Boys high school basketball preview

Orioles have the drive and talent to repeat as DIII champs

Plus, a look at WLC, ConVal and Mascenic's boys teams

  • Conant’s returning senior starters Eli Hodgson, Kyle Carland and Robert O’Brien will lead the Orioles this season in their quest for a second straight title. “You’re coming into our gym or we’re going into your gym, you better hope to God you have the best game of your life,” Carland said.
  • Senior Jordan Moore will run the show for the Cougars this season.<br/>
  • Jared Stauffeneker is a scoring machine for the Mascenic Vikings.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • Kyle Pratt and the Warriors need to step up this season to get into the playoffs.<br/>

Conant: Back to back?

The Conant boys basketball team has been a machine for the better part of the past 15 years. The Orioles reeled off back-to-back championships in 2001-02 and then five straight from 2006-10, driven all the while by a year-round dedication to basketball and a strong sense of tradition. Conant churns out young players year after year who are capable of taking the reins and filling the roles vacated by the graduating seniors. This year, the Orioles will lean on three returning senior starters to step up and take those leadership roles, with hopes of returning to the championship game. Eli Hodgson, Kyle Carland and Robert O’Brien were all crucial to last year’s title run, which culminated with a 66-46 victory over Campbell. If those senior leaders have their way, that game is just the beginning of another impressive string of titles.
“Coach always says the only thing harder than winning a championship is to repeat,” O’Brien said, “because everybody is looking to knock you off. Every time a team comes in here it’s their biggest game of the season, whether it’s Hillsboro or Campbell or whoever it is.”
Indeed, DIII programs around the state must have games against head coach Eric Saucier’s Conant team circled on their calendars. When you come at the king, you best not miss, and the Orioles know they are in every opponent’s crosshairs.
“You’re coming into our gym or we’re going into your gym, you better hope to God you have the best game of your life,” Carland said, “because we’re not going to slow up for anybody. We’re not going to hold back or anything. We’re going to keep on running and playing defense.”
Defense, stamina and speed are the keys to success year in and year out for the Orioles, and they’ll be doubly important this year; the Orioles counted on 1,000-point scorer Devin Springfield for their offense last year, and in his stead, they’ll need to keep their opponents off the scoreboard while spreading the ball around on offense.
“The good news is that we know everybody in our starting lineup and deep into our bench can put the ball in the basket,” Hodgson said, “so this year I think we’re going to see a lot more spread through the scoring than we have in the past. (Saucier) knows that every single game we should be able to hold a team to under 40 points, and if we do that, we’re going to win just because of how much firepower we have on offense.”
Last year’s team lost only once, dropping a regular-season matchup to Campbell. But even after winning the rematch and then beating the Cougars again in the title game, the Orioles are still sore about that one blemish.
“What happened last year was we got a little too conceited instead of just confident,” Hodgson said. “We’re always confident in our game, but we got to a point where we were playing with too much swagger. This year, I think we’re not going to let that get to our heads again, because last year we ended up losing to Campbell because of it, and that was a wakeup call for us. As leaders, we need to step up so that doesn’t happen again this year, because I think we have something special and we don’t need to lose a game like that to realize what our potential is.”
The sky’s the limit for Conant this year behind their three senior co-captains. Carland is a shutdown defender who thrives on the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player. O’Brien is a high-energy guard who can defend the ball, disrupt passing lanes and throw down with ease in transition. Hodgson, a solid rebounder as a starter in his junior year, has gotten taller, stronger and smarter and will be an imposing presence in the post on both ends of the floor.
The returning starters will be joined by a bevy of Orioles who saw significant court time last season. Senior guard Nick Panagiotes will step into a starting role from his spot as sixth man last year. Sophomore guard Josh DeGrenier will also start for Conant. First off the bench for the Orioles will be junior guard/forward Nathan Wheeler and sophomore forward CJ Bilodeau. Seniors Anthony Gonsalves and Dakota Chamberlin and sophomores Kyle Dupuis and Simeon Hodgson will also compete for playing time.
Ultimately, it will come down to Hodgson, Carland and O’Brien, and they know it.
“We’re setting the tone for everybody else on the team,” Hodgson said. “How this season goes is going to be determined by how well we lead and what kind of example we set for everybody else.”
Conant tips off at Windham on Dec. 13. Their home opener is Dec. 17 vs. Bishop Brady.

ConVal: First-year coach Kevin Proctor looks to return CV to winning ways on the strength of six returning seniors.

Last year’s record: 1-17 (finished out of the playoffs)
Returning impact players: Senior Jordan Moore, senior James Finley, senior Malik Earle, senior Kyle Murray, senior Riordan McCole.
Head coach: Kevin Proctor (first season)

Back in 1995, the last time the ConVal boys team won a state championship, Kevin Proctor was a junior forward contributing valuable minutes. Now, Proctor is the Cougars’ head coach. He inherits a ConVal team that mustered only a single victory last season, albeit against a tough schedule (16 of the Cougars’ 18 opponents made the playoffs).
Proctor will look to turn ConVal’s fortunes around with the help of a strong senior class. Jordan Moore, who started on and off last year, will anchor the point guard position. Moore is explosive off the drive and can spot up as well. He’ll be joined in the backcourt by James Finley, a small, shifty shooting guard adept at creating his own shot. Malik Earle and Riordan McCole will likely fill the forward spots and a bulked-up Kyle Murray is in at center. Nick Phillips should be a strong presence off the bench.
Cougar underclassmen who have the potential to contribute this season include sophomore Adam Lundsted and juniors Will Chambers, Noah Cale and Cory Sarkisian, an undersized but hardworking PF that Proctor joked was “like the homeschooled Charles Barkley.” With any luck, the rest of the Cougars will play like it’s 1995, too.
First game: Dec. 13 at Windham.
Home opener: Dec. 17 vs. Bishop Brady.

Mascenic: Stauffeneker and company must step up

Last year’s record: 6-12 (finished out of playoffs)
Returning impact players: Junior Jared Stauffeneker, senior Matt Cyr, junior Shane Rautiola, senior Jimmy Thompson, sophomore Roman Ojala.
Head coach: Jay Starr

As Jared Stauffeneker goes, so go the Vikings. The wiry redhead was the talk of the town last year as he paced Mascenic with his 21.3 points per game. No one will soon forget his 57-point outburst against Monadnock, which set a Mascenic school record. Yet, for all Stauffeneker’s success, the Vikings found themselves on the wrong end of a tiebreaker for the last spot in the playoffs with their 6-12 record last season. Head coach Jay Starr and the Vikings should improve on that and bump themselves up to double digits in the win column to leave no doubt that they are a playoff team.
Mascenic struggled last season when opponents keyed on Stauffeneker and cut down on his prodigious scoring output; the Vikings will need to spread the ball around a little bit more and force teams to guard everybody. Junior SF Shane Rautiola should help with that. Rautiola started his share of games last year and should be a key player this season. Another crucial returning player will be Matt Cyr, who Starr described as the quintessential “energy guy.”
“He’s real fast, real quick and he gets guys fired up,” Starr said.
Senior Jimmy Thompson will fill the void left at center by 2013 grad Nick Baldwin. The Vikings also graduated guard Jalen Rines, who was second on the team in scoring last year. Sophomore Roman Ojala should see plenty of playing time as well. Off the bench, there are a couple of freshmen who could step into important roles. Damon Gibson and Brett Stauffeneker are both being considered for varsity spots; it’s yet to be seen if they’ll be ready or not.
Mascenic draws a tough first matchup, as they’ll travel to Conant to take on the defending DIII champion Orioles in their season opener. Conant swept Mascenic last season.
First game: Dec. 17 at Conant
Home opener: Dec. 20 vs. Hillsboro-Deering.

WLC: Returning seniors and a few new faces

Last year’s record: 3-15 (finished out of playoffs)
Returning impact players: Senior Pat Martin, senior Kyle Pratt, senior Colton Salisbury, senior Isaiah Ray, junior Connor Melrose.
Head coach: Ken Garnham

It took the WLC boys team 10 games before they collected a win last year. They should be able to get off to a stronger start this season, however; they start the season off against Hinsdale, the team the Warriors beat to pick up that first victory last year.
“We’re certainly going to be stronger than last year,” second-year coach Ken Garnham said, “and I think we’re going to surprise some people.” Garnham will lean on a pair of returning senior starters, Kyle Pratt and Pat Martin, to fill leadership roles and set an example for the rest of the squad. Junior Brady Patten, a solid rebounder who’ll contribute size around the basket, returns to the forward position.
Seniors Colton Salisbury and Isaiah Ray are back to provide a defensive presence from the guard spots. Senior James Edmunds, who took last season off to focus on soccer, is back with the program this year as well.
One important player to watch will be junior Jordan Litts. Litts transferred from Texas last year and made an immediate splash, winning the divisional high jump crown. That leaping ability should translate into Litts being an above-the-rim threat for the Warriors in his first basketball season at WLC.
“(Litts) brings a scoring presence that we haven’t had in a while,” Garnham said. “He’ll be one of the focal points in the offense.”
Sophomores Matt Ducharme and 6’3” presence Duncan Rae are expected to play a large role for the Warriors. There is also a pair of freshman, Christian Seeley and Tom Crowley, who may make the leap from JV to varsity if they progress quickly enough.
First game: Dec. 13 vs. Hinsdale.

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