By: Dustin Freeman
Making the short seacoast drive to Dover High School tonight, I thought I was walking in to watch a coin flip game that could go either way. Dover returns a talented nucleus for the 3rd straight year and Winnacunnet has a lot of talent. Each team goes about 6-7 deep. A toss up, right?
The biggest question marks coming into the game for Dover were: Will they finally reach their potential as a team by moving the ball and finding the open man? Or will they continue to be a group of strong individuals who underachieve as a team? For Winnacunnet: Depth, defense, and overall team speed were the issues that crossed my mind.
The first 5 seconds of the game decided what was going to happen the rest of the night, as Dover came out and took it right to Winnacunnet on the opening play of the game when senior Abby Tilton got an aggressive steal off a trap and scored a layup. Winnacunnet turned it over on 3 of their first 5 possessions without getting a shot off and Senior Katie Boyatsis buried a three to make it 5-0 before Winnacunnet realized they were in a game.
The Warriors settled down over the next couple of minutes, as Junior Katie Valcich got a steal for a layup and Sophomore Kaya Cadagan made a great euro-step in transition to make it 6-4, Dover.
The next 18 minutes? A tsunami rolled into town and swept up the Warriors as the Green Wave connected repeatedly on corner 3’s and 2nd chance points as Winnacunnet was chasing the ball and was not in good rebounding position. Winnacunnet was playing a 3-2 zone and they were asking their wing defenders to cover the wing and corner, which was a recipe for disaster as it was too much ground to cover. Coach Dan Casey of Dover simply over loaded the 3-2 zone and Winnacunnet could not defend the wing and corner, as countless open looks were available to Dover and they were making the Warriors pay, over and over again.
At the end of the 1st quarter, Dover led 15-6.
Senior Mercedes McDermott had a great 1st half, connecting on outside jump shots and cleaning up rebounds for And 1’s. McDermott finished the game with 13 points in just over 2 ½ quarters of play. Abby Tilton was a defensive pest and had numerous steals and came up with a series of loose balls. Tilton finished the game with 12 points. Her aggressiveness and presence is vital for Dover, as she plays with a great fire that the rest of the team feeds off.
Depth was a major problem for Winnacunnet, as they implored a full court press, but only played 6 players over the first 8 minutes of the game. This brought upon heavy fatigue and countless bad fouls, as Cadagan and Valcich had 2 each in the 1st quarter and Cadagan would later add her 3rd foul with 6 minutes to go in the 2nd quarter and was out for the rest of the half.
More turnovers and missed shots for Winnacunnet and great sharing of the ball from Dover, had the Green Wave ahead 26-12 at the half.
Dover played the best basketball that I have seen from them in 3 years of watching the program in the 3rd quarter. The ball rarely touched the floor and the ball movement was impressive to see. The Green Wave have a starting line up of 4 seniors and 1 junior and they look to be all understanding that this is it, either they buy in and play together or their careers end and a lot of what if’s will be wondered.
The 3rd quarter was a basketball exhibition, as Dover out worked, out played, and out shot the Warriors and took their 26-12 halftime lead and blew it out to 43-19 after 3 quarters.
The 4th quarter saw Dover empty the bench and Winnacunnet played their starters and the final score was 49-38, but that was not indicative of the game that was played.
Junior Abby Cooke and senior Emily Benson do so many things that never stand out in a stat book. The extra pass, deflections, talking on defense, etc. Katie Boyatsis and Tilton are one of the top back courts in the State and both kids are capable of going off and Mercedes McDermott played a great game tonight, as she stretched the floor from the power forward spot. Sophomore Ally Benson played some strong minutes and had a great post move in the 2nd quarter and Kaitlin McDermott provides defense and athleticism off the bench as well. If Dover plays unselfishly like they did tonight and their shot selection and ball movement are as crisp as we saw, Dover will contend for a Final Four berth this year.
Winnacunnet needs to step away from the ledge after tonight’s game and take a deep breath. They literally could not have shot the ball worse than they did. There is some talent on this team and if they can play better defense and cut their turnovers in half, they will be fine. I’m not sure a single girl on the team shot the ball at more than 33% from the floor and that is a okay, because it likely will not happen again. Bad shooting nights happen.
The main concern the Warriors have to think about is: Are they truly a pressing team and do they have the depth to press? Defensively their rotations were very slow in the half court and they had trouble locating a body and got killed on the boards a result. Playing zone is going to allow a lot of long rebounds off the perimeter shots and the guards NEED to locate a man and box out. Long rebounds will be harder for Knollmeyer and Cadagan to track down.
The bottom line is, 1 game into the season, teams cannot get too high or too low. If you let off the gas after a strong start to the season, you will pay the price in March. If you shut down and lose your energy and passion after a bad game? You won’t see March. It’s all about getting better in December and continuing to get to work, as the season is long and the journey is just beginning.
Meg Knollmeyer scored 14 points, Katie Valcich added 8, and Kaya Cadagan had 6 to lead Winnacunnet in the scoring column.
To go along with Mercedes McDermott’s 13 and Abby Tilton’s 12, Emily Benson scored 7 points, and Katie Boyatsis added 5 for Dover.