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John Habib's City Sports: Talent galore on winter teams
"There's no clear-cut favorite this year in Division I, just a lot of parity," Croasdale said. "The three Manchester teams are all capable of reaching the final four, and right now I give Trinity a slight edge over Memorial and Central."
"Cam Brown and Mitch Myers really played well in the tournament," Croasdale said of two of Merrick's teammates. "Trinity has three good skating lines and four good defensemen who play strong in front of (freshman goalie Curtis) Wirbal. Taking nothing away from Merrick, my MVP vote would have gone to Wirbal. He really stood out, especially in the finals. He didn't play like a freshman."
Last year Memorial and Central reached the state final, won by the Crusaders, 3-2 in overtime. This season, Croasdale doesn't think either team has the firepower to get that far.
Memorial lost nine players to graduation from its championship squad. Defenseman Bryan Syrene, now a member of the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, and forward Brendan Sullivan, who transferred to Hebron Academy in Maine, both decided not to return for their senior season.
"I don't understand why that program isn't in Division I," he said. "They have 15 seniors on the roster, including Chris Viola, who is the best all-around player in the state. I mean it. He's got size, skill and ice awareness — the total package. There's no question Bedford is the clear-cut favorite to win Division II this season. They were the most impressive and deepest team I saw in the tournament all week."
THERE'S NO shortage of talent in Manchester girls' basketball.
"Every team in the city has at least one very good player who impacts a game," said Manchester Central coach Mike Wenners.
In the Queen City holiday tournament hosted by the Little Green, Central's Natasha Velez — a 5-foot, 10-inch junior forward — proved to be a tough defender.
Wenners also lauded Manchester West's Alex Ricard, a 6-foot junior center.
Two other city players to watch this season are sophomore guard Amanda Torres of Trinity and Makenah Grisson of Memorial.
Grisson, a junior forward, has been described by some coaches as a miniature version of former Memorial standout Amra Elezovic, now a sophomore guard at Southern New Hampshire University.
TWO take-aways from the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament:
1. Central junior guard Brett Hanson has emerged as an offensive weapon for head coach Doc Wheeler's squad. As evidenced by his career-high 38 points against a talented Trinity team in a 66-55 win, teams across the state are going to pay the price if they try to play man-to-man defense against him.
"From the basketball shape level he needs to be in, he's still two weeks away," said Keefe. "Now for any high school player coming off the type of injury he had, it's quite normal to favor it. When he jumps and comes down, we can still see he puts 70 percent of his weight on his good ankle and 30 percent on the other. The doctors, trainers and my coaches have all told him his ankle has fully healed, but he's still battling it psychologically. He's not fully trusting it yet. Once he gets there, and he will at some point this season, he'll definitely return as a stronger and better player."
"City Sports" is published Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email staff reporter John Habib at email@example.com.