Senior captain Rachel Willcutt and the Bears return a solid core from last year's team that went 12-7 overall. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
December 02, 2013TILTON – There's a lot of varsity experience back in Tilton this winter, as the Winnisquam Regional High School girls' basketball team returns a hefty portion of its lineup from last year's 12-7 campaign that saw the Bears fall in the Division III preliminary round to Laconia.
New coach Amy Dutton takes over after previously guiding the JV program for over a decade, and the first-year head coach has a relatively diverse and deep roster of players at her disposal this season.
"I'd like to play more of an uptempo style with them this year," said Dutton. "That's something they haven't done much of over the last couple of years. I think there'll be a little bit of a learning curve with that, knowing when to keep a press on or take it off. But I know all of the girls and I have a good rapport with them. We've had a great preseason with some success early on so I'm excited to see how things go."
The Bears will rely heavily on senior captains Rachel Willcutt and Hannah Chapin. Willcutt will once again run the point for Winnisquam, while Chapin is slotted for time at forward and center. The inside/outside combination is quite a threat for a team with a variety of weapons.
"Hannah Chapin can play every spot on the floor," began Dutton. "She's one of those kids that if she doesn't get in foul trouble, she'll probably never come off the floor. She's just so important to how we operate.
"With Rachel, I actually may use her a little bit down low this year," the coach continued. "We're loaded at guard and have some needs in the post so I'm trying to be a little creative with some things. She's a great post player in addition to being a great point guard. But those two are just such great leaders, it's refreshing to see how in charge of the team they are."
Senior Kaylee Howard returns and will once again be an outside shooting threat for the Bears. Fellow seniors Dallis Austin (forward), Kayla Langan (guard) and Kendra Lonergan (guard) round out a deep and talented Class of 2014.
Junior Erin McNamara (guard) is the lone member of her class on the roster, while sophomores Tea Michaloski (guard), Madison Langan (center) and Dakota Austin (forward) are joined by freshman Laura Harmon (center) to fill out the varsity squad.
The front line will be interesting to watch for the Bears this year, as Dutton will turn to several players to see minutes. Chapin (5-foot-10) will be in the mix, while Harmon (5-11) and Madison Langan (5-11) are inexperienced but talented post players who Dutton hopes will be able to slide in and provide a boost.
"They're going to have to be ready because we're hurting a little bit in the big department," Dutton explained of Harmon and Langan. "Madison has had a nice preseason transitioning from JV and at 5-11, Laura has a ton of potential. My original plan was to swing her (between JV and varsity) but now she's going to have to fill a role up at varsity."
Dutton is excited about the athleticism that Michaloski and McNamara provide, as the tandem will hopefully cause some havoc in an uptempo contest.
"Those two work well together and they trust each other," the coach said. "I put them out front on the press and they made things happen in the preseason. I think they'll both step up and play a huge role for us."
Dutton was also impressed with the way Lonergan, fresh off an outstanding field hockey season in goal, has provided a lift so far.
"She plays tough defense and is just a tough kid overall," Dutton said of Lonergan. "When she comes in, she gives us a really nice spark."
The Bears will be tested in the month of December, as they open on Friday night with a home tilt against defending state runner-up White Mountains before also tangling with perennial power Bow before Christmas.
"I think we'll be a much better team in the second half than we will be in December," said Dutton. "We're learning a little bit of a new system but it'll be interesting to see how it all pans out."