A new beginning for Timber Wolf girls
Longtime Belmont mentor Jeri Blair takes over his hometown team
|KELSEY HOPPER is back for her senior season on the court for the Prospect Mountain Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)|
December 07, 2009ALTON — For 28 years, Jeri Blair patrolled the sidelines at Belmont High School, 26 of those years as the head varsity girls' basketball coach and commuted from Alton to do it.
This year, his commute will be just a bit shorter.
Blair, who lives directly across the street from the entrance to Prospect Mountain High School, will be leading the Timber Wolf girls' hoop team into action this season, with the goal of making the program's first-ever playoff appearance. And he brings with him a track record of success in Belmont and a belief that the Prospect Mountain girls have the talent to make it work.
"I really feel there's some talent there," he said.
While he will be leading the varsity team, Blair has already made trips into the communities of Alton and Barnstead to check out the seventh and eighth grade programs, assessing the talent he will be seeing in the coming years as he looks to develop a game plan.
"It's all going to start in seventh and eighth grade," Blair said. "They've got to love the game and that's where it all starts."
He noted that he hopes to get the girls at the junior high level excited about his program, meaning they will likely work harder to understand what he is looking for and will be ready to play at the varsity level when they arrive.
As for this year's team, Blair sees some talent, but says it's a matter of getting the girls to believe in themselves if they are going to accomplish the goal of making the tournament.
"The hardest thing is convincing them they can win," he said. "They have to believe in themselves, in the coach and in the coach's system."
The team will return three seniors to the fold, two with significant varsity experience.
Kelsey Hopper will once again man the front line for the Timber Wolves, where she has been in a force in previous years. Sarah Adams, one of the toughest girls you will find in Class M, will also see some time in the frontcourt. The third senior is Kristi Maciejewski, who has battled injuries every step of the way during her high school career. Blair has been working hard on conditioning drills in the early going with the hope of avoiding injuries as the season progresses.
Leading the way for the juniors is guard Rachel Roberge, who has been starting for the varsity squad since her freshman year.
"She doesn't realize how good she could be," Blair noted. "She has all the tools."
Roberge has shown a knack for three-point shooting, but has also done a solid job running the offense as point guard, so Blair figures she could see time at point guard or shooting guard.
Classmate Michelle Lizotte will also see time in the backcourt, while Stephanie Burke, Ali LaRoche and Jenny Carter will also be vying for playing time in the new coach's game plan.
The other junior is Sydney Robertson, who saw significant time with the varsity squad last year and with her height, is expected to contribute a good deal this year as well.
With a total of 19 girls out for the program, Blair is keeping one sophomore on a full-time basis, while two others will split time between the JV and varsity program.
Sahara Brown will be counted on to chip in for the varsity team, while Rebecca Krivitsky and Kristine Adams will split their time between the varsity and JV teams.
The team has took part in a couple of scrimmages in the early part of the preseason and to date, Blair has been happy, but has also noted where the team needs to improve in order to make their mark in the Class M standings.
"We've got to be stronger on the defensive end and run the offense a little better, but we've got some size and an inside-outside game, which is good," he said.
Blair has also brought along two other people who have helped him throughout portions of his career and will hopefully be a part of the success of the Timber Wolf program going forward.
Rebecca Morse, a native of Alton, has been with Blair for 19 years and will come aboard as the JV coach at Prospect Mountain, continuing the duties she had in Belmont. Belmont's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, Bridget Hooker, will also be working with the team three days a week.
The Timber Wolves get a tough draw right out of the gate, as the first game is on the road against a strong Campbell squad. They follow that up with home games against Berlin, Raymond and Gilford prior to the holiday break.
The Timber Wolves will open on Friday, Dec. 11, in Litchfield against Campbell at 7 p.m. They host their first game on Wednesday, Dec. 16, at 6:30 p.m. against Berlin.