MV and Coe-Brown girls meet again – this time for the D-II championship
Coe-Brown defeated Hanover 56-52 in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.
(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)
Merrimack Valley defeated Milford in the Division II semi final at SNHU on Monday, March 10, 2014.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
When Merrimack Valley and Coe-Brown play today at noon at Southern New Hampshire University for the Division II girls’ basketball championship, it will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams. The two regular-season games were close, but they were far from clinical.
“The quality of those games wasn’t very good,” Coe-Brown Coach Dave Hartnett said. “Both teams made a lot of mistakes. We were both slugging it out and neither team played all that well. It was ugly basketball to say the least.”
Fourth-seeded MV (17-4) won both of those contests – 57-53 on Jan. 14 in Northwood and 41-34 on Jan. 31 in Penacook – but Pride Coach Dave Huckins doesn’t believe it will be the same type of game this time against the No. 6 Bears (16-5).
“Both teams have really improved since then, so I think it’s going to be a very good game,” Huckins said. “It’s a matter of who’s going to hit their free throws, who’s going to limit their turnovers, and who’s going to make the last run. Both teams are going to make runs, so it’s just a matter of if we can withstand theirs and try to make a bigger one.”
It will likely be a game of runs because these teams like to run. They both employ full-court presses as a regular part of their defense, looking to create turnovers that will lead to quick offense.
“It’s definitely going to be a really fast-paced game because both teams like to fast break and love running up and down the court,” Coe-Brown junior Jenny Schlim said.
There’s no doubt that Huckins is also right about both teams improving. The Pride has won nine of its 10 games since the last meeting with Coe-Brown. The one loss came against Milford, but MV redeemed that defeat with a 51-43 semifinal win over the top-ranked Spartans. The Pride also avenged a regular-season loss in the quarterfinals when it knocked off defending champion Lebanon in overtime, 67-61.
The Bears have won 10 of 11 since the Jan. 31 game at Merrimack Valley. Their one loss during that stretch was their worst of the season, a 62-38 shellacking at home against Lebanon. Some teams might have crumbled after that kind of night, but not Coe-Brown.
“After that loss to Lebanon I challenged the kids to start believing in themselves and believing in what were doing,” Hartnett said. “I wish I could tell you exactly what it was that got them turned around and going in the right direction, but we’ve been playing better each game since then.”
The Bears won their last six regular-season games and then used their up-tempo offense to claim a 55-47 first-round win over No. 11 Hollis-Brookline. They turned to a 2-3 zone defense to counter a taller Souhegan team and pull off a 48-39 upset against the No. 3 Sabers, who had beaten the Bears in the first game of the season. Coe-Brown switched to a 3-2 zone in the semifinals to defend the outside shooters from No. 2 Hanover (a team that also beat the Bears in the regular season) and came away with a 56-52 win.
Chances are Coe-Brown will use more of a 2-3 look against the Pride. MV will have a height advantage today and boasts a pair of outstanding forwards in Mayson Kimball and Mary Mullen. Kimball has scored 73 points in MV’s three tournament games, including 38 in the Pride’s 76-54 first-round win over No. 13 St. Thomas.
“We’re definitely going to have to deny the post because they have size on us,” Schlim said. “We’re also going to have work really hard on the boards and make sure to box out.”
If the Bears are clogging the paint against Kimball and Mullen, MV will need some perimeter scoring from Emily Mulleavey and Cassidy Huckins, who has shown a knack for hitting clutch 3s in these playoffs. On the other end, the Pride will be focused on Abby Ahern (55 points in the three tournament games) and Schlim, and on keeping the Bears away from the rim.
“We’ve got to take away the easy shots,” Huckins said. “They like to use a lot of pick-and-rolls, so we’ve got to make sure they don’t get any easy buckets and if someone gets hot from the outside then we’ll adjust. And we’ll do our best to take away their strength, which is Schlim and Ahern.”
While those two forwards have led Coe-Brown in scoring all year, the Bears, like MV, have other offensive options. Debbie Peabody had 12 points in the semifinals, six of them coming in the fourth quarter, and Sarah Curtin finished with 11 points and four assists in that game.
These two teams have made significant strides since last year when they were both 12-8 and lost in the quarterfinals. They have also pushed their programs into places they haven’t been in some time. Merrimack Valley has previously been to only one girls’ basketball championship game, losing to Hanover in 2004.
“I’ve mentioned to the girls that this a chance for them to make history,” Huckins said. “But we need to stay focused.”
The last time the Coe-Brown girls were in a championship game was 2000, when they claimed the Class I crown over Kearsarge.
“We’re a young team so we haven’t been to anything like this, so it’s pretty exciting to be here, especially because it’s been a long time since Coe-Brown has been here,” Schlim said. “It’s a pretty big moment.”
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)