There’s losing a semifinal game you felt you should have won and then there is hitting two game-winners in a game you didn’t win.
2019 NHsportspage Division II Player of the Year Noah Cummings knew the feeling. He buried two jumpers late against Oyster River in the 2018 semifinal at UNH only to watch a buzzer-beater and a pair of foul shots send his Spartans home.
One year later almost to the day Noah Cummings buried another one of his patented mid-range jumpers and the timeout by Kearsarge head coach Nate Camp that followed only confirmed what we already knew.
Pembroke Academy had won their first title under Rich Otis and their 3rd title since 2013.
In 2020 three teams look to be a step ahead of everybody else but there is a lot of depth to the division and the very same Nate Camp from the paragraph above proved anything can happen in March. “We have a young team this year but it’s been pretty easy to tell them it's all about how you are playing at the end of the season after the run we made last year,” said Camp.
He’s right. There doesn’t seem to be a dominant team in the division but at least 10 of capable of getting to Durham.
“I think this is the best Division II has been in a long time,” said Souhegan head coach Peter Pierce. “ Up & down the division there are just no easy games.”
Today in our 7th of 8 pre-season basketball previews we take a look at Division II where 22 teams begin play Friday night with the goal of standing in the spot Rich Otis and the Pembroke Academy Spartans were last March.
Today’s preview is brought to you by our friends and partners at Concord Orthopaedics with locations in Concord, Derry, Windham, and New London.
Division II Predicted Order:
Teams just outside the Top 10: Souhegan, Bishop Brady, Merrimack Valley, John Stark, Coe-Brown Academy, Laconia, Pembroke Academy & Kingswood.
While Lebanon was advancing to the Division II quarterfinals with one senior on the roster Kieth Matte was touring Division IV gyms with his daughter Alexis’ Mount Royal basketball team.
Matte is back after a one year leave which saw former Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher take over. What he returns to is one of his favorite teams he’s ever coached. “I missed it, I missed it a lot,” said Matte. “This is such a great group of kids; they make my job very easy with how hard they work and how much they want to succeed.”
“Dave (Faucher) did an unbelievable job and each player has improved under his coaching. I’m excited to start competing again.”
Jon Willeman and Wade Rainey will again lead the Raiders after getting their football team to the Division III championship game last month at UNH.
Willeman is a shooting guard who might be one of the best pure athletes in the state while Rainey is the team leader, capable of scoring on the wing and guarding the opposing team’s big man.
“Jon is a player of the year candidate,” said his head coach. “He’s a special kid and the nature of this particular group of kids is they all want to succeed. The quarterfinals are not where they want to end up in March.”
“Wade is our team leader, he gets everyone in line and he’s an extremely versatile player. He can score in bunches and shut down the leading scorer on the other team.”
Caleb Smith is a 6’2 forward who will also defend the post while Matte thinks 6’4 Calvin Bates is set for a breakout season. “Calvin has great range and with his size, he’s going to be a very tough match-up for teams.”
A pair of key contributors are out now but will be back this season. Logan Falzarano will run the point for Lebanon when he returns in January while Jack Stone is another versatile player who should be back by the upcoming holiday tournament in Manchester.
“These seniors were all freshman when we won the championship (over Coe-Brown in 2017). We used to refer to them as ‘The Red Claws’ (after the Celtics minor league affiliate) so to see them grown into seniors and trying to compete for their own championship is pretty cool.”
Braeden Falzarano and Karsten Hansen both will compete for minutes on maybe the deepest team in the division. “I was actually nervous before our first practice and I haven’t been nervous before a practice in….I can’t even remember,” said Matte. “I’m excited for us to get going.”
Pelham doesn’t talk much about their upset loss to 13 seed Hollis-Brookline in last year's Division II tournament, but they do remember it well. “We don’t talk about it much but we work on our free throws, we work on closing out execution...” said Pythons head coach Mike Larson. “All the little things you don’t do right that loses you close games.”
Pelham isn’t looking back because there is a lot to look forward to. Drew Brown returns as an all-state shooting guard after a year at prep school, Zach Jones comes in looking like a different player and the Crowley brothers Derek & Matt…” Those two don’t take a play off and they will do anything to win, they compete on every single drill like it’s a playoff game.” Yeah, the Crowley brothers haven’t changed much.
Larson’s teams are known for their toughness but in 2020 his team is fully capable of beating you if a shootout breaks out. “We have a point guard who knows exactly how to run our offense, a big who we are really excited about in the post and shooters to stretch the defense. We’re excited to get going; there has just been a good vibe at our practices and a lot of positive energy. It’s been great.”
Derek Crowley will run the point and as a 3-year starter, Larson has complete confidence in his captain. “He controls everything we do offensively and he has taken very well to that role. Derek just competes so hard that it really becomes infectious,” said Larson. “If you are playing defense next to him and you’re not working, you’ll stand out.”
Brother Matt Crowley is Larson’s Swiss army knife for his ability to guard anyone from a point guard to a 6’5 center and also his ‘Break glass in case of emergency’ defender. “If we have an opposing player going off on us or a match-up problem Matt is the player I go to. 100% of the time.”
Zach Jones returns at center after an all-state football season. “He lost weight over the off-season and the difference is incredible. He’s faster and with that comes more confidence,” said Larson. “He’s been great.”
Drew Brown gives Pelham a knockdown 3-point shooter and Larson another coach on the floor. “He has been absolutely terrific since he came back. We’re happy to have him. He understands exactly what we are doing on both ends of the floor and I find in timeouts he is talking about what we need to do before we even get to the huddle.”
Jake Dumont is part of the good energy within the team (“He’s a player who everyone likes and he is a terrific teammate,” said Larson) and is another knockdown shooter on the perimeter. “Jake has a chance to be one of the best shooters in the division this season.”
6’4 forward Colby Travis will contribute as soon as he returns from a football injury while Justin Paul at 6’5 gives Pelham another big to play alongside Jones & Travis. Keegan Garrett is expected to be a part of the Python rotation as well. “This is the best practices we have had since Keith Brown’s senior season (2016),” said Larson. “I don’t ever predict how we’ll do or worry about other teams but this has been a really fun group to coach and we are excited to get going.”
Like all of us, Con Val head coach Leo Gershgorin is well aware that the sequel is rarely as good as the original. After a stunning 17-1 season and a trip to the UNH where they gave eventual champion Pembroke Academy their toughest game The Cougars replace very few players but a whole lot of leadership.
“This is a little different kind of a team because, although we only lost 3 seniors, those seniors were the backbone of our team,” said Gershgorin. “Last year we struggled to score in the half-court so we had to manufacture offense through our defense and our defense was the best part of our team. Now we have legit scorers and won't have many issues on offense, but that doesn’t mean we can slack off on defense. That’s what we are dealing with now, making sure we have that same commitment level.”
Mather Kipka returns at forward after an all-state season a year ago. Possessing maybe the best footwork in the state Kipka has expanded his range and his game. “He can shoot it now where as last season you could back off and dare him to take a jump shot. He will shoot that mid-range jumper with no hesitation now and that has added a lot to his game,” said Gershgorin.
Connor Buffum also comes back new & improved after a very good season in 2019. “He can score at all three levels now, the three, the mid-range and in the paint,” said his head coach. “He’s put in the work to make that happen. He is a hard-nosed kid who does whatever it takes.”
Isaiah Michaels has developed into a very good 2-way player and will be featured in a much bigger role this season. Wyatt Davis and sophomore Austin Knight (“He is a really explosive guard…reminds me of Isaiah Thomas,” said Gershgorin) will both play and contribute right away. “Austin can flat out score, he is going to make a big impact for us and Wyatt is a great teammate, great leader.”
Del Bonsu-Anane at 6’3 gives Con Val another returning player who gives them the rebounding and defense Gershgorin is asking for. “We go from the team with everything to prove to a team expecting success. I don’t mind the expectation but you better earn it. We did that last year; we have to start all over again to do this year.”
Hollis-Brookline has been one of the best programs in the Division II for the past 10 years, first under Mike Soucy and the last three seasons under Cole Etten. That’s not something that will change in 2020 as led by all-state forward Grant Snyder the Cavaliers will be in the mix for a trip to UNH once again.
“Grant has been terrific and he’s worked hard to improve his game,” said Etten. “He comes to work every practice and really sets the tone for our entire team.” Snyder can knockdown shots from the perimeter but might be at his best going to rim. “He has a good sense of when to pull-up and when to put his head down and get to the rim. He’s a huge part of what we do as a team.”
Max Staplefield can play either guard spot and will be joined in the backcourt by Brian Holroyd. “Both players are able to stretch defenses with their ability to knockdown shots and we have confidence in each getting us into our offense.”
Sander & Quintin Wimmer, fresh off of a Division II football championship, give the Cavaliers a lot of size, effort and two very good athletes in the post. “I couldn’t be happier for them (in winning the football championship) both. They have worked incredibly hard for everything they’ve earned.”
If the Cavaliers develop their depth/bench they will be right in the mix for a third trip to Durham in four seasons. “This group works well together and they’re excited to compete.”
Like most of the division Hanover needs to develop a bench as the pre-season draws to a close. Tim Winslow’s team though has one of the best backcourts in the division and an emerging frontcourt that could get the Marauders all the way to UNH in March.
“We are young as a whole, we only have four seniors, but we’re also a group with a lot of experience,” said Winslow. “We have to find players off the bench to contribute but I do think we have the chance to be pretty good.”
Charlie Adams, who will play Division I soccer next season, returns in the backcourt after an all-state season a year ago. “He hasn’t been able to play a lot of basketball over the off-season so it might take him a little time to get there but I think he’s going to have a great season for us.”
Nolan Gantrish is the kind of guard you win with; he works hard on every play, will defend and knocks down shots. He along with Adams make up one of the best backcourts in the division. “Nolan is playing really well and I think he’s going to have a very good season,” said Winslow.
The x-factor will be 6’4 sophomore Jai White, who showed flashes a year ago as a freshman. “He has really grown and improved over the off-season,” said Winslow. “Teams are going to have to concentrate on him because he can finish at the rim with just about any team in our division.”
Hank Pikus gives Hanover a good defender in the frontcourt and is one of the team’s best passers. “Hank is very creative offensively and he has become a really good passer for us. That’s an important piece to our team.”
6’3 Eric Seltzer has been slowed by injuries in the pre-season but should step right into the rotation when he returns. Brett Simmons is another key contributor on the defensive end. “I would be disappointed if we didn’t have a really good season this year,” said Winslow. “I think we have the potential to be playing pretty well as the season goes along.”
When Lorne Lucas began practices with his Oyster River basketball team two weeks ago he did so with his three assistant coaches (including our good friend Paul Bamford).
About 30 minutes into the first practice he suddenly came to the realization that he had four. “I was going over something and suddenly I hear someone say to one of our new players, ‘Hey….are you paying attention to this?’
“That’s when I realized...Joe Morrell is not fooling around this season.”
Joe Morrell is definitely not messing around this season. The senior point guard may end up being the Division II player of the year but that doesn’t seem to be his goal. It’s about getting back to UNH. “He’s taken the leadership role to en entirely new level,” said Lucas “He understands we have a lot of new players stepping into much bigger roles and for us to be successful they need to play well. Joe is going to will this team to victory on some nights and he is making sure from the beginning of the season until the end that everyone is on board with him.”
3-year starters Kyle Landrigan (now playing at Colby Sawyer) and Max Lewis graduated a year ago and won’t be easily replaced. Lucas though has a ton of confidence in 6’2 shooting guard Kyle Miller and feels like he is set up for a big season. “He’s worked really hard and he’s grown. That’s given him the physical ability to take the ball to the rim and finish over guys where a year ago he was mostly a spot-up shooter.”
The x-factor is center Doug McGown who has the size and strength to guard just about any big in the division and the experience to step right into what Lucas wants to run. The issue for the Bobcats center has been lingering knee issues. “He is hugely important to us and someone we really need out on the floor,” said Lucas. “So we are hopeful he will be able to play soon.”
Ben Mattioni will start as well and gives Oyster River a shooter from deep range to stretch opposing defenses. “He can really shoot it but what we need to see from him is consistency,” said Lucas. “He had 17 points in about 8 minutes in one of our scrimmages so we know what he’s capable of but he has also had games where he hasn’t been much of a factor. We need his shooting this season and he is going to get his opportunities.”
Aiden Kelley may be the team’s best defender and Morrell gives Oyster River a true closer. Someone who can crate his own shot at the end of games and get you the W. “I’ve handed Joe the keys to the offense and said ‘Go run it’, “said Lucas. “ He’s been with me for four years, if he doesn’t know it by now he never will. He’s someone I have extreme confidence in. I’m telling you...Joe is not messing around this year.”
Kearsarge beating Oyster River, the top seed in the Division II tournament, was the biggest upset of the 2019 tournament season. The Cougars were able to hang around for three quarters and make enough plays to set up freshman Adrian McCarthy’s game-winning three-pointer.
Six seniors off of that team have graduated but six sophomores now join the varsity to re-build what has been one of the best basketball programs in the state over the last five seasons. “We have a long way to go but it’s a really fun group to work with,” said Nate Camp of his new-look squad. “We may take our lumps early on but I think we could potentially be dangerous later on in the season.”
Adrian McCarthy is still recovering from an injury suffered in the championship game loss to Pembroke but point guard Ben Carl returns to run the offense. “Ben has been terrific, handles the ball well and he has been more aggressive as far as looking to score. He had 20 points in our scrimmage and it shows you what he is capable of.”
Nick LeBlanc gives Camp a good shooter on the perimeter while 6’3 forward Tyler Sidmore will man the post. George Jallah, younger brother of Jak, is another athletic forward that can play multiple positions. “We don’t have a legit center for the first time in five years but I like the fact we have athletic/long forwards who can still defend on the wing or in the post.”
Former Sunapee point guard Brady Grzanna will contribute right away. “Brady has really been fun to coach,” said Camp. “He is someone who will play right away and he has shown a good ability to slash and get to the rim off the dribble.”
Tim Flanders & Nolan Grant will be a part of a rotation that Camp feels could be capable of another shocker in March. “Last season we beat Merrimack Valley at UNH because of how loose and free we played. At that point (after being Oyster River) it was almost like playing with house money,” said Camp. “That is how I want this group to play all season.”
Dan Murray likes the group he has at Milford and good things usually follow when he does. “This is a pretty fun group to coach,” said Murray. “Very fast and athletic, that allows you to pressure the way you want and mix up your looks.”
Gavin Urda returns to the lineup after a terrific football season. Apparently, while he was rushing for over a 1,000 yards he still took time to work on his jumper. “He has come a long way as a player. He’s so athletic and works so hard, to begin with, now he is more skilled and can beat you off the dribble or with his jump shot.”
Jake Greska will take on a bigger role at guard alongside Urda. “We want him to be more aggressive offensively,” said Murray. “He’s already had some big games in the pre-season.” Christian Jones will contribute right away (“He has a lot of potential,” said Murray. “He just needs to be more consistent.”) while Caden Zalenski and Ryon Constable are part of a rotation that is going to allow the Spartans to dictate the pace on a lot of nights. “We may press ¾ court or even in the half-court and you have to have the players to do it successfully,” said Murray. “This year we do.”
6’1 BIG man Joe Shepard moves from the defensive line to the paint and has the athletic ability and strength to guard opposing bigs. “This is a very competitive group and they really want to win. The practices have been great and this is a group I’m really going to enjoy coaching.”
Last season Bow lost 8 games by 3 points or less. For a team that missed out on the playoffs that’s incredibly frustrating, it’s the kind of statistic where if you punched it into an analytics computer it might actually blow up. “There were just so many games where we couldn’t close it out,” said head coach Frank Moreno. “It caused us to take a long hard look at why and when we did I came to the conclusion that we were too passive on defense. We didn’t get stops when we had to and that, from Day 1 this season, is what we are working to change.”
Bow was one of the biggest teams in the division last season and will be again in 2020. After playing almost exclusively zone the Falcons will be mixing in more man to man looks. “We want to attack teams on both ends and get out in transition more.”
Forward Ben Harris is set up for a big senior season in the low post. “I would be surprised if he doesn’t have a big season for us,” said Moreno. “Last year he was a good player but he has worked to take that to a different level.”
6’4 Matt Lamy will play on the perimeter along with Shaun Lover. “Both of them can really shoot it and already in the pre-season they have had very good shooting games.”
Sebastian Beaulieau, after playing quarterback for the football team this fall, will play point guard for a team with several players capable of playing the 1. “Sebastian sees the floor very well and has a high basketball IQ.” Nick Kiah is another shooter to space the floor and get the Bow big man one on one match-up in the paint.
“We want to take the ball to the rim more often, shoot more free throws and mix-up our defenses,” said Moreno. “We want to improve every day and finish the games we were not able to a year ago. I think with all the experience we return, we’ll be ready this season.”
The Souhegan Sabers have had two consecutive 6 senior classes graduate (as that’s usually what seniors do), leaving behind one of the best players in Division II along with a talented group that just needs game reps. “ We are just very inexperienced and this group hasn’t played a lot together yet,” said head coach Peter Pierce.
“Our starters are going to include a terrific lacrosse player and baseball player, that usually means they’re not playing in the summer league,” joked Pierce. “I really do believe this group will come together and that we will be able to compete with any team in the division but it will take some time.”
6’6 Matt McCool heads into the season as a player of the year candidate. “He has improved in every single phase of his game from a year ago,” said Pierce. “He has played a lot of basketball but also, he has just grown from a sophomore to a junior. He is playing great.”
Curtis Redd was a key player off the bench for the Sabers a year ago and will take over at point guard this season. Sam Corbett suffered an injury against Coe-Brown last season but comes into the season fully healthy. “Both are terrific athletes and they’re working hard. They both have the ability but they need game experience.”
Mike Maroun gives the Sabers a big who, as a defensive lineman on the football team all fall, will not get pushed off his spot in the post. “He’s a big physical player and someone we can match-up with big men in our division.”
How the Sabers do will depend on how the group comes together around their all-state forward. “I do think this group will come together, we just need experience. What we need to do is incorporate the group around Matt so he has some help because teams are going to throw multiple defenders at him.”
The outlook for an entire team changed the moment all-state forward Kyle Dube went down with a knee injury during the off-season. Merrimack Valley, who has been to back to back Final Fours under head coach Tim Mucher, was forced to adjust on the fly. Truth is they’ll be adjusting for the first part of the regular season.
“It’s a big loss obviously, we ran our offense through him and he was a difference-maker on both ends of the floor,” said Mucher. “He’s a great kid, a great student and we’re going to miss him for sure. I’m going to miss coaching him.”
Junior guard Griffin Wheeler steps up into a bigger role in Dube’s absence. Wheeler was a full-time starter as a sophomore and now needs to increase his scoring as a junior. “Griff has had a good pre-season for us and he’s a tough competitor. We are going to need him to pick up his scoring production.”
Caleb Heath returns to the rotation and gives Mucher a very good athlete on the wing while Bailey Gabour will contribute right away as well. “We have the players to still pressure the ball and play our style but I’m not sure we have the depth right now to do it for four quarters,” said Mucher. “That’s something that needs to develop.”
Justin Whaley at 6’4 gives the Pride some size at forward as does Ethan Drapeau. “This is a group that has a bad taste in their mouths after losing at UNH in back to back seasons. They want to prove to people that they are still an elite team in this division.”
Merrimack Valley will have to rely on scoring by committee as opposed to running their offense through Dube.
They’ll also miss out on benefiting from more open looks because of all the attention teams would be sending his way. “It’s a great group to coach, they come to practice every day ready to work and they get along very well with each other,” said Mucher. “Hopefully we play for Kyle this season and improve as we go through the year.”
The Coe-Brown Academy Bears are annually in the Division II race. To remain there in 2020 David Smith’s team will most likely be led by their defense. “This has been a fun group to coach and there is a real willingness to work hard. Offensively we have some weapons but I think we will be a team that relies on our defense.”
Keegan Paradis returns at forward while Cayden Donoghue will play on the opposite wing on most nights. “Keegan is very solid and he is working to become a good defender for us,” said Smith. “Cayden is role model and a very good leader for us. Someone who certainly leads by example.”
James Noble will run the point and will be joined in the backcourt by Cole Smith & Cole Hodgdon. “James has come into the pre-season in great shape,” said Smith. “He’s very quick and his intensity can be infectious for the rest of the group.”
Jacob Burgess and Tommy Flanagan are a pair of forwards who should step right in and play right away while Riley Colby & Seamus Baker will also be in the rotation. “I think we have the players to play our style. The strength may be in their chemistry on the floor and willingness to be unselfish as a group.”
The John Stark Generals closed the 2019 season by winning six of their last nine games, getting into the Division II tournament before losing in the first round to eventual champion Pembroke Academy.
Seven seniors graduated from that team but player of the year candidate Christian Barr returns. Head coach Mike Smith has a ton of confidence in his 6’4 stretch-4 and feels like the starters around him are capable of making another playoff push. “I think our starters are a very good group, and they’re capable of competing with anyone night to night,” said Smith. “What needs to develop for us, and I would imagine just about everyone else this time of year, is our bench.”
Barr had his breakout season a year ago and has only improved over the off-season. “He’s really come into his own, not only as a player but as a student,” said Smith. “He’s worked really hard on extending his range and having a quicker release. I think he’s set up to have a big year for us.”
Jacob Greene gives the Generals a shooter on the wing while 6’5 Kayden was consistently putting up double-doubles by the end of the season. “Kayden is just a terrific athlete; he’s an all-state player in both lacrosse & soccer so he helps us in a lot of ways.”
Jayden Sheppard & Ben McKean will both play in the Generals backcourt as Smith sees several players handling the ball and running the off-season. “This group is probably the closest I’ve had to position-less basketball. We have players who you can plug into a few different spots.”
If John Stark can develop some depth over the next three months they have a shot to be in the mix in March. “Christian is the best scorer I have had since Nick Drouin (who was the 2004 Division II runner-up for player of the year). We still have to come together but I really like this group a lot.”
The re-build begins for the defending champs with one all-state player and a very young & talented group of underclassmen. “ We have 8 freshman & sophomores on the roster so this season is about getting them up to speed in what we do as a program and of course, trying to compete and gain experience,” said Pembroke Academy head coach Rich Otis.
Forward Shea Shackford is the lone returning starter for the Spartans after their championship run and his head coach thinks he is set up for a big year. “I think he is the best player in Division II,” said Otis. “The way he has played so far in the pre-season has been very impressive.”
Shackford gives the Spartans a forward who can knock down 3’s and get to the rim as well. Sophomore Mike Pittman broke into the rotation a year ago and now takes on a much bigger role and as the most experienced of the promising underclassman. “I think Mike is going to have a breakout year for us.”
Jacob Boisvert, Adam Heldman, Mike Strazzeri and Shondell Hadley are all names to remember. A freshman class that will all contribute right away. “In a perfect world they are all on JV’s and playing as a unit but the future is now for us and they’re going to play for us,” said Otis.
Preston Wallace, Alex Francoeur, and Cooper Gilman are talented sophomores who will play for Pembroke right away while senior Nate Cassidy is a glue guy/leader for the younger players. “I really like this team a lot,” said Otis. “I think we may struggle against the top teams in our division but we can be competitive on most nights and the experience this group will be getting is huge towards the next few seasons.”
The Laconia Sachems will run their offense through the low post in 2020 after being a strictly perimeter-oriented team last season. If you had a 6’5 center like Demarco McKissic you’d be running your offense through the post too…
“Demarco had a great summer and he’s really built on how he finished last season. He has a very good low post game and in a day & age when you see so many 6’4 kids wanting to play 20 feet away from the basket he is comfortable in the post.”
McKissic’s breakout game came because of the flu…..no seriously.
“We were down to six varsity players because of the flu when we went up to Plymouth,” said McDonough. “I think that night we had no choice but to go through him and he ends up scoring 28 points. That was the moment he saw the potential.”
Senior Ryan Chandler is an all-state caliber forward who was hampered by injuries a year ago. McDonough feels like as long as Chandler is healthy he is set for a big season. “He has really looked great in the pre-season and shot the ball well.”
Cody Greenwood will contribute right away after playing well in the off-season while guards Logan Dee & Logan Peranto will be a big part of the Sachems offense.
“I feel like we may have run too many plays last season where this year I want to run a structured offense but at the same time let the players create. We have (former Berlin & Plymouth State 1,000 point scorer) Curtis Arsenault as an assistant coach and he has had an immediate impact on the kids. He’s a huge asset to the program.”
The Sachems have struggled since the move up from Division III before last season but McDonough likes the team he goes into the season with. “This is the best team we have had in my time here and I really enjoy coaching this group. They’re a lot of fun to work with and they love to get in the gym and get better.”
It will be youth movement for Mike Sullivan and the Plymouth Bobcats as 10 sophomores will play on the team this season. “We’ll be building behind a really good group of sophomores,” said Sullivan. “It’s been a lot of fun, they are a really good group, very coachable and they want to get better. There has been a very good vibe in the gym.”
Robert Oliver and Sampson Deruvo are seniors who will lead the underclassman. “They have both stepped up and really helped get the younger guys up to speed.”
Sophomore Zach Puga is a big part of the strong group coming up. The point guard has good speed and has shot the ball well in the pre-season. Jake Crowley is another sophomore who will play right away. “Jake is very active and he already is a good defender,” said Sullivan. “Zach is really quick and has been playing point guard for years; he’s going to play right away for us.”
There will be bumps in the road this season but Sullivan likes the connection his new team is building. “We had a scrimmage the other night where I called timeout and drew up something that worked and it was almost like the new players were like ‘Ok, maybe this guy knows what he’s doing,” joked Sullivan. “We are all going through this together and I’m really enjoying going to practice every day to work with them.”
Pre-Season First Team All-State
Matt McCool of Souhegan
Joe Morrell of Oyster River
Derek Crowley of Pelham
Grant Snyder of Hollis-Brookline
Mather Kipka of Con Val
Shea Shackford of Pembroke Academy
Christian Barr of John Stark
Jon Willeman of Lebanon
Drew Brown of Pelham
Charlie Adams of Hanover
Players to watch: Tommy Fraser of Bishop Brady, Wade Rainey & Calvin Bates of Lebanon, Connor Buffum of Con Val, Gavin Urda of Milford, Griffin Wheeler of Merrimack Valley, Demarco McKissic & Ryan Chandler of Laconia, Nolan Gantrish of Hanover, Ben Carl of Kearsarge Regional, Justin Olson of Kennett and Kyle Miller of Oyster River