Eagles embrace fresh start

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Seniors Kayla Orton (24) and Kelsey Buckley (30) will look to help lead the Eagles on and off the court this winter. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
December 02, 2013
GILFORD Despite the loss of six seniors to graduation, don't expect a rebuilding year for the Gilford High School girls' basketball team. While the Golden Eagles graduated over three-quarters of their scoring load from last year's team that went 15-5 and reached the Division III quarterfinals, a steady veteran presence mixed with an outstanding sophomore core that is ready to breakthrough should have Gilford in contention once again this winter.

"We lost over 80-percent of our scoring through graduation but we have great confidence that we will be able to produce some points this year," said Gilford coach Rick Forge, who enters his ninth year with the squad. "It is going to be real competitive for playing time as we have a much deeper bench than we have had in the past. The rebuilding time will be brief as these kids can play."

While mainstays in the starting lineup like Abby Harris, Molly Dietrich and Hayley Jakubens moved on to graduation, the Eagles will turn to a new crew of seniors to help lead the way experience-wise. Senior forward Kelsey Buckley is a returning starter, while classmate Kayla Orton will be called on to fill a void at center. Senior Brid Fillion will handle some of the guard responsibilities and add a scoring touch, while newcomer Anna Malek (forward) rounds out the class.

"Last year I wasn't trying to be a leader but this year with a lot of younger girls on the team, they look to you to be a leader," said Orton, who helped guide the Eagles to a Final Four appearance during the field hockey season. "There's a lot of respect on this team though, everyone is capable of taking on a leadership role any given night."

Flying under the radar a bit after key losses is a role the Eagles have embraced during the early-going.

"I definitely think we're going to surprise people," said Buckley. "The big thing is just playing, getting that practice in and going out there and doing it."

Gilford also enjoyed quite a bit of success during the summer league season, a confidence-booster for a team looking to work in a plethora of new pieces.

"I think we played pretty well over the summer. We saw pretty decent results so hopefully that'll carry over into the season," Fillion said.

Guard Alex Harris is the lone junior on the roster, and she'll aid in the depth of the backcourt after seeing key minutes on JV last year.

The sophomore class is the real key for the Eagles. While several of the youngsters saw minutes on varsity as freshmen last year, this year they won't have the luxury of being eased into roles.

"We're fully aware what they can do," said Fillion of the sophomore class. "When they did get their chance last year, they took more of a step back and let the seniors lead the way. But this year they'll be ready to go at full force."

Sophomore point guard Cassidy Bartlett worked her way into the starting lineup down the stretch last season and will get the nod this year from the get-go. Bartlett is a strong distributor of the basketball, and she showed the ability to lead the Eagles out in transition last year.

Forward Jordan Dean and center Maddie Harris both saw valuable varsity minutes last year and will look to make a big leap this winter, while guard Shannon Mercer is arguably the team's best perimeter shooter after a solid season with the JV squad.

Fellow sophomores Mariah Nelson (forward) and Julia Harris (guard) will also get their chance to battle for varsity minutes, while guard/forward Stevie Orton is the lone freshman on the roster but certainly hasn't looked like a rookie during the offseason. She should figure into the discussion from the beginning.

"We all know how to play together," said Kayla Orton. "We're a good passing team and we communicate well out there. There's no one person above the rest. We're willing to work together."

Gilford will open its regular season schedule on Friday night when the Eagles visit Somersworth at 6 p.m.

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