Girls’ basketball: Bow throws a wrinkle at Merrimack Valley, advances to D-II quarterfinal

Bow forward Kendall Murray (32) drives to the basket in between Merrimack Valley defenders during the first half on Wednesday.

Bow forward Kendall Murray (32) drives to the basket in between Merrimack Valley defenders during the first half on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Bow guard Ella Trefethen drives against Merrimack Valley forward Annika Horne during the first half on Wednesday.

Bow guard Ella Trefethen drives against Merrimack Valley forward Annika Horne during the first half on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Bow guard Bryana Szepan tries to block out Merrimack Valley forward Kayla Smith as Bow forward Kathryn McGovern trys to corral a rebound during the second half on Wednesday, February 28, 2024.

Bow guard Bryana Szepan tries to block out Merrimack Valley forward Kayla Smith as Bow forward Kathryn McGovern trys to corral a rebound during the second half on Wednesday, February 28, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Merrimack Valley forward Kayla Smith shoots around a group of players during the second half on Wednesday, February 28, 2024.

Merrimack Valley forward Kayla Smith shoots around a group of players during the second half on Wednesday, February 28, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-28-2024 11:45 PM

Modified: 02-29-2024 11:49 AM


BOW – The No. 6 Bow Falcons (14-5) had really only played man-to-man defense all season. But entering their Division II first round meeting with No. 11 Merrimack Valley (9-10), head coach Cassidy Emerson decided to employ a zone. The gamble worked in her favor.

Bow’s defense forced turnovers on the first two possessions of the game and held the Pride to just 11 first-half points in the Falcons’ 51-36 victory on their home floor Wednesday night.

“We haven’t played much zone this year. We really are a man team, but the playoffs are different, so you gotta change things up,” Emerson said. “We just wanted to change our game a little bit. We have the personnel to do that, so we wanted to take advantage of that.”

Making a change of that magnitude in the biggest game of the season didn’t come without risk. But it threw off the Pride enough early for Bow to build up a lead.

“Game planning, they’re usually a man team, but they came out in zone, and I think it was more about allowing us to shoot the ball which we did, and we didn’t make any shots early,” MV head coach Bob McNutt said. “They have a very good team. They really did a good job of getting to the rack. We tried to force them to shoot outside, but for the most part, they just beat us to the hole. And we just couldn’t get enough stops in the second half. But they did a great job. They beat us.”

The Falcons saw three players score in double figures: senior Juliette Tarsa led the way with 14, sophomore Ella Trefethen had 13 and junior Bry Szepan had 10. The balanced offensive attack was a welcomed sign for Emerson. It’s something, she said, they’ve stressed throughout the season as key to making a deep playoff run.

“You don’t want to put the burden on one person’s back,” she said. “We’re more difficult to defend if we have more than one scorer, and that’s what we’ve been coaching in practice. We really want different girls to step up and have that opportunity. We put in some plays and screens that allows that, and I think they’re doing such a good job of working off each other and getting others open. That’s a goal we’ve had all season, so it’s really nice to finally see it.”

Meanwhile, MV junior Kayla Smith scored 24 of her team’s 36 points.

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Smith’s performance had McNutt optimistic after the game about what the future of the program holds. Along with Smith, junior Sydney Bailey and sophomore Izabelle Navoy – two of the other starters – will be back. 

“We’ve got a nice JV team coming up, so I look forward to the future,” McNutt said. “I just told them to take a look at what they’ve seen throughout the season, things that we could’ve done better, ways to get better in practice, etc., so I’m looking forward to it. We should be pretty good next year.”

It was the final game for MV’s three seniors: Sangabo Shegow, Sarah Navoy and Annika Horne.

While the Pride’s season comes to an end, Bow now prepares to face No. 3 Pembroke (16-3) on Saturday, a team it lost to twice during the regular season (42-35 and 47-38).

Emerson knows the Spartans well; in addition to having faced them in the two regular season games, she was also their JV coach last season. It’ll be a tough task on the road, but it’s one she’s confident her team is up for.

“That’s a good team,” she said of Pembroke. “Not easy to defend (Annelise Dexter) down low. We’re going to take the next couple days and prepare for that, and we’re going to be ready. ... We know the personnel now that it’s our third time, and we'll just have to clean up our own mistakes. We’ll be ready.”