H.S. girls’ basketball previews: Surprise return at Brady, Capital-area teams ready for new season 

  • LEFT: Bishop Brady’s Isabella Rivera still controls the ball even after being tripped up against two Merrimack Valley defenders.

  • ABOVE: Bishop Brady guard Ami Rivera (right) goes up against Merrimack Valley guard Alyssa Woodman for a rebound in the second half. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 1/9/2021 6:52:04 PM

The Bishop Brady girls’ basketball program brings back almost everyone from last year’s 14-7 team that reached the Division II semifinals, including a surprise return by most of the coaching staff.

Annie Mattarazzo decided to step down as Brady’s head coach at the end of last season to focus on an impending baby (Antonio Mattarazzo was born on Sept. 28). Her assistants, husband Andrew Mattarazzo and father Sal Alosa, also stepped away from Bishop Brady – Andrew, who was also the Brady girls’ soccer coach, accepted a job as the Goffstown High girls’ soccer coach for the fall of 2020, and Alosa planned to travel with his wife, Kelly, who was part of the staff for the girls’ basketball and soccer teams at Brady herself.

But the coronavirus pandemic canceled Sal and Kelly’s travel plans, which meant Bishop Brady didn’t have to make new plans for its girls’ basketball team. Sal Alosa will take over as the team’s head coach, Andrew Mattarazzo will be back as an assistant and Kelly Alosa will be keeping the book.

“We all talked about it and came to the decision back in November,” Andrew Mattarazzo said. “We have nine of the 10 girls returning from last year, so we know almost all the players, we know the system, we know each other and so that’s how it happened. We didn’t even take a year off like we planned, but it’s good to be back.”

Alosa ran practices for Brady last year and he has been on coaching staffs with Annie at Salem High, UMass-Lowell and Carnegie Mellon University, so there’s no doubt the up-tempo, high-scoring, high-pressure system that has been Brady’s trademark in recent years will remain in place. That continuity will be further cemented by the return of senior point guard Ami Rivera, a four-year starter who broke the 1,000-point plateau last year. Rivera was a first-team D-II pick as a sophomore and junior and should be one of the most productive players in the state again this year.

The Giants return four other players with lots of starting and varsity experience – senior guard Halle Laramie, senior forward Riley Marsh and junior guards Libbey Hicks and Isabella Rivera. They were all key parts pf last year’s team that upset No. 2 Hollis-Brookline in the quarterfinals before losing to No. 3 Spaulding in the semifinals.

Size may be an issue for Brady. Marsh is the tallest player on the roster at 5-foot-9, but the arrival of 5-8 freshman forward Morgan Casey should help the Giants inside.

Merrimack Valley finished last season 10-9 after losing to Brady in the first round of the playoffs, 65-50. The Pride returns two starters from that team – one on the perimeter in senior point guard Hayley Kenney and one on the interior in junior center Mackenzie McDonald. Coach Bob McNutt, now in his fourth year leading the team, gave varsity minutes to some younger players last season that should pay off this year. The Pride also has four players who decided to return to the program for their senior years – Taylor Bailey, Caitlyn Fortier, Morgan Tanguay and Riley Tanguay.

“I think our strength will be our athletic ability. We will play aggressive on the defensive end and look to be more up-tempo on the offensive end,” McNutt said. “This season will be different with COVID and the protocols we must follow, but the opportunity to play is great for these kids. Fingers crossed that we can get through the season.”

Coe-Brown also finished 10-9 last season after losing in the first round of the D-II playoffs. The Bears return two starters, seniors Jennifer Bettencourt and Valentia White, who have both been four-year varsity players. Senior center Molly Ewing and senior guard/forward Olivia Noni were role players last season and will need to take on a more responsibilities this year. Seventh-year coach Joe Vachon likes the talent of the other eight players on his roster (four juniors and four sophomores), but they are still unproven at the varsity level.

“How it all fits will just have to see,” Vachon said. “The team has taken the challenges of this season in stride, and we’re taking it one practice at a time and one game at a time.”

After 10 years coaching the Bow girls’ basketball team, Bill Vermette left the team after last season and will be replaced by Phil Davis, who was the Brady boys’ basketball last year and is the head pro at Beaver Meadow Golf Course. The Falcons return seven players with varsity experience from the 2019-20 team that went 13-7 and reached the D-II quarterfinals, including senior forwards Brooke Biehl and Makala Murray, and juniors Jessica Chamberlin and Madison Speckman.

“This is a very complete group of players,” Davis said. “We have great senior leadership. accompanied by a very unselfish and talented group of underclassmen. I am excited to see this group compete against the top teams in the state.”

The Pembroke Academy girls’ basketball team has its third new coach in three years in Steve Langevin, who has been a head coach for multiple teams in multiple sports at PA. Langevin likes what he’s seen from this group in preseason and said the players are “learning by leaps and bounds … and we’re hoping getting better at the little things, and playing with renewed confidence might turn some of those losses (from last year’s 4-14 record) into wins.” Junior co-captains Ashley Stephens, a 5-9 guard/forward, and Cierra Hill, a 5-2 guard, are PA’s two returning starters. Senior Haley LeBlanc and juniors Summer Pescinski, Britney Hill and Brooke Davison all saw varsity time last year and will look to assume bigger roles this season.

Concord is scheduled to open its season with a home-and-home series against D-II Merrimack Valley on Friday and Saturday, but after that the Crimson Tide will be back in its own division facing D-I teams. Last season, Concord earned the program’s first home playoff game since 2005, claimed a 69-64 OT win in that contest against Salem and finished the season 13-7 after losing to top-seeded Bishop Guertin in the quarterfinals.

The Tide returns four starters from last year’s group – 6-foot senior forward Jordyn Lengle, 6-1 junior center Elizabeth Blinn, 5-10 sophomore point guard Ava Woodman and 5-8 junior guard Elli Cox. Woodman was a second-team D-I pick last year as a freshman, and Blinn was a D-I honorable mention. Concord’s preseason was cut short as the entire athletic program was shut down from Dec. 15-Jan. 4, so the Tide will rely on its length, defense and athleticism in the opening games as its offense looks to find a rhythm.

“There is a lot to be excited about this year and moving forward,” said Tim LaTorra, who is starting his fourth year as Concord’s head coach.

Hopkinton is usually one of the top teams in D-III, but with schedules based on location and not division due to the coronavirus guidelines, the Hawks will face D-II teams in eight of their 11 scheduled regular-season games.

“Our regional schedule is challenging,” said Pat Roye, who is in his fifth year as Hopkinton’s head coach. “We’re hoping to use the regular season to keep improving and to give our youngsters some needed experience. Our goal is to be ready and make some noise in the tournament.”

Like the fall season, the NHIAA’s end-of-season tournaments will be open to all who want to participate, so the Hawks won’t have to worry about piling up too many losses against the bigger D-II schools. Seniors Maurgan McGrath and Brooke Carlson and junior Kally Murdough are Hopkinton’s three returning starters from last year’s team that finished 17-4 after losing to Fall Mountain in the D-III semifinals.

Kearsarge has moved from D-II to D-III this year, but with the localized schedules, the Cougars will play nine of their 13 games against D-II teams. Keith Roberts, now in his sixth year as Kearsarge’s head coach, returns eight players with varsity experience from last year’s team that finished 9-10 after losing in the first round to Spaulding, which reached the D-II final before the season was canceled. Ellie Camp, Erin Wheeler and Tori Andrewski are part of that returning group and the only three seniors on the Cougars roster, but this is a team that will utilize all of its depth to play a range of styles.

“The girls did what they could this summer and fall to get ready and the commitment has been great,” Roberts said. “We have a really good returning group and some newcomers that will help us a lot. We are really balanced on how we can play: some up-tempo, we can slow it down and get inside to our bigs, just a lot of options.”

Jen Sanborn returns for her third year as the head coach at Hillsboro-Deering. The Hillcats went 4-14 last season in D-III and missed the tournament. They might have a hard time winning more games this year playing against mostly D-II teams, but they will get a chance to play in the D-III tournament as long as they are healthy. The same goes for Pittsfield, which went 1-17 last season in D-IV, and new coach Ryan McKenna.

Bruce Johnson will return for a fifth year to coach the John Stark girls’ basketball team, which went 15-5 last year and lost to Lebanon, the other team to reach the D-II final before it was canceled, in the quarterfinals. Stark delayed the start of practice and tryouts for all of its winter sports teams until Monday, so Johnson hasn’t had a chance to assess what kind of team he will have this winter.

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