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Joe Duball's H.S. Basketball: Bedford girls have 'desire to win'

January 17. 2018 11:41PM
Bedford's girls' basketball coach Sue Thomas, shown during Tuesday's showdown with Bishop Guertin of Nashua, says this year's Bulldogs seem driven to overcome the Cardinals and capture the Division I championship. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

Bishop Guertin coach Brad Kreick and his team fell at Bedford High School on Tuesday night, but the defending champions will still likely have something to say about the Division I title this year. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

Tuesday night marked the best measuring stick yet for the Bedford High girls’ basketball team. And no one should be fooled by Bishop Guertin of Nashua’s record, which is 5-4 after the Bulldogs dropped the Cardinals 48-43.

No team in New Hampshire had beaten either BG or Bedford, the two-time defending Division I champion and runner-up, prior to their meeting. The fact that undefeated Bedford (8-0) took care of business on Tuesday is a big deal toward finally exorcising recent demons in the playoffs, where it’s conceivable that Bedford and BG could be on the same side of the bracket given BG’s struggles against out-of-state teams it opted to schedule.

Bedford coach Sue Thomas knows her team won’t overstate a win in January, but the triumph further exemplified Thomas’ ink-ling of something special brewing.

“I love all the groups that I’ve coached. There’s just something about this group of 12 that I haven’t had before and it comes right from them,” Thomas said. “There is just that desire to win. The seniors have been to the state championship for two years … and as a whole they just have a collective drive.”

Tuesday offered a few telling signs that the Bulldogs are primed to stand tall in March if things remain status quo. The first of those indications came on the scoresheet. Alexa Dyer led the charge with 13 points, which doesn’t seem all that inspiring unless you see that eight of the 10 Bulldogs who played scored. Four of those players, including Dyer, posted seven points or more.

“If you look at the stats and shooting averages, I have five or six people scoring within a point of each other,” Thomas said. “It’s never one person. Clare Driscoll had 16 last week against Salem and Aly Fillion had 24 in a game. We usually don’t go that high though with 10 or 12 points being our high scorer. It’s really just who is hot that night.”

Worth noting is the fact that Fillion, regarded by Thomas as the purest shooter in the league and maybe the state, did not suit up on Tuesday. Winning without the senior was telling, but what spoke volumes was how Alli Morgan stepped in admirably with efficient scoring (eight points) and great facilitation of the offense.

Morgan, Dyer and Lizzy Stevenson were additions to the starting lineup on Tuesday. The ability to dip into the bench is a luxury Thomas continues to enjoy.

Karina Schappler and Sadie MacIver may have each played a minute tonight, but both scored and got steals,” Thomas said. “(Our bench) is making an impact and that’s all I want. Just go out there and do something.”

With strengths showing through left and right, Bedford’s greatest asset to this point may be its size. Driscoll (6-foot-1), Kendi Barnard (6 feet) and Amanda Jonas (6 feet) give the Bulldogs a trio of imposing presences in the post, which showed against BG. The Cardinals were either denied a clean look while driving to the hoop or simply steered clear of Bedford’s forwards protecting the hoop.

Thomas praised the strides and hard work by each of the forwards while crediting their defensive presence as a big part of Tuesday’s win.

“Bedford usually doesn’t have height and having that is why we went to a zone defense,” Thomas said. “They played the back line of the 2-3 set and the middle line of the 1-3-1. We couldn’t have gone with the same lineup playing man-to-man because (BG) is much quicker. We probably would’ve only had one in at a time that way, so it just worked out.”

Bedford’s road to remaining unbeaten smooths out in the coming weeks. The next six games for the Bulldogs feature just one game against a team with a winning record while the combined record of those teams through Tuesday is 17-26.

The lighter schedule precedes an end-of-the-season gauntlet that will pit Bedford against contenders Manchester Memorial (6-0), Pinkerton (4-1) and Winnacunnet (6-1).

“Nothing about that is going to be a cakewalk,” Thomas said. “There’s that and then teams that tend to bring their best against us. Every game has been physical and we’ve had to find a rhythm. … But ending the season tough is good I think.”

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MANY NHIAA teams are just now finding their identities as we are halfway, or in some cases over halfway, through the regular season. The Monadnock of Swanzey girls, the defending Division III champions, have been a well-oiled machine since the start.

Of last year’s four girls’ state title teams, the 10-0 Huskies are arguably the most well-positioned to repeat. Good feelings from last year’s title have have propelled Monadnock, but the realization the team could make another run began before a game was played this season.

“If you had asked me in the weeks or months after the championship game, I think I would’ve been surprised,” said Monadnock coach Curt Dutilley of his team’s start following the graduation of five core seniors. “If you asked me after the summer then I would’ve said otherwise. … There was a particular standard set for what could and can be done. The group we have just really raised the level of work ethic over the summer. The coaching staff just kept saying we were having a better summer than last year.”

Dutilley cited a team camp at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., as a big plus for the Huskies. The camp pitted Monadnock against nationwide talent, including Champlain Valley of Vermont, which has won five consecutive state titles and had a 95-game win streak.

Monadnock’s realization wasn’t limited to its mindset and work ethic. The graduations the team endured called for a change in style, which proved to be an easier task than initially thought.

“We’re much faster this year, so we’re trying to push the ball up the floor much faster,” Dutilley said. “We play a faster game and do it with multiple defenses now. We still half-court trap but we have the ability to go full-court man-to-man or trap, both things we couldn’t do last year. We were trying to protect our forwards and make sure we didn’t run them right out of the game.”

The up-tempo offense Monadnock rolls out these days, which effectively works inside and beyond the arc, is fueled by an eight-player rotation that Dutilley says is capable of picking up the scoring slack for one another on any given night. The Huskies’ interchangeable pieces are not limited to the scorer’s sheet, though.

“You could call it adaptability of flexibility,” said Dutilley, noting an emphasis on fewer turnovers and drawing the most high-quality shots they can get. “We’ve talked all along about keeping the offensive system pretty simple while asking players to play multiple positions. … We’re really not sure who’s going to start (out of the eight-player rotation) until we talk about it the day before a game or on game day.

“We can put a sizable, good rebounding lineup in or we can put out a super fast lineup. Whatever we have to do to match up with teams.”

Committing to flexibility was spurred by Gwen Simpson’s move from forward to point guard for the first month of the season while starting guard Bri Broderick recovered from an ankle injury suffered during field hockey season. The Huskies reaped the benefits of the imperfect situation and are now benefitting with Broderick back in the fold. Dutilley admitted his team’s record did not reflect its best play, but he said last Friday’s 77-45 win over Winnisquam of Tilton with all hands on deck looked closer the product he’s expected.

As far as contributors go for Monadnock, Caitlyn Boucher tops the roster in terms of production and talent after what Dutilley deemed an “explosion” in the junior’s development in the offseason.

“I think she’s one of the top guards in the state, but that’s obviously a biased look,” Dutilley said. Boucher scored in bunches early, dropping 18 and 24 points in Monadnock’s first two games of the season, before scoring less and distributing more of late. “She’s so good with both hands and such a good passer. She made a 50-foot (on Friday) bounce pass through a defender to Gwen Simpson cutting in for a layup, and it was one of the most beautiful passes I’ve seen in a long time.

“We don’t have to rely on outside shooting when we have a point guard that can create easy shots for others.”

Simpson and Broderick are other key players as Simpson offers great basketball instincts while Broderick’s elite speed elevates her game. Junior Colby Sanders (5-foot-11) has been a surprise as a budding talent in the post while guard Abi May and forward Baylee Smith continue to focus and thrive with their designated roles.

As a title game rematch with Conant of Jaffrey looms on Tuesday, all other tests have been passed by the Huskies. The perfection hasn’t left Dutilley’s club thinking their immune to being nipped though.

“No one is talking about being undefeated or any kinds of streaks. They’re taking things one game at a time,” Dutilley said. “There’s no worry about losing a game because they were on a team last year or saw teammates that lost twice last year and still won the title. There’s a high level of confidence here and we say this all the time: We want to play good in January and then great in February, when your best basketball matters.”

High School Basketball appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball, e-mail