Today will be a bit of a different edition of Thursday Thoughts. Instead of looking at specific games, I am going to take a deep dive into all four divisions.
With the playoffs right around the corner, a lot of teams still have much to improve upon in the coming weeks. Games are getting tighter and teams are starting to find their groove.
Let's get into this.
The top eight in this division is still up for grabs. Bishop Guertin has solidified themselves as the number one team in this division. Erin Carney and Hannah Muchemore have the experience and the skill to run the table once again.
The Cardiac Crusaders had quite the week last week with nearly every contest coming down to the wire, but getting through that adversity shows why they are the second-best team in Division I. Lyric Grumblatt, Jennessa Brunette, and Tamrah Gould are a tough trio to beat.
The third best team? I think Merrimack may have taken that spot with a gutsy 47-46 win over Bedford on Tuesday. This was one of the biggest tests that Merrimack has passed all season. We still have to see how they fare with teams like Memorial, Pinkerton, and Salem, who make up the last three games of their schedule.
Even though Bedford dropped that Tuesday contest, I still wouldn't want to see them in the playoffs. Like I have said, the Bulldogs can easily end up in the championship game. Isabella King is one of the best scorers in the division and there is no other point guard I would rather have run the offense than Alli Morgan.
Both Bedford and Merrimack want to stay away from the BG side of the bracket if possible.
4-10 is going to be interesting. Avah Ingalls and Pinkerton have a good shot at a top-five seed. Ingalls has been a prolific scorer for this group and Jesse Ames has been a great leader for the Astros. Defense could put Pinkerton over the top in the playoffs.
Manchester Central is the team that many teams wouldn't want to see in the quarterfinals. Destiny Jordan is as good as they come and a fully healthy Emily Greenwood changes the ceiling for this group.
Goffstown will go as Kelly Walsh goes. Her scoring has been unmatched and the only team to have an answer for her so far this year has been Exeter.
Salem is starting to play good basketball at the right time. Freshman Olivia Murray has been absolutely tremendous and Jordyn Franzen is starting to get going offensively with each game. Carly Saif could be the X-factor for this group. The Blue Devils will be a scary quarterfinal team.
Concord is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years. This will be the group's first taste of playoff basketball. Ava Woodman and Elizabeth Blinn are going to be very good these next few years. The goal should be to get a win in the playoffs, don't play with pressure.
Portsmouth is a group that has struggled at points this year, but with Tim Hopley at the helm, this group will always have a fighting chance. Don't count a team like Windham out from making a bit of noise. Sarah Dempsey has been one of the best players in all of Division I.
Nashua South is on the uprise and will get some good experience in the playoffs this year. John Bourgeois has done a tremendous job with that group.
There will be a lot of shakeup in the top ten with Divison I as tight as ever the last few weeks.
Jennifer Chick-Ruth and I got our first look at both Hanover and Lebanon this past Monday. That game did not disappoint as the Mauraders took it by a score of 51-41.
Hanover is the top dog. Maddie McCorkle is as good as they came and is in contention for Player of the Year. With complimentary pieces like Stella Galanes, Charlotte Johnson, and an entire eight-man rotation that makes an impact on a nightly basis, the Mauraders will be very tough to beat, especially with the defense they play.
Hollis-Brookline is not too far behind Hanover. Both of these teams will get a look at each other in back-to-back games on Friday and Monday (a game Jen and I hope to be at). Christina Balsamo and Elisabeth Stapelfeld have been a great one-two punch. The Cavaliers will really get a good measure of where they after Monday.
We saw Spaulding lose their first game of the year to a very tough Division I Dover team who's record does not reflect the kind of season they have had. Mary Paradis has had an all-state level season for this group who is still relatively young. To be atop the standings is a great accomplishment for Steve Langevin's team. It will be interesting to see what the Red Raiders can do come playoff time.
With three tough losses to their name, Lebanon is looking to grab a top-four seed. Rebecca Wright is undoubtedly one of the best players in the division, and can easily lead this group to a state championship. Catherine Cole has been a real difference-maker for this group and will need to continue her strong play. With the right matchups, Lebanon should be in good shape.
Kennett is a team playing good basketball without arguably one of their best players in Maddie Stewart. Liz Cote and Stewart would have flourished and would have changed the outlook on this team. Nonetheless, Cote is playing first-team level basketball and could lead Kennett to another late playoff surge.
John Stark has been quietly consistent this year behind the play of Ana Stenger, Chelsea Woodsum, and Brady Johnson. I am sure the Generals are just fine with not garnering much attention. They will be a sneaky team in the playoffs.
Bishop Brady can score the basketball with the best of them. Ami Rivera has been as good as advertised. Rivera, Halle Laramie, and Marrisa Payne are all double-digit scorers for this group. Bishop Brady will be tough to beat with that many weapons.
Jennifer Chick-Ruth's Coe-Brown Bears will look to lock up a top-eight seed in the coming weeks. Valentina White is an electric scorer and Jenney Bettencourt and Lauren Curtin give this group great balance
The team I would not want to see in the playoffs is Merrimack Valley. They have played with the best of Division II and could pull-off a first-round upset in their near future.
Ellen McGough and Sanborn picked up a huge win at the buzzer over Kennett that turned a lot of heads. They have played a very tough schedule this season. Hopefully that can help them in the playoffs.
Bow is a young group that, like Concord, will get their first taste of playoff basketball. This is another team that could be a scary first or second-round matchup. The freshmen on this team have been tremendous, let's see if they can keep it going in the postseason.
Laconia is quietly 8-6 on the season. Isabela Daly has been great scoring the basketball for this group. It will be interesting to see where this team ends up seeding wise.
After last year's first-round thriller with Hanover, you can't count out Kearsarge just yet. Tori Andrewski, Livi Hernon, and Caroline Camp will be thinking upset with whoever they get matched up with.
Conant has been rolling since opening night, and don't look like they are slowing down anytime soon. Elizabeth Gonyea has looked every bit like the Player of the Year. The junior has changed the dynamic of this team. Silas Bernier is the experienced leader this group is happy to have and Teagan Kirby has made a huge leap in her sophomore year.
Fall Mountain is right behind the Orioles. A surprising loss to Stevens was a wake-up call for this group. Avery Stewart is one of the best players in this division and has a skill set that has opposing coaches shaking their heads on how to stop. Sophie Bardis was a key player in the playoffs last year and I expect her to be the same this time around. The X-factor for this group is Makenna Grillone, she has been playing good basketball as of late.
Fall Mountain gets another shot at Conant on the 18th. I expect this game to be a lot closer than it was on opening night.
Hopkinton will be a top-four team at the end of the year. The Hawks have had some close ones in the last few weeks and will need to turn it on in the playoffs. Maurgan McGrath has cooled off a bit in the last few weeks. If they can get her going again this offense becomes more dangerous. Katie Meserve has been a force down low and her size could be the difference in the quarterfinals.
Gilford plays a fundamentally sound brand of basketball. Shelby Cole recently hit the 1,000 point milestone in an 80-11 over Winnisquam but is still a bit banged up with an ankle injury. Rick Forge hopes his team can get healthy before the playoffs start. Allison Carr is a tough one-on-one matchup and Kate Sullivan has been very consistent for this group. The Golden Eagles finish the regular season with Hopkinton in a game that could decide who gets the three seed.
Newfound and White Mountains will both by fighting for the fourth seed. If Newfound were to drop another game the Spartans would jump them due to the tie-breaker.
Paulina Huckins has been a force to be reckoned with for Newfound and Malina Bohlmann has been a top player as just a freshman.
Ian Boyko has had a tremendous first season at the helm for White Mountains. The Spartans have been led by the play of Aviara Challinor who has had a first-team type season. The play of Lily Kenison and Mackenzie Treamer could determine how far White Mountains goes.
If Newfound and White Mountains stay at 4-5, this will be a great matchup in the quarterfinals. White Mountains has beaten Newfound twice this season, but it is always tough to beat a team a third time.
St Thomas Aquinas has dipped a bit in recent weeks, but the Saints are still a team others will not want to see. Madelin Predaris and Morgan Atwell have been prolific scorers for this group. If one gets going, the other gets even more open looks. Sarah Leahy will be called upon on both ends of the floor as her two-play has been a difference-maker.
Campbell will be another lower-seeded team that could make some noise in the opening round. Tori Allen and Karleigh Schultz have led the way for the Cougars and I expect nothing but the same the rest of the way.
Reigning-champion Monadnock will have a bit of a different outlook on the playoffs this year. The Huskies are a different group but with the experience of Grace Furze and Carly Ayotte, the Huskies could find a way to get a first-round win.
Inter-Lakes is a sneaky team in my eyes. Scott Currier has done a great job keeping the Lakers in the mix. Mollie Durand will need to keep her strong play going to end the year to try and help Inter-Lakes jump up the standings.
Kaylee Peare has had a great season for Berlin and will look to help them stay in the playoff picture. Makenna Balderrama has been a mismatch problem down low all season. You can never count out Don Picard and the Mounties.
Raymond is another lower seed who has been playing good basketball to end the year. Kathryn LaCasse has had a great run as of late. With games against Campbell, St Thomas Aquinas, and Belmont to end the year, the Rams have a chance to sneak up the standings.
Division IV has been Colebrook's race to lose. The Mohawks have looked like the team we all expected them to be. Sage Smith and Samantha Howe are two of the best in the division, two all-state first team players, and two candidates for the Player of the Year. Mackenzie Scherer is the glue that keeps this team together. Her play on the defensive end is so important for this group. Ariana Lord and Sierra Riff look more experienced and ready for a deep playoff run.
Woodsville is right behind Colebrook, and we will find out how close they are as these teams face off tonight in Colebrook. Emily Prest is one of the best playmakers in the division and Olivia Sarkis is a problem down low. Graci Kaiser is a lethal shooter for the Engineers and Mackenzie Kingsbury has started to have some impressive performances on the offensive end as of late.
Hinsdale could be the team representing the south in the Final Four. Even without Angelina Nardolillo, the Pacers have proven to be one of the best in the division. Delaney Wilcox is one of the best scorers Division IV has to offer and Olivia Pangelinan and Megan Roberts will make you pay if they are left open.
Sunapee is looking to lock up a top-four seed. The Lakers have been a very balanced team. Abby and Vanessa Pollari lead the way for this group, but players like Fiona Nolan, Kelsey Couitt, Mia Hamm, and Elizabeth Tschudin all contribute on a nightly basis. The return of Cari Pierce has really made a difference for this team. She is the X-factor for this group.
Newmarket's two wins against Hinsdale have proven to be huge. The Mules will be dangerous in the playoffs. It is a different player every night for this group. Brianna Fillion has been a great leader for this team. Her offensive game has been so vital to their success. Lena Nicholson's size could be a problem for opposing teams.
Shelby Babin will be leading the way for Mascenic. The senior recently hit the 1,000 point mark and has had an all-state first team type season. Teams will key in heavily on her in the playoffs so they will need production out of players like Anika Martel, Kylie Millea, and Alannah Johnson.
Littleton and Groveton have a huge matchup coming up on the 20th that could be the difference in being a 5th or an 8th seed.
Jasmine Brown has the most playoff experience on the Crusaders roster and that will come in handy down the stretch. Olivia Corrigan handles the ball for this group and will be key in the coming weeks. Lauren McKee has been a very consistent scorer for this group and they will need all they can get from her. Hannah Brown and Jacqueline Maker will be X-factors on both ends of the floor.
The Eagles need to win out in order to stay in top-five contention. We know what we will get from Katelyn Desilets and Nodia Davenport. It is role players like Bethany Whiting, Emmalee Deblois, and Marissa Kenison who become even more important as we approach the end of February. Tim Haskins is hoping the tough schedule pays off when the Eagles have close games down the stretch.
Derryfield is the team I would be afraid to see in the first round. The Cougars have a good resume and are led by all-state guard Emy Plage. She can score from anywhere on the floor and will be asked to provide as much as she can offensively, even against the toughest of matchups. Shawna Lesmerias is more than capable of scoring double digits and Olivia Strong has been a great role player for this group.
Canaan-Pittsburg will be a tough out in the first round. The Yellowjackets have put together a great season and have been a bit under the radar. Matt Jordan has done a great job getting this group to play to their potential. Hannah Cote has been very consistent for this group. Canaan-Pittsburg will spread you out and has a variety of options who can hurt you.
Farmington has been all over the map but don't count out the Tigers just yet. If Chloe Weeks can stay on the floor and control things on the offensive end for this group Farmington can compete. Jaclyn Peaslee has put together an all-state level season and Arry Davey has been a great option for Dawn Weeks off the bench. The Tigers are in a bit of a transition year. This experience will be valuable for when they return a majority of their core next season.