Bishop Guertin's Meghan Green, left, is guarded by Manchester Memorial's Amela Imamovic during the first half of their game at Memorial High School Tuesday evening. (Union Leader Photo/ Mark Bolton)
Girls' basketball preview: Defending champ Bishop Guertin returns all starters
Defending champion Bishop Guertin of Nashua enters the Division I girls' basketball season as the preseason favorite - and there's no sense in making a case for another team.
The Cardinals return five starters, including Boston University-bound Meghan Green and junior point guard Jamie Sherburne, who has received scholarship offers from Niagara University and Southern New Hampshire University. Seniors Madison Gibbs and Nikki Hayner, along with junior Gigi Piercy and sophomore Megan Kerutis, are all part of a powerhouse that has taken the Granite State by storm.
Second-year head coach Scott Hazelton, whose team ended Winnacunnet of Hampton's winning streak at 84 games last season, has another wave of talented players coming off the bench for a fullcourt run-and-gun style. BG's summer team defeated some of the top squads from Massachusetts, including Central Catholic. The Cardinals won the school's first girls' basketball title last season and feel as if they're only getting started.
"We still have a lot of work to do. We have big expectations after winning the championship, and we can't be thinking about last year. There are no freebees," Hazelton said.
Londonderry, led by junior sensation Aliza Simpson, will be ready if the Cards slip up. The Lancers challenged BG in the 2012 final before losing, 46-43. Simpson has received scholarship offers from the University of New Hampshire, SNHU and Holy Cross. Legendary coach John Fagula also welcomes back returning starters Katherine Dzenis, Jamie King and Casey Evans-Driscoll.
Bedford, which moved up to Division I, gets an immediate test with games against Central, Londonderry and BG to start the season. The Bulldogs have enough size and speed to make a serious impression. Junior forwards Haley Driscoll, Ali Glennon and McKenzie Brown (6-foot-1) lead Bedford's frontcourt, which dominated the Nashua Community College Girls Summer League. Bedford beat Alvirne of Hudson to win the summer title.
Division I coaches have mentioned Pinkerton of Derry, Nashua North, Manchester Memorial and Alvirne of Hudson as some of the most dangerous teams. Never count out Winnacunnet. Cassie Turcotte is the new head coach, replacing legend Ed Beattie, who guided the Warriors for 31 seasons. Cameron Fisk takes over as Keene head coach. Memorial coach Jack Quirk has switched roles to coach the Memorial boys' team.
Souhegan of Amherst, winner of 40 games and two titles over the past two seasons, is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, one of their best players from last season, Mickenzie Larivee, is only a junior. Larivee showed an array of talent the 2012 postseason and scored 16 points as Souhegan dominated Kearsarge of North Sutton in the championship, 53-27.
Seven or eight teams have the talent and experience to win the championship, especially Lebanon. Senior guards Moriah Morton and Emily Kehoe both return for Lebanon, which has settled for three runner-up plaques since 2008.
"We have a solid team. Just like any year, we need to stay healthy and develop the bench," Lebanon coach Tim Kehoe said.
The lead pack of teams will include Merrimack Valley of Penacook, Windham, Goffstown, Coe-Brown of Northwood, Portsmouth and Hanover. MV and Windham each were 15-game winners last season.
Twenty-seven teams will battle for 16 playoff spots in this loaded division. Defending champion White Mountains of Whitefield, led by seniors guard Chelsea Payer and Payton Curtis, is ready for the grind. Payer, perhaps the best defensive player in the division, helped limit Bow to 29 points in the 2012 semifinals. Olivia Conway and Katie Woods also return for the Spartans, who pulled off a 56-51 victory against Campbell of Litchfield in last season's final.
"It's going to be an interesting year. When you have 27 teams in the division, you could have a winning record and not earn a home playoff game in the first round," White Mountains coach Gary Jenness said.
Bow's Lindsey Nerbonne, a four-year starter, gets one more crack at leading the Falcons to a championship. Bow went 19-2 last season and returns with a deep roster. Look for six-footer Maddie Horner to start the fastbreak with her rebounding, while guards Kirsten Bresson, Dina Tischofer and others push the tempo. Nerbonne will play scholarship field hockey at Syracuse next fall.
Campbell graduated Player of the Year Becca Arnone and fellow All-Stater Elizabeth Pettis, but the team is in good hands, thanks to sophomore guard Hannah Neild. First Team All-Stater Rachel Hill returns for Somersworth. Amber Plummer from Newfound of Bristol and Bekah Adams of Pittsfield made a big impression in the division last season. Bishop Brady of Concord, Laconia and Kearsarge all moved to Division III this season.
Defending champion Littleton must rebuild after graduating four starters, but the Crusaders still have plenty of weapons, including senior Dori Horne and junior Bianca Verret. Eight players logged significant playing last season. Littleton remains the team to beat, and Groveton is poised to return to the championship for the 12th time in 15 years.
Senior forward Makenna Burke, an excellent post player and rebounder, is among three starters returning for Groveton. Colebrook, led by guard Josee Brunault, will be among the northern teams in the mix.
"The division is more evenly balanced than we've seen it in a long time," Groveton coach Tim Haskins said.
The most dangerous players include Hannah Champagne of Lisbon, Skylar Bonnette of Hinsdale, Erica Waterman of Sunapee and Hannah Comeau of Derryfield.