It was about 10 am on March 13th, a Friday morning.
Littleton head coach Trevor Howard, a good friend of mine going all the way back to when we played on a Class M (Division III) all-star team together in the 1990 seacoast basketball tournament, and I were on the phone talking about his match-up with second-seeded Newmarket that was just nine hours away.
I had covered the first meeting at NHTI but wasn’t going to be able to be at the second. Lance Legere & Sam Natti would be on the call with Jennifer Chick-Ruth as I would be up at Keene State College with Austin Grass & Jim Cilley covering Gilford against Mascenic Regional in the Division III Championship game.
Both Trevor and Newmarket head coach Jamie Hayes’ season would end that day just as planned but it never came with a buzzer, only an email.
As Trevor was in mid-sentence I watched an email pop up in my inbox from Shannon Quinn of the NHIAA. All games were being suspended because of COVID concerns and interrupting Trevor to tell him that felt like telling someone their dog has just been hit by a car.
It took eleven years for the two most dominant programs in Division IV to meet for the title and when they did, the game was canceled nine hours before it was set to tip-off at Plymouth State.
Littleton (10 trips to the Final Four in the last 12 years) and Newmarket (8 trips in the same amount of time) have squared off before in the tournament but this would be the first time it would be for the Division IV championship.
Nearly 10 months later those same two teams are the favorite to meet again. Littleton doesn’t have the offensive firepower they possessed a year ago but should be significantly better defensively.
Newmarket should be the deepest team in the division, and Jamie Hayes’ teams always play defense.
Groveton looks poised to make another run, this time with players to add depth to what was a very short rotation a year ago while Portsmouth Christian, Woodsville, and Sunapee have questions to answer and plenty to prove.
Today we look at the entire division in our 13th Division IV Basketball Preview, brought to you by our great friends and longtime partners at White Mountains Community College.
Click on Jennifer Chick-Ruth’s Golden Globe-nominated video above to learn more about how you can continue your education and work towards your career at WMCC!
Division IV Pre-Season Top 10
4. Portsmouth Christian
9. Mount Royal
Lurking: Farmington, Holy Family, Lisbon, Derryfield, Franklin, and Pittsfield
There are only four boys’ teams in the state who had their state championship game taken away. The Newmarket Mules were set to take their second crack at undefeated Littleton when the NHIAA suspended all basketball activities. Effectively ending the 2020 season.
Jamie Hayes’ team has a group more than capable of getting back and this time having the opportunity to finish off the season with a newly cut down net around their necks. “It was tough on all of us to have the season end the way it did but we also understand why it happened,” said Hayes.
“Since then it has been a very different off-season. We are usually playing all summer and working out together into the fall."
" We haven’t been able to do any of that so it’s been on the players to get ready.”
“This is a group that has played a lot of basketball together, going all the way back to when they were kids,” said Hayes. “They have very good chemistry and they connect well on the court.”
Owen Tower, Alex Senesombath, Owen Hayes, Colby Bost, Jack Noon, and Amar Phoubaykham all played big minutes for a 20-1 Newmarket team a year ago. Leading scorer Will Chase and Logan Willey have both graduated but the nucleus is there to pick up where the 2020 team left off.
Tower is the teams’ vocal leader and will be joined in the low post by Zach Mosher. “We’ll look for them to score down low but both players have the ability to face up to the basket as well.”
Phoubaykham, known for working hard to get on the nerves of opposing guards, Senesombath, and Bost will all handle the ball at times for a team without a true point guard.
Bost showed flashes as a sophomore and may be ready to be the team’s #1 option this season. “He was able to play AAU over the off-season so he comes in ahead of where he was a year ago. He’s put a lot of work in to get better,” said Hayes. “That and you most often see players make the biggest leap in ability from their sophomore to junior season.”
Senesombath has shown the ability to lead the offense and will get more looks as a senior. “Alex has a really good understanding of what we are running and trying to accomplish at both ends of the floor,” said Hayes.
Owen Hayes played guard a year ago but at 6’3 will likely see more time at the forward spot, giving the Mules a good passer at the high-post to run their offense through.
Jack Noon is your resident Glue-Guy team's win with, always ready to contribute in any way needed. “Jack did a really good job guarding Josh Wheelock in the second half of the semifinal against Groveton a year ago,” said Hayes. “He helps us in a few different ways.”
With six seniors and two juniors in the rotation, Newmarket will once again battle Littleton to be the last team standing in the division. “We have really good depth and that’s going to allow us to mix & match our lineups,” said Hayes. “We may even have five guards on the floor at one time.”
“It’s a really fun group to coach and they are just really happy & excited to have the opportunity to play again.”
One thing you learn from covering high school sports for 13 years is when the game goes to overtime there is usually one team happy to go to overtime and another who can’t believe they couldn’t finish off their opponent in regulation.
The same seems to be true of the NHIAA awarding co-champions after the COVID pandemic brought a sudden end to the tournament.
The Littleton Crusaders were undefeated at 19-0 and had beaten Newmarket on a neutral floor at NHTI, in a game we covered back in January.
They were not in the mood to be sharing anything.
Have those raw feelings gone away ten months later?
No, not really.
“We have six seniors who are all going to either start or play important minutes for us and they still talk about sharing the title last year. They talk about not getting the chance to win it on the court,” said head coach Trevor Howard. “They’re still not happy with how it ended.”
When the all-state duo of Parker Briggs and Todd Krol-Corliss graduated they took 35 points per game with them. Howard knows that is going to very hard to replace. “Parker was someone who could create his shot against any team in our division. When we needed a bucket we went to either him or Todd. We don’t have that anymore.”
“Todd shot 52% on his 3-pointers and 94% on free throws,” says Howard. “Those are ridiculous numbers. How do we replace that? We don’t but we will be a different team where the defense will be our focus.”
Three starters return and all are more than capable of a first-team all-state season.
Josh Finkle returns at center and is one of the unquestioned leaders of the Crusaders. Finkle is big enough to move you off of your spot but quick enough to get around you. Finkle is a player who usually has a 4th quarter level sweat going by the start of the second quarter and his effort is infectious.
“Josh has really improved through his high school career,” said Howard of his senior center. “He is an animal in the post and he can also step out & hit the mid-range jumper from the baseline when one of our guys drives to the hoop. He’s just a great kid and someone I love coaching.”
Landon Bromley will step into a much bigger scoring role and already has established himself as one of the team’s best defenders. “We aren’t asking him to do what Parker, Todd, or Danny (Kubkowski) did for us with the ball in their hands. We want him to help us in pressuring the other team into turning the ball over.”
Parker Paradice might be the best point guard in the division. Paradice, much like his older brother Cooper, is very good with the ball, rarely turns it over, and plays very good defense.
This year he will spend more time at the front of the Littleton press. “We are going to have to create offense with our defense,” said Howard. “This is one of the bigger teams I’ve had and with six seniors all playing minutes they know the system and what we are trying to accomplish.”
6’3 Stephen Lucas and 6’3 Jason Hamilton will contribute right away at the forward spot along with 6’3 Casey Hadlock and junior Michael Hampson.
Hampson was set to play a key role for the Crusaders a year ago before a knee injury in the soccer semifinals ended his season. “Michael is very raw and still needs more time out on the floor but he has a lot of ability. I think you’ll see him get much better as the season goes along.”
“(Stephen) Lucas is a good defender and he fits into what we will try to be doing pressuring the ball,” said Howard. “Jason (Hamilton) is a big lefty who I think will contribute right away and Cole (Hadlock) is smart out on the floor and has been very solid for us.”
The concern remains where the offensive firepower will come from. Howard though thinks a very good defense might be the recipe that gets Littleton back to their familiar destination come March.
“I think you might see more 45-35 scores from us than in the past. It’s a really good group and they are smart kids who want to finish what they never got a chance to last season.”
The Groveton Eagles made another run to Plymouth State last March but as is usually the case with any team, their Achilles Heel led to a loss to Newmarket.
Mark Collins’ team featured a good starting five all season long, led by three all-state players in Josh Wheelock, Matt St. Cyr, and Julian Kenison, but Groveton didn’t have anyone on the bench they could turn to. To the point, that 8th grader Kaden Cloutier emerged as the team’s 6th man.
When Kenison got into early foul trouble, there was nowhere to turn as Newmarket controlled the second half on route to the win.
Wheelock has graduated but the emergence of several underclassmen has Collins confident that his bench will no longer be the issue that holds the team back in March. “We have a couple of kids who have improved over the off-season, gotten older and bigger, and I’m confident that they can not only step in but help us.”
Matt St. Cyr emerged as one of the best guards in the division a year ago. While his head coach wants to see better defense from his shooting guard there is no doubt St. Cyr will be one of the Top 10 scorers in the division this season. “Matt shoots it really well and he’s been much better off the dribble,” said Collins.
Julian Kenison was a tale of two seasons a year ago. A 2nd team all-state pick in the pre-season the 6’3 guard had a big first half of the season and was the best player on the floor when Groveton took Littleton to the wire on the road in January.
Kenison though struggled in the second half of the season, culminating in averaging just 6 points in Groveton’s quarterfinal win over Portsmouth Christian and a semifinal loss to Newmarket.
For the Eagles to get back to the final four they’ll need an all-state season from their senior forward. “Julian and I have had a couple of good conversations this pre-season,” said Collins. “He knows this it. You only get one go around as a senior. He’s working hard and he’s playing well for us.”
The X-factor might be forward Chris Corliss, who stepped into a bigger role a year ago and played well. “We are going to need him to be that third scorer for us,” said Collins. “In soccer, I saw him being more aggressive, more vocal out on the field. We need him to play that way for us and I think he will.”
Brandon Laundry will again man the middle, giving Groveton an old school banger down low who can match up with Josh Finkle from Littleton and Cam Davidson from Woodsville. “Brandon does a nice job for us. He works hard and he can rebound & finish around the rim.”
Kaden Cloutier will move into a starting spot at guard after playing as an 8th grader a year ago. A year of varsity experience under his belt has him ready to take on a bigger role for Collins. “He’s bigger and all the experience from last season will help him this season,” said Collins. “We feel like he can handle the ball for us as well as being able to knock down shots.”
The added depth comes from the emergence of sophomore Ben Wheelock (Josh’s younger brother) and Aiden Whiting, who played well in last year's semifinal game. “Ben is going to be able to give us scoring off the bench and we feel like Aiden is ready to step into a bigger role,” said Collins. “Giving us that seven-man rotation is something we didn’t have a year ago.”
All of which puts Groveton right back in the Top 4 this season. “We haven’t gotten much time at all with the restrictions but like everyone else, we’re trying to make the best of it,” said Collins. “We’ve got a chance to pressure the ball with this group and there is experience that should help us this season.”
Division IV Gold Level Coaches/Programs as of 1/3:
Mark Collins of Groveton
Nick Fiset of Epping
Matt Manning of Lin Wood
Jamie Hayes of Newmarket
Carl Anderson of Hinsdale
Jay Darrah of Pittsfield
Jamie Walker of Woodsville
David Bedard of Franklin
Matthew McMenaman of Mount Royal
Dave Morrissette of Gorham
When a group that goes 13-5, makes it to the quarterfinals and has four players who started returning it immediately makes that team a final four contender.
Make no mistake; Portsmouth Christian is a final four contender, but that was no ordinary starter that graduated.
Center Bryson Lund was a first-team all-state center a year ago and although there is talent, depth, and a veteran coach in Derek Summers back, PCA now becomes a team that will create most of its offense on the perimeter instead of going through the low-post.
“We’ll be more of a position-less basketball team this year,” said Summers. “We have players who can shoot the ball and attack the paint off the dribble.”
Maxx Spinelli, Coleman Philbrick, Caleb Pierce, and Jason Stockbower all were on the floor as Groveton eliminated the Eagles in the quarterfinals. They form the nucleus of a group more than capable of taking the next step this season. “It’s a really good group and they have been in the gym as often as possible over the summer and fall trying to get better.”
A junior group led by Stockbower and Pierce gives PCA the building blocks for a two year run in the division. Harry MacDougall, Seth Huggard, Nate Martin and Sam Crisp will step in and contribute right away for a year that should be one of the more athletic teams in the division.
“We should be deep this season and there has just been a very different vibe this season,” said Summers. “They really want to work together to take the next step. Hopefully, we can improve week to week and play our best basketball in March.”
The Woodsville Engineers, coming off of a quarterfinal appearance a year ago, have a group that has now played together for three years. You’d think that would mean their head coach Jamie Walker, who led the program to Final Four appearances in 2016, 2017, and 2019, would have a really good feel for what you’ll see from the Engineers this winter.
“I know exactly what we have but how this group will come together…I’m just not sure yet,” said Walker when asked what we can expect from his 2021 team.
A year ago Woodsville shot as many 3-pointers as any team in Division IV. With point guard Connor Maccinni graduated and shooting guard Brendan Walker, the team’s best long-distance shooter a year ago, now playing baseball at Kimball Union Academy, you might see a team that attacks the basket rather than surrounding it 20-feet away.
“We have a group of players that are athletic and can slash to the basket, as opposed to a year ago when we attacked you from behind the 3-point line,” said Walker. “I think you’re going to see teams pack in a zone and dare us to shoot from the perimeter. We want to play at a faster pace and attack the paint more. We want to control the tempo.”
That philosophy starts with junior Camden Burt who led the Engineers in scoring a year ago. Burt is a streak shooter from the outside but he can put the ball on the deck (I owe Jay Bilas a quarter) and score in traffic. “He will score for us, he’s proven that. What we need from Cam is to rebound and player better defense. Those are the areas we need him to contribute for us.”
Senior Corey Bemis averaged 7.1 points per game as a junior but Walker feels like his small forward can double that number this season. “We are going to need him to score and he’s an example of the type of athlete who can get to the paint and score off the dribble for us,” said Walker.
“We have four scorers in this group and I think you’ll see us with a different leading scorer game to game.”
When Brendan Walker went to KUA it took away the only player who could stretch the defense because of his ability to knock down 3’s. Walker had seven 3-pointers in a game last season and now his absence changes the offensive look of the Engineers.
Forward Elijah Flocke will step in and start right away after being a key contributor a year ago. “Elijah is a good athlete,” said Walker. “We need to be a team that gets to the free-throw line more often than we did a year ago. We’re going to be more aggressive with this group and Elijah is a big part of that.”
Micheal Maccini will take over at point guard and does a nice job running the offense & taking care of the basketball. “Michael works very hard and he’s smart. He’s someone who is going to have to handle pressure against guards like Parker Paradice and Matt St. Cyr. I think he’s ready to take on that role.”
Center Cam Davidson will be looked upon to rebound and give the Engineers scoring on the low block. “ We need to get him back to the form he showed at times a year ago when he certainly helped us win games.”
Walker felt his team was too one-dimensional a year ago. If Burt, Bemis, and Flocke can all average in double figures and have success getting to the rim off the dribble Woodsville has a chance to make another Final Four run.
“I like our starting five but like a lot of coaches in this division I’m not sure what we are going to get from our bench this season,” said Walker. “If we can be more aggressive as a team and build some depth along the way I think we can compete with the best teams in the division.”
The Sunapee Lakers are in the mix almost annually. Even after graduating two of their three leading scorers, Tim Puchtler’s team should again be in the mix for a trip to the semifinals.
Harper Flint returns to the Lakers after averaging 13 points a game last season. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Nick Pollari and guard Sean Moynihan. “This is one of the most athletic teams I’ve had at Sunapee. I’m confident in a lot of the underclassmen who are stepping into bigger roles,” said Puchtler.
Sophomore David Jimenz is expected to step in and contribute right away along with 6’4 center Andrew Clause. “Andrew hasn’t played since 8th grade but he made the move from hockey to basketball,” said Puchtler. “He’s working hard and you can’t teach size. He can be effective for us this season.”
The Lakers feel like they will benefit from a tougher schedule and several returning players who played major minutes a year ago. “We are going to play teams like Mascoma, Fall Mountain, Newport, and Stevens who are bigger schools. With the open tournament set-up this season we are only focused on playing our best basketball when we get to March,” said Puchtler. “We feel like the tougher schedule will help us get there.”
Drew Clifford, Jacob Stoughton and Austin Tschudin will all be a part of what should be a well-round Laker rotation. “We need a lot more time in the gym but the kids are excited just to be able to compete. We’re ready to get going.”
The Lin-Wood Lumberjacks took Portsmouth Christian to the final seconds of their first-round match-up before falling 46-44.
With four starters back and a young nucleus head coach, Matt Manning has a team capable of a sustained run of success in Division IV. Something that has not been the case at Lin-Wood in over 20 years.
“That game was really a win for our program,” said Manning. “Which sounds funny to say about a game you lost, but we started two freshmen in that game and had a very young team across the board. We knew PCA was a good team so going on the road and taking that game to wire gave us some momentum going into the off-season.”
Lin-Wood now wants to take the next step; that will mean competing against the best teams in the North Country. “We know we have to prove it against teams like Littleton, Groveton, Woodsville, and Colebrook,” said Manning. “The schedule restrictions make that a little harder but we have to prove ourselves when we go up against those teams.”
Sophomores Jake Avery & Cam Clermont combined for 27 points a game as a freshman. A year older, wiser and taller…they are now team leaders as well. “Cam can do it all,” said Manning. “He’s quick, athletic, smart and he can really shoot it. His potential is through the roof.”
“Jake is someone capable of an all-state season. He can play facing the basket or with his back to it and he continues to get better.”
Senior Max Leblanc brings experience and intelligence on the floor while John Perry fills the all-important Glue Guy role. “We have several different guys who can handle the ball,” said Manning. “We have a lot of versatility and that allows us to be successful when we spread the floor.”
Muizz Awan will step into a bigger role this season and gives the Lumberjacks another shooter while Cam Manning will compete for a starting job as well. “Cam understands exactly what we are trying to do out on the floor,” said Manning. “He grew up playing in the Plymouth youth football system and that’s given him a good sense of team concepts and how to work with his teammates.”
“ Muizz will play a key role for us and he’s worked hard to earn those minutes.”
Jourdan Stevens, a starter a year ago, decided not to come out for the team and to focus on baseball this winter. Manning expects production off the bench from Blake Tower and AJ Vechionne
Lin-Wood has the depth to go toe to toe with the best teams in the North Country, but do they have the experience?
“They want to take that next step and are willing to put the work in,” said Manning. “It’s on me as their coach to help them get there. We know there has been a standard of success that has been earned by the teams ahead of us. We need to and want to prove we are a team that belongs in the conversation when people talk about the contenders in the division.”
“It’s a great group of kids to work with every day. We will take it game by game but our goals are pretty clear. We want to compete against the established programs in the North Country.”
A year after winning the 2018 Division IV championship Nick Fiset’s Epping Blue Devils struggled to replace four starters from that title-winning team.
Player of the year Hunter Bullock proved near impossible to replace and the Blue Devils, who finished 6-12, generally looked a year away from contending when up against the best teams in the division.
A year later finds Fiset welcoming back a backcourt that is a little wiser and certainly more experienced than when they were thrown into the fire a year ago.
“We won the title in 2018 with four seniors that played a lot of minutes,” said Fiset. “As the saying goes you win in March with seniors but that also gives fewer minutes to the underclassman behind them and last year that caused us to take a step back and take our lumps.”
“This is a group that has been out there together a lot and they worked hard over the summer to get better. It’s a fun group and they genuinely seem to enjoy playing with each other.”
“I think with everything teams are going to have to deal with this year and a shortened pre-season, it’s an advantage to have experience as a group,” said Fiset. “What was a weakness for us a year ago could be a strength this season.”
Fiset has a team with four seniors, seven juniors, and a sophomore. Two of his juniors saw playing time in the championship win over Littleton so there is big-game experience in the team's DNA.
Leading scorer Owen Finklestein returns after averaging 12.2 points a game as a sophomore.
The Blue Devils shooting guard is one of the best long-range shooters in the division and continues to work to get better when he puts the ball on the floor. “He’s worked really hard at his one on one game because we knew a year ago teams recognized him as a shooter you needed to get out on,” said Fiset. “Owen’s a very good shooter but I also think he’s very underrated as a passer. You’ll see more of him setting guys up this year than you have in the past.”
Mike Picard returns at point guard for Epping after starting as a sophomore last season. Picard was often pushed off his spot by bigger teams but at 5’6 and stronger than a year ago, he has the full confidence of his head coach.
“Mike is a leader. He’s the captain of the soccer team and for our team as well,” said Fiset. “He’s so smart and he knows exactly what we are trying to do offensively. He led the team in charges taken a year ago and I think he’s set to have a very good year for us.”
Kevin O’Connell gives Fiset an athletic scorer on the wing. He’ll be counted on to rebound and score for the Blue Devils and will be joined in the lineup by 6’4 center Ben Milbury. “Kevin is a tough kid and I think he will step right in and be a leader for us,” said Fiset. “Ben should provide rebounding for us and if he can average 8 to 10 points a game on the block that takes some of the pressure off of the guards.”
Sam Hackett will see playing time right away at the forward spot while 6’3 Colin Hartford is very athletic and just as raw. “He has a lot to learn but we have seen flashes already that tell you he has the potential to help us,” said Fiset.
Jacob Lovering has improved over the off-season and should be a part of the Blue Devils rotation.
Giving Fiset, who will be the head coach of the NHsportspage underclassman team this spring, enough talent and experience to be a factor again in March. “It’s a fun team to come to work with every day. Like everyone else, we have no idea what to expect week to week but the kids have been focused. They’ve been able to put all that aside and focus on not worrying about things out of their control.”
For head coach Matthew McMenaman and his Mount Royal basketball team, 2021 is about finally getting over the hump.
McMenaman’s team has won 32 games over the last 3 seasons but lost home playoff games to Epping in 2018 and Colebrook last season. “There’s no doubt we want to get to the next level within the division,” said McMenaman. “Whether that happens with this group or not, we’ll see but it’s a goal we want to achieve.”
The return of three starters including all-state guard Louis Larosiliere should put the team back in the mix for a third home playoff game. “Louis has been playing really well. His offense has always been good but where I’ve been impressed with him is at the defensive end. He’s become a well-rounded player for us.”
Brendan Moorehouse will again run the offense from the point guard spot after averaging 10 points a game a year ago. “Brendan is a very smart guard and he plays bigger than his size,” said McMenaman. “He’s become a real leader for us.”
Mount Royal will have more size this year as 6’3 forwards Jordan and Jesse McDonnell will man the middle. “Both can rebound well and Jordan will be a big asset for us if he can stay healthy.”
“Jesse will rebound and play good defense. One of those glue guys who will help us.”
A pair of underclassmen has emerged in the pre-season. Their head coach feels like both sophomore J.P Treese and freshman Peter Hogan will contribute right away. “J.P has been playing very well,” said McMenaman. “Peter comes from a big family of good athletes and so we are very excited about his potential.”
Peter’s older brother Tommy was the starting quarterback on Newport’s 2014 championship team.
“We need to get a playoff win and get to the next level among the established teams in the division,” said McMenaman. “This is a good group and the hope is we are playing our best basketball when the playoffs begin.”
Having both played for and coached alongside Colebrook Hall of Fame head coach Buddy Trask, Ryan Call is smart enough to know the formula the Mohawks have been using since the early 80’s works.
Call will take over on an interim basis for one year as Trask takes time off due to a non-Covid related medical issue. “Colebrook basketball is known for how hard we compete and that isn’t going to change,” said Call.
“Coach Trask has forgotten more about basketball than I’ll probably ever know so we are going to play the same man-to-man defense and pressure the basketball. I talk to coach all the time so I’m sure he is going to be a huge resource for me as I coach the kids this year.”
The Mohawks should be good in the backcourt as shooting guard Carson Rancourt and point guard Kaiden Dowse return. The issue for Call’s team will be rebounding. Colebrook doesn’t have a player over 6’1 and a year ago they were often bailed out in the paint by all-state forward Malik McKinnon, who graduated last spring.
“Malik had over 70% of our rebounds and when Izik Thibedeau made the decision not to play this season that left us with a hole in the middle,” said Call. “We’re going to have to rebound as a team.”
Rancourt is one of the best shooting guards in the division and Dowse showed flashes last year as a freshman.
Both will step in and lead right away. “Carson is a very good shooter; we need him to help us in other ways as well,” said Call. “Kaiden improved as last season went along and that needs to continue. He needs to work on taking care of the ball and staying out of foul trouble. I think he’ll be able to do both,” said Call.
Freshman Kolten Dowse will play right away alongside his brother. “He’s a player I’m excited about,” said Call. “He still has a lot to learn but he’s very skilled and he has good size for a freshman.”
Maddox Godzyk will need to provide rebounding at the forward spot while Marik Boire is a very good outside shooter who has struggled to get off his shot against man defenses. “Marik needs to build up his stamina but he’s a very good shooter when he has space,” said Call.
“ We are going to need to hold our own on the boards and do a better job of taking care of the basketball,” said Call. “Like a lot of other teams we have had limited time in the gym so it’s going to be about getting better week to week. The key this year is how you are playing at the end of the season.”
David Bedard begins his second season as Franklin’s head coach. Four starters are back and the move to Division IV feels like a good move for a once power Division III program that has struggled with numbers.
Bedard feels like he has a group capable of competing in 2021 and he knows for a literal fact that there is no way this season gets off to as rough a start as last season. “We went into our opener at Gilford with three starters out and I had to put four or five kids out on the floor who it’s fair to say weren’t ready to play at the varsity level,” said Bedard. “I felt bad about that but we didn’t have a choice.”
The results were a 56-3 opening night loss. Yes, the Golden Tornadoes scored 3 points and that was with the Gilford starters all sitting out the second half.
From that though came a resolution to get better as a group and even though the injuries continued to pop up and the inexperience wasn’t going to remedy itself overnight, Franklin improved dramatically.
“We only had our starting five together for 8 games but we were able to go 4-4 in those games,” said Bedard. “With four starters back and some experience to go with it, we are excited to compete this season.”
Jake Beaupre returns after leading the team in scoring and gives Bedard one of the better athletes in the Lakes Region to work with. “Jake can match up with just about anyone with his speed and size. He helps us in a few different ways,” said Bedard.
6’2 forward Dawson LaFrance, Justin Kurnikas (“He’s a real energy guy for us,” said Bedard), and Zack Douville all started alongside Beaupre a year ago. “We didn’t have a lot of depth last season so we would be able to hang in against some pretty good teams for a half or so before we got worn out. I think you’ll see that change this season.”
Freshman Zeke McCoy is expected to step right into the starting point guard role. “There will be bumps along the way but he is someone who will help us right away.”
Dominic Meckleson will be a part of Franklin’s newfound depth as they make the move to their new division. “The kids are excited about the move. If there is a downside it is losing out on the Lakes Region rivalries but we have struggled to compete with those teams for a few years now,” said Bedard. “This feels like a good fit and we’re excited to get going.”
It has been a very good run for Jay Darrah’s Pittsfield Panthers. A Division IV championship in 2018 was followed up by a quarterfinal appearance in 2019 before the Panthers again reached the Final Four a year ago.
What makes the run even more impressive is how Darrah and his coaching staff have re-loaded on the fly. The championship team had 7 seniors; his 2018 team lost 4 seniors and now for the 2020-21 seasons Darrah must replace 5 seniors, including 4 starters.
At some point…..all that turnover catches up to you.
“We lost players who saw a ton of time out on the floor. Whenever that happens you have to work to develop the next group and with restrictions on having kids in the gym, that has been a problem,” said Darrah.
“We only have two players who saw big minutes a year ago so how we do this season will be dependant on getting the new players ready to step into bigger roles. We are going to need to try to build depth. Right now we don’t have any.”
Jesse MacGlashing, one of the Panthers' best defenders a year ago, is the lone returning starter after four starters including all-state performers Devin Bedell, Quinn Bissonnette, and Tyler Prentice graduated. “Jesse is a player we know we can count on. He’s going to need to score more this season and with our three leading scorers moving on he’s going to get more shots this season.”
Point guard Jah Gordon played very well in the semifinal loss to Littleton last season and will get his chance to run the offense. “Jah has improved and his decision making has gotten better as well,” said Darrah. “I think the game has slowed down for him. He knows we are depending on him to handle the ball and he will be a leader for us as well.”
6’4 Ben Marcotte will step into the starting center spot and Darrah has confidence he has a center that can control the middle at both ends of the floor. “He has worked very hard to get better and does everything we ask of him. I’m confident he’s going to have a good season for us.”
Sophomore Gavin Bedell will also handle the ball for the Panthers, stepping into the role his older brother filled a year ago. “He’s the X-factor for us,” said Darrah. “He’s very crafty with the ball and he plays with a lot of fire. That should rub off on the other guys on the floor. With Gavin you know he’s tough and that he is going to compete night to night. You love having players like that on your team.”
Depth is going to be the issue for Pittsfield early on. There is talent coming but with three straight senior-dominated teams there isn’t a lot of experience. That is something Pittsfield will have to develop as the shortened season goes along.
Jordan Roode is an example of a player who will have the opportunity to contribute right away after limited minutes a year ago.
“We have a lot of work to do and a very short time to come together,” said Darrah. “The kids want to work hard and the classes before them have set a good example. We just need to improve as the season goes along towards March.”
America’s Team the Lisbon Panthers were rocked by the news this spring that their head coach Sam Natti had taken an administrative position at Groveton high school and would not be able to coach them any longer.
Most of the players were confirming that they would be on a team float on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when they got the news. Shocking both the players and a nation.
Athletic Director Les Poore, who retired from basketball coaching after the Panthers won the 2011 championship over Derryfield, will step in for a year and guide America’s Team. “They are a great group of kids and I love being around them,” said Poore who coaches the Lisbon soccer team. “Our offensive struggles are what puts us in tough spots game to game. We have to be able to win low-scoring games and we’ll try to do that through our defense and rebounding.”
Will Lopus is the team’s leading returning scorer after averaging 11.3 points a game last season. Lopus gives Lisbon a shooter who can stretch the defense for teammates Nathan Superchi, Dylan Colby, and point guard Austin Fisher.
“Austin will have to be able to attack the paint more than in the past. We are going to look to work the ball around the perimeter more and be selective in the shots we take,” said Poore.
“Will certainly can knock down shots and I have a lot of confidence in Nate as well. He’s a hard worker and has improved.”
The Panthers should have the speed to push the pace and be effective defensively but they don’t have the depth right now to do that for 32 minutes a night. “That’s the double-edged sword,” said Poore. “Our starters are going to have to play a lot of minutes so, although they can be effective in pushing the pace, we can’t wear them out by the fourth quarter.”
Andrew Strout and Noah Casio are two players who will have an opportunity to contribute right away while Poore looks for Dylan Colby to take the next step and be more aggressive when he puts the ball on the floor.
“We don’t have a true center or a lot of depth so we are going to have to control the pace and rebound as a team,” said Poore. “The team has a good attitude and we’ll look to improve as the season goes along.”
Dave Morrissette begins his second year as head coach of Gorham after a successful stint at Berlin.
The Huskies struggled at times a year ago but the culture change is well underway at Lance Legere’s alma mater.
With two returning starters and a good group of underclassmen on the way, the rebuild looks to be on schedule. “It wasn’t always smooth a year ago but we are hoping to turn the corner and be more competitive this season,” said Morrissette. “It’s about understanding the daily effort level required to be a contending program year in and year out. We’re not there yet but we are working towards it.”
Wyatt Debois and Anthony Frisk return and will contribute right away along with Richard Burton and Texas transfer Liam Cairns, a 6’2 forward. “I think we have a good mix in the starting lineup, and adding Liam will really help us,” said Morrissette. “It’s about getting some of the underclassmen in the rotation. That will be a key for us.”
Morrissette was the North Country’s most over-qualified middle school coach for a year before he took over the varsity job after Jared Lauze took the Berlin job. “I had a lot of the young kids coming into the program so that makes a big difference. They understand the expectations, the level of effort needed to compete, and the culture we are trying to build.”
“Our goal remains the same as when I came on board last year; we want to get to the point where Gorham can compete with the best teams in Division IV.”
With Morrissette at the helm and a very good middle school group on the way, Gorham is on the right track.
Entering his 7th year as Farmington’s head coach Adam Thurston feels like he has the right mix of talent and chemistry.
The Tigers may be a year away from final four contention but behind junior forward Brian Weeks Thurston feels like his team could surprise some people come March. “It’s a really good group and they’ve played well together in the limited time we’ve had in the gym,” said Thurston.
The optimism starts with the 6’1 Weeks who looks poised for an all-state season. “He’s stepped up his game and added to what he can do offensively,” said Thurston of his junior forward.
6’5 center Jordan Berko showed flashes a year ago and should be a difference-maker when he returns from an off-season injury. “He’s working his way back,” said Thurston. “We’re a different team when he is out on the floor. His size and athletic ability are hard to replace.”
Sophomore Matt Savoy and 6’5 Luke Cardinal will both contribute right away. “I’m confident in the next group of underclassmen we have coming up through the program. They’re going to get their chance to contribute right away.”
Izea Long returns after averaging 8 points a game a year ago while Shawn Murphy is a newcomer with the opportunity to work his way into the rotation.
“We have a really strong group of freshman and sophomores so we are set up to have a good group for a few years,” said Thurston. “It’s about getting the most out of them and us being more consistent than we have been. We have shown flashes here & there but we haven’t sustained it. That’s where we want to get to as a team.”
Ed Meade’s second season as Derryfield’s head coach was made tougher when the school made the decision that only remote students would be allowed to play sports.
That means the Cougars got younger in a hurry and the days of twenty kids at practice were put on hold for a year. “We had to hustle to find out who was going to play and who wasn’t,” said Meade. “Some kids decided not to play but we have a good group and some really good young talent that will get a chance to play earlier than they would have in a normal year.”
Guard Janai Cruz was a key contributor a year ago and steps into the point guard role after the graduation of Colin McCaigue. “Janai can get the ball up the floor in a hurry and that’s the style we want to continue to play,” said Meade.
6’4 Griffin Johnson will give Derryfield size in the frontcourt. “Griffin is one of the players who is going to get more minutes than he would have in a normal year but he’s excited about the challenge. We’re going to throw him into the fire and give him a chance to play right away.”
Shooting guard Jaxon Snyder will start at shooting guard while 8th-grade guard Thomas Ferdinando will follow in the footsteps of his father Keith who was a big-time player in the ’80s. “He is going to help us right away, I’m excited about his development,” said Meade. “He can play multiple positions for us.”
Meade also likes the potential of freshman Jack Krasnof to come in and help the Cougars right away.
Derryfield struggled with their defense and at times their chemistry a year ago, Meade though likes the re-set button the program will have in 2021.
“It’s a really fun group focused on getting better. We might be a year away but we’ll compete and continue to improve week to week. We’re going to play our up-tempo game and my philosophy is to play the style that fits your personnel,” said Meade. “We have a lot of team speed and good athletes out on the floor so we are going to play to our strengths.”
With teams forced to play only local schools, there are going to be plenty of complaints about how the schedule broke out for them.
To be clear if Carl Anderson isn’t complaining about the slate of his Hinsdale Pacers no one else should be complaining.
And Carl isn’t even complaining.
“You know what? The kids are just excited to have the opportunity to play,” said Anderson. “We are a really young team that is just focused on getting better every week. We’re going to bring it every night and compete as hard as we can as we get better.”
Hinsdale will play 11 games against three of the best programs in Division III: Mascenic (the reigning co-champion), Monadnock (a Top 5 team in the pre-season), and some school named Conant.
Now that’s a tough schedule.
Hinsdale though will have a strong sophomore class of 6 players contributing to a program on the rise. “We have a good sophomore class and 50 players came out for the middle school team this year,” said Anderson. “That’s what we are building towards and we have three seniors to set the example for the next group.”
Arth Patel and Brayden Eastman are a pair of returning starters, giving Anderson experience in the backcourt. “We should be athletic and quick as a team. We are going to have to outwork teams and be the kind of scrappy team that causes turnovers.”
Jason Cowan gives Anderson a high-energy player in the lineup while Tanner Hammond, Bobby Leclaire & sophomore Noah Pangelinan will contribute right away. “It’s a really fun group to coach. They just want to play as much as they can and build towards the future.”
“We’ll play a very difficult schedule but I also think that will have us battle-tested for the playoffs in March,” said Anderson. “We’re ready to go.”
Pre-Season First Team All-State
Julian Kenison of Groveton
Josh Finkle of Littleton
Colby Bost of Newmarket
Matt St. Cyr of Groveton
Louis Larosiliere of Mount Royal
Second Team All-State
Landon Bromley of Littleton
Cam Clermont of Lin-Wood
Parker Paradice of Littleton
Owen Tower of Newmarket
Carson Rancourt of Colebrook
Players to watch: Owen Finkelstein of Epping, Brian Weeks of Farmington, Harper Flint of Sunapee, Camden Burt of Woodsville, Jake Avery of Lin-Wood, Will Lopus of Lisbon, Jah Gordon of Pittsfield, Jake Beaupre of Franklin, Arth Patel of Hinsdale, Janai Cruz of Derryfield
Coming tomorrow: Division III