Basketball: Conant tips off season with win over Wilton-Lyndeborough

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/12/2021 11:51:29 PM

Of all the peculiar situations that COVID-19 has forced upon the NHIAA and its member schools –  regional schedules, players in masks, no fans in the stands, and so on – there might be nothing stranger than what’s going on at Conant boys’ basketball practices.

Eric Saucier’s squad has been in the gym six days a week playing four-on-four man-to-man readying for the season; Conant practices, legendary for both the on-court results they create and the grueling physical conditioning players endure, aren’t necessarily a good time, but this year, even that’s different.

“They’re excited to go to practice,” Saucier said. “Most years they hate practice, and they should, but this year it’s different. It’s a chance to get away and talk to their friends, be with their friends. That’s what it’s all about, it’s all about the kids...They’re remote at school, so just to be able to go to the gym every day, have something to do, see their friends and be able to play basketball – it’s huge. It’s huge for all of us. I think we all need it.”

The Orioles opened up their regular season Tuesday with a 70-33 win on the road at Wilton-Lyndeborough, an unusual interdivisional opponent that served as a good tuneup for Conant. The Warriors will see the Orioles four times this winter, a challenging task but one that new WLC head coach Wiley Billings knows can sharpen the Warriors’ blades.

“Playing against [Conant] and that in-your-face man-to-man is only going to make us better,” said Billings, who took over the team this winter after previously coaching at Mascenic and, more recently, the Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School girls’ team. “It’s going to make our halfcourt offense better, it’s going to make us sharper.”

The Orioles had little trouble with WLC Tuesday night, as Colson Seppala (17 points), Malique Motuzas (14 points) and Manny Hodgson (11 points) filled it up for Conant. The Orioles are a little rough around the edges early on, but have leadership in Seppala, Hayden Ketola and Jacob Tremblay, size in Garrett Somero and Jacson Cross, and potential in Jordan Nagle, Motuzas and Hodgson. Once the underclassmen make the leap – and at Conant, that’s matter of when, not if – these Orioles will be dangerous.

“My expectations haven’t changed,” Saucier said. “I’m still going to push you to be the best you can be. We don’t know what that is right now, but we’ll find out when it comes to March.”

The Warriors weren’t able to get much going on the offensive end Tuesday night against the swarming defense; point guard Kyler Tremblay had a team-high 16 points, and center JJ Leblanc went on a hot streak to add 10 points in the second half, but aside from that, WLC could only come up with three other field goals in the game. Still, Billings liked a good portion of what he saw. 

“We did a lot of bad things tonight, but we did a lot of good things,” Billings said. “I was pleased with it. The effort was there. Even when we got down, we still kept playing hard.”

The Warriors will be able to depend on Tremblay and Leblanc this winter, and should be able to get some production from Hunter Scales, scrappy Paul VanBlarigan and the as-yet-untapped potential of Zack Taylor, Keegan Hall and Nathan Lachance, among others. With a few more games under their belt, the Warriors should improve – especially when they start facing Division IV opponents rather than one of Division III’s best.

“By the end of February, we’ll be there,” Billings said.

There was a bit of a surreal feeling in the gym Tuesday; WLC is not allowing fans at its games this season, so the only people in the gym besides players, coaches and officials were the teams’ video crews and scorekeepers. And, players on both teams wore facemasks for the entirety of the game, something Conant senior Seppala said was mildly challenging, but worth it.

“It’s a little hard to breathe,” Seppala said, “but I’d wear a mask every day just to have this season, to have this senior year back – it’s great.”

Conant and WLC square off again Friday night at an empty Pratt Auditorium in Jaffrey. The tiny bandbox is usually filled to the brim on a Friday night in January; this winter, Conant is only allowing two fans per player at home games. However, WLC’s athletics plan requires the Warriors to only play road games at opposing schools if those schools do not allow fan attendance, so Friday’s game will take place in a virtually empty gymnasium. 

No matter how different this season looks from the outside, it’s still just Conant basketball in Jaffrey, where coaches and players alike live and breathe hoops.

“Nothing’s changed,” Saucier said. “We’re here, we’re in the gym, we’re ready to play. The only thing that’s different is I’ve got a mask on.”

Mascenic’s openerspostponed

The Mascenic boys’ and girls’ basketball teams were expected to open up against Keene on Tuesday, but COVID-19 protocol at Keene will cost the Vikings their openers and, most likely, Friday’s scheduled rematches as well.

Keene’s athletics plan does not allow the Blackbirds to play while they are in a fully remote learning phase, so any scheduled athletics competitions are on hold until further notice.

Mascenic is now set to open up Tuesday, with the girls hosting Monadnock at 5:30 p.m. and the boys traveling to Monadnock at 5:30 p.m.

Mascenic’s fan attendance is limited to three family members per student-athlete at home games.


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