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January 08. 2013 8:21PM

NHIAA Basketball: Groveton girls on a mission

NORTHUMBERLAND - In the past, many of the Groveton girls' Division IV state championship basketball teams knew, from the first game, that they were the division favorite. They knew they would be chased throughout the season.

Those Eagles teams won nine state titles since 1999 and have appeared in the D-IV championship game in six of the past seven years, winning four times.

But this season, things are a little bit different.

"This year we have things to prove," said coach Tim Haskins. "We will be tested night in and night out."

Playing on its home court Tuesday, Groveton, which has a total enrollment of 150 students, passed its latest test, defeating visiting North Country foe Gorham, 49-20. The Eagles controlled play from the opening tip and led 21-12 at the half.

Eliminating any hopes of a Huskies rally, Groveton outpointed its rival, 14-4, through the third period.

Leading Groveton was Makenna Burke, who scored 13 points, pulled down nine rebounds and had eight steals. Brooke Nadeau attempted to counter for Gorham with 11 points.

The victory improved Groveton to 8-0 midway through the season and leaves it tied with Hinsdale, who ousted the Eagles in tournament quarterfinal round play a year ago, for the top spot in the division.

"I was happy with the composure of the team tonight," said Haskins. "Our second-half pressure left Gorham in a number of traps, and Alicia Lesperance came off the bench to score eight points."

Burke was the team's leading scorer last season and will most likely be the Eagles top gun this year as well. She played on the Eagles championship team in 2009 as an eighth grader and was a state champion in both 2010 and 2011.

"Makenna wants to get back to Plymouth this year and go out as a champion," said Haskins. "She has the chance to reach 1,000 points in her career."

She will have to work for those needed points, though, as Groveton enters the toughest part of its schedule next week, facing White Mountains of Whitefield, Littleton and Colebrook twice each as tournament seedings are decided.

"We feel we're better than the competition, but we're all close and anything can happen," Haskins admitted. "After Makenna, it's been a different player contributing each night. That's a good thing, because when teams key on Makenna, we have others who can play and play well."

Talia Bedell and Jena Wheelock are two of those players.

Bedell is the Eagles' point guard and has a great deal of playoff experience. A three-year starter, she is an excellent ballhandler and defensive player. Wheelock provides the team with dangerous perimeter offense.

Haskins is assisted by Alan Wheelock whose junior varsity team is also unbeaten.

"Our feeder system has been good with Alan and the consistency he provides," said the Eagles' coach. "He does a great job of preparing the kids year after year."

Currently there are two seventh graders on the Groveton JV team, gleaning valuable playing experience. That maturing youth seems to be the secret to Groveton's success. When the Eagles drive to Plymouth during tournament time, everyone is ready to play.

Against Hinsdale last year, it was injury that shook Groveton from the playoffs. This season, the Pacers own the experience, returning their entire team from 2012.

"It would be nice to have a second crack at them," said Haskins. "We've got to play through a couple of injuries, and grades are closing, so we want everyone eligible to play."

The 2013 Eagles have something to prove.

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