Thursday, December 11, 2014

NHIAA Girls Basketball Preview

First off, if you haven't read it yet check out our recap of last Saturday's Oyster River Jamboree. 12 teams were in action, including some of the top D-I and D-II teams. Here it is:

Next, get caught up on all of the transfers that happened over the off-season and what impact each one will have on the 2014-2015 high school basketball season. Here it is:

New head coaches include: Joe Vachon (Coe-Brown), Anne Haky (Windham), Kevin Gibbs (Trinity), Jason Corbeil (Pembroke), Nick Theos (Londonderry), Rich Parent (Milford).

Last year's champions were Londonderry (D-I), Merrimack Valley (D-II), Campbell (D-III) and Hinsdale (D-IV). None of them go into this season as favorites to repeat. Now, here's a closer look at each division...

Division I
1. Bedford
2. BG
3. Londonderry
4. Nashua North
5. Pinkerton
6. Dover
7. Trinity
8. Winnacunnet
9. Manchester Memorial
10. Alvirne
11. Manchester Central

Preseason all-state: Taylor Choate (Nashua North), Bri Purcell (Bedford), Val Martin (Pinkerton), Nikki Tucci (Bedford), Makenah Grisson (Manchester Memorial)

Preseason Player of the Year: Taylor Choate (Nashua North)

This division is wide open. There's no clear cut favorite, and any one of the 11 teams listed above could beat the other on any given night. We have Bedford as our preseason #1, because they have possibly the 2 best players in the division in juniors Bri Purcell and Nikki Tucci, who are also possibly the best back court in the state. Plus they have 5'10" junior Courtney O'Connell and 5'11" sophomore Jenoyce Laniyan, who in addition to having size are both very athletic, skilled and on the verge of breakout years. Head Coach Sue Thomas is also expecting strong contributions from sophomore Maddie Blake.

We've got BG at #2. They'll be young but they also may be the deepest team in the state. They already had a strong core of returning talent, including 4 year starter Megan Kerutis, Marie Laplante, Sara Sherburne, Molly Dee, Meghan Cramb and Sarah Shields. Then they brought in sophomore transfers Abby Streeter (from North) and Bri Nordengren (from Merrimack). They're young, and it remains to be seen how all of these pieces fit together. But there's no denying this is a team loaded with talent, depth and size.

Londonderry lost their 2 best players off last year's championship team Aliza Simpson (to UNH) and Casey Evans but they still have plenty of talent back. Kelsey Coffey and Jackie Luckhardt is a strong back court, for size they have 6'1" Ashley Berube, 5'11" Brittany 'Big Shot' Roche and 5'10" Tara Burke. Senior wing Noelle Lambert brings toughness and defense, while senior guard Jenna Conroy returns after missing all of last year with a knee injury.

Perhaps the best trio in the state belongs to Nashua North. Senior Taylor Choate and juniors Dezi Okorie and Sara Cordova can all go off for 20 points on any given night. Choate and Okorie can both beat pretty much anybody off the dribble and Cordova is a lights out shooter.

Pinkerton has POY candidate Val Martin, a force inside who can also play outside. They also have 3 others back who played key roles on last year's Final Four squad in Marissa Stacy, Melissa Martel and Sara McLeman.

The key word with Dover is defense. They're a tough, hard nosed squad that really buckles down on 'D'. With 4 years varsity players Abby Tilton and Katie Boyatsis and the McDermott sisters Mercedes and Kaitlyn they also have enough firepower on offense to play with anybody.

Trinity has a solid core of players coming back, including guard Ashley Hill, defensive standout Hope Willard, Eireann Kolden and Shannon Roberge. They'll miss point guard Amanda Torres who left for prep school but are glad to have incoming transfer Hannah Fabiano (from Campbell) in the fold. Fabiano scored 16 points as a freshman in the D-III title game helping Campbell win the title, now look for her to have an all-state season at Trinity.

Winnacunnet has a solid core returning, including junior forward Meg Knollmeyer, junior guard Katie Valcich, senior guard Molly Britton and sophomore Kaya Cadagan. All 4 of them could be in for a big season.

Memorial returns 3 starters, including POY candidate Makenah Grisson. Grisson is closing in on 1,000 career points. Other returning starters are 4 year varsity player Jessica Sweetster and much improved guard Abbey Morrison. With that talented trio and some promising incoming freshmen, this team could definitely contend for a home playoff game.

Alvirne will be young, as they graduated their 4 best players. But seniors Kaycee Carbone and Emily Barry are both 4 year varsity players. Junior Jess Baker can score, and Coach Tracy has a trio of promising sophomore forwards who all got good experience last year in Amanda Wetmore, Marissa Sweeney and Nicole Teague.

Manchester Central could definitely finish higher than 11th, but we just think 1 through 11 it is a wide open division with lots of parity. So while we have central at #11, we don't think it would be considered an upset if say, they beat Dover or Trinity. After all, Central was the #11 seed last year and they have most of their top players back this year. Versatile junior Amanda Gaudreault has a solid inside/outside game, Caitlyn Vincent can shoot it from the outside, while Sara Swetland, Natasha Velez and Mary Soares should all contribute.

Division II
1. Coe-Brown
2. Merrimack Valley
3. Milford
4. Bishop Brady
5. Pembroke
6. St. Thomas
7. Portsmouth
8. Hanover
9. Oyster River
10. Goffstown

Preseason all-state: Jen Schlim (Coe-Brown), Mayson Kimball (Merrimack Valley), JJ Daniell (Hanover), Adelle Pitsas (Milford), Sarah Thomas (Bishop Brady)

Preseason Player of the Year: Jen Schlim (Coe-Brown)

This write up will be pretty short. The top 6 teams, and 7 of the top 9 on our list were at the Oyster River Jamboree last weekend. We broke down each of those 7 teams in depth in the event recap, posted the other day. That was basically a D-II girls preview.

The teams we didn't break down the other day were Hanover, Bishop Brady and Goffstown. Hanover would probably be #4 on this list instead of #8, but star guard Lexie Hamilton moved from Hanover to Sunapee. Hanover will still be a good team, led by POY candidate JJ Daniell. Daniell is a 4 year varsity starter who excels at slashing to the rim and either scoring or getting fouled. Coach O'Rourke will look to senior guard Christine Croitoru to be one of the players to step up and take the pressure off of Daniell. Most of the other key players from last year have graduated for the Marauders.

Bishop Brady moves back up to D-II after making the Final Four each of the past 2 years in D-III. Although they're moving up a division, don't be surprised if Brady makes it back to the Final Four. They have 3 of their top 4 players back from last year, including POY candidate senior guard Sarah Thomas. Thomas can do it all - score, rebound, pass, defend. Solid fundamentals, smart player and and plays her tail off. Riley Bennett started last year as a freshman, has improved a lot and is ready for a strong sophomore season. And watch out for senior forward Melissa Mallahan, who has good size at 5'10" and has the potential to be a force inside scoring and rebounding. Brady played Pembroke in a scrimmage and in a tight game Brady won.

Goffstown, Windham and Hollis-Brookline figure to be in the mix for a top 10 spot. Goffstown returns Molly McQueeney and 6'1" center Rene Roggenbuck, while Windham boasts exciting sophomore Lexi Sawyer, while Casey Dinga and Amanda Carey return for a young Windham team. Souhegan went 15-5 last year but graduated their top 7 players and 9 of their 10 rotation players. It could be a rebuilding year for a young Sabers squad.

Division III
1. Conant
2. Pelham
3. Campbell
4. Fall Mountain
5. Newfound
6. Somersworth
7. Bow
8. Newport
9. Hopkinton
10. Laconia

Preseason Player of the Year: Madison Springfield (Conant)
Runner-up: Hannah Neild (Campbell)

Conant is the favorite. That's what happens the best player in the state regardless of division (Madison Springfield) transfers back to Conant from prep school, plus Conant gets a promising freshman guard (Eva Hodgson) and defending champs Campbell has 2 of their top 3 players transfer out (Kylee Julia to Tilton and Hannah Fabiano to Trinity).

Springfield has a handful of Division I scholarship offers. She's 5'11" and can play all 5 positions on the floor. Look for Hodgson, junior forward Sarah Gonsalves and senior guard Katie Chadbourne to provide a strong supporting cast for Springfield. Plus they'll have Springfield's father David coaching and pushing them the whole way (he's already coached the Conant girls to one state title). This team might go undefeated.

Pelham moves down from D-II to D-III. They have 9 girls back from last year, they put in a lot of off-season work and they beat Campbell the other night.

Despite the early season loss, Campbell is still a contender. They have the second best player in the division with Hannah Neild, who recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play hr college ball at D-II Merrimack College. Look for Neild and senior forward Kali Trunca to do everything they can to bring the Cougars another title.

Fall Mountain lost to Campbell in a tough battle in last year's D-III title and they figure to again be in the hunt this season, because 2 of their best players are back. The inside duo of 5'11" Morgan Ferland and 6'1" Peighton Ahlberg (both are seniors) will simply be too much for pretty much every team in D-III to handle.

Division IV
Like we wrote in the Girls Basketball Transfer recap article a few weeks ago when we broke the news that Lexie Hamilton was now attending Sunapee, the Lakers are the hands down favorite in D-IV. They were already going to be the favorites, even both Hamilton moved there. Forwards 5'11" Anna Richardson and 6'0" Katie Frederick combined to block about 12 shots in the team's semi-final win last year and Sydney Clark was a dangerous shooter as a freshman. Now you add Hamilton to the mix and you now have 2 deadly shooters with Clark and Hamilton to go with the dominant inside game of Richardson and Frederick. Tim LaTorra is a motivated young coach, hungry for a title. He might just get it this year.

Hinsdale went undefeated as champs last year but were led by their 'Big 3' of Skylar Bonnette, Allison Scott and Bridget Bourne. All 3 have graduated.

You can always count on Groveton to be a contender, with a great coach in Tim Haskins. They won the title 2 years ago then went 19-2 last year. But they also graduated 3 of their best players in Sadie Conroy, Jenna Wheelock and Talia Bedell.

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