Charland returns to Kingswood sidelines


Relatively young squad has "new" Knight coach excited about the coming year



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ERIN DEELY is one of two seniors returning to action for the Kingswood girls’ hoop team. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
December 14, 2009
WOLFEBORO — After taking a few years off from the coaching ranks, Grady Charland returns to the Kingswood girls' basketball sidelines this winter.

"I'm glad I'm back," he said. "We have a great group of girls who have made the transition easy.

"They're a young group, very coachable," he continued. "We're kind of doing this together."

The team includes two senior holdovers from coach Steve Eckhoff's team last year, Erin Deely and Hannah Seibel.

"They've done a nice job providing leadership and helping at practices getting the kids motivated," Charland said of the two seniors.

Deely is expected, as she was last year, to be one of the team's top scorers, while Seibel has been serving double duty as both a point guard and a two-guard, but Charland expects her to move to the two-guard on a more regular basis as the season progresses.

That move is made possible by the emergence of sophomore Morgan Ekstrom, who seems to have an inside track on point guard duties.

"She's handled good pressure and done pretty well," Charland noted. "She's definitely a hard-nosed player and learns from her mistakes. And she's picked up on everything."

Juniors Stef McNally and Ari Lehner will both be returning to the varsity squad after seeing some time with Eckhoff's team last year and Charland will be looking to both of them to provide valuable minutes off the bench.

"Ari's had a nice preseason. She's a shot in the arm coming off the bench," he said. "She provides a lot of energy."

He noted that McNally provides solid ball-handling skills, giving them a solid perimeter player off the bench to open the season.

Junior Casey Harrigan saw extensive time for the Knights as a sophomore last season and will be counted on again this year, but in a bit of a different role.

Charland has moved Harrigan down to the post, where he expects her to excel on defense.

"Defensively, I think she could be a force," the Knight coach noted.

The team's other juniors are twin transfer students Alyssa and Erica Nelson, who come to the Knights from archrival Plymouth. Both girls are around 5'10" and Charland expects them to chip in right away.

"They're really going to help us," he said. "Alyssa's an animal on the boards and she can leap. And being twins, they find each other very well on the floor."

In addition to Ekstrom, the team will have four other sophomores.

Megan Pollini and Brittany Roy both saw minutes at the varsity level last season and will return to the squad this year. Charland is pleased with what he's seen from both of them so far and has high expectations for both.

Stephanie Valpey will also contribute in the backcourt off the bench and will see time at the JV level as well. Leah Kenison will also split her time between JV and varsity, but has picked up on the game well over the last three seasons.

Rounding out the team is the squad's lone freshman, Nicole Matarozzo, who made her presence known on the field hockey field this fall and will be looking to do the same on the basketball court.

"She's a tremendous athlete. She's come in and is not bashful at all," Charland said. "She looks for her shot."

With a roster mixed with experience and youth, the Knight coach knows that the team could see some growing pains over the course of the season, but notes that he is employing a philosophy presented by Harvard coach Tommy Amaker at a clinic that Charland and boys' coach Dan Chick attended earlier this season.

"Our goal is to get better every day," he said, noting that the way the girls have pushed each other in practice has allowed that to continue. "It's pretty competitive and they are working to get better every day."

He notes that the kids are already buying into the idea, but with a schedule that includes 16 of 18 games against playoff teams from a year ago, it won't be an easy road.

"It's not an easy schedule," he said. "We want to be competitive and hopefully shooting for the playoffs at the end of the year."

Throughout the preseason, Charland has seen his team deal with adversity well and stick together, which is exactly what he wanted to see and he points out that the team sticking together through everything is just what he is looking for.

The Knights come right out of the gate with Coe-Brown at home on Friday, Dec. 18, at 6:30 p.m. The girls then hit the road for games at St. Thomas on Monday, Dec. 21, at 6:30 p.m. and at Hollis-Brookline on Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 5:30 p.m.

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