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Concord girls’ basketball hopes to turn continuity into victories

Last year was a youth movement for the Concord High girls’ basketball team, and it couldn’t have been more apparent. The Crimson Tide went 0-18, struggled to even compete and saw inexperienced players thrown into starting roles they weren’t nearly ready for.

But there’s a flip side to such a rebuilding strategy. The growing pains experienced last winter allowed a team returning four starters to get the hard part, in terms of building teamwork and communication, out of the way early. There’s continuity now. The players are more comfortable in their roles. And a team that’s still on the young side can begin to make its way up the Division I standings.

Or at least, Coach Mike Achilles said, that’s the plan.

“Basically, we were starting, most nights, three sophomores and a freshman. And we took our lumps because of it,” he said. “Moving forward, those girls have all matured, they learned a lot from last year, and now they’re juniors and sophomores and I’m really excited to see how they can develop over the course of the season.”

That’s not to say Achilles is declaring it championship-or-bust in Concord this year. The Tide still has some walking to do before it runs. This is a program, after all, that hasn’t won as many as three games in a season since 2008-09 and hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007. Instead, the focus will be on improvement, and building on strides Achilles said he saw the team making through the tail end of last season.

“They all had good games last year, they all had nights when their lack of experience would cause them to not have as good of a night,” he said. “But I think now, with a year under their belts, I’m looking for more consistency out of that core, and I think that will really help us.”

That core is the team’s four returning starters: junior forward and co-captain Cassidy Emerson, junior guards Deb Morrill and Janessa Luciano, and sophomore forward Peyton Osgood. All four have their respective skill sets – Emerson’s one of the top rebounders and scorers, Luciano runs the point, Morrill is a scrappy defender who’s always around the ball and Osgood is a high-upside player with a budding offensive game – and they’ve already been able to spend a year learning both to play, and to play with each other.

“That’s really helpful, especially at the varsity level,” Emerson said. “Instead of somebody yelling (a) name across the court, you just know they’re going to be there, because we’ve been together for so long. … It’s really a good advantage. I think it’ll help us a lot.”

The open spot is at center, where Achilles said the team will rotate depending on the opponent and game situation. Senior and co-captain Nicole Jarry, the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-11, will give the Tide a rebounding and post presence, while 5-7 junior Veronyca Daniels will provide a quicker option and 5-9 sophomore Sydney McClellan will fill the rest of the minutes. The bench will be led by Kalli Sargent, a junior recovering from injury-plagued freshman and sophomore years but who brings a rebounding presence, as well as sophomores Cailin Casey and Katie Lafond, junior Stephanie Lazott and senior Liz Sinotte, who’s recovering from a concussion suffered last year but who Achilles is hopeful can provide a veteran voice and even crack the rotation later in the winter.

That mix will try to help the Tide overcome the handful of issues facing it. Size is one, which Achilles said the team will try to combat by playing up-tempo and driving the lane on offense.

“We’re not going to be bang-it-inside, post kind of players,” he said.

Another is leadership, as Emerson and Jarry are in their first years as captains, but both are eager to try to steer the young Tide players into new, winning ways.

“I think we’re capable of a lot if we work together more,” Jarry said. “We get to put our voices out a little more, we get to help the girls that would feel more comfortable with a role model-kind of situation telling them what to do, as opposed to a teammate. … We’re really close as friends, so it’s easy for us to talk to each other.”

A third issue will take time to resolve. Achilles said the Tide does well playing to drawn-up schemes, but struggles when forced to improvise – or “freelance,” as the coach called it – when the opponent makes an adjustment.

It’s a flaw in the formula – but one that Achilles is confident will be solved with time.

“They show us something new … and we didn’t handle that well, and girls tried to do their own thing. And we’re not advanced enough yet to be able to do that and make that happen,” he said. “But hopefully we will. We did on occasion, but not consistently. … We want to be consistent, and (part) of that is running everything the way we go over it in practice.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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