Boys basketball teams keep eye on playoffs
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Of the four local high school boys basketball teams, three made the postseason last year.
But only one advanced past the first round, something all four hope to do in 2012-13.
Conant and ConVal are returning most of their varsity rosters from a year ago, but the same can not be said for Mascenic and Wilton-Lyndeborough.
There will be two new coaches patrolling the sidelines this season, as Jay Starr takes over the Mascenic program after the last four years as the school’s junior varsity coach, and Ken Garnham will lead WLC after moving up from the middle school level. Conant coach Eric Saucier will be entering his fifth year and ConVal’s Peter Pierce returns for a second season.
The taste from last year’s semifinal loss is still fresh for the Orioles and the players should need little incentive to get back to the Final Four.
“I think they’re hungry,” said Saucier. “I shouldn’t have to motivate them this year.”
Conant is once again loaded with talent and now has the experience of what it takes to make a deep playoff run, something that is expected of them in 2012-13.
“They definitely have the potential,” said Saucier. “It’s going to come down to how we deal with adversity.”
The Orioles won 19 games overall last season and dropped just two. They were the No. 2 seed in the Division III tournament and should once again be among the top teams.
The starting back court of seniors Devin Springfield and Jake Carlson proved to be a viable one-two punch on offense, capable of carrying the scoring load. The duo will once again be the driving force for the Orioles, as they look to return Conant to championship glory for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Both have not only the ability to score, but also handle the ball and play defense. And defense is a big thing for Saucier and something the players take great pride in.
Three juniors will move into the starting lineup after gaining valuable varsity experience coming off the bench last year. All three can handle the ball, shoot from three-point range and give Conant athleticism on the break.
“It’s nice that all five starters have varsity experience,” said Saucier. “All the experience they got last year will be huge this year.”
Robert O’Brien and Kyle Carland were quality scoring options and really helped carry the offense when the starters came out of the game. Eli Hodgson can play down low, but also has no problem stepping outside to knock down a shot.
Junior Nick Panagiotes will serve as the first player off the bench, while junior Anthony Gonsalves will provide some much-needed size.
“We’re going to have a lot of mismatches where we have to guard big guys, but it will be the same on the other end,” said Saucier.
The Cougars improved to five wins last season in Pierce’s first year at the helm.
And with a good foundation in place, Pierce will be looking for more improvement in 2012-13.
It may not come in the win column, but Pierce expects his group to be able to play better against some of the upper-echelon Division II teams.
“We need to be able to compete with the really good teams,” said Pierce. “We need to be able to survive into the second half against some of the better teams.”
ConVal graduated just two players from last year’s team and will have a good core entering the season opener on Dec. 14.
“We’re feeling pretty good about where we are,” Pierce said.
The Cougars took a number of big steps forward last year and Pierce likes what he has seen so far in preseason camp. It is still early, but the program is going in the right direction.
“It’s slow, but it’s moving,” Pierce said. “I feel like we’re picking up where we left off, but there’s a lot of work to do.”
ConVal has a big group of seniors that will carry them through the season.
Guard Harrison LeFlem brings the most experience to the roster, having played at the varsity level for almost his entire high school career. He really blossomed in Pierce’s system last year and should only continue to get better.
Taylor Doyle will be the force down low, along with junior Kyle Murray.
Seniors Andy Boule and Bobby Crowley played really well at times last year and should continue to provide quality minutes. Seniors Barrett Proctor and Andy Bennett both saw time last year and will likely come off the bench in a reserve role.
It will take some time for this group to reach its potential in a stacked Division II, but by the mid-point of the season the Cougars should show just how far they have come.
“The program overall is better off than it was last year,” said Pierce. “We’re in a much better place starting out than we were.”
It will be a bit of a rebuilding process for Starr as he takes over the program he helped guide to the 1998-99 Class M title as a 1,000-point scorer.
The Vikings qualified for the Division III play-in game last season, but were eliminated in a 14-point loss to Monadnock. It was the third straight season in which Mascenic made the postseason, but it will be tougher to make it four in a row.
“We are definitely trying to set a foundation for the years to come, but what I’ve seen so far, I don’t see why we couldn’t be a part of the playoff mix,” said Starr.
After graduating nine seniors from last year’s five-win team, Starr was left with just a pair of varsity experienced players.
“We’re definitely going to be young,” said Starr. “We’re kind of starting from scratch, but with it being my first year as the varsity coach it’s nice to have younger players.”
Senior Jalen Rines and sophomore Jared Stauffeneker are the only ones who know what it is like to go through a varsity schedule and Starr will lean on them for a lot this season.
“They are really the only two guys that are coming back with varsity experience,” said Starr.
Both can handle the ball, while also give Mascenic a couple legitimate scoring options.
But having coached the junior varsity team for the last four years, Starr is quite familiar and comfortable with the group he is bringing up to fill out the roster.
Sophomore Shane Rautiola will see a significant amount of playing time at the guard position. Senior Nick Baldwin and sophomore Jimmy Thompson will help provide front-court stability.
Starr believes it all starts on the defensive end. It is where he believes the team can be at its best, especially early on.
“I’ve been preaching defense to these guys for the last two weeks,” said Starr.
The Warriors graduated six players from last year’s squad that grabbed the 16th and final playoff spot in the Division IV tournament.
And with just four players back for the 2012-13 season, Garnham will have his work cut out for him.
“We’ve got a very young team,” said Garnham.
Garnham has varsity coaching experience, but has spent the last five years as the WLC middle school boys coach and is stepping into unfamiliar territory at the high school level.
“There’s a lot of question marks that will be answered within the first couple weeks of the season. We’re kind of at an unknown stage,” Garnham said. “We could struggle to start.”
Just like the players, Garnham will be learning the D-IV landscape one game at a time.
“If we can compete and get a couple wins early on, I think the second half of the season we’re going to be tough,” said Garnham.
The Warriors do have some experience coming back. Senior Ethan Howard played a lot of minutes at the guard position and will be counted on to help get the offense going. Senior Cole Letourneau will be the team’s best defender and will also pair with Howard to solidify the back court.
Junior Patrick Martin is likely the team’s most complete player. He can score, rebound and is a strong presence down low. Senior Casey Melrose will also be a part of the front court plan. Juniors Kyle Pratt and Michael Thibault, sophomore Connor Melrose and Duncan Rae and freshman Matt Ducharme will be key contributors along the way.
Garnham wants his team to play tough defense, especially early in the year, to help give the offense a chance to catch up.
“Our trademark is going to be defense,” said Garnham. “If we play good defense, we should be competitive in most games.”