The Division III championship lived up to all the hype last season. Round 3 of Conant-Fall Mountain certainly did not disappoint.
Silas Bernier finished her illustrious high school career with two free throws and the Conant Orioles ran the table and were crowned Division III champions right in front of a packed house at Keene State College.
That Saturday afternoon was the last girls’ basketball game I called that season before everything was shut down, and that was the last time both of those teams even got to be with each other.
There was no time to digest or reflect on anything. Life has been very different since that Saturday afternoon.
Basketball is finally back. Conant and Fall Mountain return two of the best rosters in the division and are ready to battle it out in one of the best rivalries in all of New Hampshire girls’ basketball.
Teams such as Campbell, Monadnock, and Newfound all return improved rotations and all feel they have a chance to compete with the best of the best in Division III.
Kearsarge and Stevens are making the move down to Division III this year and will instantly be competing for a top 5 seed.
The top 10 will be competitive as it has ever been in Division III.
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Division III Pre-Season Top 10:
2. Fall Mountain
8. White Mountains
9. Prospect Mountain
Outside of the Top 10: Belmont, St Thomas Aquinas, Newport, Berlin, Raymond, Winnisquam, Gilford
The Conant Orioles come in at the top of the pre-season rankings for the second consecutive season. An undefeated championship run with a roster that consisted of mainly underclassmen was a special accomplishment for a group that played much older than they were.
Head coach Brian Troy is excited for another run with this team. “The energy has been really high early on,” said Troy.
The biggest loss for this group is Silas Bernier. The first-team all-state guard was exceptional in their playoff run. She looked as comfortable as ever on the big floor at Keene State College and helped bring her team home a state championship.
“The biggest thing she brought was leadership,” said Troy. “We will miss that this year, but the girls learned a lot from her last season.”
Reigning Division III Player of the Year Elizabeth Gonyea will be back in the lineup for her senior season and is more than capable of filling the void Bernier is leaving behind.
“When she is loose and relaxed she is at her best,” said Troy. “She can do it all for you, 8-10 rebounds if you need, gets the offense going, she’s a gifted player.”
Gonyea was the best offensive and defensive player in the division last season. She can stick the jumper from deep and get to the basket with ease. Her passing is one of the most underrated aspects of her game. “She makes the game easier for others,” said Troy.
Defensively she is long enough to play against bigs and athletic enough to keep up with quick guards. Gonyea is the total package.
The ascension of sophomore Emma Tenters has been a bright spot for Conant. As a freshman, she played the role of sixth man and played a crucial part in both their semifinal and finals victories.
“She excelled in her role last season, never complained about anything,” said Troy. “She’s made great leaps forward into this season.”
Tenters was a physical presence in the paint and was a great rebounder against bigs like Paulina Huckins and Erin Brady in the playoffs.
Offensively her game was sound from the get-go with an array of post moves in her arsenal coming into last season. A more confident and polished Tenters is a great sign for Conant.
Another freshman standout from a season ago is Brynn Rautiola. Rautiola shined on the big stage and hit big shots to close out Fall Mountain in last year’s final.
“You’re going to see a different player in Brynn,” said Troy. “One who is more comfortable and confident out on the floor.”
Rautiola earned the trust of her teammates throughout the year, and the ball was put in her hands when things got close last season. “She was resilient last year,” said Troy. “She always kept shooting, her teammates believed in her.”
Teagan Kirby is primed for a breakout junior season. “She really brings that toughness to our team,” said Troy.
Kirby was a force going to the rim last season and defeated defenders off the dribble with ease. “She’s the best left-hand finisher I’ve seen in some time,” said Troy. “We expect another big year from her.”
Kirby is also a fearless rebounder and helps bring energy to the team on the defensive end. Kirby should see an uptick in shot attempts this season as she will be relied upon as a second option to Gonyea.
Mylie Aho returns to the starting lineup and brings a little bit of everything to the floor. “I always tell her that she doesn’t fly under the radar, she is a very important part of this team,” said Troy.
Aho is described by her head coach as the “perfect role player”. “She can get us 6-8 points on a nightly basis without even running anything through her,” said Troy. “I am really excited about her growth.”
The defending champions will play a tough regional schedule that should test them from day one. “We are excited about a tougher schedule because we want to be tested, we want to see different looks every night,” said Troy.
A second consecutive title is in reach for this group, but Conant doesn’t want to get ahead of themselves. “The girls play with confidence every night and they expect themselves to win,” said Troy. “We just need to focus on what we need to focus on and stay the course this season.”
With a strong core back and a winning culture, Conant looks primed for a repeat.
Fall Mountain is just getting the chance to reflect upon last year's championship game, as they never got the chance to once everything was shut down. “We never got the chance to decompress and talk about everything,” said head coach Matt Baird-Torney. “We just said, ‘see you next week’, and we all know that never happened.”
The Wildcats put themselves in a prime position to take Round 3 against Conant in last season’s championship game, but things just didn’t go their way in the end. “There were some tough calls on our end but we had chances to decide the game long before that,” said Baird-Torney.
Fall Mountain finds themselves right back at #2 in the pre-season rankings this season and are motivated to finish at #1 when all is said and done.
Everything for Fall Mountain will start and run through point guard Sophie Bardis. “She is such a smart player, she really sees the game,” said Baird-Torney. “She always makes the right play which is such a luxury to have.”
Bardis controls the tempo for this group. She will have the ball in her hands a majority of the time and will be relied upon to make the right reads offensively.
We saw Bardis put on quite the performance in the finals, hitting an NHIAA Division III Championship record 6 threes against Conant. She is one of the most lethal shooters in the division to go along with her great playmaking ability and tenacity on the defensive end.
“When she calls her own number, it makes everyone better,” said Baird-Torney. “We tell her all the time, if you see daylight, let it fly.”
Avery Stewart returns after a first-team all-state campaign as a sophomore. “Avery is a natural scorer from all levels,” said Baird-Torney. “She’s got a good mid-range game, she finishes at the cup with both hands, draws a lot of fouls, finishes through contact, she does so much offensively.”
The scariest sight for opposing defenses is Stewart in the high post. “She is such a nightmare in the high-post, how will teams defend her?” said Baird-Torney.
Stewart has the ability to stick the jumper or take a defender one dribble right to the basket. There aren’t many answers for her in that spot, and Fall Mountain will run a lot of action through her from there.
The tandem of Stewart and Bardis is one of the best Division III has to offer. “Avery benefits from Sophie and Sophie benefits from Avery,” said Baird-Torney. Both play two different styles that complement each other to a tee.
The x-factor for this team is Makenna Grillone. “She’s our energizer,” said Baird-Torney. “She takes on the toughest defensive assignment every night and gets her hand on everything.”
Grillone’s confidence started to grow as the season progressed last year and come playoff time was a completely different player than she was to start the season. She became an offensive threat and opened up looks for Bardis and Stewart. “We feel like we have a team where anyone can lead us in scoring on any given night,” said Baird-Torney.
If she can bring that same mentality into this season, the Wildcats will be tough to guard on the perimeter.
Morgan Beauregard was an all-state second-team recipient a season ago and comes back looking to take an even bigger step. “Morgan was great offensively last season, but something that really helped us was her ability to rebound from the guard position,” said Baird-Torney.
Both Beauregard and Grillone will be relied upon to fill their roles and be a threat every single night. “Both Morgan and Makenna don’t need to go out and get looks,” said Baird-Torney. “It can be whoever has the matchup, both will benefit from that.”
Erin Brady was last seen keeping up on the boards with Paulin Huckins in the semifinals and forcing Elizabeth Gonyea into tough shots in the finals. For an undersized forward, Brady gave Fall Mountain physicality and grit on the inside last season.
“She was huge for us down the stretch,” said Baird-Torney. “She did everything we asked of her and more last season.”
Brady is a lefty who has a quick and soft touch down low on the offensive end and great awareness and instincts on the defensive side. “Her positioning and tenacity are the keys for her,” said Baird-Torney. “We don’t match-up well half-court, but Erin fixes that for us.”
Brady will be called upon to keep with the Huckins’ and the Gonyea’s of the division and keep Fall Mountain afloat defensively.
With a bit of randomness to seeding this season, Fall Mountain is focused on improving game to game rather than looking ahead. “In a normal year we would be fighting for the bye every night, but this year we are focused on getting better each time we take the floor,” said Baird-Torney.
With a tough schedule, there won’t be many nights off for the Wildcats. “We want to be challenged every game,” said Baird-Torney.
The talent is there for Fall Mountain, it will be about putting the pieces together at the right time. “We’d like to finish that last one, one of these years, we have the group to do it.”
Campbell was one of the few teams to put a real scare into Conant at any point in the season last year. The Cougars were just seconds away from pulling off what would have been a historic upset over the Orioles in the quarterfinals.
“That game was about as fun as anything I have ever experienced on a sideline,” said head coach Sean Hogan. “The prep work and buy-in from that group was unbelievable, we really believed in ourselves as the underdog.”
That same group is nearly back intact this season and it all starts with all-state center Tori Allen. “She is a big dominant presence down low,” said Hogan. “She runs hard, rebounds, she’s even found a little bit of touch from outside, she is just a force.”
The offense can run through her, but she also gets easy baskets due to hard work on the offensive glass. She is a force to be reckoned with in Division III.
Karleigh Schultz can be described as the x-factor for this team. “She’s got good footwork and a great knack for the ball,” said Hogan. At 5’10” alongside Allen, both provide size for a team in a division that doesn’t have much of it, an advantage that Campbell will use at their disposal.
Riley Gamache returns to run the offense for the Cougars at the point guard position. “She is the rock of what we do,” said Hogan. “A great defender and someone who grinds all night on both ends. We know exactly what we’re getting out of her. She’s our quarterback.”
Having a point guard who understands the system and their role is so valuable. That is why Gamache will be so important for Campbell if they want to make a deep run this season.
Alyssa Gonzalez is another player with decent size that Campbell will use in multiple ways this season. “She has a good knack for the basketball and brings a great toughness to our team,” said Hogan. “She even started to expand her range and develop an outside shot last season. She is someone who will help us in a bunch of different ways this year.”
A player who may be somewhat of a mystery to start the season could turn into a valuable asset for the Cougars. Maddie Davis returns to the team after not playing since she was a sophomore. “She was a good scorer as a 10th grader,” said Hogan. “We are excited to see what she can bring to us this year.”
Another person Hogan wanted to point out was manager Travis Tucker. “For all he does, he should honestly be on the staff at this point, he’s the best,” said Hogan. Jen and I definitely agree with that statement.
Campbell will be faced with a heavy Division II schedule that will tell them who they are early on. “I’m really fascinated to see how it all plays out,” said Hogan.
Although the expectations are high for this group, they will still have to show up every day and put in the work. “We won four games last season shooting 20% or less from the field,” said Hogan. “We won’t be coming in as a team who pours it in on you. We will have to play defense, do the hard parts of the game, gameplan, and grind. The big question for us is can we keep that chip on our shoulder?”
A talented team with an underdog mentality could be a successful pairing.
A hectic start to the season won’t determine what Newfound is set out to do this season. “I’ve got a group that has been working their tails off so far this year,” said head coach Kammi Williams.
You could say the Bears were a year ahead of schedule last season as their young group made a trip to the Final Four, but fell to the hands of an experienced Conant team.
“The only way to ever beat a Conant is finding ways to get to the next level, force ourselves to do new things and get better every single day,” said Williams. “Our goal is to make each other uncomfortable. Whether that be by changing defensive schemes and becoming a team that can play both man-to-man and zone or switching things up on offense every other night, we want to do things that make us better.”
All-state center Paulina Huckins returns for her junior season and is looking to take an even bigger step as a third-year player. “She is one of the best players in the division,” said Williams.
Huckins had foul trouble when we saw her against Conant, but when she was on the floor she was the difference-maker for Newfound. She is one of the hardest players to box-out and causes havoc down low. She can stick a mid-range jumper and also back you down and get to the basket in two dribbles. She will be a tough matchup for any team on a nightly basis.
Mackenzie Bohlmann returns for her senior season and looks to lead the charge defensively once again this season. “She is our most fearless player on the court,” said Williams. “When your senior leader understands the game that helps a lot.”
Mackenzie’s sister Malina Bohlmann looked like one of the most poised players on the floor as a freshman against Conant in the semifinals a year ago. “She is a baller,” said Williams. “She has the ability to be one of the best two-way players in the division.”
Malina commanded a lot of attention on the offensive end as just a freshman and should be a more mature and polished player coming into her second season in the program. If she can have a breakout year, Newfound will be in very good shape.
Bailey Fairbank and Tiffany Doan will be called upon to take and make the outside shot when their number is called. “Tiffany has been a great shooter for us and Bailey’s shot has looked really good early on,” said Williams.
MollyLu McKellar was an impactful rotation player as a freshman big off the bench and will be asked to provide scoring and size in that role once again this year. Having to deal with bigs in both Huckins and McKellar that bring different skill sets to the table will be tough for smaller teams in Division III to handle.
“We want to continue to move in the right direction,” said Williams. “We don’t want to get lax. We can’t take mental breaks this season. Don’t get lazy and keep pushing forward.”
A more experienced Newfound team will be a scary sight come playoff time.
Division III Gold Level Coaches/Programs as of 1/3:
Matt Baird-Torney of Fall Mountain
Pat Roye of Hopkinton
Don Picard of Berlin
Monadnock is just two years removed from a Division III championship, and head coach Rob Skrocki feels he has a group that can back to that level of play. “I think there’s a lot to look forward to with this group.”
The Huskies secured the upset in the first round over Gilford in impressive fashion and brought Hopkinton down to the wire in an absolute barn-burner of a quarterfinal matchup (see the highlights here). “They know what they missed out on last season,” said Skrocki.
A key piece that Monadnock lost to graduation is Carly Ayotte. “Carly was just a tremendous athlete in general,” said Skrocki. “She brought physicality in the post and that’s a hard thing to go out and find.”
Someone who could make a difference just being out on the floor this season is Grace LeClair. Her season was plagued with injuries last year that only saw her appear in 3 games in the regular season. She made an instant impact when she returned to the lineup and will be a focal point of what the Huskies want to accomplish this year.
Grace Furze was a part of that championship rotation in 2019 and returns as Monadnock’s leading scorer from a season ago. At times Furze was the lone offensive option for the Huskies, so having LeClair on the floor with her will make teams play the Huskies a bit different this season.
“Both Grace’s bring a different skill set, but both bring a lot of experience as well,” said Skrocki. “They’re two strong leaders of the team.”
Monadnock started to play a different brand of basketball towards the end of last season, and both Furze and LeClair were a part of that culture change. If both can stay healthy and together on the floor the Huskies will have two experienced players to rely on.
Breann Lawerence and Mea Carroll-Clough both saw meaningful floor time as freshmen and will look to expand upon what they built up during last season. “They both are looking to become staples on this team,” said Skrocki.
Having two key playoff games under their belts coming in as sophomores will only help their growth and have them prepared for a playoff run that may be unlike any other we have seen before.
“All four of those girls let the coaches push them to their max,” said Skrocki. A coachable team is the best thing you could ask for if you are a first-year varsity head coach.
Monadnock will be undersized without a player like Ayotte in the paint, but Skrocki is excited with what his group can do with smaller lineups out on the floor. “We’re really athletic without a six-footer. We still will be able to apply serious pressure.”
Monadnock will still be somewhat young this year, but this is a seasoned and mature group. “They go into every day trying to be the best team they can be,” said Skrocki.
Although they are ranked at #5 in the pre-season, this is a group that can compete with anyone in the division. “We are so excited, I can’t say that enough,” said Skrocki. “If we stay healthy, these girls can do something special this season.”
Kearsarge had a rollercoaster of a season in Division II last year and will be making the move down to Division III.
Head coach Keith Roberts has been impressed with how his team has come into this year. “They have done everything we have asked of them coming into this season and in practice so far,” said Roberts. “There is a lot of promise this season.”
Although the Cougars will be in Division III, their regular season will consist of mainly Division II teams. “I’m happy about that, I like that we will be challenged throughout the year,” said Roberts.
Three seniors in Ellie Camp, Erin Wheeler, and Tori Andrewski return for the Cougars and all look to use their experience to help guide Kearsarge through this strange regular season format.
“Ellie is our swiss army knife,” said Roberts. “Her ability to do a little bit of everything and be a great leader is special.”
Both Wheeler and Andrewski bring size and presence in the middle for the Cougars and will be relied upon on the inside.
Caroline Camp had a stellar sophomore season and is looking to make an even bigger jump as a junior scoring the basketball. “We’re going to rely on Caroline a lot,” said Roberts. “She improved a lot this summer, she’s hungry for it.”
Camp was the team’s leading scorer last year at nearly 10 ppg. The Cougars will need that level of production and some to compete atop the ranks in Division III.
Rena Tucker has struggled to stay on the floor with injury problems in the last few years. The Cougars will need all they can get from Tucker during the regular season, but Roberts wants her to be prepared and healthy to play playoff basketball. “We need to allow her to help us come tournament time.”
The Cougars have three sophomore guards in Hannah Goen, Ella Stocker, and Adison Whiteley who will all be fighting for floor time. “They’re all hungry,” said Roberts. “Those three will allow us to be successful this year.”
Division III will be a good fit for Kearsarge. Although they will be playing a Division II schedule mostly, those tough games will prepare them come playoff time for the Conant’s and the Fall Mountain’s.
“I’m excited for these kids, they have been a super group to work with,” said Roberts. “I think we’ll give it everything we can this year.”
Stevens finished with an 8-10 record in Division II and were a competitive mid-tier team a season ago. One of their more notable victories came in the form of a 46-45 win over Division III runner-up Fall Mountain.
From the looks of it, Stevens should be competitive from the get-go in Division III but will play a mainly Division II schedule just like Kearsarge.
Head coach Ivy Condon feels confident in her team's ability to be a threat in Division III, especially after a decent season in Division II with 3 freshmen playing significant minutes for the Cardinals.
“We are going to be a very diverse team,” said Condon.
One of those freshmen from a season ago, Jaci Morin, will not be returning after a promising first season as she has since moved away from the school. “We were disappointed to hear that would be the case, but we have regrouped and are focused on the group we have here this season,” said Condon.
All-state honorable mention recipient Sydney Miller has also graduated and was the steady point guard out on the floor for Stevens last season.
Taking over that role will be freshman Kiley Bundy. “She’ll get our offense going, which is hard for a freshman,” said Condon. “You have to be vocal and you have to lead. She has big shoes to fill. We expect her to make freshman mistakes, but this will be a really good year for her to grow.”
Junior Zahna Rice will be the engine that will keep Stevens' motor running. “She is a hustler, a hard worker, a scrapper,” said Condon. “She is one that you never have to worry about giving 100%.”
Rice will play at all positions on the floor this season for Condon and will make everyone out on the floor give their best at all times.
Abi Faro has come along way since she started basketball back in middle school. “In the last two years alone she has exploded and improved,” said Condon. “She has a great IQ for the game and she is a tremendous leader. Her passion for the game is what drives her. She is so positive and that is valuable to have.”
Sophomores Alyssa Paquette, Tara Sullivan, and Stella Lavertue will all be called upon to be contributors on a nightly basis.
Sullivan came onto the varsity scene just three games into the regular season and made huge strides. “Her being so young and doing great things on the floor is exciting,” said Condon. “She can only get better.”
Paquette is described by her coach as a “workhorse” and someone who can always be found in the gym.
Lavertue will be a good on-ball defender for the Cardinals and a “special one to watch” according to Condon.
“The great thing about our team is that we are so versatile,” said Condon. “Any one of those girls can go off and contribute on any given night.”
Stevens returns this year more experienced and goes into Division III with confidence and high aspirations. “Our goal this year is to put a game together from start to finish,” said Condon. “There is no excuse when it comes to how they should be playing games, they’ve seen it, they’ve done it.”
The Cardinals will be up for the challenge and should be a team no one wants to see in the playoffs.
Chris Foss will fill in for head coach Ian Boyko this season and looks to keep White Mountains in Top 8 contention this season.
The first need to address will be finding players to help replace Aviara Challinor’s production on both ends of the floor. “It is hard to just have someone step into her role since Avi was a special player,” said Foss.
Mackenzie Treamer is also another graduation hit the Spartans are taking, but Lily Kenison help eases the pain.
“The biggest challenge will be not relying on her to do everything for us,” said Foss. Kenison was an all-state point guard a season ago due to her good shooting touch and great decision making.
“She is a great ball-handler and someone we will need offensive production out of,” said Foss. We may see Kenison off the ball a bit more to keep her fresh and in the game as much as possible. “We will need her to be our leader on the court.”
Alyssa Fryman and Kelsey Graham will step into bigger roles this season. Fryman was a top defender alongside Challinor last season and Graham showed good touch from mid-range as a reliable scoring option. Both will be called upon to be consistent this year. “We need them to lead as seniors,” said Foss.
One junior who could help fill a void in terms of size and defense is Morgan Doolan. “She is a very athletic player,” said Foss. “She has the height and athleticism to give us production that Avi gave us defensively last season.”
The Spartans will see some of the best teams from Division IV on their schedule that will be a good test throughout the season. “I think playing the top dogs in Division IV will make our schedule tougher, and we like that challenge,” said Foss.
White Mountains was in Final Four contention last season, and while some of their top pieces have graduated, they still feel they can be a competitive bunch. “We aren’t going to be a pushover,” said Foss. “We feel we have 4-5 girls who girls who can be an option for us when we push it down the floor.”
Defensively the mentality stays the same for the Spartans, the question of where they will find consistent offensive production remains. “We look at it that your best defense is your best offense,” said Foss.
Size and athleticism will be the keys to success for White Mountains this year and it should keep them competitive throughout the year.
Prospect Mountain has been a consistent team that has found themselves in the mix for a home playoff game the last few seasons.
Head coach Rick Burley feels his team is as deep as it has been in some time. “The last time I felt I had a team this deep was when we made a run to the semis in 2017, we have depth this year for sure,” said Burley.
It all starts with Hannah Capsalis for the Timberwolves. “She is the catalyst,” said Burley. “She does a great job of keeping us in the flow of things during the game.”
Capsalis will look to lead a Prospect Mountain group that was fairly young last season, with two freshmen and a sophomore who saw significant minutes last season. “Some games we showed how young we were and others we showed people what we have,” said Burley.
A matchup with Fall Mountain in the playoffs was the worst-case scenario for this group, but Burley thought his team really competed. “The score may look lopsided but I thought we really competed in the second half,” said Burley. “Being down 21 after the first quarter is always going to hurt your chances but I thought we played a great second half.”
Burley has the rare opportunity to play three different bigs this season in Julia Leavitt, Sophia Bean, and Michaela Vernazzaro. “I expect all three to step it up this year,” said Burley. “It is a blessing to have three bigs I can rotate.”
Leavitt will be the starting center out of the three. “She brings a lot of intensity to the court,” said Burley. “I’m looking for her to carry her play from mid-season into this year.”
Players like Ella Misiaszek, Kassidy Kelley, Ella Smith, and Gianna Kennerson will all see meaningful floor time and will round out the rotation for the Timberwolves.
“We’re going to play a lot of bodies this season,” said Burley. “A lot of rotation and a lot of breaks for kids.”
It is a good sign of things to come when your young team went 10-8 and earned a home playoff game last season. This season will be about showing the strides and gains this team has made since last year.
“In just a few practices I’ve seen how much they’ve grown, they’re maturing,” said Burley. This year we will see what Prospect Mountain is made of.
After a Final Four run a season ago, the Hopkinton Hawks will look a bit different this season without all-state center Katie Meserve in the middle.
Head coach Pat Roye’s main concern is getting his kids back on the floor. "It's not about interscholastic sport and is more about mental health,” said Roye. “We have bigger fish to fry rather than go 7-3.
The Hawks were approved to play and the team's energy has been through the roof. “Everyone is really happy to be here,” said Roye.
The Hawks won games by controlling the pace of the game and forcing teams to play at their speed. They were unable to do that on the big floor at Keene State, but the experience of making the Final Four was huge for Roye’s program.
All-state guard Maurgan McGrath will be leading the charge for the Hawks after being the second-leading scorer on the team behind Meserve last season. “Maurgan is poised for a good year,” said Roye. “She is a true old-fashioned work at your game kind of kid.”
The three-point sniper McGrath is a must-cover from nearly anywhere on the floor and has the green light from her coach to let it fly.
Brooke Carlson returns for her senior year after hitting the shot of her life in the quarterfinals to get Hopkinton to the semis. “She had a really good playoff run that we are hoping carries over into this season,” said Roye.
Kally Murdough and Maddie Carmichael are two players who will step into bigger roles for the Hawks this season. “Kally is primed for a breakout year,” said Roye. “She plays at a disciplined pace. She can get to the rim and battle through contact. Her shooting has come along as well and she has become a threat in the open floor.”
Carmichael backed up Meserve last season and learned a lot on her time as an underclassman at the varsity level. “She is ready to make the step forward,” said Roye. “She is a great all-around athlete. She runs the floor like a deer, she can really jump out there.”
There will be bumps this year for Hopkinton, but with four solid returners and a different style of play that uses their speed and athleticism to their advantage, the Hawks will be a group that is at their best come playoff time.
First-year Belmont head coach Mike Andriski has liked what he has seen so far from his new team. “They’re working hard,” said Andriski. “They’ve been learning a new system and trying to get better every day.”
Morgan Hall, Molly Sottack, and Becca Fleming have impressed Andriski early on and views them as key pieces to what they want to accomplish this season. “They are the leaders for this team,” said Andriski.
Hall was an all-state honorable mention recipient last season as a junior and will look to capitalize on the opportunities she has in front of her this year. “She is an undersized big but we will rely on her to rebound and shut down opponents on the inside,” said Andriski.
Sottack will be called upon to be a spot-up shooter. “She is streaky at times, but we know she can hit shots,” said Andriski. “We’re going to need her to be more on than she is off this year.”
Fleming is a contributor in all facets of the game. “She can handle the ball and is also our best defender,” said Andriski. “She’s got quick feet and great hands. She’ll take the opponent's best player every night and do the dirty work for us.”
Lena Rodriguez and Savannah Perkins will both be battling it out for the starting point guard position this season. “They’ve been great so far, they’ve made each other work for it and that will only help us down the line,” said Andriski.
A tough schedule will challenge the Red Raiders and Andriski feels his group is up to the challenge. “Our schedule is going to tell us where we are,” said Andriski. “I feel that we can be right in the thick of our region.”
St. Thomas Aquinas is looking to build upon what was a good season finishing in the top 8 a year ago.
Kevin Giannino takes over the Saints after JP Sanborn decided to step down as head coach. “I’m really optimistic about this season,” said Giannino. “The girls are really enthusiastic about the game.”
Sarah Leahy returns and will lead the charge defensively for the Saints. The soon to be Division I lacrosse player will be one of the most athletic players on the floor every night out. “She is an outstanding athlete, she’s truly gifted,” said Giannino.
Morgan Pulliam will be asked to provide scoring for a group that loses 14 ppg in Madelin Predaris who graduated. “She is a legitimate scorer inside and out, we will need her on a nightly basis,” said Giannino.
Caitlin Mahoney, Grace Verde, and Michelle Heim all will bring something different to the table each night. “Caitlin is a strong defender, Grace has great shooting touch, and Michelle will help us on the boards, all three will be great complementary pieces to have out on the floor,” said Giannino.
37 girls tried out for the team this year, which is a number that gave Giannino good hope for the future of this program. “We have some sophomores and freshmen who are going to learn a lot this year and be really good down the line.”
Last season ended in the first round with a loss to #9 Campbell, and that has stuck with this team. “They did get a taste of the playoffs last year and they were disappointed about the outcome,” said Giannino. “I think getting a taste of what it was all about gave them more ambition about this year.”
Don Picard and Berlin have had a challenging start to the season but are happy to finally be back on the floor.
“We’ve had to split the girls into two groups to follow protocols, but the girls are happy to be out on the floor together,” said Picard.
Replacing Kaylee Peare’s production will be a tough assignment, but Picard feels he has two very good players in Makenna Peare and Makenna Balderrama returning to be leaders and instant impacts on the floor.
“Makenna Peare will be our point guard,” said Picard. “She had her ups and downs last year but really started to come along. She has game experience and that's what we need.”
Balderrama was a force to be reckoned with down low last year and is really tough to contain on the boards. “She was our leading rebounder a year ago and I know she will be this year,” said Picard. “We will need everything we can get out of her.”
The Mountaineers will be a young bunch, but if any coach is up for the challenge it's Don Picard. “I think it is a good year for us in terms of an opportunity to learn and play against good competition,” said Picard. “For our young kids to get thrown in the first week against a team like Colebrook will give them an awareness of just how good some of the teams are right away.”
Berlin will have growing pains but they are hoping to be more of a finished product by the end of the season. “I’m anxious to see how things develop,” said Picard.
Raymond was just shy of playoff contention last season and return a group with many new faces.
Jeff Hamilton is trying to get his group into a good routine and get them back on the floor playing the game they love. “We are taking each day and doing the best we can,” said Hamilton.
Kathryn LaCasse is coming off of an all-state level season and will be the focal point for Raymond once again this season. “She is the heart of our team,” said Hamilton. “She is back to doing what she always does, she’s our rock.”
Junior Ashley Bernsten is another returner for Raymond but besides that, a lot of new players will be on the varsity roster and playing meaningful minutes.
“We’re going to put the pieces together and try and enjoy this season because we don’t know if any game will be our last,” said Hamilton. “We’re throwing some of the kids to the wolves in a sense, but that experience will be valuable in the long run.”
LaCasse will be a player to watch in Division III and certainly will help keep Raymond a competitive group.
Newport will be a young team once again this year with three seniors returning to lead the Tigers.
Head coach Ross Dole feels his team will make strides this year. “We’ve had a good gym so far, everyone is excited.”
The graduation loss of Greysan Beaulieu will have Maddie Miller placed in a more offensive focused role this season. “She will step up big for us this year,” said Dole. “She will be in a lot of situations she has never been in before and I’m optimistic to see how it all plays out.”
Morgan Roberts has been a consistent player in the program for the past few seasons and will have her number called a lot this season. “She has been with us all along,” said Dole. “She will take on a new role with this team and she is ready for it.”
Dalyce Meuinier will be relied upon for more contribution this season and freshman Tonya Gonzalez will be a factor early on in her young career.
“There are a lot of question marks, but I’m excited to see how this plays out,” said Dole. “It will be a much different season, but this is what makes a program better.”
The Gilford Golden Eagles will be retooling a bit this season with the loss of 1,000 point scorer Shelby Cole.
Head coach Rick Forge has two returning starters in Allison Carr and Maura Hughes who will be relied upon to do a bulk of the scoring for Gilford.
Carr was dynamic at all three levels last season and has a great pull-up mid-range jumpshot that when she is clicking is tough to stop.
Vanessa Flanders, Lindsey Sanderson, and Tea Rodney, who can really shoot the ball, will be stepping into bigger roles this year without Cole on the floor for the Golden Eagles.
“There are a lot of new faces in the program, but we are excited about what we have,” said Forge.
Gilford will play a Lakes Region schedule that features the likes of Belmont, Prospect Mountain, and Inter-Lakes. Division II foes Laconia, Kennett, and Plymouth will all be great tests on the schedule for the Golden Eagles to round out their 12-game schedule.
“We are hoping to play some games in this season of uncertainty,” said Forge. “It already has been and will continue to be different. At this point, any game or practice we can have for the players is a plus.”
Pre-Season Player of the Year
Elizabeth Gonyea of Conant
Pre-Season First Team All-State
Elizabeth Gonyea of Conant
Avery Stewart of Fall Mountain
Sophie Bardis of Fall Mountain
Tori Allen of Campbell
Paulina Huckins of Newfound
Pre-Season Second Team All-State
Emma Tenters of Conant
Tegan Kirby of Conant
Maurgan McGrath of Hopkinton
Molina Bohlmann of Newfound
Grace LeClair of Monadnock
Players to watch: Caroline Camp of Kearsarge, Makenna Grillone of Fall Mountain, Morgan Beauregard of Fall Mountain, Riley Gamache of Campbell, Lily Kenison of White Mountains, Grace Furze of Monadnock, Zahna Rice of Stevens, Hannah Capsalis of Prospect Mountain, Morgan Hall of Belmont, Kathryn LaCasse of Raymond, Kally Murdough of Hopkinton, Sarah Leahy of St. Thomas Aquinas, Makenna Balderrama of Berlin, Allison Carr of Gilford
Coming tomorrow: Division IV Boys
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