Local girls hoop teams start planning for next year

Telegraph file photo by TOM KING Merrimack's Theresa Twardosky, going up for a hoop vs. Pinkerton, should be part of a strong returning group for Merrimack next season.

It’s never too early when it comes to the ever competitive New Hampshire high school girls basketball field.

A tweet went out from the Manchester Memorial girls basketball program late Tuesday morning that stated “Only five days into the offseason and already five teams have committed to our third annual Summer League.”

Among those were locals Alvirne and Nashua North. As Titans coach Christina Bean told The Telegraph, “I’m very excited to see the work the girls put in during the off season and where that puts us at the start of next year.”

Thus the off-season planning has begun. Even just a half hour after his team won its fourth consecutive Division I title, Bishop Guertin coach Brad Kreick was asked about next year – not only would his team, made up nearly entirely of underclassmen, would stay together but also who else would challenge.

And that’s the question in Division I: If the Cardinals stay together, will anyone post a challenge? The one thing that could give Guertin trouble – size – is graduating, in Pinkerton’s Miss N.H. Basketball Brooke Kane and Portsmouth’s Abbe Laurence.

Throughout the area and all four Divisions, besides Guertin only Hollis Brookline in Division II won double figures in regular season games. Will that improve next year? There are so many variables, but here’s an early glance:

DIVISION I

First question: Is there anyone out there who can challenge the Cardinals?

“Memorial graduates one kid, Pinkerton’s always deep, Bedford’s got a bunch of kids coming back, Salem’s got a bunch of kids coming back,” Guertin coach Brad Kreick said. “Look I think (Portsmouth) are going to be tough again next year. … I think there’s a half a doezen teams where you say we have to play well to beat those teams.”

Many eyes will be on Bedford, which has always been a hurdle the Cardinals have had to jump over for a championship before this year.

The Bulldogs had a young team this year and their season was compounded by the turmoil surrounding the controversial dismassal of head coach Sue Thomas. Yet they went 15-3 in the regular season before falling victim to the Clippers in the semifinals. The ‘Dogs will have a possible seven seniors next winter and that could elevate them back to better post-season status. Memorial also loses just one senior, and top player Lyric Grumblatt will return.

But all the locals in Division I will push to improve. Nashua has struggled in recent years, two straight seasons in which both North and South were below .500, and the fandom is likely starting to get restless. What’s ahead?

“Next year will feel a bit like starting new and rebuilding,” said Bean, whose team won a couple games late to finish 5-13 and make the tournament when it looked for while that it would be on the outside looking in. As Bean admitted, “We didn’t have the year we were hoping or expecting, but the girls continued to push.” They clearly expected more with seven seniors; that’s why next year may be a rebuild centered around juniors-to-be Kaitlyn Laurendi and Lily Brooks and senior-to-be Bianca Gershgorin. A player to watch may be current 5-10 freshman Olivia Mazerolle.

South went through the growing pains of getting used to a new coach, Doug Booth and finished 6-12 but like North did make the tournament. Of the top nine in Booth’s rotation, only two – Jasmine Sylvester and Kendall Bush – were seniors. That’s why he says “The promising thing for our future is that we are relatively young with experience.” Booth, who applauded the team for its defensive improvement, looks for seniors-to-be Kirsten McIntire and Catherine Covert to set the tone. They may be tough inside with improvement from junior-to-be Iruka Obinelo to team with McIntire.

The second best Division I local again next year may be Merrimack. Coach Courtney Cheetham’s team has lost in the tournament four straight years to teams that made the finals, so eventually you would think the Tomahawks will knock that door down. Why not next year, with 11 of 12 back, including All-State sophomore guard Theresa Twardosky? Plus the ‘Hawks won the Division I Junior Varsity Tournament. The ‘Hawks had a high tryout number and Cheetham says “We expect those numbers to rise for next season.”

An intereting team may be Alvirne. The Broncos were in the semis just two years ago but lost the farm and are slowly building back under coach Chris Cheetham. “Tough season for Alvirne, but we will be back next year,” Cheetham said. And the roster says just that, as they Broncos lose just one senior and everyone else should return. They have some athleticism and size (three 5-10 players this year, including Sarah Ruigrok) so expect improvement from their 4-14 mark.

Still, who challenges BG? “I wouldn’t be surprised if they make it five in a row,” Courtney Cheetham said, “but I do think there will be teams that give them some competition.”

DIVISION II

A year after winning the title, Hollis Brookline didn’t make it past the quarters this year but that may have had more to do with the draw – a tough quarterfinal opponent in eventual champion Hanover on the road – than anything else.

Next season? All-State point guard Christina Balsamo will be a senior, and if her game develops even further, the Cavs will be a factor. When she gets going so does her team. “You got it,” HB coach Bob Murphy said after the team’s tourney prelim win. “She smart, but she’s also quick, she knows the game of basketball, she’s really fun to watch and she’s great to have as a point guard. She handles the ball, distributes the ball. … She makes everybody else look good. She really does.”

HB will miss graduating center Elizabeth Atkinson and guard Brodie Kelley, but if other regulars like Elizabeth Bonnette and Amanda Goclowski can take things to a senior level, watch out.

Problem is, title winner Hanover loses just three seniors and runnerup Kennett four, plus 17-1 Lebanon two. The competition in Division II at the top has gotten tougher (top five teams a combined 82-9 regular season).

The other local teams Milford and Souhegan, both 3-15, may find it tough to compete. Milford is struggling with numbers – not enough for a JV team – but they lose just two seniors. Souhegan went through the growing pains of losing eight seniors from last season, so expect a step forward.

DIVISIONS III AND IV

Keep an eye on Campbell, which has had a couple of down years – compared to past seasons – but improve enough this year to go 8-10 and make the tourney. The Cougars lose just one senior (Meghan Gibbons) and had a taleted sophomore class paced by Tori Allen and Karleigh Schultz.

“We had two goals this year: win more games than last year (six) and make the playoffs,” coach Drew Gora said, “and we achieved both of those goals.”

Now the next step is to try to win a tourney game; tough when programs like Conant, Monadnock and Fall Mountain never let up.

Wilton-Lyndeborough is also trying to climb its way out of a down period in Division IV. The Warriors went 3-15 (just four wins last two years) but have been very underclassmen-laden. Once the numbers get better, and the players get older, the wins will increase.