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 is off to a 1-1 start in Division II play and had a solid preseason.
KHS opened the season in fine fashion with an impressive 48-34 victory on the road against rival Plymouth on Dec. 9.
"The girls played well," said Larry Meader, Eagles' head coach. "I think they all had some opening-night nerves. We shot 1-16 from the foul line in the first half. I know we're a better shooting team than that. The good thing was we were able to get to the foul line 16 times in the half. We shot a much better percentage in the second half. All in all it was a good night. Nice to start the season off with a win, especially on the road."
Sophomore Izzy Wrobleski led all scorers with a game-high 16 points for the Eagles. Kelsey Bush and Cassidy Chick added nine points each; Liz Kenny, eight; Lexi Wiggin, three; Liz Cote, two (in her varsity debut); and Sam Johnson, one.
Chick led the Eagles with 10 rebounds. Kenny hauled down eight, while Wrobleski and Bush grabbed seven and five, respectively.
The road wasn't as kind on Dec. 16, when Kennett made the long trek to Lebanon (2-0) and fell to the Red Raiders 64-24.
"I told the girls afterward, the good news is we can check off the longest bus ride of the year and probably the best team we'll play all season. We're done with both of them," said Meader. "They're very good. Definitely title contenders. They're your typical Lebanon team, they press you and are relentless on the defensive end. We didn't have a good night. We didn't keep our poise when we had the ball."
The Eagles were plagued by turnovers.
"Unofficially, we had 28 turnovers, compared to 14 against Plymouth in the opener," Meader said. "In all aspects of our game we did not play well. It was kind of a helter-skelter game where (Lebanon) made us go faster than we were capable."
Kennett played its final game before the holiday break Thursday night when the defending state champs Goffstown (0-1) came to town. Results were not known as of press time."
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 will start at 6 p.m.
"We're looking at an eight-game JV schedule on non-varsity dates," Meader said. "(Athletic 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."
Lebanon and Hanover are struggling with numbers in their programs, too, with 18 and 17 players out, respectively.
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 Dec. 6, Kennett travelled to Spaulding High School and topped the 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."
"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 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."