Eagles open at Plymouth on Friday

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — With all but one player returning to the hardwood this year, there's a sense of excitement around the Kennett High girls' basketball team this winter. The Eagles, who went 3-15 last winter, believe they can end a three-year playoff drought. The team has had a solid preseason and is ready for Division 2 play.

Kennett is scheduled to tipoff the regular-season on the road in Plymouth at 5 p.m. on Friday. It will be the season-opener for both the Eagles and the Bobcats.

"We're looking forward to starting the season Friday at Plymouth," Coach Larry Meader said. "Plymouth can be a difficult place to play, but I think we're ready."

The Eagles find themselves in an unfamiliar place this winter with just 13 girls out for the entire program. There were 23 girls out last year and only one senior, Sydney Perk, graduated from the team. The depleted numbers mean KHS will play an abbreviated junior varsity schedule, but not on the same nights as varsity games. All home varsity night games, with the exception of Goffstown on Dec. 22, will start at 6 p.m.

"We're looking at an eight-game JV schedule on non-varsity dates," Meader said. "(Atheltic Director) Neal Weaver and I are going to reach out to kids and parents to see why girls aren't playing. From what Neal and I have been told by other coaches and ADs we're not the only ones with this problem. Timberlane, who was in Division I last year and now in Division 2 this year, isn't fielding a JV team this winter. They don't have the numbers either. This seems to be a statewide problem."

Meader said all 13 girls practice together, and while 11 will dress for the varsity, a number of girls will suit up for the junior varsity games.

"We have good kids out," Meader said. "Every girl is working hard and improving every day."

The Eagles, who opened preseason on Nov. 21, have had a busy exhibition schedule. The team opened with a contest against the alumni on Nov. 25; travel to Sacopee Valley in Hiram, Maine, on Nov. 26, for a three-way scrimmage with the host Hawks and Nute; Nov. 29, welcomed Moultonborough Academy and White Mountain Regional to the Nest for a tri-scrimmage; on Dec. 2, they hosted Fryeburg Academy and the Advanced Math and Science Charter School Academy from Marlborough, Mass., for a three-way scrimmage; on Dec. 3, the Eagles and the charter school played a regular scrimmage (winning 48-41); and on Tuesday, Kennett travelled to Spaulding High School.

KHS topped Spaulding, a Division I school, 44-23.

"The girls played their best basketball of the season so far," Meader said. "The girls were really aggressive and physical. It was our best scrimmage. We definitely played with a lot of energy, rebounded the ball and ran the floor well. It's been a good preseason. The girls come focused and ready to work every day. They are as focused of a group as I've ever had, To see the way we've played the last two scrimmages has been very rewarding."

In the scrimmage, sophomore Izzy Wrobleski lead the way with 13 points, while junior Lexi Wiggin added 10, sophomore Liz Kenny, nine; junior Kelsey Bush and sophomores Cassidy Chick and Sam Johnson, four each.

"We've put in a press this year (three-quarter court press) that the girls love," Meader said. "We're looking for traps around mid-court and we've been creating turnovers."

Bush has been named captain of this year's squad.

"I think she played the best game I've ever seen her play on Tuesday at Spaulding," Meader said. "She's our best defender and probably our best rebounder."

Giana Jones is the lone senior on the roster. Meader believes the forward/center can give the team even more of presence on the boards and in the low-post offensively.

Bush, Wiggin and Maggie Bennett are the three juniors on the team. Wiggin has taken her offensive game to another level, while Bennett gives the Eagles a lot of versatility off the bench.

Sophomores on the squad include Chick, Kenny, Johnson, Casey Leavitt, Becca Shiller and Wrobleski.

"I think Liz Kenny is our most improved player from last season," Meader said. "She's become more of an offensive threat and she's coming along at the defensive end, too."

"Izzy has worked really hard on her game," Meader added. "I think she can be one of the better scorers in our division. She's worked a ton on her outside shot and it's paying off."

Liz Cote is the lone freshman on the varsity. The talented guard has been the first player off the bench for the team in the preseason.

In terms of team strengths, Meader believes the Eagles are athletic and should rebound well.

"I think our height is going to help us," he said. "Kelsey, Izzy, Cassidy, Giana and Sam all rebound well. I think we have a good inside-outside mix. We need to rebound and protect the basketball. Hopefully our defense can create turnovers that lead to easy transition baskets."

If there is a an area of concern, it might be how quickly the team can develop depth off the bench.

"I think our depth has the potential to be decent, but we're still developing it," Meader said.

Meader will be joined on the sidelines by new assistant Steve Cote (former assistant Pat Murphy is at the helm of the Kennett Middle School program) and second year junior varsity coach Nikki Wrobleski.

"I have great help," Meader said.

Playoffs are the goal this season.

"Our first goal is to get better every day," Meader said. "My goal is to definitely get back to the playoffs. If we play up to our capabilities we should definitely do that. We have a good group. Everyone is year older, a year more experienced. I think we're good enough to get in."

 

Fryeburg boys open at York on Friday

By Lloyd Jones

FRYEBURG — With just one senior with varsity experience out this winter, the Fryeburg Academy boys' basketball team will be among the youngest in Class A, but that's OK with the current cast of Raiders, who are eager to take on all the league throws their way.

Fryeburg is scheduled to open the season on the road this Friday with a trip to York to play a veteran group of Wildcats. The game kicks off a hectic schedule for the boys in blue and white.

"Southern A is as tough as any league and with six games in 12 days there is no room for error," said Sedge Saunders, Raiders' head coach. "The powers that be have decided that high school kids are ready for a more demanding schedule that of Division 1 college and the NBA. In my opinion, it is shameful that they would put these kids in such a ridiculous situation, but it is what it is and we're going to find a way to be ready to go to battle every night."

Saunders is entering his 19th year at the helm of the Raiders. Ryan Wallace is back as the JV coach, while Chris Gaskin joins the program this winter. Charlie Tryder also returns to the sidelines as a varsity assistant.

Fryeburg, which opened preseason play on Nov. 21, played its final exhibition game on Tuesday when it hosted state-line neighbor Kennett High.

"After a sluggish first half, we were more efficient offensively in the second half and really picked up the defensive pressure," Saunders said.

This year's team includes Isaac Wakefield, a 6', senior, center, who, according to Saunders, "is our most physical player and can be counted on for tough rebounds and points in the paint."

Joe Lebrun is a 6'1" junior, forward, who, according to Saunders, "had a great summer and is ready to be more of a contributor on the boards and offensively for us this year."

Scott Parker is a 5'11" junior, forward, who, according to Saunders, "had a great football season and is ready to roll that over into a productive hoop season for us. He's a very good athlete."

Ryan Hewes is a 5'9" junior, guard, who was hurt most of last year but, according to Saunders, "had a good summer and a good football season and has a great touch from the perimeter."

Cody Gullikson is a 6' junior, forward, who, according to Saunders, "had an amazing football season and will bring that toughness to the basketball program."

Cobey Johnson is a 6'1" junior, forward, who, according to Saunders, "was another key component of the football squad and will bring that competitive zeal to the basketball program."

Oscar Saunders is a 5'10" sophomore, guard, who, according to Saunders, "was part of that really good football team and will be asked to run the team from the point position."

Tucker Buzzell is a 6' sophomore, guard, who, according to Saunders, "was another key player for the football team and will give us great tenacity on defense and versatility on offense."

Some new faces for Fryeburg include:

Damian Eldridge, a 6'2" senior who has moved up from the JV team. "He has good length and a soft touch around the hoop," said Saunders.

Brendan Staton a 5'9" senior, point guard, who also moved up from JV. "Brendan has good quickness and can create opportunities for his teammates," Saunders said.

T.C. McLaurin is a 6' junior, guard/forward, who, according to Saunders, "has improved a lot and made the jump from JV to varsity. We are counting on him to knock down some shots."

Francesco Gianfelice is a 6'3" forward from Italy who Saunders said is quickly learning the team terminology and style of play at Fryeburg.

Adam Canfield is a 6'2" junior, forward who has also moved up from the JV team. "Adam is a heady ball player who is sound fundamentally," said Saunders.

Justin Daniels is a 5'10" junior, guard/forward, from New York, who is recovering from a football injury. Saunders said he "has an infectious positive attitude and is the consummate team player."

Caleb Bowels is a 5'10" sophomore, guard, who has moved up from the JV team and was instrumental in helping the football team to the playoffs. "Caleb is a crafty guard who seems to get better every day," said Saunders.

Nate Knapp is a 5'7" sophomore, who was headed for a good football season until he was injured in first game. "Nate is quick and has also developed a nice touch," Saunders said of the guard, who still recovering from his injury.

The biggest challenge facing the Raiders is the schedule.

"It's no mystery our league is the toughest," Saunder said. "We played two AA schools in the preseason and handled one of them and lost in the last minute to the other one. Looks to me that South A is the best in the state. But these kids are up to the challenge. They just love to compete and as you can see, with 16 guys on the roster, they will be competing for playing time every day. It should be the perfect situation to get us ready for one of the toughest schedules in the state. I'd like to think we will be more than battle tested come tourney time."

Although young, the Raiders have some veterans after losing just three seniors (Roy Elal, Ben Darling and Nick L'Heureux Carland) to graduation from last year's 5-13 team.

"We are a young team but we have some experience," Saunders said. "I think that is a good combination so long as we gel as a unit and stick together through thick and thin. We are going to have to persevere to remain competitive in our league.

"We have guys who know how to play and we have guys who like to share the ball," he continued. "We also have depth so long as we stay healthy and we strive to get better each and every day. Right now some of the guys are trying too hard — that's their competitive nature coming through. When we all settle down and let the game flow naturally, we are going to be a very good team."

Fryeburg is scheduled to host Cape Elizabeth in its home-opener on Dec. 17 at 2 p.m.

 

Fryeburg girls open with defending champs York on Friday

By Lloyd Jones

 

FRYEBURG — Coming off its best season ever and after losing six seniors to graduation, expectations around Class A might be a little down when it comes to the Fryeburg Acadmy girls' basketball team this winter. Don't tell that to the current cast of Raiders, who are eager to leave their own mark on the hardwood. The girls in blue and white might not be as potent offensively as last year's squad, but the Sean Watson's troops believe their defense can carry them along way.

Fryeburg will tipoff the 2016-17 season on Friday when York, the defending state champs, comes to Wasdworth Arena for a 6:30 p.m. start.

"The defending champs on opening night, we wouldn't have it any other way," Watson said, smiling on Sunday.

The preseason has flown by for the Raiders, who have been out since Nov. 21. Coach Watson and assistants Chris Dutton and Coreen (Hennessy) Eccleston had 32 girls come out for the program.

"We're going to carry 10 girls on the varsity and 12-14 on the junior varsity," Watson said. "We had to make a few cuts, but I'm pleased with the numbers we have out."

Fryeburg went 15-3 last winter and earned the No. 3 seed for the tournament. Unfortunately, Leavitt proved that it's awful hard to beat a good team three times in row when the Hornets came from behind to beat Raiders in the Class A South quarterfinals at the Portland Expo. The Hornets topped the Raiders 46-40.

The Raiders had beaten No. 6 Leavitt twice that year, winning 42-38 in Turner on Dec. 11, and 50-28 in Fryeburg on Jan. 2.

The Raiders lost seniors Katherine Parker, Sage Boivin, Alexis L'Heureux-Carland, Julia Quinn, Bridget Bailey and McKenna Gerchman to graduation in the spring.

"They are a tremendous group, that has been together for a long time," Coach Watson said last March. "They should be very proud of what they have accomplished both on and off the court. Their behavior, their citizenship, their academic prowess, their competitive zeal, along with their unselfish attitudes are all fantastic individual and team attributes. Not only is it a credit to them, but to their parents, youth coaches, coaches of other sports, their teachers and the administrators and support staff they have had along the way. This group is a real credit to their families, their school and their community.

"This group of seniors has been very special to me," Watson added. "We've grown up together, so to speak. My first year of coaching here at the Academy was their freshman year. To say that we've been through a lot together would be an understatement. We have been fortunate enough to enjoy some really good times together. We've also had to pull each other through some tough times. These players have been really good at dealing with and overcoming adversity. They are tough! That toughness should serve them well in their future endeavors."

Quinn is currently playing for Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., while L'Heureux-Carland is playing for Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.

Fryeburg has five returning letter winners in seniors Mackenzie Buzzell, Kaylin Delaney, Makayla Cooper, Nicole Bennett and Ali Fraize.

The group is joined by fellow senior Alyssa Allen, juniors Zoe Bodwell and Kalie Eastman, sophomore Kristina LeBlanc and freshman Kaylee Emery.

The Raiders have spent a good amount of the preseason in exhibition play.

"The way the schedule worked out," Watson explained, "we start the week of Thanksgiving and it was either practice or play. We want to as much experience possible for this girls so we went the game route. The preseason has flown, it's like we just started and now we open on Friday night."

The Raiders played the Maine Girls Academy (formerly McAuley High School) on Nov. 25; Wells and Windham on Nov. 26; Yarmouth on Nov. 29; Kennett High and the Advanced Math and Science Charter School Academy from Marlborough, Mass. on Friday; and at Scarborough on Tuesday.

"We played a number of good teams," Watson said. "I think we're better for those scrimmages, although we've struggled in the preseason a bit. We're trying to mix up our defenses a little bit more and it's been a struggle to be on the same page. We need to improve our communication, and it's a matter of practicing and doing it every day. With the scrimmages, although you don't always like to see it, it's nice to see our faults and flaws and know we have a little time to work on them."

Fryeburg hopes the injury bug is already a thing of the past. Last Friday marked the first time the Raiders had Fraize available. She had been battling a hip injury. Meanwhile Delaney is working her way back to action after going through concussion protocol.

"They're two keep people for us," Watson said.

Another key player for the Raiders will be Buzzell, who started in the playoffs as a freshman. The multi-talented senior figures to be the team's primary ball handler.

"We're counting on her to do a lot of things for us," Watson said. "We'll probably need her to score a little bit more. At the same time, she's just a great decision-maker with the ball. She has great instincts and has played a lot of basketball. I think she's the best defensive player in the league because she's so versatile."

In terms of concerns, Watson said it's how quickly the team can develop some depth.

"Half the kids have never played in a varsity game before," he said. "It's a much faster pace than they've played at and they need to make adjustment. Outside of our first five we're looking for people to give us quality minutes. I've told the girls, if you can defend, you can play for us."

Watson images the Raiders playing a lot of full-court man-to-man trapping defense along with mixing things up with a half-court zone and trap and playing some half-court man.

"As long as we're not confusing ourselves we'll be OK," he said.

Fryeburg is the second smallest school in terms of enrollment in Class A (enrollment of 545 to 823) behind only Cape Elizabeth. Also playing in Class A South are Brunswick, Mount Ararat, Biddeford, Marshwood, Westbrook, Falmouth, Kennebunk, Greely, York, Leavitt and Morse.

"I think Greely is by far the runaway favorite this winter," Watson said. "They've got the (Anna) DeWolfe girl, who got college scholarship offers as a freshman. I think worth seven veterans back they should have a high-powered offense."

Watson also sees Brunswick and York as teams to keep an eye on.

"I hope we'll be in the mix, too," he said.

The Raiders have one immediate goal, according to Watson.

"Our only goal right now is to play as a team and to play well," he said. "We want to focus on the process and not on the results."

 

Raiders tip-off the 2016-17 season on Friday

By Lloyd Jones

FRYEBURG — Coming off its best season ever and after losing six seniors to graduation, expectations around Class A might be a little down when it comes to the Fryeburg Academy girls' basketball team this winter. Don't tell that to the current cast of Raiders, who are eager to leave their own mark on the hardwood. The girls in blue and white might not be as potent offensively as last year's squad, but the Sean Watson's troops believe their defense can carry them along way.

Fryeburg will tip-off the 2016-17 season on Friday when York, the defending state champs, comes to Wasdworth Arena for a 6:30 p.m. start.

"The defending champs on opening night, we wouldn't have it any other way," Watson said, smiling on Sunday.

The preseason has flown by for the Raiders, who have been out since Nov. 21. Coach Watson and assistants Chris Dutton and Coreen (Hennessy) Eccleston had 32 girls come out for the program.

"We're going to carry 10 girls on the varsity and 12-14 on the junior varsity," Watson said. "We had to make a few cuts, but I'm pleased with the numbers we have out."

Fryeburg went 15-3 last winter and earned the No. 3 seed for the tournament. Unfortunately, Leavitt proved that it's awful hard to beat a good team three times in row when the Hornets came from behind to beat Raiders in the Class A South quarterfinals at the Portland Expo. The Hornets topped the Raiders 46-40.

The Raiders had beaten No. 6 Leavitt twice that year, winning 42-38 in Turner on Dec. 11, and 50-28 in Fryeburg on Jan. 2.

The Raiders lost seniors Katherine Parker, Sage Boivin, Alexis L'Heureux-Carland, Julia Quinn, Bridget Bailey and McKenna Gerchman to graduation in the spring.

"They are a tremendous group, that has been together for a long time," Coach Watson said last March. "They should be very proud of what they have accomplished both on and off the court. Their behavior, their citizenship, their academic prowess, their competitive zeal, along with their unselfish attitudes are all fantastic individual and team attributes. Not only is it a credit to them, but to their parents, youth coaches, coaches of other sports, their teachers and the administrators and support staff they have had along the way. This group is a real credit to their families, their school and their community.

"This group of seniors has been very special to me," Watson added. "We've grown up together, so to speak. My first year of coaching here at the Academy was their freshman year. To say that we've been through a lot together would be an understatement. We have been fortunate enough to enjoy some really good times together. We've also had to pull each other through some tough times. These players have been really good at dealing with and overcoming adversity. They are tough! That toughness should serve them well in their future endeavors."

Quinn is currently playing for Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., while L'Heureux-Carland is playing for Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.

Fryeburg has five returning letter winners in seniors Mackenzie Buzzell, Kaylin Delaney, Makayla Cooper, Nicole Bennett and Ali Fraize.

The group is joined by fellow senior Alyssa Allen, juniors Zoe Bodwell and Kalie Eastman, sophomore Kristina LeBlanc and freshman Kaylee Emery.

The Raiders have spent a good amount of the preseason in exhibition play.

"The way the schedule worked out," Watson explained, "we start the week of Thanksgiving and it was either practice or play. We want to as much experience possible for this girls so we went the game route. The preseason has flown, it's like we just started and now we open on Friday night."

The Raiders played the Maine Girls Academy (formerly McAuley High School) on Nov. 25; Wells and Windham on Nov. 26; Yarmouth on Nov. 29; Kennett High and the Advanced Math and Science Charter School Academy from Marlborough, Mass. on Friday; and at Scarborough on Tuesday.

"We played a number of good teams," Watson said. "I think we're better for those scrimmages, although we've struggled in the preseason a bit. We're trying to mix up our defenses a little bit more and it's been a struggle to be on the same page. We need to improve our communication, and it's a matter of practicing and doing it every day. With the scrimmages, although you don't always like to see it, it's nice to see our faults and flaws and know we have a little time to work on them."

Fryeburg hopes the injury bug is already a thing of the past. Last Friday marked the first time the Raiders had Fraize available. She had been battling a hip injury. Meanwhile Delaney is working her way back to action after going through concussion protocol.

"They're two keep people for us," Watson said.

Another key player for the Raiders will be Buzzell, who started in the playoffs as a freshman. The multi-talented senior figures to be the team's primary ball handler.

"We're counting on her to do a lot of things for us," Watson said. "We'll probably need her to score a little bit more. At the same time, she's just a great decision-maker with the ball. She has great instincts and has played a lot of basketball. I think she's the best defensive player in the league because she's so versatile."

In terms of concerns, Watson said it's how quickly the team can develop some depth.

"Half the kids have never played in a varsity game before," he said. "It's a much faster pace than they've played at and they need to make adjustment. Outside of our first five we're looking for people to give us quality minutes. I've told the girls, if you can defend, you can play for us."

Watson images the Raiders playing a lot of full-court man-to-man trapping defense along with mixing things up with a half-court zone and trap and playing some half-court man.

"As long as we're not confusing ourselves we'll be OK," he said.

Fryeburg is the second smallest school in terms of enrollment in Class A (enrollment of 545 to 823) behind only Cape Elizabeth. Also playing in Class A South are Brunswick, Mount Ararat, Biddeford, Marshwood, Westbrook, Falmouth, Kennebunk, Greely, York, Leavitt and Morse.

"I think Greely is by far the runaway favorite this winter," Watson said. "They've got the (Anna) DeWolfe girl, who got college scholarship offers as a freshman. I think worth seven veterans back they should have a high-powered offense."

Watson also sees Brunswick and York as teams to keep an eye on.

"I hope we'll be in the mix, too," he said.

The Raiders have one immediate goal, according to Watson.

"Our only goal right now is to play as a team and to play well," he said. "We want to focus on the process and not on the results."