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Youth movement in full effect for Raiders


by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

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Sophomore Chayleigh Cadarette is one of just three returning players for Belmont with varsity experience. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
November 26, 2012
BELMONT – A lot has changed for the Belmont High School girls' basketball team since we last left them.

The Red Raiders, which finished 10-9 last year and fell to Mascoma Valley in the Division III preliminary round, graduated six seniors, including leading scorer Mikaela Guertin and three-year starters Myranda Lewis and Lauren Price. New coach Mark Dawalga takes over the inexperienced unit, though the first-year head man is plenty familiar with his players, as he has been the JV girls' soccer coach at the school and assistant varsity soccer coach under Amy Dutton.

"It's been outstanding working with the girls so far," said Dawalga. "Knowing most of them from soccer, you know all their personalities. It's a great group to be around and it's worked out well."

Dawalga is tasked with the challenge of putting together a lineup almost from scratch, as senior Elizabeth Yelle (forward) is the lone member of the Class of 2013 on the roster. While she returns with some experience, the only other varsity returners are sophomores Chayleigh Cadarette (forward) and Cassie Contigiani (guard). Contigiani will be the team's starting point guard.

"We're young," Dawalga admitted. "It'll be a process. They're going to have to rely on their athleticism until they gain some experience. Being a new coach, you're teaching a new offense, new defense…it's a learning experience for them. I think they'll learn pretty quickly though."

Juniors Megan Bailey (forward) and Mary Kate Russo (forward) are the lone members of their class, and both are new to the varsity squad. Sophomores Jackelyn Robarge (guard), Kylie O'Connell (guard) and Zoe Zeller (guard) are also new to the team.

"Right now there's just not a whole lot of varsity experience," Dawalga said. "Chay played a little bit towards the end, Cassie saw some time. Other than Elizabeth and those two sophomores, there isn't a whole lot to lean on experience-wise. Like in any job, it's hard to replace that experience. But when they get it, they're going to be very good. We're a little ways away, but I'm cautiously optimistic and I believe we're going to be a very strong team."

Freshman Andreya Murphy will likely see time right away at center for the Raiders, while classmates Jasmin Clairmont (center) and Courtney Clairmont (guard/forward) should also figure into the mix.

"Athleticism is our strength," Dawalga said. "And they make good choices with the ball. That's the biggest thing for us, to not turn the ball over. Cassie didn't have a whole lot of experience but she's been very reliable all summer. We're going to rely heavily on her."

While the roster does skew very young with just three players in the senior and junior classes combined, Dawalga has seen the potential of his charges firsthand during the soccer season. Young players helped carry that team, and the Raiders hope that can be the case again this winter.

"That sophomore class is very talented from soccer to everything they do," he explained. "And they play together well which is nice. It's a special group. It's going to be a growing experience but talent-wise, they're very competitive kids."

The Raiders open the season on Friday night, when Farmington comes to Belmont for a 6 p.m. tipoff. The team hosts Franklin on Dec. 4 before traveling to Somersworth on Dec. 7.

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