Girls’ basketball: No. 1 Concord Christian, No. 3 Pembroke prepare to do battle for the Division II title on Sunday

Annelise Dexter dribbles toward the basket for Pembroke during the D-II semifinal against Laconia on March 6.

Annelise Dexter dribbles toward the basket for Pembroke during the D-II semifinal against Laconia on March 6. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

Emma Smith races to the hoop during the Division II semifinal against John Stark on March 6. Smith led the Kingsmen with 27 points in the 68-50 win.

Emma Smith races to the hoop during the Division II semifinal against John Stark on March 6. Smith led the Kingsmen with 27 points in the 68-50 win. Chip Griffin / Photos By Chip

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-08-2024 11:33 AM

When Pembroke faced off against Concord Christian on Jan. 30, both teams were unbeaten. The Spartans led 51-50 with 6:15 remaining in the game but didn’t score again for over five minutes, as CCA stormed ahead to a 65-55 victory.

On Sunday, the two teams will meet again at UNH, this time with a Division II championship on the line. The Kingsmen (19-1) won the Division IV title in 2022 and the Division III title last year; this is their only year playing in Division II before moving up to Division I next season.

Both teams have top players to watch — senior Annelise Dexter for Pembroke (18-3) and sophomore Emma Smith for CCA — but both teams also have considerable versatility, with several other players who can knock down shots. In Wednesday’s semifinal win over Laconia, Pembroke freshman Anne Phillips scored 11 points and junior Kaitlin Arenella had eight; in the Spartans’ quarterfinal win against Bow, sophomore Kate Stephens turned in a 17-point performance. Meanwhile, CCA’s Lilli Carlile scored 19 points in the team’s victory over John Stark in the semifinals, after leading the team with 18 in its quarterfinal win over Derryfield. Sophomore Kayden Rioux also knocked down four 3-pointers in that Derryfield win.

In other words, it’ll take more than each team trying to eliminate one notable player in order to emerge victorious.

The biggest key for Pembroke, though, will be to try to slow down the Kingsmen offense that likes to race the ball up the floor. Against John Stark, CCA built a 7-0 lead in the first 55 seconds and a 13-2 lead less than three minutes into the game. Digging that deep of a hole early is a recipe for disaster against a team as skilled as the Kingsmen.

On the other side, CCA will look to try to force the Spartans into rushing shots. One of the best parts of Wednesday’s win, Pembroke head coach Steve Langevin said, was his offense’s patience with the ball. It’s a theme that’s persisted throughout the season for the  Spartans and one of the big reasons they advanced to play for a title.

“They just don’t really get nervous,” Langevin said after the win over Laconia. “We had a couple little 10-second blips there of being a little rushed, so we called time, but overall, I thought we executed very well on both ends. 

“I thought it was a really good, solid game for us.”

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CCA head coach Rebecca Carlile was similarly pleased with her team’s semifinal performance.

“I’m just proud of them,” she said. “I think that was a great team win. Emma had a phenomenal game. Lilli played great. Taylor (Rioux) played great. Defensively, Kate (Smith) was unbelievable down low. I just think it was a great team win overall.”

Both CCA and Pembroke have already had phenomenal seasons, and each coach hopes their mix of veterans and younger players can pave the way for a state title.

“Concord Christian’s been in tournaments since they were in eighth grade, so they’re young, but they’re very tournament-seasoned,” Langevin said. “Our younger kids really aren’t, but they’ve performed very well so far. Pretty exciting.”