Basketball: Defense is key for ConVal’s incredible start; plus, Conant, Mascenic win, WLC falls

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal’s Mather Kipka goes to the hole for two during Friday night’s game against Kennett. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • ConVal’s Ben Henry drives to the hoop against Kennett Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kennett on Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/26/2019 6:24:08 PM

If you want to see what got this ConVal team where they are today, you have to go back to the beginning.

“It feels like it’s been five years,” head coach Leo Gershgorin said, half-joking, after Friday night’s 49-31 win over Kennett. Actually, it was just a year and a half ago when Gershgorin stepped into the gym for the first time with his team and told them how it was going to be.

“My first day here, my first practice, [defense] was the first thing we talked about,” Gershgorin said. “Whether our shots go in, whether our shots don’t go in, we’re going to be a great defensive team. I saw the personnel, I knew we had the athletes and we had the size so we could play a really nice style of defense, and that it would take us a long time to get there. Defense is always going to be No. 1 now.”

After a 6-12 season, the Cougars played through an exhaustive offseason circuit – they’ve now played 88 games together as a team – and hit the court this winter ready to press and hungry for wins. 

“We try to tire teams out on defense,” said senior guard Ben Henry, “full-court press them so that when they get an open shot, their legs are tired, so they end up missing it. Our motto is ‘defense is our offense.’”

It’s working. ConVal’s defense is giving up just 44.6 points per game, third in Division II behind Lebanon (42 ppg) and Oyster River (44.5 ppg). And after holding Kennett to single digits in each quarter Friday night, the Cougars are halfway through the season with an 8-1 record. 

“All the credit goes to these guys,” Gershgorin said, “because you can bring in any system you want that you think will be good for them, that you think will match that personnel, you can do whatever you want – coach is only as good as his players, and our success was only going to come when our guys were ready to do the things that they needed to do. This record is absolutely a reflection of everything they’ve had to put up with with me, all the things they had to work on, and how quickly. Second year? For these guys to be where they are right now? I thought it would take a few more years, absolutely, to build the program up to where we can finish half the season with one loss.”

ConVal started out against Kennett on an 8-0 run, which the Eagles matched with eight straight of their own before a Henry three snapped the get-back. The Cougars would keep the Eagles nipping at their heels for the majority of the game, as Del Bonsu-Anane (12 points) and Mather Kipka (nine points) were on point in the first half, helping ConVal maintain a slight lead no matter how much Kennett pushed back. 

“I knew once we got up on them, they can’t get back,” Henry said. “They’re really strong, but once you get a big lead on them, it’s tough. Especially with the defense we play, we tire teams out.”

ConVal is averaging 58.8 points per game this year, but they wouldn’t hit their pace on Friday, as Kennett’s 2-3 zone stymied them at times as the Cougars worked to dig up some aggression. 

“We’re unselfish to a fault,” Gershgorin said. “They’ve been like that from the day I met them. Part of my nagging, part of my being hard on them is to make them more aggressive on offense.”

Henry came out strong in the fourth quarter, hitting a game-breaker three to put ConVal up 13 and sparking a sequence in which the Cougars scored on a Max Richard offensive rebound and then two straight fast breaks. Isaiah Michaels came off the bench and scored five points to compliment Henry’s team-high 14, and the Cougars were 8-1. Heads around the state are turning as ConVal has now reeled off seven straight wins since their only loss of the season at Milford.

“I think it’s our confidence,” Henry said. “Going into this season, we believed we could be the top team in Division II. You know there’s always Pembroke (9-1) and Oyster River (8-1) who are also really good, but we think we’re just as good.”

Gershgorin passed off all credit to his players, as well as his assistants Tyler Mudrick (“he’s been there for me since Day One”) and Jay Starr, who came over after not being rehired as Mascenic’s head coach.

“Honestly, if I wasn’t here, they wouldn’t miss a beat,” Gershgorin said. “...He’s everything and more I would hope for a team. You don’t want another coach like you, you want balance, and not only does he bring that balance, he’s so intelligent, he understands the game, the kids love him, they trust him, he’s awesome.”

With the win, ConVal has already guaranteed the Cougars’ best record since the 2003-04 season, when they finished 8-10.

ConVal travels to Sanborn (2-8) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

 

Conant 83, Raymond 29

A career-high day from senior Gavin Motuzas helped the Orioles blow out Raymond by 54 on Thursday. Motuzas matched the Rams’ output by himself, scoring 29 with six three-pointers. Jake Drew had 20 points and Peyton Springfield added 14.

Conant (9-2) is at Somersworth (8-2) Thursday at 7 p.m.

Mascenic 74, Newport 41

It was a big night for Mascenic’s big guys against Newport Friday. Senior center Nate Long and junior forward Zach Barthel scored 16 points each and sophomore center Gabe Turner had eight in the blowout win. Sam Stauffeneker led all scorers with 19. He’s averaging 20.7 ppg this season, fifth-best in Division III.

Mascenic (7-3) is at Gilford (3-6) Friday at 7 p.m.

Portsmouth Christian Academy 71, WLC 37

PCA ended the Warriors’ three-game win streak with a drubbing on Thursday in which no WLC player scored in double figures. Senior forward Owen McGettigan had a team-high eight points, and guards Jack Schwab and Kyler Tremblay had six each.

The Warriors (4-9) look to right the ship Wednesday when they host Mount Royal (6-5) at 5:30 p.m.

GIRLS’ BASKETBALL

Conant 64, Raymond 21

Elizabeth Gonyea scored a game-high 21 points and Mariah Chamberlain scored 17 with 10 rebounds as Conant routed the Rams on Friday. Senior Jasmine Marshall scored her first points of the year as every Oriole contributed to the win.

Conant (10-2) hosts Somersworth (1-11) Thursday at 7 p.m.

Kennett 47, ConVal 30

The Cougars shot just 33 percent from the floor and struggled to score at Kennett Friday night. Lindsey Carey scored seven points with 11 rebounds and Katie Carey added seven points as no Cougar scored in double figures. Maddy Faber, starting in place of the injured Rachyl Parslow, scored four points and played really tough, head coach Kevin Proctor said.

ConVal (6-5) hosts Sanborn (6-6) Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.


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