Hoop Crusaders: Hadlocks give Littleton girls’ program a boost

By Mike Whaley

LITTLETON – The name Hadlock is synonymous with athletics in Littleton, but more so in recent years with the Littleton High School girls basketball team. After all, junior Addison Hadlock is one of the stars for the Crusaders (12-0), the only unbeaten team left in NHIAA Division IV. Her mom, Kelly, is the JV and assistant varsity coach, while older sister, Laney, who starred on the 2019 championship team, coaches the middle school team.

That’s win-win for Dale Prior, now in his 19th season as head coach (and 23rd overall). As far as he is concerned, the more Hadlocks the merrier.

“It feels like a good family,” Prior said. “Pun intended with the three Hadlocks because there are three of them. We just have a group that is really close knit. We can see that on the floor. We can see that in practice. This group has that special characteristic that it takes to get to the end.”

Basketball is a big part of the Hadlock family. All five children play or played basketball for Littleton (Grady is a senior member of the 11-1 boys’ team), including dad, Casey, who suited up for the Crusaders in the late 1980s. Kelly is the outlier. She grew up 40 minutes north in Groveton. There she starred for teams coached by the legendary Gary Jenness, the state’s winningest high school girls’ coach (641 wins). She played five years on the Eagle varsity starting as an eighth-grader, and was a member of the program’s first two state championship squads in 1988 and 1990.

From left to right: Kelly Hadlock, Laney Hadlock, Addison Hadlock, Dale Prior.

Kelly attended and played one year of basketball at St. Joseph’s College in Maine. She transferred and graduated from Plymouth State University, but did not continue to play basketball. Passion for the sport remained. When she graduated she served as an assistant with the Littleton HS girls’ program for four years under Steve Simons in the late 1990s before starting a family. She got back into it 12 years ago when Prior needed a JV coach and varsity assistant. There were some good applicants, but Kelly stood out to Prior. 

Kelly was already coaching Laney when she applied for the high school positions. Laney was in third grade when Kelly first coached her and she then followed her through fifth grade. She has also coached Laney at the AAU level.

Working with and/or playing for Prior has been a great experience for all the Hadlocks. “Dale is an amazing coach,” Kelly said. “He runs a great program. I’m thankful that he is and has been my daughters’ coach.”

Something that resonates year after year with Kelly is something Prior says at the beginning of every season – “If you give me 100 percent, I’ll give you more.” It makes her smile. “My children have learned so many more things than just basketball,” she said. “He’s been there for my family on a personal note when there was a sickness with my mother. He was there. He’s like that for all his players.”

Kelly notes that Prior is great at teaching kids about responsibility, and that education does not take a back seat to sports. “These children are held to a very high standard,” she said. “He knows that in life (education) is so much more important. We always have the rule: family, education, basketball.”

Courtesy: Jill Stevens

Prior is glad Kelly is part of his staff. “It’s a perfect fit,” he said. “We complement each other really well. She’s very knowledgeable. She relates to the kids. She’ll do anything for the kids. Her basketball background and knowledge has brought a lot to the program.”

Laney starred for the Crusaders from 2015 to 2019, leading them to the 2019 D-IV state hoop title while earning player-of-the-year honors. She also played soccer and tennis. Laney attended Rhode Island College to study nuclear medicine, and played two years on the RIC tennis team, including with the Little East Conference championship squad in 2021. She is back in Littleton working at Littleton Hospital as a nuclear medicine technologist.

Laney had planned to return to Littleton to work, eventually raise a family and certainly coach. The coaching came sooner than expected. She was still in school two years ago, returning over the winter break to help her mom and coach Prior out. At the time, the two were coaching all programs from Grade 7 to 12. They both felt Laney would be a good fit for the middle school position. “They mentioned that I’ve been through the program and know the style of coaching and all the stuff they do. It made sense,” Laney recalled.

Last year as a senior at RIC she became the middle school head coach, driving up from Providence to do the job when she could. When she couldn’t, Kelly and coach Prior stepped in. “There’s no way I could have done that all the time,” she said. “Their support was the only way to do it.”

Courtesy: Jill Stevens

Prior is tickled. “The fact that a kid wants to come back and give back to your program means a lot,” he said. “She’s just a great fit. I couldn’t think of a better kid to coach at that level. Hopefully she has future goals of coaching at the higher levels. I’m not going to be here forever. I’ve already been here longer than I thought (I would).”

Prior likes what he sees in Laney as a coach. “She has a calm demeanor,” he said. “She teaches. She has respect. She holds kids accountable. Ultimately, she just wants to get the best out of each kid. She challenges kids in a very professional coaching way. The kids just respond to that.”

One thing Laney is really good at, according to Prior, is teaching skill development. “We’re seeing that we need that most in our program – kids that have the fundamentals,” he said. “Kudos for her for putting an emphasis on that.”

Laney feels her coaching is a reflection of her mom and Prior, and what they taught her. “When I’m sitting next to (my mom) on the sidelines and sometimes we say the same thing,” Laney said. “You catch yourself doing that. I say the same things when I’m coaching my middle school team that Coach P and my mom would say. It’s like I’ve been taught by them and now I’m doing it as a coach.

Laney looks up to her mom as one of the strongest women she knows. “She wants me to be tough. I’ve definitely grown to be a tough woman, a tough person because of her.”

One big thing she picked up from her mom was not to cave into peer pressure. “As a coach she told me you have to learn to say no,” Laney said.

That Laney is grounded as she is, is testament to Kelly and Prior. She remembers at an early age learning that a starting position wasn’t going to be handed to her because her mom was coaching. She can laugh about it now, but she recalls being on an AAU team coached by Kelly. There was one particular game that stands out. Her team was losing by a few points late in the game and she was sitting on the bench. “I wasn’t as good as the other girls,” Laney recalled. “That’s when I started to realize if I wanted to play I’ve got to get better. There was no favoritism. Nothing like that. She (my mom) played the best players.”

Laney took that challenge to heart. She worked to get better. “My mom would bring me to the gym. We would shoot 500 shots,” Laney said. “We would work on ball handling and post moves. My dad came with me to do post moves. I got better.”

Another reason Laney improved is that Coach Prior let her play with the varsity when she was in sixth and seventh grade. Her mom was there coaching, so Laney was  just hanging out shooting on one of the side baskets. “They let me join in as a practice player playing defense against the starting five,” Laney said. Coach Prior also let her play summer basketball and go to team camps.

Those experiences gave her a newfound respect for her mom. “Once you see that those teams are being successful then you can see ‘oh, I should listen to that person,’” Laney said. “If they’re coaching those teams and winning those games, I should listen. That’s how it was for me. It was like building up trust by watching her being successful with those teams that she coached.”

There was an instance in high school when Prior recalled that Laney didn’t play well during a game at White Mountains Regional HS. A heated discussion at home created enough of a rift that Laney and Kelly ended up not speaking to each other for a while. With Prior’s help they came to an understanding. “Let me coach Laney,” he said. “Let me be the one that interacts.”

Courtesy: Jill Stevens

“I learned that basketball stays on the court,” Kelly said. “Home life is home.”

Looking at her daughters, Kelly said “they are very different in so many ways. But the ultimate goal is the same. It’s what I cherish most about being able to coach them. Both have a team mentality; very unselfish. To them, stats like rebounds and assists are important. It’s never about points.”

Kelly, to illustrate that, references Laney’s senior year when she surpassed the 1,000-point milestone. “She never knew she was at the point of scoring 1,000 points,” her mom said. “They are kids who never ask to look at the (score)book. They never worried about that.”

Recalling her 1,000 points, Laney laughs. “I had no idea. I was shocked. I didn’t know at all.”

For Laney, that season was all about winning the state championship. Scoring 1,000 points was nice, but the main accomplishment was the state title after being on teams as a junior and freshman that had lost in the final.

Courtesy: KJ Cardinal

Growing up watching her sister play and her mom coach has rubbed off on Addison. “I loved watching her play,” said Addison about Laney when she was a Crusader. “I went to her practice. Coach P and my mom were there. I got to practice with them when I was younger and it just inspired me to be a basketball player myself. … (Mom as a coach) challenges me. When I’m on the court, even shooting around during practice or in a game. She’s always there pushing me to be as good as she knows I can be.”

Addison respects what her sister and mom bring to the program. She embraces workouts with her sister, knowing it can only make her better. She knows that when her mom speaks, she’s offering advice that will help her improve her game. “If I do something wrong, they’ll be there to encourage me,” Addison said. “‘You got this.’Honestly, it’s awesome to have them there because they don’t bring any negative energy.”

Prior sees a lot of similarities between Addison and Laney. “She’s different from Laney in the sense that Laney was stronger inside,” the coach said. “But similar in that Addison can both post up, hit the mid-range jump shot and can shoot 3s. Right now, this season alone, she’s averaging over four blocks a game playing in the middle of our defense. It’s a huge benefit to have somebody like that back there. Laney was like that too.”

Courtesy: Shirley Nickles.

Prior said Addison is faster, which means this Littleton team is able to press a little differently than Laney’s Group. They have very similar leadership characteristics. “Addy is a vocal leader,” Prior said. “She leads by example on and off the court, which her teammates respect and appreciate. Both are or were captains.”

Prior said going into this year Addison was roughly point wise where Laney was at the same time – eight points separating the two. “They also mimic the same path so far,” Prior said. “Points were not important to Laney. Addison is unselfish at times. They both want that one thing and Addison still wants that one thing, which is to win a championship.”

Having Kelly on the coaching staff has been a plus for Prior. “We’ve developed that consistency that to me is so important in high school athletics. I’ve been around a long time and I see schools switch coaches after two or three years and wonder why they can’t get consistent. She believes in what we were doing. We have a lot of the same philosophies. One of the greatest things about our relationship is we talk things out. She’ll have an idea that I might not have thought of. … We bounce ideas off each other. We sit on the bench in the middle of the game and discuss strategies and what she sees as a coach. I try to treat her and Laney the same way. We’re a coaching staff. There is a hierarchy. But I like having that extra set of eyes and knowledge. It makes us special to work together.”

Which brings us back to that “good family” thing Prior spoke of earlier in the story.

“One of the great things about Littleton is that Laney comes up to help and Coach Prior comes down to help,”  Kelly said. “The three of us teach the same things, just at a different pace. That’s what makes our program successful. It’s pretty consistent. We use the same words. We use the same plays. We use the same defenses.”

“It’s a small town,” Prior said. “I’m not saying everybody knows everybody, but everybody knows the Hadlocks because they’ve had some pretty good athletes go through the school system.” Got some coaching chops, too.

NOTES: The two other Hadlock children who played basketball for Littleton are Regan (2017) and Cole (2021). Cole is attending Murray State University in Kentucky where he is a member of the bass fishing team.

Got a story idea, you can reach Mike at whaleym25@gmail.com