Jesse Mitchell is one of five seniors returning for coach Alan Merrifield’s Newfound Bears. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
December 03, 2012BRISTOL — To say it's been a harried preseason for the Newfound hoop boys might be a bit of an understatement.
Coach Alan Merrifield had fewer than 20 players for the first few weeks of practice, so basically the Bears have all been practicing as one team.
However, at the end of last week they were able to pull together 20 players and were able to break out into JV and varsity teams to concentrate on specific needs for each team.
The good news for Merrifield is that he has five players returning to the roster from last year's team and all five seniors will get their chance, but so will every other player on the roster.
"We will dress 12 players for varsity and we plan to go 10 to 11 deep every game and hope to rotate fresh legs into the game every three or four minutes to maintain a high intensity level on defense," Merrifield stated.
Seniors Ben Prive, Jesse Mitchell, Eric Vose, Noah Merrill and Doug Payne all saw time on last year's squad and they will be asked to step up their game this year as they don the green and white for the final time.
Merrifield will also have seven new players on the varsity roster. Senior Nick White and juniors Dahlton Fairbank, Nick Tapply, Tyler Maviki and Nick MacDonald are all on the varsity squad for the first time and they will be joined by sophomores Remi Ellis and Caleb Merrill.
While Ellis and Caleb Merrill will see some time at the JV level due to the low numbers, Merrifield expects both of them to contribute at the varsity level as well.
The Newfound coach notes that as the preseason has progressed, the team has been looking for its identity.
"They seem to know what they want to do and how they want to play, but we have not been able to consistently put it together in the preseason yet," Merrifield said.
The key to the game for the Bears will be defensive pressure. Merrifield hopes to use consistent pressure on the opposing team's guards to overcome his team's lack of height.
"The pressure should also lead to transition offense, where we have plenty of players that can finish at the hoop," the Bear coach said.
On the offensive side of the ball, Merrifield is looking for his team to concentrate more on executing on offense and on out-of-bounds set plays.
"We have looked very sloppy at times so far this preseason when we have not slowed down and executed correctly," he said. "Five players need to work together on the court to be successful and every players needs to contribute."
He notes that he expects five to eight points from each player and tough defense to go with it.
Out of the gate, things aren't easy for the Bears, as they open against the defending Division III champions, Berlin, on Tuesday, Dec. 11. The Bears, who finished 5-13 last season, beat White Mountains in the play-in game and lost to Hopkinton in the first round of the tournament, are looking to make their fifth playoff appearance in seven years.
"But the players want to get by that elusive first round," Merrifield said, noting that both the baseball and soccer teams (featuring many of the same players) had finished fifth in DIII and dropped first-round games.
"It's our time," he said. "The boys are talented enough and with hard work and teamwork, they can reach their goals."
The first game with Berlin, set for Tuesday, Dec. 11, starts at 6:30 p.m. in Bristol. The Bears will see the Mountaineers again later in the season and will also feature two games apiece with Franklin, Mascoma, Winnisquam, White Mountains, Laconia and Inter-Lakes, as well as singular matchups with Gilford, Prospect Mountain, Belmont and Kearsarge.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126