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Conant girls coach wins D-III Coach of Year

  • The No. 1 Conant girls basketball team lost 46-31 to No. 4 White Mountains in the Division III semifinals at Southern New Hampshire University on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    The No. 1 Conant girls basketball team lost 46-31 to No. 4 White Mountains in the Division III semifinals at Southern New Hampshire University on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.
    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The Conant and Mascenic varsity basketball teams played a double header, which also acted as a Hoops for Steve fund-raiser, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

    The Conant and Mascenic varsity basketball teams played a double header, which also acted as a Hoops for Steve fund-raiser, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.

    (Staff photo by Tim Goodwin) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The No. 1 Conant girls basketball team lost 46-31 to No. 4 White Mountains in the Division III semifinals at Southern New Hampshire University on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.<br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant and Mascenic varsity basketball teams played a double header, which also acted as a Hoops for Steve fund-raiser, on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

Conant girls basketball coach Nick Hill has accomplished a lot in his eight years on the job.

Hill has guided the Orioles to a pair of state championships, another title game appearance and playoff spots in all eight of his seasons at the helm. Hill has coached a three-time player of the year in 2011 graduate Brooke Springfield — who is also the all-time leading scorer in Conant history — numerous all-state selections and this year Springfield’s younger sister, Madison, who is already receiving a lot of attention from college programs.

But one thing that had eluded Hill’s list of achievements was the top coaching honor in the state.

That is until now. After guiding Conant to the No. 1 seed in Division III and a trip to the semifinals, Hill was named the 2012-13 D-III Coach of the Year.

“It came as a shock, but I’m also very gratified,” said Hill.

And Hill quickly gave credit to his players.

“They are a huge part of this award,” said Hill. “I told my wife [Laura] the other day that I don’t get this award without them.”

The Orioles were 17-1 in the regular season and 19-2 overall, including the playoffs. Conant also won the Keene State Holiday Tournament title, defeating D-IV semifinalist Hinsdale, which went undefeated in the regular season, and a Division I playoff team in Keene.

It was the first top ranking in Hill’s eight years. When Conant won its fourth overall championship in 2008, Hill’s first, his starting five consisted of three seniors and two freshmen, but they went 19-3 overall and finished as the No. 2 seed.

Two years later, Hill had the Orioles back in the title game, this time as an eighth seed, and he won his second career championship in as many tries. Just 12 months after that, Hill once again guided Conant to the D-III finals, but fell short in a bid for a third title in four years.

“In my eight years I’ve had some really good teams, but none have been the No. 1 seed and that’s a big accomplishment for our program,” said Hill.

The 2011-12 season was a tough one, as the Orioles finished below .500 and were knocked out in the first round of the tournament as the 12th seed for the first time since 2007.

But with only eight players in the program this year, Hill brought Conant back to where the standard had been set.

“Going from a 12th seed to a No. 1 seed I thought in some ways was a major accomplishment,” said Hill.

Despite no junior varsity team and the inability to practice 5-on-5 without the use of middle school players or managers, Hill made it work. He scrimmaged against the JV boys team and would do just about anything he could to get his team ready.

“We made it work,” said Hill. “The situation we had was not ideal with eight girls and no JV team.”

And with only eight players, a significant injury or two could have quickly derailed the season, but the Orioles were able to stay healthy. There was also the task of changing up the pregame routine, since there was no JV game to watch.

“We just had to adapt,” said Hill. “Our first game I didn’t know how we would play because we had never really been in that situation. We had to come up with a whole new routine.”

Yet it did not seem to cause any distractions. Conant got right into mid-season form with an opening night 55-37 win over Campbell, a program that had played in five straight championship games. It was the first of nine straight wins to begin the season, which included a 10-point victory over previously undefeated Bishop Brady and Hill’s first ever win at Campbell.

“There were a lot of firsts this year,” said Hill.

The only regular season loss came on Jan. 18 at eventual champion Bow by just three.

But it didn’t take long to get back on track. The Orioles won their final eight regular season games, seven by double digits, to finish undefeated at home and one of two teams at 17-1.

Conant won the tiebreaker with Bow for the No. 1 seed due to an out of conference win. The Orioles survived a scare in the first round against Monadnock and then defended their home court versus No. 9 Newfound in the quarterfinals to set up a Final Four meeting with White Mountains, the defending D-III champions.

But Conant never really found its groove, scoring a season low 31 points to fall one win short of the title game.

For the season, the Orioles averaged 48.1 points per game, while shooting 34 percent from the floor. They also accounted for 33 rebounds, 9.5 assists and nine steals, holding opponents to 33.5 points per game. Conant held nine teams to 30 points or fewer.

Over his eight years, Hill owns a 114-49 record, an average of 14 wins per season. He has two state titles and two holiday tournament titles. His first season followed Conant’s 2005-06 championship run and finished as the 16th seed.

“Three out of my eight years we’ve been in the championship game and two other years we went to the semis,” said Hill.

Hill will also coach the Division III senior game team next weekend against the top seniors from D-IV.

Not a bad run for a first-time varsity head coach.

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