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Conant girls beat Hopkinton for seventh state championship

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Conant girls' basketball team beat Hopkinton 36-30 to win the Division III state championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Sunday, March 04, 2018 10:42AM

At the beginning of the basketball season, Conant junior forward Camri Aho pulled her senior captain Taylor Banish aside. Last year’s title game loss to Monadnock was still fresh in their minds, but Aho had a bold prediction for the season.

“I told her we were going all the way this year,” Aho said. “She won her freshman year, she’s been here all four years. This is it, T, this is it, kid, we’re going to go all the way for you.”

Four months later, there they were, celebrating on the floor at SNHU, Banish hoisted on her dad’s shoulders with the cut-down net in one hand and the state championship trophy in the other after a 36-30 finals win over No. 6 Hopkinton.

“We really set a common goal from day one, and I can’t believe they achieved it,” said Conant head coach Brian Troy. “You never think it’s going to get done, and then it gets done and accomplished. I’m just so proud, words can’t say enough.”

After No. 4 Conant’s semifinal win over the No. 1 seed Monadnock, in which the Huskies outrebounded Conant 32-15 and effectively neutralized center Mariah Chamberlain’s scoring output, Troy focused on boxing out and getting the ball down low early in the title game against Hopkinton. The Hawks chose to single-cover Chamberlain in the first quarter, where the six-foot center put her drop-step to work and scored all six of Conant’s points.

“We had originally planned for them to double me, so when it was one-on-one for the whole first quarter, it was just trying to get me the ball and me making a strong move,” Chamberlain said.

Hopkinton had beaten Conant soundly twice in the regular season, but the Hawks’ shooting was abysmal early on, going just 4-22 in the first half.

“I think what you saw is a team that’s been [in the finals] three of the last four years and a team that got here for the first time in 15 years,” said Hopkinton head coach Pat Roye.

The Hawks got their defense in order and started collapsing on Chamberlain. Conant freshman Elizabeth Gonyea (12 points, 11 rebounds, 4 steals) began to slash and get to the line, but Hopkinton answered back with field goals from Krista Amoth and Ellie Owen and it was 15-12 Conant at the half.

What could have been construed as a coincidence in the first half was obvious in the second – Troy was not going to make any substitutions. The starting five remained on the floor the entire game, even as Banish and Aho started getting in foul trouble.

“I wasn’t necessarily so tired that I couldn’t play, but I was getting a little [tired],” Aho said.

Aho, who’d chucked up two airballs in the first half, shook off her nerves, drowned out the crowd and stepped into a pair of jumpers early in the third quarter, the second of which gave Conant a 23-18 lead.

“I had my shot, I was open, they were letting me shoot, so I just had to have confidence, step in with that,” Aho said. “I know I can shoot, I just have to have the confidence to do it. I knew I had to step up, I knew I had to come in and help our team out.” Aho finished with nine points.

Hopkinton surged back. Amelia Thomas (7 points, 5 rebounds) hit a layup and then got an and-one to tie the game at 23. After a pair of Gonyea free throws, Hopkinton senior captain Taylor Signor knocked down a three to give the Hawks their first lead since early in the first quarter. Hopkinton turned around their early shooting woes, shooting over 55 percent in the third, by far their best period on a day where they finished at just 26 percent.

“Credit Hopkinton, that’s a championship DNA team,” Troy said.

Aho answered back with a huge three-pointer to snatch the lead back out of the Hawks’ talons. Abby Houston (7 points, 6 rebounds) scored to even it at 28, but Conant went back to the well, feeding Chamberlain in the post.

“We started to hit more shots so they were forced to not be able to double me any more,” Chamberlain said, “and it opened me up again.”

Chamberlain (game-high 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks) got fouled and made both free throws. Gonyea rebounded a missed Thomas three and got to the line. She hit the first and missed the second, but Chamberlain got the offensive rebound and scored to put Conant up 33-28, extending the lead with two minutes left just as she had against Monadnock earlier in the week.

Conant and Hopkinton each finished with 30 team rebounds in the game.

The two teams traded turnovers as the SNHU audience grew deafening with under a minute to play. Finally, Gonyea got a pair of free throws, grabbed a rebound and hit another free throw to put Conant up 36-30. The freshman made just one field goal in the game but went 10-12 at the line.

“You forget that she’s only 14 years old,” Troy said. “You think she’s a junior or a senior. She just persevered. She’s so competitive, day in and day out, she really brought this team to another level. I’m not sure if we win the championship without her.”

It was Conant’s seventh all-time girls’ basketball championship, tying the Orioles with Littleton for most titles of any Division III team.

“It feels really good,” Chamberlain said. “It’s really special. I’m just glad I was able to do it with this group of girls.”

All the puzzle pieces fit together for the Orioles this season on their way to the title: Chamberlain, the indefatigable six-foot center; Gonyea, the lithe slasher; Aho, the steady wing; Silas Bernier, the hard-nosed guard; and, at the center of it all, Banish, the only senior, who affected the game in so many ways beyond the box score as a leader and an example of hard work.

“We love her,” Aho said. “She's the heart and soul of this program.”