane and hitting some tough floaters. McDermott defended well out on the perimeter and hit outside shots.

Madison Allen, 5'10" Forward, Pembroke Academy - A good finisher inside, in the post or when facing up and shooting anywhere 15 feet and in. Allen was the Spartans' go-to player early in the semi-final showdown with the Rebels, scoring at will with a variety of post moves while doing a nice job of battling for inside position.

Kate Balcom, 5'7" Guard, Londonderry HS - An underrated player, Balcom has been overshadowed at Londonderry but she has the talent to contribute over the next couple years. Balcom is a 2-guard who can hit shots and slash from the wing but really excels in an up-tempo transition game. She is very quick out on the break and had some strong finishes, even against bigger players. A smart player with solid fundamentals and doesn't force anything.

Melanie Lamar, 5'10" Forward, Exeter HS - We really liked how much Lamar was hustling after loose balls and rebounds. She's a good rebounder and also showed some solid post moves, including a very nice up-and-under. She also hit a 3-pointer off the catch and then right after that stole the ball in the back court and finished the layup.

Class of 2017
Kelsey Coffey, 5'8" Guard, Londonderry HS - 2017 is a very deep and talented class for NH and Coffey and definitely right up their among the top local players in the class. A natural wing but she this weekend she also showed the ability to run the point, showing good court vision and unselfishness with the ball. While she mainly looked to set her teammates for looks, Coffey took what the defense gave her and took advantage of her scoring opportunities when they were presented. She hit a number of threes, had a good take and lefty finish in transition and also showed good tenacity by rebounding her own miss and finishing strong with the put-back. A smart player with solid all-around game.

Riley Bennett, 5'6" Guard, Bishop Brady HS - A 2-guard who is in good shape, has a good feel for the game, competes hard on both ends and can hit shots. Bennett started as a freshman last year for a Final Four team and she has continued to get better.

Isabel Dunning, 5'8" Wing, Nashua High North - Wing player with strong, athletic frame who can score and rebound inside but also run the floor in transition and play out on the perimeter.

Class of 2018
Nicolette Arnold, 5'8" Guard, Pinkerton Academy - If there's a better freshman player in girls NHIAA basketball this winter than her I would like to see them! As far as size, athleticism, skill set and competitive fire, Arnold reminds me a lot of Aliza Simpson when she was first coming up as a freshman at Londonderry High four years ago and as we all know Simpson is now playing on a scholarship at UNH. Some may think that comparison is premature but I don't. Arnold can flat out play. She can not only shoot but she can hit clutch shots. She made more high level passes than any player we saw this weekend. She had strong drives and and-1 finishes and defended well. She's quick in the open court with a tight handle. In addition to her outside shooting and slashing, Arnold also has the mid-range game, hitting some smooth pull-up jumpers at the elbow. She took over one game, with a strong drive and leaning scoop shoot in the lane for an and-1. Next trip down she led the break, drove into the lane with a hesitation dribble before hitting the pull-up and on the next trip down after that she buried a 3-pointer off the catch. Watch out for this kid over the next 4 years, she's the real deal.

Hannah Driscoll, 5'6" Guard, Winnacunnet HS - Driscoll was one of the top scorers on the Spartans 9th grade team and she played so well with them that she also 'played up' with the Spartans' Varsity Division squad. Driscoll is a quick, athletic 2-guard who is tough to defend off the dribble. She plays hard, has an array of strong dribble-drive moves and can also hit the 3.

Alana Choate, 5'6" Guard, Nashua High North - the younger Choate sister was 'playing up' but still held her own, defending out on the perimeter and showing the ability to hit the outside shot. Can start or finish in transition.

Mikayla Choate, 5'9" Wing, Nashua High North - Yes, there are even more Choate girls coming to North. Mikayla is Summer, Taylor and Alana's cousin, and is already taller than all 3 of them. Mikayla is still developing her knowledge of the game and skill set but has a lot of potential, has a versatile inside/outside game and rebounded well.

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