Saturday, March 14, 2015

Londonderry Girls Win Back-to-Back D-I Titles

Gatorade Player of the Year Aliza Simpson graduates? Legendary head coach John Fagula retires? All-state forward Casey Evans goes prep? Star forward Ashley Berube goes down with torn ACL? No problem, they got this. Despite all of that, they still beat Winnacunnet by 15 in the championship game, 48-33. Back-to-back D-I titles for the Lancers.

Even with the graduations, transfers and injuries, they were still deep enough that the second kid off the bench (Jenna Conroy) was knocking down 3's.

"Jenna Conroy hit some big shots for us" said Londonderry High head coach Nick Theos, who wins a title in his first year at the helm after taking over for legendary coach John Fagula. "Shes a senior who wasn't able to play in the championship game last year due to injuries. I'm happy for her."

Conroy, Kelsey Coffey and Brittany Roche all hit 3's at key times for the Lancers. The MVP on Friday night though was junior guard Jackie Luckhardt, who tallied 7 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists and 6 steals. That's right, a kid who is MAYBE 5'7" had 11 rebounds, in the title game. She also hustled to get deflections and loose balls all game. Nobody plays harder.

"We wanted it so bad" said Luckhardt. "We wanted to prove that with hard work we can achieve anything. If one person goes down other people step up. This shows we're a deep team."

Coffey hit a big 3-pointer from the top of the key late in the 3rd quarter to make it 35-24 Londonderry, and Conroy drained a 3 early in the 4th to make it 38-24. Those two shots were killer, creating a lead that was too big for a gutsy Winnacunnet team to come back from. Warriors junior forward Meg Knollmeyer (team-high 11 points and 7 rebounds) hit 2 FTs and senior shooting guard Molly Britton hit a 3 after a quick Winnacunnet steal. They cut the lead to 38-29 wuth 6:02 left in the 4th, giving them a glimmer of hope.

Londonderry took that hope away. Luckhardt buried a clutch foul line pull-up jumper, and then senior forward Tara Burke (team-high 11 points and 6 rebounds) made 2 buckets in a row, with the second one being an and-1. Just like that the Lancers are up 44-31 with just 3:30 remaining. They hold on for the 48-33 win.

"That definitely gave us the spark we needed to finish it off" said Burke, who has now won 2 titles in 2 years after transferring to Londonderry from prep school. "It's awesome" "To go back-to-back, and win it my senior year is unbelievable."

Give Winnacunnet credit, they had a good run. It is very rare for a seed lower than #4 to make it to the finals in D-I girls hoops, but the Warriors made it their as a #9 seed. They went on the road and beat Memorial, they beat #1 seed Bedford in the quarterfinals and they made a resilient comeback in the semis to beat Pinkerton.

"I hope they take away from this that they can compete with the upper half of the league" said Winnacunnet head coach Cassie Turcotte. "They were young and nervous. Hopefully the experience playing here will help and the feeling of being beaten here will resonate with them."

Winnacunnet will be back. Knollmeyer (not sure if she made first team all-state but she deserves it) is only a junior. Point guard Katie Valcich is only a junior and versatile forward Kaya Cadagan is only a sophomore, as is scrappy guard Kelly Arsenault and sharpshooter Emily Britton.

It was a hard fought game, predicated on defense. Winnacunnet hung around until in the 4th quarter, but was never able to get in a rhythm offensively.In their comeback win over Pinkerton, they had much success with their high-low game with Knollmeyer and Cadagan, but Londonderry did a nice job of taking that away for the most part on Friday night.

"Our offense was played with nerves tonight" said Coach Turcotte. "We need to do the little things better, like faking before passing and boxing out before rebounding. We didn't get to the line as much as we had the last 3 games."

The Lancers jumped on top 8-0 early on. Burke drew a charge on Valcich, and then converted a put-back on the other end. Valcich picked up her second foul just 1:30 into the game and had to sit for the next 4 minutes, and the Warriors offense suffered as a result. Winnacunnet had others in foul trouble as well, with Cadagan and Arsenault both picking up 3 fouls in the 1st half.

Roche hit a 3 from 4 feet behind the line, and then it was 8-0 Londonderry. Knollmeyer picked up a loose bal and flipped it in for 2, and then Cadahan drained a 15-footer to make it 8-4. The Lancers went with a small lineup at the end of the 1st, sitting both Burke and Roche. Winnacunnet made them pay, as Knollmeyer converted a put-back and it was 10-8 after 1.

Conroy hit a 3 early in the 2nd quarter, but Valcich answered with a steal at 3/4 court and a hard push all the way to the rim for 2. Molly Britton connected on a 3 to cut the Londonderyr lead to 15-13. The Lancers responded by ending the 1st half on a 12-5 run. Luckhard hit a 3 from the top of the key, and she was also hustling for offensive rebound and getting all of the loose balls. She is a very determined player and fun to watch.

"Jackie didn't come out this game, she's steady as a rock" said Coach Theos. "Last year is was Aliza and Casey's team, this year it was her team. She's the one who gets to practice early. She handled Winnacunnet's pressure defense, which has given teams problems. She;s amazing."

Conroy hit a 15-footer and then senior wing Noelle Lambert (one of the toughest kids in the state) hit a shot in close on 2 separate baseline out of bounds plays to make it 24-13 Lancers late in the 2nd quarter. Emily Britton banked in a 3 from the right wing, and it was 27-18 Londonderry at halftime.

The Londonderry girls end the season with a 20-2 record. Both losses (to Bedford and to Central) were on buzzer-beaters, and in the loss to Bedford the Lancers were playing without Roche and Lambert, who both started in the championship game. Londonderry later avenged the loss to Bedford by beating them 46-28 later in the year.

The Londonderry High boys basketball team went 18-0 in the regular season and plays in the quarterfinals Saturday night vs. Merrimack. I've been doing this since 2009 and I've never seen a D-I school win a state title in both boys and girls basketball in the same year. The Lancers have a shot.

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