Basketball: Conant girls stay perfect for second straight championship win

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Conant’s Brynn Rautiola and senior Elizabeth Gonyea hug while Regan Despres, right, and the rest of the Orioles celebrate their second straight undefeated basketball championship Sunday at Trinity High School. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team played Fall Mountain at Trinity High School for the NHIAA Division III championship on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/14/2021 9:13:06 PM

“We made history!” Elizabeth Gonyea shouted to her Conant teammates as they reveled at center court after capping back-to-back undefeated seasons by beating Fall Mountain to win their second straight NHIAA Division III basketball championship Sunday afternoon. Gonyea, the team’s only senior, scored a game-high 32 points in the 59-43 Conant win, the Orioles’ ninth as a program and third in the past four years.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Gonyea said after the game, net draped around her neck and championship trophy cradled in her arms. “It’s pretty amazing. I told this team, ‘We’re about to make history today,’ and we just went out and did it. For me personally, I have three out of four, you know, I feel like that’s pretty amazing, pretty special.”

It was three out four for Gonyea, who rose to stardom as a freshman and played a huge role in the Orioles’ 2018 championship run; and, it was three out of four for head coach Brian Troy, who won that first title in 2018 a year after taking over in Jaffrey.

“It really is special,” Troy said. “It’s been special for me and it’s special for all the girls and the community as well. So we’re very proud.”

Conant (15-0) entered Sunday’s championship game on a 35-game win streak dating back to their 2019 semifinal loss to Fall Mountain. The Orioles and Wildcats, Division III’s winningest programs historically, have had quite the regional rivalry in recent years, but thanks to this season’s unorthodox scheduling, the two hadn’t met since the 2020 championship game. 

That game took place in front of a packed house at Keene State College, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the remainder of the NHIAA seasons mid-tournament. Sunday’s game was hosted in Manchester by Trinity, with fans from both sides in attendance to cheer on their teams – a welcome change for Conant, who’d started the playoffs on the road with no fans allowed thanks to a random tournament drawing.

“The urgency definitely started when the playoff bracket came out and we were put fifth seed,” Gonyea said. “It was a little bit of a slap in the face. I had some tears knowing I’m not playing at home again. Knowing that we have five games on the road on a stretch just really got us going.”

Gonyea got herself going early against Fall Mountain, confidently hitting three three-pointers in the first quarter to get Conant out to a 12-2 lead that they’d never surrender. 

“Her leadership really came along in the end and she led this team in the playoffs,” Troy said. “Her skill set obviously is amazing. She wasn’t going to go out here senior year without leaving it all on the floor, and that’s exactly what she did.”

She wasn’t alone. After the hot start, Conant was able to get anything they wanted against the Wildcats. Whether it was All-State forwards Emma Tenters (10 points) and Teagan Kirby (seven points), All-State point guard Brynn Rautiola (eight points) or feisty defensive stopper Regan Despres (two points), the Orioles owned the paint and stretched their lead to 31-16 by halftime.

Fall Mountain, meanwhile, struggled from behind the arc, usually the Wildcats’ biggest strength and what kept them in last year’s championship game down to the final buzzer. Fall Mountain didn’t hit a single three before the two minute mark of the second quarter, when senior Morgan Beauregard banked in a deep bomb; Sophie Bardis, who set the championship game record with six threes last year, didn’t even have a field goal in the first half, and the Wildcats were in trouble. 

Conant kept the pressure on in the second half; Fall Mountain briefly cut it to 10, but the Orioles went into the fourth up 45-29 with a chance to drain the clock and go home safely with a trophy. But the Wildcats weren’t done yet.

“It’s a championship game,” Gonyea said. “Nobody wants to go home losing. So, you know, they pulled it out and they started hitting some shots.”

Bardis (nine points) knocked in a pair of threes to get something going; Avery Stewart (12 points) and Makenna Grillone (11 points) contributed fourth-quarter buckets, and Conant gave the Wildcats a little help with some ill-advised turnovers.

“There haven’t been that many situations where we’ve had to stall like that,” Troy said. “Credit Fall Mountain – they came out and they threw all their biggest guns at us and they made a good run.”

The Wildcats got it back down to 10 again, but couldn’t complete the comeback, thanks to Gonyea’s tremendous, clutch free throw shooting down the stretch; she’d missed one in the first quarter but was otherwise perfect, going 13-14 from the line (10-10 in the fourth quarter). 

“It was an incredible performance and on the biggest of stages,” Troy said. “For her to do that in the last game of her high school career is special. She’ll remember that for the rest of her life.”

The Orioles held on and dealt the Wildcats another crushing loss; Fall Mountain is second in Division III with six championships, but hasn’t won one since 1983 and has now lost in three straight championship games. 

“When you play [Fall Mountain], you know you’re playing a tough battle,” Troy said. “Every game you play is going to be tough. We’ve been lucky to come out on the winning side. I’m just really proud of these girls that just hang tough. They threw everything at us in that second half, to be able to overcome and persevere – I’m just unbelievably proud.”

Earlier in the day, the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches’ Organization announced Troy as Coach of the Year for the third time in his short career. Gonyea was named Division III Player of the Year for the second straight year, a remarkable feat. Gonyea, who moved from Alaska before her freshman year, said she couldn’t have landed anywhere better than Conant and she couldn’t have had so much individual success without the team culture the Orioles embody. 

“[It’s] the community, my team, coaches, fans, my family, everything,” Gonyea said. “I kind of just got thrown into a group and we turned out to be two-time undefeated champions – that’s pretty amazing.”

In the regular season, Conant pulled off the unusual feat of beating a team from all four of the NHIAA divisions; on Sunday, those wins became all the more impressive when Conant opponent Bishop Brady won the Division II championship and Hinsdale won Division IV. 

“We were on a mission from day one,” Troy said. “You could tell the girls were hungry to go back-to-back and we wanted to do it undefeated.”

The win makes this the most successful four-year stretch in Conant girls’ basketball history; the Orioles previously went back-to-back one other time, in 1985 and 1986.

Semifinals vs. Campbell

The Orioles punched their ticket to the finals with a 65-45 semifinal win over Campbell on Thursday night. 

Campbell coach Sean Hogan knew that if his girls were going to hang with the Orioles, they’d need to get tough, get physical and push them around a little bit. 

“We knew the game plan going in,” Troy said, “they were going to get physical – but they took it to another level. They play us as physical as they can – they’re not scared of us.”

Campbell gave Conant a scare in last year's tight semifinal contest, and they displayed that same intensity on the court at Trinity High School Thursday, as both teams competed at the neutral site with fans from both sides in attendance. The Cougars came out on a 10-4 run as Maddie Davis (12 points) and Tori Allen (12 points) had it going early. On the defensive end, Campbell collapsed the paint and punished any Oriole who stuck their masked nose in. 

“These playoff games, I’m telling you, it doesn’t matter your skill level, teams are going to come out and punch you in the face and that’s exactly what they did,” Troy said.

Fortunately for the Orioles, they have a pugilist of their own in junior captain Teagan Kirby. As Campbell focused much of their attention on Gonyea, Troy urged Kirby to take advantage of Campbell’s wandering eye and take it to the hoop herself. 

“She really answered the bell,” Troy said. 

Kirby got to the hoop over and over and again, scoring 16 points in the paint in the first half to turn the tide Conant’s way.

“This is Liz’s senior year, we want to go back to the ’ship, so we just had to leave it all on the floor and go 100 percent the entire game,” Kirby said after the game. 

The Orioles turned their early eight-point deficit into a 32-24 halftime lead and extended it as they came out in the second half, and any illusions that this would be a close game started quickly slipping away. Campbell did have one last chance to get back in the game, as, thanks to the physical play, both Gonyea and Kirby picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter. Troy pulled Gonyea out of the game at the four-minute mark of the third and kept her off the court for about six minutes. Without the Player of the Year on the floor, the Orioles kept the pressure on. Mylie Aho got all of her seven points in the second half; Tenters scored 14 of her 16 in the second as well, and all of a sudden, Conant was flirting with a 20-point lead.

“They kept their composure,” Troy said. “I’m proud of them. That’s a very tough Campbell team.”

Karleigh Schultz (16 points) gave the Cougars a last-ditch effort, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter, but Gonyea (18 points) came back out to finish the job, and Conant won it 65-45. 


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