Girls’ basketball: Hopkinton’s title run falls short against Kearsarge; Cougars win first state title in 22 years

The Kearsarge girls basketball team celebrate at midcourt after they defeated the Hopkinton Hawks to win the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College.

The Kearsarge girls basketball team celebrate at midcourt after they defeated the Hopkinton Hawks to win the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton center Sydney Westover goes up to shoot against Kearsarge forward Ociee Ilg during the first half on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College during the D-III Championship game.

Hopkinton center Sydney Westover goes up to shoot against Kearsarge forward Ociee Ilg during the first half on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College during the D-III Championship game. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Ava Shapiro (center with net), Tessa Marinello (holding plaque) lead the celebration of the Kearsarge girls team after they defeated the Hopkinton Hawks to win the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College.

Ava Shapiro (center with net), Tessa Marinello (holding plaque) lead the celebration of the Kearsarge girls team after they defeated the Hopkinton Hawks to win the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton center Sydney Westover goes up to shoot against a group of Kearsarge players during the first half on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College during the D-III Championship game.

Hopkinton center Sydney Westover goes up to shoot against a group of Kearsarge players during the first half on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College during the D-III Championship game. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

The Kearsarge girls basketball team celebrate at midcourt after they defeated the Hopkinton Hawks to win the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College.

The Kearsarge girls basketball team celebrate at midcourt after they defeated the Hopkinton Hawks to win the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Kearsarge players Ava Shapiro (10), and Tessa Marinello (21) surround Hopkinton center Sydney Westover druing the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College.

Kearsarge players Ava Shapiro (10), and Tessa Marinello (21) surround Hopkinton center Sydney Westover druing the Division III championship on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Kearsarge forward Ociee Ilg goes up against Hopkinton guard Paige Boudette in the second half on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College during the D-III Championship game.

Kearsarge forward Ociee Ilg goes up against Hopkinton guard Paige Boudette in the second half on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College during the D-III Championship game. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Kearsarge guard Ava Shapiro takes a shot for the Cougars during Saturday’s D-III championship. She scored seven of her 12 points in the third quarter.

Kearsarge guard Ava Shapiro takes a shot for the Cougars during Saturday’s D-III championship. She scored seven of her 12 points in the third quarter. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Kearsarge Tessa Marinello holds the D-III Championship trophy after the Cougars defeated Hopkinton on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College.

Kearsarge Tessa Marinello holds the D-III Championship trophy after the Cougars defeated Hopkinton on Saturday night, February 24, 2024 at Keene State College. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton guard Shaylee Murdough (3) goes up for a shot against Kearsarge forwward Adara Boucher during the first half of the D-III Championship at Keene State College on Saturday night, February 24, 2024.

Hopkinton guard Shaylee Murdough (3) goes up for a shot against Kearsarge forwward Adara Boucher during the first half of the D-III Championship at Keene State College on Saturday night, February 24, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-24-2024 11:03 PM

Modified: 02-25-2024 9:47 AM


In the Division III semifinals against Winnisquam, Hopkinton seemed to be able to score whenever it wanted. On Saturday, with a state championship on the line against No. 4 Kearsarge at Keene State, the Hawks’ offense mostly vanished.

After taking a 12-7 lead into the start of the second quarter, No. 2 Hopkinton (15-4) didn’t score again before halftime. The Cougars (15-5) carried a 15-12 advantage to the locker room and ultimately prevailed, 38-27, to claim the program’s first state title since 2002.

Kearsarge senior Tess Marinello led the Cougars with 15 points and junior guard Ava Shapiro finished with 12, including seven in the third quarter. Hopkinton junior Shaylee Murdough, coming off of her 23-point performance in the semifinals, led the Hawks with 15 points, but the Cougars made her work for each of them.

“The girls they had on her did a really good job not letting her get to the basket, which is really where she’s been effective the last couple of games,” Hawks head coach Mike Mahoney said. “She actually shot pretty well. I think she was 5-for-11, but it just seemed like they were making a point to, every screen hedging over and putting two people on her and trying to make somebody else beat us. She had a good game. She had 15 of our 27. She just had to earn them a little bit more today. They had a good game plan on her.”

The Cougars upset No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas in the semifinals on Wednesday with a 52-44 win. They’d lost both regular season matchups against Hopkinton, but they finally flipped the script on Saturday on the backs of their stellar defensive performance.

It was a surprisingly quick return to the mountaintop for Kearsarge head coach Ed Tenney, who’d previously coached the program from 1990 through 2008. He’d left to coach boys’ basketball at Sunapee High School and then retired, before coming out of retirement to coach at Kearsarge again beginning last season. 

“My life in coaching has been a blessing, and it’s been a joy,” he said. “We had a team that refused to do anything but just get better and better as the year went on. We had a small group. We didn’t have depth, but we had a core group of five, six, seven players that just got better individually and got better as a team, cleaned up any issues they had that were holding us back.”

On the other side, Hopkinton’s depth was significantly tested on Saturday. Senior Lizz Holmes — who’d left Wednesday’s semifinal on crutches — tried to play through her injury in the championship game but ultimately left in the second half and did not return. With fellow seniors Katie Brown and Keegan St. Cyr also injured, it only put more pressure on Murdough, junior Sydney Westover and younger players like sophomores Zoe Bishop and Helen Yeaton and freshman Avery Chase. 

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While it wasn’t the desired outcome, Saturday certainly provided an experience that will be of value when most of the roster returns next season.

“We had a pretty young group, but I just told them, ‘You had an amazing season, and you made a lot of people proud. You made the community proud, the school proud,’ and they should keep their heads up,” Mahoney said.

All five starters from Saturday’s game will be back next season, positioning the group to make another run at a championship.

“We’re going to try to remember this feeling and make sure next year we get that last one and finish it strong,” Mahoney said. “They had a great year, and they should be very proud of themselves. I’m very proud of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better first year or a better group.”