Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Oyster River Girls Basketball Jamboree - 2014 Recap

The Oyster River Jamboree is annually a great kickoff event to kickoff the girls basketball season, with many top Division I and II teams in attendance. The event took place over the weekend, with the following teams participating - Portsmouth, Pembroke, St. Thomas, Merrimack, Trinity, Dover, Pinkerton, Merrimack Valley, Milford, Kennett, Coe-Brown and Oyster River.

Each scrimmage consisted of a 20 minute half, stopped time with the score being kept. The NH Notebook was in the house throughout the day to cover the action. There was one word that stands out from what we saw - parity. Teams played between 3-4 total scrimmages and nobody went undefeated. There wasn't 1 or 2 teams that stood out the most and dominated everybody. A lot of the teams looked pretty evenly matched.

D-II girls basketball in particular appears to be wide open. Of the teams we expect to be in D-II's top 9 this season, 7 of them were at the Oyster River Jamboree (Coe-Brown, Merrimack Valley, Milford, Pembroke, St. Thomas, Portsmouth, Oyster River) with not much separating any of them. Here's a closer look at what we saw from each team on Saturday (the others in our preseason top 9 are Hanover and Bishop Brady).

Coe-Brown - went 3-1. Beat Merrimack 16-9, beat Portsmouth 13-12, lost to Pembroke 13-11, beat Trinity 18-12
Coe-Brown has to be considered the preseason favorite in D-II. They came within a 3-pointer of forcing overtime in the title game vs. Merrimack Valley. MV graduated 3 starters, but Coe-Brown is returning their entire team. Returning for the Bears is their starting lineup of forwards 5'10" Jenny Schlim (returning first team all-state) and 5'9" Abigail Ahearn, plus wing Sarah Curtin, combo-guard Debbie Peabody and point guard Haley Ruth. All 5 of them are returning starters, all 5 of them are seniors and they've all been playing together for a long time. 5'8" junior wing Sydney Fisher is also back. Fisher is one of the best 6th men in D-II - she'd start on pretty much any other team in the division and would start for many D-I teams as well. Also back is senior guard Ashley LeBlanc, who played a valuable role off the bench last year as well.

Schlim and Ahearn are a dominant combination inside. Not many D-II teams can match up with their size, quickness and skill level in the post. Schlim can also step out and hit the 15-20 foot jumper. Peabody is one of the tougher guards in the division, she doesn't back down from anybody. At one point vs. Portsmouth she hit a 3 and then on the other end of the floor hustled down and blocked a shot on 'D'. Ruth looks to distribute the ball but can also finish strong in traffic. The coach who led them to the state finals last year stepped down (David Hartnett), but you can bet they are hungry to win it all this time around and the 2 assistant coaches are now running the show (Joe Vachon is new head coach and John Schlim is assistant).

Coe-Brown has everybody back, they're the favorite. But at the same time they are beatable. Case in point is that they didn't even win all their scrimmages on Saturday, as Pembroke beat them. Also, Co-Brown did appear tentative in their half court offense at times. In their scrimmage vs. Merrimack, the Bears had a possession that lasted about a minute and a half. This was in part due to good defense by the Tomahawks but in large part due to Coe-Brown working the ball around for that long without being able to create a good look at the rim. The Bears were sitting back in a zone defense and not pushing the ball on offense as much as they did last year. As a result they weren't play as much of an up-tempo game and weren't getting as many transition opportunities. Coe-Brown is the favorite, but the gap between them and the rest is not very big. There's lots of other good teams who are right up there with them. Like...

Merrimack Valley - went 1-2. lost to Milford 16-9, beat Kennett 23-11, lost to Oyster River 11-6
Don't let the 1-2 record at the jamboree fool you. The team that we saw on Saturday is vastly different than the team that will be out there for the Pride in 3-4 weeks. MV was playing without 2 key players - star junior forward 5'11" Mayson Kimball and senior forward Morganne Waldo. Last year as a sophomore Kimball made the all-state team, scored over 90 points in the state tournament and led MV to the first girls basketball state title in school history. According to head coach Dave Huckins (who coached the team to the championship in his first year at the helm while coaching his daughter Cassidy Huckins), Kimball and Waldo are both out 3-4 weeks. Kimball is out with a hip flexor injury. MV plays at Pembroke net Tuesday. With Kimball sitting out with the injury, look for Pembroke to be the favorite in that game.

Considering they were missing two key players, including their best player (possibly the best player in the division) MV actually looked pretty good. I liked the fire, the intensity they were playing with. They were playing a fast, up-tempo game, really pressuring people on 'D' and pushing the ball on offense. They moved the ball well. Cassidy Huckins is a star player in field hockey at MV but look for her to also be an all-state player in basketball this year. She played very well on both ends of the floor and can hit shots. Junior guard Sammi Osbourne is another returning key player for the Pride. Once this squad gets healthy they'll be as good as anybody in D-II.

Milford - went 2-2. Lost to Trinity 9-7, lost to Trinity 13-11, beat Merrimack Valley 16-9, beat Kennett 19-8
Don't sleep on this team. They have made back-to-back Final Four appearances, and they have 5 girls back who were key contributors on last year's team (plus another player in Kaitlin Matthews who returns from injury after missing all of last year but was a key player for them 2 years ago).

They only went 2-2 on the day, but the 2 losses both came against Trinity, who is expected to contend for a top 8 seed in D-I. In their 2 scrimmages vs. D-II opponents the Spartans won by a combined margin of 35-17. The returning key players from last year are senior point guard Adelle Pitsas (potential first team all-state pick) and fellow seniors 6'0" Rebecca Cleary and Jessica Ryan, plus sophomore guards Erin McGuire and Devany Pitsas. Adelle Pitsas is the floor general, who plays smart and with poise. Cleary was very aggressive on Saturday, really looking to attack the rim and make things happen at every chance. She could be one of the better post players in the division this season. Ryan has big game experience, can hit shots and does all the little things to help a team win. McGuire flat out plays her tail off. It was a jamboree where the games didn't count in the standings, yet McGuire was diving all over the floor for loose balls like it was a tournament game - nobody played harder on Saturday. Matthews played a solid inside/outside game in her return, and Devany Pitsas (younger sister of Adelle and Springfield College player Dina Pitsas) is a strong all-around player. Devany Pitsas and Fisher from Coe-Brown have to be the 2 best 6th men in D-II, they would both start for any other team in the division.

This is a veteran team with lots of big game experience. They've made back-to-back Final Fours, so you can bet they're hungry to get back there this year and win it all this time. They have a new coach, with Rich Parent replacing Steve Signor. Parent won back-to-back titles as an assistant coach for the Milford boys basketball team, and now he's hoping to make it happen on the girls side.

Pembroke - went 2-1. Beat Merrimack 14-0, lost to Portsmouth 9-7, beat Coe-Brown 13-11
A team on the rise, and one that could certainly contend this season to make the Final Four. They made a statement by beating Coe-Brown, albeit in a 20 minute scrimmage (the equivalent to 2 and a half quarters). Coe-Brown has a lot of weapons but Pembroke showed they could play tough defense in the half court to contain those weapons. And with junior forwards 5'10" Karli Loiselle and 5'11" Madison Allen, the Spartans have the size up front to match up with what Coe-Brown has in Schlim and Ahearn. Loiselle and Allen are both skilled bigs who can score on the low block or hit shots on the mid-range area. Loiselle was aggressive on Saturday looking for her shot while Allen was more passive, even with Loiselle out of the lineup. They could really be a tough duo to stop this year, especially with senior guard Hannah Seidner having the ability to knock down outside shots to take the pressure off them. Seidner is a quick guard who hit a pair of 3-pointers vs. Coe Brown, using a quick release to get her shot off. Loiselle drove to the rim, made a nice spin move into the lane before hitting a tough shot in traffic. This team seems to have good chemistry on the court together. They have a new head coach in Jason Corbeil, and it appears as though they've put in a lot of work in the off-season. This team will definitely be in the mix.

Portsmouth - went 2-1. Beat Pembroke 9-7, lost to Coe-Brown 13-12, beat Merrimack
Only 1 starter back from last year but this team will still be tough. First off, yes they only return 1 starter but they had 2 kids coming off their bench last year (Libby Underwood and Heather Durand) who would have both started for pretty much any other team in the division. Underwood and Durand got some good experience last year as freshmen and now look to have breakout sophomore seasons. With Underwood, Durand and returning starter Isabelle Pafford you have a very strong trio that will have the Clippers competitive with anybody.

Against Coe-Brown, Underwood played a strong all-around game but was limited offensively as it seemed like Coe-Brown focused their defense on stopping her and preventing her from getting good looks at the rim. Pafford showed the ability to shoot it from the outside. Durand was quiet early on, but then made some big plays later. She had a strong put-back, then a tough and-1 finish before drilling a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Overall, Portsmouth is a young team but with Dan Parr they have a very good coach in Dan Parr. They beat a strong Pembroke team on Saturday and will get better as the season goes on.

St. Thomas - went 1-2. Beat Dover 21-13, lost to Pinkerton 15-3, lost to Oyster River 13-9
Yet another new head coach is on the scene, as John Simmers left his position as Farmington High boys head varsity coach to take over the girls program at St. Thomas. Simmers was hired in early June, so he had the entire summer to work with his new squad. This is evident, as this team really seemed to be clicking on all cylinders, running plays, looking for each other and hitting shots in their first scrimmage vs. Dover. They were really looking to get out and run the break, led by junior point guard Reagan Williams. Williams was racing up the floor with the basketball, a blur in transition - she was the fastest player on the court. Williams has already committed to Richmond University, accepting a lacrosse scholarship. Williams banked in a 3, and then on the next trip down drove baseline before making a nice dish inside to teammate Ashley Coneys for 2. Coneys is a versatile 5'10" kid who can play inside or out. And senior 5'8" guard Mariah Desmarais is a fast, athletic player who can handle the basketball and fits right in with the team's up-tempo style. With Williams, Coneys and Desmarais the Saints return their 3 best players off a team that was playing some very strong basketball down the stretch last year. Senior Hannah Turgeon is a scrappy guard who gave them solid minutes and made positive things happen when in the game.

St. Thomas looked like a sure fire Final Four contender in their 21-13 win over a tough D-I team in Dover. They were playing with a lot of energy and confidence and were really moving the ball well. Consistency was an issue though, as they dropped both of their other 2 scrimmages, including a 15-3 loss to Pinkerton. Considering that STA beat Dover by 8 and Dover beat Pinkerton it doesn't seem to add up that STA would lose to Pinkerton 15-3. Pinkerton was flat out the better team that game. It also doesn't add up that STA would beat Dover by 8 and Dover beats Oyster River 26-9 but then STA loses to Oyster River 13-9. Chalk it up to things being a little unpredictable in preseason. Coneys made a strong move to the rim for 2 followed by a good put-back and then Desmarais hit a smooth baseline pull-up in the loss to Oyster River.

Oyster River - went 2-2. Beat Merrimack Valley 11-6, lost to Pinkerton 16-2, lost to Dover 26-9, beat St. Thomas 13-9
Like St. Thomas, Oyster River was also like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Saturday. They posted impressive wins over MV and STA but then got crushed by Dover 26-9 and got crushed by Pinkerton 16-2. One thing is for certain, though - 5'11" junior forward Sara Messler will be one of the top players in the division. Messler has good size at 5'11", a strong frame but at the same time is quick for a player her size and has the ability to hit shots or slash to the rim. In the win over MV she banked in a turnaround jumper, blocked a shot on 'D' on the other end of the floor and then pushed it hard on the break, driving to the rim with her left hand before finishing an and-1 with her left hand. In addition to Messler, the Bobcats also return another starter in junior guard Sara Sherman. In the win over STA, Messler made a strong move inside for 2, made a strong offensive rebound and also hit a 3.

While all 7 of those above teams will be in the mix in D-II, the argument could certainly be made that the 3 best teams at Saturday's Jamboree were D-I teams. Pinkerton, Dover and Trinity could all be top 8 seeds in D-I this year. Here's a closer look at what we saw from each of them.

Pinkerton - went 2-1. Lost to Dover 13-10, beat Oyster River 16-2, beat St. Thomas 15-3
Using strictly point differential as a barometer, the Astros were the best team at the jamboree, as their 1 loss was only by 3 points yet their 2 wins were both by double digits. It took the Astros awhile to get going offensively - they played Dover in their first scrimmage and in that game Pinkerton went scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game. This was due in part to tough defense by Dover but also in part due the Astros just not clicking on offense.

After their loss to Dover, 2nd-year head coach Lani Buskey pulled her team aside and gave them a stern pep talk before letting them shake hands with Dover. Whatever she said must have worked, as they played much better in their other 2 games, winning by a combined score of 31-5. In their second 2 games they were now playing to WIN rather than going through the motions.

Pinkerton returns 1 starter and 3 key reserves who played major minutes on their Final Four team of last season. 5'10" senior wing Val Martin is the returning starter. She was possibly the best player in the gym all day and is a preseason D-I Player of the Year candidate. She rebounded well and took it hard to the rim. Meanwhile, junior guard Marissa Stacy, senior guard Melissa Martel and junior forward Sara McLeman were all key reserves last year and are now starters with senior Jaime Caron also starting.

Stacy could be in for a breakout junior season. She is a tough, scrappy guard who can hit the 3, can score inside, hustles for loose balls and plays tough defense. She stepped in to take multiple charges on 'D', including one in the scrimmage vs. STA where she really took a good hit. Most players would have been slow getting up or maybe even had to leave the game after a collision like that but Stacy got right back up, ran down court on offense and kept on playing hard. The Astros really picked up their defensive intensity in their final 2 games, with McLeman tough on the boards and Martin slashing hard to the rim.

Dover - went 2-1. Lost to St. Thomas 21-13, beat Pinkerton 13-10, beat Oyster River 26-9
Dover will miss the size and rebounding ability of Molly Wotton (now playing volleyball for UNH) but fortunately Wotton is the only rotation player they graduated. This is definitely a Green Wave team capable of making some noise this winter. Abby Tilton and Katie Boyatsis are both 4-year varsity players. The McDermott sisters (senior forward Mercedes McDermott and junior guard Kaitlyn McDermott) also return, as well as junior Abby Cooke. That gives head coach Dan Casey a strong nucleus of returning players off a team that upset Salem to make the D-I quarterfinals last year.

Like most Dover squads under Coach Casey, they are a tough, physical, hard nosed, blue collar team that puts an emphasis on the defensive end of the floor. There's nothing flashy about them, they just work hard and work as a team. In their first scrimmage of the day (vs. STA) the Saints were just the sharper team early. STA came out firing, hitting on all cylinders. I think they caught Dover off guard, not sure if they were ready for such a fast paced, fast-breaking style game as they got beat down the floor for layups a few times. Boyatsis made a strong take and finish inside but it wasn't enough.

In their other 2 games Dover was able to regroup, control the tempo better and get back to playing tough, half court Dover basketball. Against Pinkerton, Boyatsis buried a 3, then Tilton made a nice steal and raced down court for a quick layup. Then Tilton hit a 3 of her own. Then in their third game the Green Wave cruised past Oyster River. Dover was really clicking in that game, moving the ball well, pushing the tempo and playing tough, scrappy defense. Mercedes McDermott showed a solid inside/outside game, rebounding well and going up for a strong put-back in traffic. This is definitely a team that will give people problems this winter.

Trinity - went 3-1. Beat Milford 9-7, lost to Coe-Brown 18-12, beat Milford 13-11, beat Kennett 21-4
Due to one team pulling out of the jamboree last minute, Trinity and Milford both ended up playing 4 games and played against each other twice. Both games were competitive with Trinity coming out on top both times. Overall, Trinity looked like a solid team - they have a new coach (Kevin Gibbs) but it's clear that they put in a decent amount of work as a team during the off-season. They have 5 returning players (Ashley Hill, Hope Willard, Shannon Roberge, Eireann Kolden and Elizabeth Graveline) who were regular contributors last year. While they lost first team all-state point guard Amanda Torres (transfer to Proctor), they brought in a transfer with sophomore wing Hannah Fabiano coming in from Campbell.

Fabiano and Hill were two of the top players we saw all day. In Trinity's second game vs. Milford, Fabiano took over. After Roberge hit an 18-footer, Fabiano made a strong drive into the lane and then a great move by faking the pass to the wing and instead finishing it herself inside for 2. Just seconds later Fabiano grabbed a steal near half court and took it in for the layup. Moments later Fabiano hit a 3-pointer off the catch. Hill meanwhile was shooting the basketball very well from the outside, not forcing shots but instead knocking sown jumpers that came in the flow of the offense. She hit a couple long jumpers in the first game vs. Milford, and then in the game vs. Coe-Brown she hit another 3 followed by a good dribble-drive move to get inside before finishing in traffic. Against Kennett she had another tough finish inside followed by another 3. Roberge shot the ball well and also scored inside. Kolden played well on both ends of the floor, showing a versatile inside/outside game and Willard is one of the most underrated defenders in the state. This team plays hard and they have a bunch of different weapons who can hurt you. They'll be in the hunt for a top 8 seed for sure.

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