Kelsey Buckley and the Eagles appear poised to improve on a 9-11 season a year ago. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
November 26, 2012GILFORD – Loaded with experience, as well as exciting new talent, there's been a lot of focus on the Gilford High School girls' basketball program entering this winter. The Golden Eagles lost just one player to graduation after a 9-11 season, and veteran coach Rick Forge's team is widely considered by area coaches to compete in the deep pool of Division III squads when things open up Friday night on the road against Somersworth.
Gilford has six seniors on the roster this winter, as the Class of 2013 has been watched closely since entering the school as freshmen. It's make or break time for the unit, and Forge expects big things from his veterans.
"They know it's their show this year," said Forge of the senior class. "It's their year to show their talents and they're ready to accept that challenge. Our senior class is going to lead the way for us. They've all been working hard in practice. Spirits are high and they understand this could be a breakout year for the program."
Leading the way for the senior class is point guard Molly Dietrich and forward Abby Harris. Dietrich led the Eagles in steals and assists last year as a junior and was second on the team in scoring with 8.4 points per game. Harris was the team's top scorer, pouring in 9.4 points per game, and also the unit's best rebounder with 8.4 per contest.
"We're looking at them being leaders," said Forge of the duo. "Abby and Molly have always been a strong part of our program. Abby really solidified our defense last year with her rebounding. I think the two of them are ready to take on a big leadership role."
Fellow seniors Sarah Veazey (6.4 points per game last year) and Paige Laliberte (6.0) also return, with Veazey a prime option at shooting guard and Laliberte seeing time at forward. Classmate Sophie Brunt also returns, as does center Hayley Jakubens, who is back after attending Laconia Christian as a junior.
Juniors Kelsey Buckley (small forward) and Kayla Orton (power forward) are back after seeing quality minutes as sophomores, as Buckley was the team's Most Improved Player award winner. Fellow juniors Brid Fillion (guard) and Becky Zakorchemny (guard) are up from the JV team and should factor into the back court rotation.
While the Eagles are loaded with experience, it's a quartet of freshmen that also has Forge excited for the future of the program. Point guard Cassidy Bartlett is very talented and should figure into the mix sooner rather than later, while Maddie Harris (forward/center), Jordan Dean (forward) and Shannon Mercer (guard) will all likely make their presence known at the varsity level this winter.
"It's a very talented freshman group," lauded Forge. "They will push the older kids. They all saw substantial action on the summer program so they've got a good start in that regard. Basketball-wise, I think this is probably a more talented class coming in as freshmen than this current senior class. The seniors we have today are good athletes and basketball players, but we've got some kids as freshmen that in any other year, they'd be pulled right up from the start. They could very well end up there, they're that talented."
The depth that Forge hopes will be at his disposal will help Gilford play a full court game, and the coach doesn't think the drop off from his starters to reserves will be very extreme.
"It does change your whole concept of play," Forge said. "We're going to be a team now that can play all 94 feet for all 32 minutes. With the talent that we have, we can go to our bench without feeling like we're going to skip a beat."
The senior class has also embraced the pack of freshmen, and Forge has been impressed with how well his roster has meshed during preseason.
"What's been great is they've been very accepting," the coach said of the upperclassmen. "They understand that in order to be successful as a team, we have to be deep. They respect those kids and they've welcomed them in. That's been great to see."
Former Moultonborough Academy girls' varsity coach Chuck Kenney will serve as Gilford's JV coach this winter, and the veteran mentor brings an experienced guiding hand to the junior Eagles program.
"You don't see JV coaches with the coaching experience that Chuck has," Forge said. "I look at Chuck as being my assistant coach. We run both practices together and everything like that. It's a shared responsibility."