Trying to game plan against the Bedford High girls’ basketball team is tricky.
Most teams riding a 38-game win streak have a star player or two on whom an opposing defense might focus. But how do you defend against such a team when it puts up 61 points per game without a single player averaging double digits?
That’s what fourth-ranked Nashua High North is trying to figure out as it prepares for Thursday night’s snow-postponed NHIAA Division I girls’ semifinal against Bedford, the top seed and defending champion.
Bedford is scheduled to tip off against North, a team it beat 65-39 during the regular season, at 6 p.m. in the first half of a doubleheader at Southern New Hampshire University.
Second-seeded Londonderry and No. 3 Pinkerton Academy of Derry are the opponents for the 8 p.m. semifinal, with the winners due to return to the SNHU Fieldhouse for the championship game on Sunday at 6 p.m.North was the last team to beat Bedford ... but that was more than a year ago. And the Bulldogs, coming off a 67-22 victory over Keene in the first round of the tournament and a 54-34 triumph over Trinity of Manchester in the quarterfinals, seem to be only getting better.
In Bedford’s 20 NHIAA games this season, nine different players have filled the role of leading scorer. Rachel Collins’ team-leading average is a relatively modest 9.1 points per game, but five other players average 7.7 points or more.
Even when the Bulldogs racked up a season-high point total in an 82-49 romp over Salem, two players shared top-scorer status, with Bri Purcell and Nikki Tucci contributing 16 points apiece.
According to head coach Sue Thomas, Bedford’s entire 12-player lineup has seen action in all but three games this season, and with such depth, there’s little drop-off when she goes to her bench.
“We don’t have a go-to player; it’s just who’s scoring that night,” she said. “It depends a lot on what defense we see.”
Such adaptability comes not only from depth but from experience, with a lineup led by Collins and fellow seniors McKenzie Brown, Caroline Conrad, Haley Driscoll and Ali Glennon.
“Our five seniors have played together since sixth grade,” said Thomas. “These seniors built the program to what it is today.”
“We’ve played with each other so long, we know where our teammates will be even before they get there,” said Glennon, one of the team’s captains.
That’s true on defense, as well as offense. In fact, according to Glennon, Thomas insists that the Bulldogs focus on stopping their opponents before thinking about putting the ball in the basket.
“She always says defense will win the game and the offense will come along.” Glennon said.
Glennon will continue her career next season as a scholarship player at NCAA Division II St. Anselm College. Collins and Driscoll also entertained scholarship offers before committing to Division III Middlebury College and Colby College, respectively.
But even with such talent and experience moving on after this season, Thomas says the team’s future is bright beyond the 2014 tournament.
“Bedford has a great feeder system,” she said. “They start playing in third grade. The Lurgio Middle School team just won a title, and our JV team had a terrific season.”
Leading rebounder Gabby Hunter will return, as will the starting guard tandem of Purcell and Tucci.
“We’ll still have the best backcourt in the state with Purcell and Tucci,” Thomas said.
Thomas knows being a the top seed means having a target on your back.
“There’s a lot of expectations and pressure,” she said. “There are three (other) great teams left in the tournament. Us being undefeated means nothing to them.”
Thomas cites the unbeaten Manchester Central boys’ team needing double overtime to beat 12th seed Memorial in Monday’s Division I semifinals as an example of a lower-seeded team rising to the occasion in the tournament.
“But no matter what happens this weekend,” she said, “I want my kids to enjoy the experience and appreciate the great things that they’ve already accomplished.”