Category: Jam Session

WELCOME TO THE CLUB: Profile’s Robie hits 2K mark in playoffs

By Mike Whaley

Honestly, the first thing that Josh Robie felt when he reached the 2,000-point milestone on Thursday night in a 58-33 win over Portsmouth Christian Academy in the Division IV boys basketball quarterfinals was, well, happy to get it out of the way.

The Profile senior guard moved past the 2K plateau with a left-handed layup in the fourth quarter of the playoff win, scoring 21 points. That, along with 22 points from junior Cayden Wakeham, helped the unbeaten No. 1 Patriots (20-0) reach the D-IV semis set for Monday night at Bedford HS (7:30 p.m.) against No. 4 Farmington (17-3). No. 2 Littleton and No. 6 Woodsville, the defending champion, play in the earlier semi at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s honestly a relief to get it over with,” Robie said. “Going into the final four it’s going to be a huge game, so it’s nice to get it over with. I can just focus on winning games.”

Robie is the first NH player to reach that milestone since Mascoma Valley’s current girls’ coach, Tonya Young, capped her career with the Royals in 2007, ending with 2,112 points. He is the first boy to hit the mark going back 25 years when former Concord HS and NBA star Matt Bonner and Kearsarge’s Steve Lavolpicelo did so in 1999.  Robie is the 12th NH boy to hit the milestone and the 17th player overall to join the elite club. He is also the first player from the state’s North Country to reach 2,000.

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

“It’s great to have that done before we get to the final four,” said coach Mitchell Roy. “PCA is a great defensive team. They probably guarded as well if not better than anybody else. I’m like ‘he’s 16 away, that’s going to get it.’ But 16 is not 4 or 2.” That said, there was some drama as Robie didn’t reach the mark until the fourth quarter.

It was a different situation for Robie scoring 2,000 than 1,000. When he hit the 1K mark at the Farmingron holiday tournament in 2022, he didn’t know how close he was, so he felt there was no pressure on him. That was not the case Thursday. He knew he was 16 points away from 2,000 coming into the game. “You can say ‘don’t think about it.’” he said. “But it’s hard not to think about it.”

As Robie recalled, a lot of his points came from the free throw line. “It was a weird night,” he said. The milestone hoop came with 5:52 to play in the fourth quarter. Jackson Clough rebounded a missed PCA shot and pitched it quickly out to Robie at halfcourt on the left. He drove in for the lefty layup for his 16th and 17th point of the night and the 2,000th and 2,001st of his career. “It was a sigh of relief,” the 6-foot senior said. He has 2,005 points going into Monday, tied with Fall Mountain’s Jayson Waysville (1994).

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Some NH 2,000-pointers offered their congratulations through video messaging to Ball 603, including unofficial club chairman, Keith Friel, who played at Oyster River HS and later at Notre Dame and Virginia. “Congratulations on all the years of sacrifice by you, your family, coaches, teammates, and lastly your community. Good luck in the playoffs and keep it going.”

“It hasn’t been accomplished (by a boy) since the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain was still standing 25 years ago,” said Bonner, who scored 2,459 points at Concord HS, played in college at the University of Florida, and in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs. “I know first hand how hard it is to do that with eight minute quarters and no shot clock. So congratulations Josh and best of luck for whatever life has in store for you, and live free or die.”

“Congratulations on this great accomplishment and great feat that not a lot of people have done,” said Young, the last NH hoopster to hit 2K 17 years ago. She later played at the University of Vermont. “Enjoy it. It’s so good in the moment and good luck in the future.”

David Burrows is the all-time state scoring leader with 2,845 points. “I too played for a D-IV school and I’m pretty confident that your fans and teammates are really enjoying this. You should enjoy it as well,” said Burrows, who graduated from Nute High School in 1990, leading the Rams to the Class S/D-IV title that year. He also scored in excess of 1,000 points at Bryant University. “Congratulations again. Good luck in the tournament and welcome to the club. Shooters shoot.”

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Robie has played for the Patriots since he was in eighth grade, something that only D-IV players are allowed to do. He scored right around 120 points that year, but played just 10 games his freshman year. The lion’s share of his points have come over the last three seasons. “When he got a thousand, you kind of knew he could get it,” said Roy. “But we’ve been very fortunate to be healthy. … It’s crazy to think that he has 2,000 and Alex Leslie is going to finish right around 1,500. That’s a lot when you see that in one class of kids. While we have almost 3,500 points in scoring between those two guys, neither of them led us in scoring last night in our quarterfinal win.”

While Profile counts on Robie to score, that has shifted as he’s gotten older and more of his teammates have grown into scoring roles. “I’ve been trying to find the right balance in winning games, which is our No. 1 priority, and trying to play at the right pace for myself,” Robie said. “I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team. My 2,000 points, that comes after winning games.”

“If you look at games when I was younger, I was probably forcing it more than I should have,” Robie said. “This year, I’m letting it come to me a lot more. My team finds me when I’m open. They give me confidence. Coaches give me confidence. The work that I put in, my teammates just believe in me out there.”

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Robie led D-IV in scoring, averaging right around 26 points per game, but it could have been a lot more. “I’ve held him back significantly,” coach Roy said. “We used to just say go, go, go. We weren’t as good, so I was kind of letting him do whatever he wanted because we were a young team and I was trying to help him gain his confidence. It’s tough, but he could score way more than I’m letting him. … He knows for him to get more open, and shots that we need now that are good shots for us, he needs his teammates to show up.”

That scoring balance is readily apparent. Leslie is averaging 20 points as the team’s No. 2 scorer, but it doesn’t stop there. Wakeham is right around 14 ppg and Robie’s brother, Karsen, is averaging a shade under 9 ppg. It also helps that the key players are now juniors and seniors. “We have a lot of weapons,” Roy said. “It forces them to get out of their box-and-one, get out of their zone or their triangle-and-two. It’s great because we can then play against man to man and Josh can really show off what he does as a player. It allows him to be more free because those other guys are huge pieces. It’s a lot more fun than having Josh score 30 instead of 40 now. I think they would all agree.”

Robie concurs. “I think as a team it’s gotten a lot better,” he said. “Last I remember in the playoffs in our loss to Woodsville we were basically going through me and Alex. We had a lot of other players who really weren’t doing a whole lot. Then you look at this year, when we played Woodsville, you get the ball to Karsen, it’s almost an automatic 3 every time. You have Cayden who can get by his defender and you have Riley (Plante) and Jackson (Clough) who are out there and clean up on the boards. It’s a big step forward. Those guys add a lot out there.”

Courtesy: Chris Laclair, Chris Clicks Photography

Roy, like Robie, is glad the milestone is out of the way. “It has been a distraction in a way,” Roy said. “It’s probably distracted me more than it distracted Josh. I have to make the decision when we’re up a good amount in a game, should I play him and risk his health out there or should I hold him back and avoid him from getting this milestone. I’ve got a lot of negativity from people; even this year. Our first-round game, there were comments online that we were still shooting, up 40 points (they beat Epping, 79-21, and Robie scored 34). They don’t understand, it’s the tournament. Some people think we take it too seriously. I think you’ve got to be really focused to be competitive. We’re going to keep that focus as we play a great Farmington team.”

“Aside from the shooting prowess, which is obviously pretty special, I’m really impressed with his focus,” said Farmington coach Adam Thurston. “I don’t think I’ve seen the kid smile in three years; just the way he carries himself on the court and developed his overall game. The fact that you have to account for him every single second of every single possession. I don’t think we’ve really had a player in the division since we’ve been in D-IV that’s garnered that much attention.”

Josh Robie will have Farmington’s full attention Monday night as Profile looks to advance to the championship for the first time in 20 years when the Patriots won the program’s only title in 2004.


2K TIDBITS: Three schools have two 2K scorers – Epping’s Kerry Bascom and Ryan Gatchell; Nute’s Julie Donlon and David Burrows, and Kearsarge’s Tom Brayshaw and Steve Lavolpicelo.

Two players scored their 2,000th point in a state championship game. Fall Mountain’s Jayson Waysville did it in his final high school game in the 1994 Class M final, a 67-55 win over Inter-Lakes. Burrows actually hit 2,000 in the last game of his junior year, a 58-39 loss to Epping in the Class S championship. Burrows scored 30 of his team’s 39 points. He did come back as a senior to lead the Rams to the state title, beating Wilton-Lyndeborough for the crown, 56-45. He scored 149 points in four playoff games, a state record across all divisions that still stands.

Here is a list of 2K players to play on a state championship team or teams and the year(s) they did it: Burrows, Nute (1990), Karen Wood, Henniker (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984); Gatchell, Epping (1989, 1991, 1992); Matt Alosa, Pembroke (1991); Bonner, Concord (1997, 1998, 1999); Kerry Bascom, Epping (1985); Scott Drapeau, Merrimack Valley (1989, 1990); Friel, Oyster River (1995, 1996); Young, Mascoma (2004), and Waysville, Fall Mountain (1994).

Many of the Division IV/Class S players like Robie played as eighth graders, the only division where it is possible to play on the varsity before high school.


Watch as Granite State legends welcome Josh Robie to the 2,000-point club…

Sudden Impact: Rautiola’s freshman presence sparked Keene State women

By: Mike Whaley

Was it a surprise that freshman Brynn Rautiola led the Little East Conference in scoring and 3-pointers? Sure, maybe a little bit. But the former Conant High School star set the bar high for herself. She intended to be an impact player coming in for the Keene State College women’s basketball team. Mission accomplished.

Rautiola led the LEC in scoring (19.6 ppg) and 3-pointers made per game (2.7), was second in minutes played (34.9 mpg) behind sophomore teammate Val Luizzi (35.3), and was also among the leaders in 3-point field goal percentage (fifth), free throw percentage (third) and steals (eighth). She was a seven-time LEC Rookie of the Week.

Her presence was vital during a challenging season for the Owls, who went 11-14 overall and were ousted from the LEC tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday at Eastern Connecticut, 43-38. They played the latter half of the season, mostly due to injuries, with a limited roster of seven after starting the year with 19 players.

Freshman Brynn Rautiola successfully made the jump from Conant High School to Keene State College as the Owls’ starting point guard. [photo courtesy of Keene State College Athletics]

“The goal was to be in the starting lineup and make an impact right away,” Rautiola said. “That was my expectation of myself to make an impact anyway I can. And to just have the mindset that it doesn’t matter if I’m a freshman or not, I can come here and make an impact from Day 1.”

That she was the league’s top scorer was not expected. “I just honestly wanted to be a solid point guard,” Rautiola said. “It wasn’t going to matter to me how I impacted the game, I just wanted to help my team to win. I have been consistent with putting up numbers.”

Her scoring came from being aggressive from the get-go. “From Day 1, the coaches have pretty much told me that the team needs me to be confident,” she said. “I remember in a preseason practice they pulled me aside because I was hesitant and not really looking to get my own (points). They told me that this team needs me to be confident and scoring the ball is pretty much what helped.”

That the message was received was evident in early-season wins over Colby-Sawyer College and VTSU-Johnson in which Rautiola scored 27 and 24 points, respectively. 

Coach Keith Boucher had an inkling Rautiola would be an effective player even before she stepped on the floor for KSC. He’d seen her since she was a freshman at Conant, where she scored over 1,000 points and led the Orioles to four Division III state championship appearances and two state titles. As a senior she was the D-III Player of the Year.

Boucher could tell even when she was a high school freshman that Rautiola could compete. “It was very obvious,” he said. “She had that competitive spirit. She was pretty skilled at that time.”

Boucher was able to follow her closely through high school. Not only by watching her high school games, but also when she attended KSC’s summer hoop camp. There he saw the full player revealed when she would come in every morning to work on her shooting with her Conant coach Brian Troy, a Keene native and Boucher family friend, who coached with Boucher for a year at KSC

Keene State College freshman Brynn Rautiola was named Little East Conference Rookie of the Week seven times. [photo courtesy of Keene State College Athletics]

“Every kid says they want to get better,” said Boucher, now in his 34th season as head coach. “But ‘want’ is only the beginning. The real measure of whether you’re going to get better or not is if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. Brynn does. She’s a gym rat. She has the desire to get better.”

Although her college choices came down to Keene and Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., the pick was pretty easy. Keene had three advantages Wheaton didn’t have. It was close to her home in Rindge so her family could easily come see her play. She really liked the campus, and KSC had the major she wanted to pursue — exercise science – which Wheaton did not have.

Rautiola’s transition from high school to the college game was relatively seamless. She did say that the pace was certainly much faster and that was a challenge. “That was a big adjustment. In high school you can kind of get away with a lot of things. In college everyone can play. You’ve got to be prepared and have a counter for everything.”

Boucher feels there are several things that Rautiola can do to be an even stronger player next season. One is to put on weight to add to her strength and the other is to be a more vocal leader. “”She’s about as big around as a No. 2 pencil,” the coach said. “She’s got an athletic basketball body. I was joking with her the other day, ‘you’ve got to put on 10 pounds between now and next year.’”

Rautiola agrees she needs to get stronger because she did feel herself getting worn down late in the season. But she doesn’t want to put on any extra weight because she believes it will affect her speed and quickness. Boucher doesn’t think so. “For the women, it’s a much more physical game at the collegiate level,” he said. “I think that will help in the long run because she’s a marked player right now. She’s our starting point guard and every team is trying to take her out mentally and physically.”

In a recent game with UMass-Dartmouth, the No. 20 team in the country (Women’s Basketball Coaches Association poll), they pressed Rautiola full court. “Everybody’s doing it,” Boucher said. “They match up full court and make it difficult for her to catch the ball. Then when she catches, she has to bring the ball up the floor and try to get us into our offense.”

Keene State College freshman Brynn Rautiola led the Little East Conference in scoring and 3-point shooting. [photo courtesy of Keene State College Athletics]

As for being more vocal on the floor, Rautiola said, “Sometimes I was a little timid coming in as a freshman trying to step up as a leader. I definitely think in the upcoming years I can develop into more of a vocal leader. I know that’s what my team needs from me. That’s definitely an area I will improve on.”

 She also mentioned she’d like to have more creative finishing options. “I want to have a counter for everything, whatever defense they throw at me,” she said. “I want to have a counter for everything they do.”

One more thing Boucher would like to see his point guard do is go to her right more often.  “She’s one of the most left-handed right-handed players I know,” he said. “She’s great going to her left and she’s right handed. We’d like to see her go to her right a little bit more. She doesn’t use that side of the floor as much as she should in a game.”

Rautiola eventually popped up on the LEC’s radar as the season unfolded and her name was at the top of the scoring leaders. “Some teams they face guard, they do a box and one,” she said. “I’m just trying to find ways to make an impact. It didn’t have to do with scoring. Whether that’s making a play on defense, creating an opportunity for my teammates to get open. I think that was really big. I think just not getting frustrated with what the defense threw at me. I think just staying level headed. Trying to just be aggressive and doing what I can.”

Being a scoring point guard put Keene into a Catch 22 situation at times because, as Boucher noted, Rautiola would figure she had to force the issue on offense. “I think as she grows that will become less and less,” he said. “Plus when we have more options. We have another guard (Luizzi) who is having an outstanding season. They play well together.”

Keene certainly had one of the conference’s best backcourts with Rautiola and Luizzi, who averaged 13.0 ppg (8th in LEC) and was also among the conference leaders in assists, and 3-point and foul shooting. Rautiola as a point guard is a dual threat. She can bury the 3-pointer and also slash to the basket where, if you foul her, she is money from the line (127-148, 86 percent).

Keene State College freshman Brynn Rautiola led the Little East Conference in scoring and 3-point shooting. [photo courtesy of Keene State College Athletics]

The biggest challenge for Rautiola and, indeed, for Keene, was playing a good portion of its season with a small roster. Several players left right at the beginning of the season because it wasn’t for them, and then there have been a series of injuries, including four season-ending surgeries. “We’ve had every injury you could imagine,” said coach Boucher. “We should have had 15 healthy bodies, but now we have seven.”

Which is why when you look at the LEC leaders in minutes played you see Luizzi and Rautiola perched at the top of the list. It is something Rautiola has embraced. “I think I was ready for it. I knew coming into the season that they needed a point guard,” she said. “I knew most likely that I was going to be getting heavy minutes. That’s what I wanted.”

But it hasn’t been easy. “Some days we’d come into practice with only six girls. That alone is tough,” Rautiola said. “But it’s just a next man up mentality. We kind of just pick each other up. We’re mentally tough enough to get through it. We stayed resilient all year long. No matter how many numbers we had, it never weighed us down. We had to be mentally tough.”

“It’s out of necessity,” Boucher said. “It’s not that we want that. Their resilience and perseverance has been tremendous through the whole thing.”

When Boucher looks at Rautiola because of all the minutes she played, he sees her as a sophomore not a freshman. When she comes in next year, “I’ll look at her as a junior with all the minutes she’s played,” he said. “That will put some more pressure on her. She’ll handle it. I think she thrives on it.”

When Boucher does take Rautiola out for the rare blow here and there because she needs it, he knows she doesn’t want to come off the floor. “I love that,” he said. “All players aren’t like that.”

Like Father, Like Son: Scott Faucher follows his dad’s coaching path with gusto

By Mike Whaley

It’s been an exceptionally frantic winter for Scott Faucher, the head coach of the Assumption University men’s basketball team. As usual, he’s working his tush off pushing the Greyhounds to compete to the best of their ability in the always rigorous Northeast-10 Conference. As of Tuesday, they were 9-8 in the NE-10 (tied for sixth with Pace) and 13-10 overall.

As if the winter wasn’t hectic enough, Scott’s wife Lindsay gave birth to twins (Luke and Jenny) as the season was getting ready to kick off two and a half months ago. “We couldn’t have timed it worse,” he laughed. “They were born right during the first tournament of the season.”

Faucher is in his 10th year overall as a second-generation college basketball coach. This is his fourth season as the head coach at Assumption with a stop before that at Nichols College as a head coach in 2018-19. He got his start as an assistant at St. Michael’s College in 2013-14 before moving on to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, for four years. A native of Lebanon and a former player at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, he is the youngest son of Dave Faucher, who coached the Dartmouth College men for 13 seasons.

Scott is 12 and 13 years younger than his two older brothers, Joey and Mike. “When I was growing up, obviously I spent a lot of time in the Lebanon High School gym watching my brothers play at Lebanon,” he said. “I had those guys as mentors basically. I watched their every move and fell in love with the game of basketball.”

“All those guys, my brothers and my dad, they kind of shaped my basketball journey. I had some strong influences in my life,” Scott said.

Dave Faucher was the head men’s basketball coach at Dartmouth College from 1991 to 2004. [photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Athletic]

Dave recalls ever since Scott was born he went to his brothers’ games and also the Dartmouth games. “So when he was one year old, he probably went to more basketball games than any kid in America at that point,” Dave said with a chuckle. A native of Somersworth, Dave graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1972 where he got his first basketball job as an assistant coach under the late Gerry Friel. He had several high school coaching stints (Newmarket, Sanborn) after two years at UNH before he made his way to the Upper Valley in the early 1980s. He joined the Dartmouth program under Paul Cormier in 1984, eventually becoming the head coach in 1991.

When Scott was four, five and then six years of age, it was every day in the gym. “There was no babysitter for me or anything like that,” he recalled. “I’d get out of school growing up and go right to the gym in Lebanon or go to Dartmouth.”

Dave said that when they were younger, his older boys were ball boys for Dartmouth, where he was the head coach from 1991 to 2004. “Then Scott became a ball boy,” he said. “He was the most serious ball boy I’ve ever seen. He used to be in charge of three other kids. They knew who had to get what water bottles and who would sweep the floor and who’d be down the other end and who would collect the basketballs. He took it so seriously.”

Scott Faucher is pictured in the 1990s when he was a ball boy for the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team. [Courtesy photo]

After Dartmouth games, Dave would shut the gym down, and let Scott and his little friends play basketball on the main court. “It was 2 v 2 or 3 v 3 and all that stuff, just playing around,” Dave remembered. “He was around the game his whole life.”

When his older brothers played basketball at Middlebury College in Vermont, Scott made the trip over with his parents to be a ball boy and spend a lot of time in the gym. It left an impression. “I just watched how those guys worked every day,” Scott said. “They obviously loved the game and had a passion for it that I was able to witness at a young age. Now that I’ve grown up, I still have it to this day.”

Scott also went to the Carter Community Building in Lebanon to watch local players and the effort they put in to improve their game. “I would just go and sit and watch those guys work,” he said.

Scott gives his dad a lot of credit with how he has evolved as a coach, and certainly being around the Dartmouth program played an influential role. “I was fortunate at a young age to be thrown into that type of college environment,” he said. “The way I looked at it growing up, I had my family, but I also had the Dartmouth basketball family. There were 15 players in the locker room to look up to as players for the Big Green.

“It was a similar mentality just enjoying being around the gym,” Scott said. “I would go in and rebound for all those college players. I enjoyed it beyond the basketball team environment, and enjoyed the team relationships that come through basketball. I think that’s why early on I wanted to become a college coach whenever my time was done playing basketball.”

Scott Faucher, left, is pictured with his dad, Dave, and his brothers, Joe and Mike. [Courtesy photo]

Scott agrees that his dad helped to shape his coaching career. “I really look up to him as a basketball coach,” he said. “He’s very smart, especially when it comes to Xs and Os. It goes back to a lot of late nights sitting around the dining room table and moving around salt and pepper shakers and doing Xs and Os. He would talk you through the game. Him and I still talk pretty much every day about things. It certainly helped change my perspective on the game.”

Scott believes he gets a lot of his passion and energy coaching basketball from his dad. “I think there is a true joy that we all have,” he said. “I think there’s a reason he coached for much of his career and there’s a reason that I coached – that passion for basketball. That passion for being part of a team and trying to get the most out of your players. It’s way more than just basketball and the Xs and the Os. It’s more about enjoying it every day, enjoying the game.”

Scott pauses for a second, adding: “In watching him coach, he coached with a tremendous amount of energy and passion. I think I have that to an extent as well. That’s where it starts.”

What does Dave think Scott learned from him? “He probably learned what not to do,” his dad said with a laugh. “To be honest, we’re different. I’m a little more emotional, a little more volatile. He has the calm gene, which I wish I would have had. But he definitely has the knowledge gene in dissecting things and seeing how defenses play certain things and what to adjust. I have that as well. I don’t know if it’s a gene or not. There’s something about it. Some people don’t have it and others have it. He sees the game in slow motion. He sees all kinds of people and what’s going on. If nothing else, he’s much calmer; probably smarter. He’s excellent with people and he’s a relationship guy. That’s what he is.”

As Scott moved along the coaching ranks from his first two assistant coaching stints to his first head coaching job at Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, Dave said you could see that “he had the acumen, the calm, the way he was with people. You knew he kind of had the ‘it’ factor.”

Dave Faucher was a men’s basketball coach at Dartmouth College for 20 years, the last 13 as the head coach. [photo courtesy of Dartmouth College Athletics]

Dave admits it’s hard for him as a father to follow his son’s games. “I’m more nervous watching his games than I was coaching my own games,” he said. “I do enjoy the evaluation process, watching (film) after and then talking to him the next day. I literally only say anything if I’m asked the question. I don’t give my opinions. We have a great relationship and we communicate regularly.”

Which Scott loves. “I call him almost everyday on my commute to work,” he said. “We talk about life, family and obviously a lot of basketball. I definitely use him as a sounding board. We mostly just bounce ideas off of each other and talk through a variety of things. Sometimes it’s in regards to team dynamics, Xs and Os, or recruiting. He watches every game so we usually talk about recent games and upcoming opponents. He will raise questions that challenge (in a good way) what I am coaching to my team. It helps me think deeper into the ‘why’ behind all things that I coach/emphasize with my team.”

After a solid four-year career playing at Wheaton, Scott was ready to become a college coach. He already had some experience running the Longhorn AAU Basketball Club in the Upper Valley, which is still in existence.

Scott Faucher, right, is pictured with his dad, Dave Faucher. [Courtesy photo]

When Scott applied for coaching jobs, one thing he did was reach out to people he knew. One person that he contacted was Josh Meyer, the new head coach at St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, an NE-10 school. Scott knew Meyer from when his family spent a year in Hanover. “He was a gym rat himself when he was in high school,” Scott recalled. “When he moved to Hanover that one year, he spent every day around the Dartmouth gym. I got to know him that one year. My brothers got to know him very well. He’s a little older than I am.”

As it turned out, Meyer had an opening on his staff. “That gave me my first opportunity,” Scott said. “I was the second assistant up there. I didn’t make any money learning a lot every single day and working my tail off and trying to continue to learn and grow as a coach.”

He did that for one year and then took an assistant’s job with D-III Bowdoin. “They’re in the same conference (NESCAC) that my brothers played in at Middlebury,” he said. Scott worked under veteran coach Tim Gilbride. “He’d been around a long time; a very smart basketball mind. I learned a lot from him.”

As he noted, small colleges have small staffs, so he was the only assistant. “It was him and I working together every single day,” Scott said. “You really get thrown into the fire of having to do everything.”

That meant multiple duties, like doing the scouting report, all the recruiting, all the travel booking; just anything you can think of that involves the college program. “I had to do it at the small-college level as an assistant,” he recalled. “You learn every single day. You take it all in. It was an awesome experience that prepared me to become a head coach.”

This is Scott Faucher’s fourth season as the head men’s basketball coach at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. [photo courtesy of Assumption University Athletics]

Which he became in 2018 when he applied for and got the head job at Nichols, a D-III regional power. He stepped into a winning situation and was able to sustain what the previous staff had built there. “I was lucky at a young age to get that head coaching job,” he said. “I inherited a really, really talented Division III team that at that time were used to success.”

With Scott at the helm, the Bison were able to remain a top-flight team in New England. They went 28-3 and advanced to the NCAA Elite 8 for the first time in school history.

Then, bang, the Assumption job opened up. Scott really liked the NE-10. Being at St. Michael’s, he had gotten used to the league. Growing up in New Hampshire, he was very familiar with the local NE-10 teams at Southern New Hampshire University, Saint Anselm College and Franklin Pierce.

“I loved the balance of the scholarship level of basketball, but it’s still a small college, which is what I was used to coming from a Division III basketball,” he said. Scott also liked that Assumption had a rich basketball tradition going back to the 1950s.

Unfortunately when he got there, the Greyhounds had been in a tailspin with six losing seasons without double figure wins. “It was a little bit more of a rebuilding situation,” he said. Scott was up to the task. That first year (2019-20) Assumption went 14-12, a huge improvement.

But then Covid-19 hit and the end of the season was canceled (no national tournament). The following season was canceled. Period. That was tough for everybody. “We were really excited about what we were building and then Covid came along,” Scott said. “We didn’t know what’s going on.”

Spring workouts were canceled in 2020, and then the 2020-21 season was canceled. “It made recruiting difficult after that following year because you can’t get people on campus to visit,” Scott said.

Scott Faucher is the head men’s basketball coach at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. [photo courtesy of Assumption University Athletics]

Scott found he had to approach things differently with players being granted a fifth year of eligibility. It affected the transfer portal. Coming into the 2021-22 season, he essentially had two new classes that hadn’t played with each other at all. “It was challenging to try and build chemistry at that time, and the lack of reps we had together.” Scott felt good about how his team competed and was happy with the season, which ended with a record of 12-13. The Greyhounds followed that up with a 14-14 mark last season.

Dave shakes his head because the basketball landscape is a far cry from what he was used to at Dartmouth. Sometimes he wishes Scott had chosen another profession like his brothers – one works in finance and the other in pharmaceutical sales. “It’s not an easy way to make a living,” he said. “He’s got twins now. It’s a stressful life. I didn’t sleep the night before (a game). I didn’t sleep the night after. He has his life in more perspective than I had.”

Dave pauses and then continues. “Then I talk to his brothers. Yeah, they’ve got their families. They’ve got their jobs. They go home from work. That’s it,” he said. “It’s not like that being a coach. You’re always working in a sense. It can be very stressful. There’s a part of me that wishes he was into something else. But if you have a passion for something, you have to follow it.”

When Scott was still in college and had helped to develop the Longhorn AAU Club, Dave remembers seeing him coach his first game at a facility in Plaistow, N.H. “The way he was with the kids, I said, ‘Oh boy, he’s pretty good for a young kid.’ Who knows, but it’s still a tough way to make a living.”

When Dave looks at college basketball today, he sees something out of control with the transfer portal and NIL (Name, Image and Likeness). “I have no desire to get involved with that type of thing. But I’m 75,” he said.

Recruiting is such a vital part of college athletics and the transfer portal has made it easier to transfer. Dave mentions that Scott’s best player last year, Isaiah Gaiter, transferred to D-I South Alabama for his senior year. He is leading that team in scoring. “You evaluate the kids and you think you see something special and what you see is right,” Dave said. “But now they’re gone. There’s so many things you can’t control. You have to recruit your own players every year and then be aware of the transfer portal.

In the wake of losing Gaiter, Dave mentioned that Scott recruited a pair of D-III players rather than go after D-I guys. “One is the leading scorer and the other played 40 minutes the other night and is probably his best defender,” Dave said. “That’s taking a chance. That’s believing in yourself. That’s also taking kids that are hungry to prove that they can play at the next level not (D-I) kids that think they are all that coming in. 

“It’s a different approach,” Dave added. “I’m really proud of him for taking that. At the end of the day you’ve got to take an approach that wins. Now next year is going to be a whole new dynamic. Is that what you really want to do? Every year is so different. Every year can change so drastically in the college basketball landscape.”

Scott has not forgotten his New Hampshire roots. He has made sure his roster has a few Granite State players. The current roster includes sophomore Jacob Gibbons (Exeter) and freshman Michael Pitman (Pembroke). Scott has also coached graduated Granite State players Evan Gray (Somersworth) and Cal Connelly (Rochester). Connelly is an assistant hoop coach at Roger Williams University.

Dave still keeps his hand in basketball. He’s an analyst for Dartmouth games on ESPN+. And he stays close to the Dartmouth program, going to functions, games and practices. “And I follow Scott’s games,” he said. “Between basically having a normal life.”

To prepare for a cable game, Dave will go to a Dartmouth practice, watch film and see the scouting report on the opponent, get the game plan and watch the actual practice. Then he’ll talk with the opposing coach. “We’ll see what they’re trying to do,” he said. “It keeps me in the game. It keeps my interest level up. I know all the Dartmouth players. It’s enjoyable.”

Then with Scott’s games he is watching those twice a week. “I look forward to the nights that there are no games,” he says with a laugh. “There’s no stress. It’s good.”

While Dave sometimes frets about his son’s vocation, Scott is all in. He loves what he does and he loves the conference he is doing it in. “It’s a really, really fun basketball conference,” he said. “Everybody’s good. There’s actually no nights off. No one’s better than anyone else to be honest. The teams that end up being at the top are a little more consistent night in and night out.”

Scott Faucher is the head men’s basketball coach at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. [photo courtesy of Assumption University Athletics]

Just look at the standings. The Greyhounds are tied for sixth with Pace, one game out of fourth behind Southern Connecticut and Southern New Hampshire, and just a game ahead of Saint Anselm, lurking in eighth. “It changes fast right now,” Scott said. “If you look at the standings, the bulk of the teams kind of beat up on each other. That’s the way our league has always been.”

Of course, along with the coaching Scott has to juggle family life with Lindsay, who he met at Wheaton. They own a house in her home town of Cranston, Rhode Island, where she is an art teacher.  “One thing, it’s a hard balance,” he said. “My dad did a good job with that. Obviously he had three kids and he was a coach himself. I was able to see what that can look like by being able to balance your time appropriately.”

With twins, there’s not a lot of sleep going on for either parent. “Especially in the middle of the winter with our season,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of different challenges. I do the best I can with that.”

It comes down to priorities. “Be a great father, be a great basketball coach and be a great husband,” he said. “You have to limit some of the other things.”

PERFECTLY IMPERFECT: Hoop titles still cause a stir

(The first of a two-part series. Read part 2)

By Mike Whaley

Forty years ago next month, Farmington and Somersworth high schools will be celebrating significant basketball accomplishments – undefeated state championships that tied the two blue-collar communities together.

Why, you ask? At the head of the list is Paul Boulay, a Farmington boy who transferred to Somersworth as an eighth-grader to play football for the Hilltoppers. He grew up with many of the Farmington players and was a key member of Somersworth’s 1984 championship run. Farmington coach Mike Lee and Somersworth coach Larry Francoeur knew each other well, having coached against each other from 1978 to 1981 when Francoeur was the coach at neighboring Nute HS in Milton (He coached against Boulay’s older brother, Gary). Lee later coached Francoeur’s eldest son Larry Jr. on AAU teams with his son Tim. Farmington’s Tim Mucher and Somersworth’s Kyle Hodsdon played AAU basketball together under Lee, later played in the Alhambra Classic (the annual game between top seniors from New Hampshire and Vermont), and were teammates on very good teams at Plymouth State University, each scoring over 1,000 points. The undefeated season remains each school’s only one. The unbeaten runs were imperfect in that both won all their regular season and playoff games, but lost a game apiece during the holiday tournament season (Farmington to Coe-Brown and Somersworth to Noble).

And lastly, on the eve of the tournaments, the two schools played an epic scrimmage behind closed doors at Somersworth High School.

Somersworth forward Paul Boulay goes up for a shot during the 1983-84 season against Newmarket. [Foster’s Daily Democrat photo]

Another similarity is that the two schools entered the 1983-84 season coming off heartbreaking losses. The Class M Tigers had been upset in consecutive years in the quarterfinals at Plymouth State by Hinsdale, one on a halfcourt shot at the buzzer. The Hilltoppers made it all the way to two straight Class I finals, only to fall to Timberlane in 1982 and then White Mountains in 1983.

“My senior year I think we were more team oriented,” said Farmington senior center Casey Howard. “We were so much more rounded. There was no one standout.”

Coach Lee said the past teams had been very good, but always were missing that piece to push them over the top. The ‘83-84 had all the pieces. Returning players Howard, junior Tim Mucher and sophomore Steve Mosher were joined by juniors Mike Funk and Carl Whitten, who had played on an undefeated JV team. “Any one of those kids could score 30 points,” he said. “Any one of them. If we go through the records, I’m sure every one of them had a 30-point night somewhere.”

The 1983-84 Farmington HS boys basketball team went 21-0 to win the Class M championship. [Courtesy photo]

Farmington felt pretty good about itself. It had a dynamic starting five with two scrappy defense-first guys off the bench in senior Tony Carone and junior Arvard Worster. Lee got his first real tangible inkling of what this team might be capable of during a preseason game against Class L Winnacunnet. In a 16-minute battle played at break-neck pace, Winnacunnet won 45-43. “Both teams pressed full court,” Lee said. “The ball never hit the floor in either direction.” After the game, Winnacunnet coach Jack Ford ran up to Lee. “I love the way you guys play,” he gushed. “You want to scrimmage?” Lee agreed. Ford said Monday. The two two coaches developed a long relationship, coaching AAU teams together. “It was my introduction to Jack and our introduction to us realizing we could play. If we can play with Winnacunnet, we can play with anybody.”

Somersworth was a senior-laden squad led by a talented junior point guard in Kyle Hodsdon, and its two senior big guys – Boulay and Steve Cartier. One thing that helped the team was that when football injuries slowed down starters Boulay and Cartier at the beginning of the season, role players like Chris Reil, Greg Dionne, Steve Pepin, Scott Brown, Steve Deschenes and Mike Turmelle stepped in and played more meaningful minutes and upped their contribution. “We were really pretty deep,” Boulay said. “We had eight seniors. We felt really good. We thought we were going to win it.”

THE SEASON

Farmington’s Carl Whitten stretches for a rebound as teammate Arvard Worster looks on during the 1983-84 Class M basketball season. [Courtesy photo]

The only hiccup for Farmington during the regular season was that Howard got injured early on during a game in Alton. He was undercut by an Alton player, severely injuring an ankle that kept him out of seven games, including the holiday tournament loss to Coe-Brown.

Lee brought Howard back slowly, knowing how valuable he was to the team. He was a bulky 6-foot-3 inside force who could rebound and score with either hand. He reached the 1,000-point mark in essentially two and a half seasons.

How valuable was Howard? As Lee was working him back into the lineup, Mosher and Mucher approached the coach, adamant that Howard not be brought back too soon. “We can’t afford to have him injured,” Lee recalled them saying. “With him we will win. Without him we can’t win at all.” Lee put their minds at ease, explaining what he was doing by playing Howard a few minutes at a time, not rushing anything. “It was probably a few weeks before he played a full game,” the coach said.

Once Howard was healthy, Farmington was in full attack mode. There was one goal in mind – to play in the last game of the Class M season in Plymouth. “They were very, very focused all year long,” Lee said. “They got on the bus focused. They got off the bus focused. There was no fooling around.”

Bottom line was they did not like to lose. “That was just their personality,” Lee said. “They would do anything to win.”

Somersworth’s schedule presented a challenge. They played in quite a few close games, so they were definitely battle tested by the time the playoffs rolled around. “We weren’t down often,” Hodsdon said. “But when we were, we weren’t worried. We knew we would find a way.”

Francoeur’s rigid practices did not let the ‘Toppers sink into complacency. “They were very intense and very competitive,” Hodsdon said. “We challenged each other. The second team took pride in trying to beat the first team. There were no days off.”

Hodsdon remembers coach Francoeur making the team run, run and run, doing stairs, doing the extra little things. “So when the game was on the line at the end, we were able to maybe put it in  different gear,” Hodsdon said. “One-hundred percent of the time we came out on top.”

There was pressure on Somersworth, particularly Francoeur. A Somersworth guy, he had come over in 1981 during a turbulent time when the school district was in the process of forcing out veteran coach Ed Labbe, who had successfully coached football and basketball at Somersworth from 1962 to 1981. Francoeur took over basketball from Labbe, who had coached him in football and basketball in the 1960s. In 1982 and 1983 Francoeur got the ‘Toppers to the finals, but lost both times. “There was so much pressure,” Francoeur said. “I don’t know what I would have done if we hadn’t won that third year. … We wanted to complete it. I wanted to complete it. I’m a Somersworth person. There was just that little extra pressure on it.”

To illustrate that pressure, Francoeur recalls his first year (1981-82) playing defending champion Timberlane, and both teams were 7-0. “We ended up getting beat at home,” he said. “It was like the world had ended for me. There was a lot of pressure from Ed Labbe getting done the way he did and all that. It was a lot of pressure.”

POSTSEASON SCRIMMAGE

Both teams ended the regular season as top seeds in their respective classes with identical 18-0 records. Because Lee and Francoeur had that connection, they agreed to a scrimmage. It was to be done in Somersworth behind closed doors. No media.

Not everybody has the same memory of what transpired. What seems to be agreed upon is that the two teams split the either four or six quarters they played.

“I remember right off the tap, Boulay got a dunk,” Funk said.

Mucher laughs about a recent exchange with his buddy Hodsdon. “Don’t you remember Mosher drilling one of them? Words were exchanged,” Mucher said. “As Kyle said it: ‘we’re just here to get a run in.’”

Somersworth’s Chris Reil, right, corrals a rebound against Newmarket. [Foster’s Daily Democrat photo]

“Well Kyle that’s the difference, we had an agenda to play you guys,” Mucher said. “You were Class I. We were Class M. Two undefeated teams. We were going down there for a business trip, basically. It was a little dicey. There were some words exchanged.”

Mucher laughs at Hodsdon’s assertion that Somersworth won. “They got the better of us if they counted the points they scored in warmups.”

Hodsdon’s memory is more specific. “We played six quarters – I think we split three and three,” he said. “I don’t think it ended in the final quarter when the clock hit zero. I think maybe a body hit the floor and another body, and then a whistle blew. ‘OK, let’s move on here. Let’s go start our own tournaments.’”

He recalled: “It was intense. Both communities were very similar at the time. Whether it was a scrimmage, you play to win. We cleared the board after each quarter. That’s why there wasn’t a running score. I think their quarter wins were one or two points and ours might have been five or six. That’s how we’re figuring the win.”

For Steve Pepin, the scrimmage was not as personal for him as the one Somersworth had with Dover. “Dover, we really hated them,” he said. “There was a lot of bumping and talking and everything else with the Farmington guys. It was a good matchup. I honestly don’t remember who won the game. Part of that, we were getting everybody in. It was extended and we were trying different things and people. Tough call who beat who.”

The same for Coach Lee. He recalls the gym being three-fourths full for a “closed scrimmage” and the games being close. He believes each time won a half by a point or two. “Did anybody really win the game? Of course they did. That’s what prepared both of us for a state tournament. That was the winning part of it. Not who won the game. We walked out of there prouder than hell. I’m sure they did too.”

In response to Hodsdon’s memory, Lee said: “Maybe he has a better recollection, but then again maybe not. Maybe, but I don’t remember it that way.”

Somersworth forward Steve Cartier, left, looks to outlet the ball. [Foster’s Daily Democrat photo]

Francoeur’s recall likely adds the most clarity and honesty. He kind of chuckles at the memory. “My brothers, they will get mad at me,” he said. “I let all my kids play. We didn’t play to win the scrimmage. We scrimmaged to keep ourselves in shape and to be ready for the tournament. I subbed the whole way through. We led most of the way. Farmington, I believe, ended up beating us in that scrimmage by four points. I heard about that one for a long time from different people.”

After both teams won their respective state titles, Francoeur ended up speaking at the Farmington championship banquet. “People there made sure I knew that they beat us in the scrimmage,” he said.

The tournament was here. Both teams earned a first-round bye, which meant they played the second round at the neutral site – UNH for Somersworth and Plymouth State for Farmington.

Read Part 2

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

 

Helping hands: Hoop community pitches in to assist Tiger girls

By Mike Whaley

FARMINGTON – Dawn Weeks was in a bit of a pickle. It was the eve of the 2023-24 NHIAA Division IV girls basketball season and her Farmington High School junior varsity and assistant coach had just stepped down. The chances were extremely slim at that point that she could find a quality replacement before the preseason began.

So Weeks asked the Farmington sports community for assistance. And they delivered. Weeks’ high school coach, Cheryl Peabody, agreed to help out on a part-time basis with her daughter, Debbie. Weeks’ daughter, a junior at Maine Maritime Academy, also said yes to pitching in when she could, as did former Farmington HS three-sport star Jenn Haskell. Suddenly Weeks had a quality staff which brought a variety of strong perspectives to the Tigers.

“They’re my dream team,” said coach Weeks. “I’m so blessed to have so many knowledgeable people in the gym at the same time. They don’t need to be micromanaged.”

Head Coach Dawn Weeks in the huddle with assistant coaches (from left to right) Debbie Peabody, Jenn Haskell & Cheryl Peabody looking on.

Peabody was the first person Weeks asked for help. While she couldn’t provide full-time assistance, she was eager to do what she could on a part-time basis. “I want to feel like I’m useful,” said Peabody, who coached the Farmington girls during two different stints in the 1980s and 1990s, guiding FHS to its only championship appearance in 1989, an overtime loss to Mascoma. “I haven’t really felt useful for the last couple years. For many different reasons it’s been horrible the last couple of years (her husband, Bill, died suddenly in 2022). I feel like I need to give back. I haven’t made a difference at all. I feel like I’ve got to start getting involved. Farmington’s the tribe. It’s where all the people I love and care about. It just seems right to go back there to help.”

Ditto for her daughter, who recently bought a home in Farmington. Debbie grew up in town, playing basketball with the youth program at the 500 Boys & Girls Club. Although she later attended Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, starring on state championship basketball and volleyball teams, Farmington has always been near and dear to her heart. “I like the fact that I can give back to a community that gave me so much,” she said. Debbie and her mom also help out with the 500 peewee girls hoop program on Saturdays.

Haskell is a 1995 Farmington HS grad. She later played three sports at Daniel Webster College in Nashua, scoring over 1,000 points in basketball. She’s been coaching three sports at the 500 including a Grade 3-4 travel team. Her daughter, Rory, is in the program. When Weeks asked her to help out with the high school team, she was happy to do so. “I’ve been able to coach some of them at the junior high level for volleyball,” she said. “It’s such a great group of girls.”

Chloe Weeks is home for winter break from Maine Maritime where she is a dual major and stars on the school’s volleyball team. A 2021 Farmington HS graduate, she was an all-state performer in both volleyball and basketball. She’ll be able to help out full time until she returns to school on Jan. 15. Before that she was able to attend the first scrimmage and several practices. “When I’m gone, luckily Pack Network is streaming games, so I can still keep up with them,” she said. Going forward, her spring college schedule will allow her to return to Farmington for Friday night games. She’ll watch the games she can’t attend on the stream, texting/phoning her perspective to her mom.

Another Tiger alumna, Brandi Foster Everidge, is acting as the scorekeeper for the JV and varsity teams and helps out at practices.

The still young Tiger team (one senior) is 4-2 in D-IV. They started 4-0, but lost Friday at Profile, 47-37, struggling in the first half with the Patriots’ full-court press. Tuesday they fell at Franklin, 46-35, playing the game without their best player who missed the game due to a death in the family.

Because her assistants have busy schedules that prevent them from making every game and practice, Weeks seldom has a full complement of coaches. But, she said, she consistently has at least three. She is coaching both teams – a total of 16 girls. The JVs and varsity practice together.

“It’s great to have bodies in different parts of the gym,” Weeks said. “I don’t have to see and do everything. With 16 players, we have a (coaching) body for every couple of players. We can break things down for them.”

The young coaches, Debbie and Chloe, give the Tigers two energetic young women who have a passion for defense. “They’re not nice,” laughed Weeks. “They’re pushing the kids – ‘why are you letting her go past you? You’re doing all this work for nothing if you’re letting her walk right by you.’”

Weeks feels it’s great to have perspectives from the older and younger women. “(The players) get to see it from different points of view,” she said.

Weeks laughs. “I have tunnel vision. I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I watch the ball. It’s really great to get the breakdown of other things from people who know what they’re talking about.”

Weeks played for Peabody from 1987 to 1991 on the high school team. A lot of who she is as a coach is due to Peabody. “I have my own style,” she said. “But I love the commitment, the dedication, the hard work that is required; the attitude, the respect, the team (unity). All that came from her and I absolutely try to instill that in my players. Setting goals. We set goals before the season. We set goals before every game.”

There was an instance earlier this year where one of her players was called for a foul for boxing out too hard, knocking down an opponent. “I didn’t think it was a foul,” Weeks said. “I was jumping up and down, yelling ‘you keep doing that!’ That’s totally Cheryl.”

Peabody likes what she sees in her former player. “Dawn’s really good about talking about life’s lessons. She calls her team, her queens. We had a nice talk the other day. With that title, queen, comes a great deal of responsibility. It goes beyond basketball. You have to be the type of person that goes out of your way to help people. Be the leaders of the school. You have to use that power as queens to make a difference yourself. That’s kind of the mantra of all the coaches.”

That’s a big thing for Peabody – using sports to teach life lessons. “Coaching isn’t about the sport,” she said. “It’s about the people and the relationships and keeping in touch and making a difference later in life.”

She referenced the dark time nearly two years ago when she was trying to pick up the pieces after her husband died. “They were there for me as family,” she said. “That’s why it felt so natural to help this group out.”

Cheryl Peabody (back right) with the Farmington 500 5th/6th grade girls travel team back in 2020.

This team has a special place for Peabody, who coached some of them on a fifth- and sixth-grade team before the Covid-19 pandemic. She also likes being the elder stateswoman. “It’s good for me to be Grammie Cheryl to keep everything aligned and working together,” she said. “To help the kids out and be all they can be.”

For Jenn (Krawczyk) Haskell, she gets to coach with a good friend (Dawn) and her old coach (Cheryl). She remembers earlier this season when all the women were there on the same night. “That was really a significant moment for me,” she said. “We’re coaching this great group of girls and I’m thinking to myself: ‘Dawn is like my sister. We grew up together. She was one of my first peewee coaches. And Cheryl was my fifth-grade teacher and my high school coach. Pretty special.”

Pretty special for the young kids – Chloe and Debbie – to give back. “We’ve gone through the (high school) experience and being a bit younger, we can hop out there and practice with them,” Chloe said. “We show them how aggressive they need to be. We just try to show the girls everything they could face and try to help them improve.”

“I grew up in Farmington,” Debbie said. “I got that perspective of growing up there. The Farmington quality of life. Work hard, never die.”

Debbie recalls the structure she had growing up with a dad who was a U.S. Marine and a mom who was a coach and school administrator. “I try to influence the girls on and off the court the same way,” she said. “I think just giving that structure to the girls is super important.”

There’s plenty of season to play, and the goal is to get better by the time tournament season rolls around in February. “That’s the ultimate goal, to bring them from point A to point B,” Peabody said. “It’s still what being a teammate is all about. They were all teammates (she says of the other coaches). They all kind of bring it forward for the next generation to see what it’s all about. It doesn’t have to be done after high school. Your teamwork continues.”

Which is Dawn Weeks’ gain. “It’s a perfect supporting cast,” she said. “It’s great having so many brains to bounce stuff off.”

Email story ideas to whaleym25@gmail.com

Man in motion: No slow down in vintage sports figure Gary Jenness

By Mike Whaley

Gary Jenness, far left, celebrates an NHIAA Division III state girls basketball title in 2012 with the team from White Mountains Regional High School. [photo courtesy of Gary Jenness]

Gary Jenness may be in his “golden years” but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. Not one little bit. After successfully coaching high school girls basketball at Groveton and White Mountain Regional from 1978 to 2016, Jenness, now in his mid 70s, has remained active at White Mountains at different times as an athletic director at the high school and currently at the middle school. He is also a state supervisor for basketball officials, while still officiating that sport and soccer. He took a recent fall that has put his basketball officiating on hold for the moment. In the summer, Jenness works at Santa’s Village in Jefferson.

“When I retired a couple of good friends of mine said you need to stay busy. Find something you like,” Jenness said. “As I told my wife (Marjorie) because she asks me why I come to school every day – ‘I like being busy. I’m not going to sit around. I’m going to stay busy. I’m going to do stuff I like, and when I don’t like it anymore, I’ll get done doing it.’ And so far that hasn’t happened.”

Gary Jenness coached the Groveton High School girls basketball team for 28 years, which included 14 trips to the Class S state championship game and 11 titles. [photo courtesy of Gary Jenness]

Jenness was very busy indeed during his coaching stints at Groveton and White Mountains. He has won more games (641) than any other high school girls basketball coach in New Hampshire and is second overall to the late Dan Parr (704), with his teams winning 12 state titles (11 at Groveton and one at White Mountains). He has also received many coaching honors and has been inducted into five halls of fame.

Coaching was always on his radar. A native of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Jenness was inspired to coach by his dad — Harold “Pete” Jenness – an excellent youth coach, and his dad’s friends who coached, as well as his high school coach, Lenny Drew, and JV coach Scott Ingram.

As a senior at St. Johnsbury Academy, Jenness was a captain of the basketball team along with Paul Simpson. The two used to sit right behind the two coaches. “Not because we were trying to (brown nose); they had a wealth of knowledge with everything they did. They just knew so much about life and sports.” At the end of practice, Jenness and Simpson would sometimes play games of 2 on 2 against their coaches.

“When I graduated from high school I decided I wanted to be a coach,” Jenness said. “(Drew) was a history teacher, so I figured I’d be a history teacher.”

He enrolled up the road at Lyndon State College (now VTSU-Lyndon), but quickly found out he wasn’t going to be a history teacher. “My first assignment, I think it was called European Civilization, was to read 300 pages for the next class. I said that’s not for me. I’m not going to read 300 pages.”

Jenness bounced around after that. He got married to his first wife. He fell off a roof working for Rodd Roofing, so he was laid up and couldn’t go to school. He joined the National Guard and missed a year of school there.

In 2013, Gary Jenness, pictured with his wife, Marjorie, reached 600 wins as a high school girls basketball coach while at White Mountain Regional HS. He ended with 641 victories, the most by any girls hoop coach in the state. [photo courtesy of Gary Jenness]

He also remembers his first coaching position. It was 1967-68 and he coached a traveling middle school boys team. Jenness was working for Rodd at the time. “Mr. Rodd’s son was an eighth-grader,” he recalled. Rodd had two old Ford station wagons with wood paneling on the sides. “I’d drive one and he’d drive the other. We played 42 games that year and went to five tournaments. He would take us everywhere, and then take the kids out to eat afterwards.”

Jenness remembers working for a construction company in January of 1969. “I was cutting brush and stuff with snow up to my rear end,” he said. “I went home and told my wife at the time, ‘I’m going back to school to become a teacher and coach.’ Manual labor wasn’t for me. It had no future.”

Lyndon, by then, had a physical education major, so he went back to earn his degree and graduated in 1973, eight years after he graduated from high school.

His first job out of Lyndon was as a PE teacher and coach at Gilman (Vermont) Elementary School. It was quite a learning experience. “It’s a mill town. The kids were tough,” Jenness said. “They really didn’t think there was any need for school. I had some stuff that happened that if it happened now I’d be fired; actual physical fights with an eighth-grader. Stuff like that.”

Jenness was seriously thinking of getting out of teaching when a job opened up across the border in Groveton. It turns out he had an in. The superintendent of schools for Groveton was godfather to Lenny Drew’s first child. “When I mentioned I was from St. Johnsbury and played for Lenny, that helped,” Jenness said.

He was hired as a high school PE teacher and coached the junior boys basketball team. At the time the Groveton boys teams were very good and there was a feeling that coach Fred Bailey was leaving and they wanted someone to replace him when he left.

The varsity girls’ position opened up in 1978. “I took it,” Jenness said. “After a year of doing girls basketball, I said I’d never coach boys again.” He coached the Eagles until 2006.

“The girls were just eager to learn,” Jenness said. “They worked hard and didn’t think they knew everything.” 

Not that it was all peaches and cream. “I had a hard time and they had a hard time with me because I was a bit of a hard ass,” Jenness said. “After a few days of crying and everything, they figured out I really wasn’t that bad of a guy. That’s the way I was going to coach.”

Jenness had a good run at Groveton, but it took a while to get it to where he wanted it. One thing he did was encourage the girls to play during the summer, which became a collective mindset as the program improved and evolved. “We started getting halfway decent,” he said. “People started to have to worry about us.”

By the mid 1980s the Eagles were becoming a factor in Class S (now Division IV). They stayed there for the next 20 years under Jenness, and continue to excel to this day. The span from 1986-87 to 2006, Groveton went to 14 championship games and won 11 titles.

Gary Jenness coached high school girls varsity basketball in New Hampshire for 38 years – 28 years at Groveton and 10 more at White Mountains Regional. [photo courtesy of Gary Jenness]

The Eagles at two separate stretches won four and then five consecutive state titles. “Guys at other schools kept telling me that after this year, next year we’re going to kick your ass,” he said with a laugh. “We were very seldom rebuilding. The one thing I found was that Groveton was a sports town – especially a basketball town. All the kids would play down at the elementary school basketball courts. I always said ‘success breeds success.’ Those little girls who were down on the playground playing were pretending they were some of the players who were on the varsity. They just couldn’t wait to get up there and play for Groveton High School. I’m not sure they wanted to play for me all the time, but they definitely wanted to play for Groveton.”

Jenness tells the story about in 2000 when the boys and girls programs were really good (both in the midst of winning multiple titles in a row). Bill Bradley, the United States Senator from New Jersey and former college and NBA star, was running for president. His campaign had him come to Groveton. He met the two high school teams and shot some baskets with them. Jenness got a signed copy of one of Bradley’s books.

Groveton was very good for its division, but they also did well against bigger schools. One year when they won the Class S title, Littleton won in Class M and the Eagles split with them. Jenness recalls playing in a preseason jamboree in Goffstown with Class L and I schools and holding their own. “There’s a couple of years we wouldn’t have won the big classes, but we would have competed,” he said.

Another advantage in Groveton was that Jenness picked the coaches from elementary school on up. Tim Haskins was his long-time JV coach and now coaches the varsity. “I didn’t have to teach the basics to the kids,” Jenness said. “We could work on Xs and Os, which I like.”

It was a challenge when he made the move to White Mountains or “The Regional”, originally attracted to the position because there was the chance to  coach his granddaughters. He found the girls to be athletic, but not skilled like his Groveton girls. One thing he did early on was overlap varsity and JV practice for 15 to 30 minutes to work on basic skills – two-handed chest pass, bounce pass, jump stop, pivot. “Just little things that when I played against The Regional I never really paid attention to the fact that their skill levels weren’t very good,” Jenness said. “They were athletic. They just made too many little mistakes in terms of their skills.”

Gary Jenness, right, has been a supervisor of basketball officials for the past eight years. [photo courtesy of Gary Jenness]

Another challenge was that White Mountains has a strong softball program, and that made Jenness adapt as far as summer basketball. Girls were playing softball games all summer, and were less likely to show up in a hot gym to practice, so he compromised, scheduling more games.

The Spartans went on a good run from 2010 to 2013, appearing in the semis and two championship games. They won the 2012 D-III state title. On the eve of the 2011 semis vs. Campbell, his granddaughter, Emily, got mononucleosis and couldn’t play. She was a key cog in the middle of the 1-3-1 zone defense. Jenness had to put another player there. “It didn’t turn out very well,” he recalled. “We missed our first four layups and they made their first five shots.”

Jenness came back for another year and White Mountains won the championship. In 2013 they lost in the final to Bow, a game where Jenness said “we set girls basketball back 30 years. We scored eight points in the first six minutes.” But did not score much after that in an ugly 29-17 loss.

There were several girls who had been around the program since they were in eighth grade. They asked him to stay until they graduated. “Being a softy, I stayed until they graduated in 2016,” Jenness said. “I knew when they were done, I was done. … I felt I owed those girls for being part of the program.” 

When he stepped down, it ended a 38-year run as a varsity high school coach and a 40-plus year career overall. He also coached boys soccer for five years at Groveton, and served a stint as the school’s athletic director.

Although he isn’t coaching, he keeps on top of the sports scene as an official, a supervisor and an AD. “It gets more challenging,” Jenness said. “It’s a little different from what I was used to in Groveton and the first few years at White Mountains. There’s too much to make everybody feel good, whether they do anything. When they don’t feel good, it’s the coach’s fault. It’s the athletic program’s fault. Everybody gets a trophy. The thing that gets me after a game, I’ll hear parents say ‘you guys played so well. No, they didn’t play very well. Well we got beat by 35 points, so probably they didn’t play that well. That’s society now. You can’t hurt anybody’s feelings.”

Jenness said there are some very good coaches in the North Country with the same philosophy, noting Buddy Trask (Colebrook), Mark Collins (Groveton) and Trevor Howard (Littleton) among others. “One of the reasons these programs were always at the top of Class S and then Division IV was because the coaches held the players accountable and you had to work to play,” he said. “You had to work to get minutes. Now I think sometimes coaches, if a parent complains, the easiest way to stop the complaining is to let them play for a few minutes and that the parents are happy whether they deserve the minutes or not.”

Jenness tells his young coaches to be consistent and fair in what they do. “Then I can back you 100 percent,” he said. “But if you let somebody do something and somebody else can’t do it, it’s pretty hard for me to back you because you’re not consistent.”

In both Gilman and Groveton, Jenness recalls running into kids who couldn’t understand why they had to take some courses. “Like their fathers and grandfathers before them as soon as they graduated, they were going to the (paper) mill,” he said. Then the mills started wanting people that were more qualified to do certain things. “Kids started catching on. ‘We better go to school.’”

Jenness said mill towns can be funny. He recalls in 1995 Groveton was looking to change its athletic policy. A lot of coaches were doing their own thing as far as kids missing practice and missing games. Jenness said the night they made the presentation to the school board, the English department presented their curriculum to the board, and it took all of 20 minutes. It took the rest of that meeting and another meeting to get through the athletic policy.

“All the parents were there,” Jenness said. “If it was something that didn’t affect them, they were all for it. But if it was something about going on vacation and (kids) going to have to sit games, then they were up in arms.”

There were times back in the day, noted Jenness, when there was money won and lost at the mills on high school games between Colebrook and Stratford (closed in 2012), Colebrook and Groveton, and Stratford and Groveton. “Those millworkers would bet pretty heavily on those games,” he said.

Back in the 1990s, Jenness can remember when Colebrook and Groveton were playing, if the game started at 5:30 p.m., the doors opened at 4:30 because the place would be packed. He can also recall going to Stratford for a boy/girl doubleheader. “I was always pissed because the girls played first,” he said. “When we came out after we played, there was no place to sit.”

At one point, Jenness worked with Trask in Colebrook to do home/away games on Friday and Saturday nights. Each year they would switch off who was the home team on those nights. “We’d fill the stage with people because that’s how many people came to watch those games,” he said. “The teams were very good. The towns were very athletic-minded. Now very seldom do you see a gym full. Groveton plays Littleton, the gym will be full, but not like it was in the old days.”

Jenness can remember doing a lot of scouting, as did Trask and Collins. With the advent of streaming services like Northeast Sports Network (NSN), coaches can watch games online and spend less time on the road scouting.

Jenness remembers in 1986-87, he and Haskins, his JV coach, saw every Class S girls team. “We’d have early practice, I’d say to him ‘want to go to Nute tonight?’” Jenness said. “He wasn’t married. It was between marriages for me. Those days we’d just take off and we’d get out somewhere. They’d say ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ I’m never going to lose a game because I don’t know what somebody is going to do.”

That started, Jenness said, when he called a coach at Lin-Wood for a scouting report. “Her words were: ‘they’re nice kids. They were so nice.’ That’s nice, but that’s not going to help me win a basketball game.”

Jenness said Trask scouted right up until he retired two years ago. “Mark Collins still scouts some. You never see coaches or assistant coaches from other schools. Very seldom do you see them watching a game and scouting.”

As a basketball supervisor, Jenness is concerned with the decline of young officials entering the profession. The numbers he has for N.H. is that 67 percent of officials are over age 60. Of that remaining 33 percent, 75 percent of that number is over age 55. “There are so few young officials that stay at it long enough to get good enough to get tournament games,” he said. And if they do stay, they end up getting recruited to do college games where the money is better. “That’s great for them, but it just waters down what we have to offer.”

Jenness is also on the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) Awards Committee with Executive Director Jeff Collins and some other veteran ex-coaches and administrators like Bill Dod, Bob Nelson and Peter Cofran. “We’ll get talking about something that happened back in the 1970s and 1980s, and Jeff will sit there and say ‘did that really happen?’” Jenness said. “Peter’s the chairperson and, of course, he ran all those tournaments at Plymouth for all those years. It’s funny we’ll sit there and sometimes we’ll get off on a tangent talking about whether somebody should be in the hall of fame. We’ll go away from that person and something related to that person or somebody that person knew, and (Jeff) won’t stop us and say we need to get back on track here. Most everybody on the awards committee has 40 years of service to the athletes in New Hampshire and the NHIAA.”

An always-in-motion Gary Jenness stays the course in a rapidly changing athletic environment. The landscape is light years removed from what he grew up with in the 1960s and became accustomed to as a coach in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, and even into the new millennium. No matter, Jenness adapts here and there and largely remains who he’s always been, an older and surely wiser version of his fair and consistent self.

Pinkos steers SNHU in the right direction

By Mike Whaley

If you were to pick someone who epitomizes basketball in New Hampshire at its finest, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than Karen Pinkos. She ticks all the boxes. After all, she grew up in Allenstown, went to high school and played three sports at Pembroke Academy, and then walked on as a basketball player at the University of New Hampshire, becoming a two-time captain and an all-conference performer.

A long-time college hoop coach with 30-plus years of experience, Pinkos is beginning her 18th season as the head women’s coach at Southern New Hampshire University. There she has turned SNHU into a winning program having inherited a team that had accumulated 14 consecutive losing seasons when she arrived.

Pinkos worked through three more losing seasons before turning things slowly around. The Penwomen have had five consecutive winning seasons, including the last two in which they went 21-7 and 22-8 to qualify for the NCAA Division II Tournament – the program’s first appearances since 1990.

“I love it here,” said Pinkos, who graduated from Pembroke in 1984 and UNH in 1988. “It’s been a good fit. My family is relatively close to here. It’s home for me. Growing up 10 to 15 minutes away, it’s a cool story. I hope we can continue to be competitive.”

Indeed, when recalling her basketball roots in the state, Pinkos harkens back to Allenstown in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A rock for her was legendary Pembroke hoop coach Rose Galligan. “It was awesome. She was tough,” Pinkos said. “She would do anything for me. She gave me so much opportunity as a kid growing up.”

When Pinkos’ parents divorced, Galligan stepped in to help get the young basketball player rides or help fundraise money to go to camps. “She was just awesome,” Pinkos said. “She’s still in my life. She comes to our games, she comes to our practices.”

Pinkos recalls as a young player that Galligan just wanted her to get better. “I spent time in the gym with her – after practice, before practice,” Pinkos said. “Sundays, she’d open the gym for us – me and my teammates. She was strict, but to me very motivating. She gave me structure that I probably needed.”

Pinkos also played softball and field hockey. UNH came on her radar through their basketball camp that she attended. “I just fell in love with the place,” she said. “I loved the coaches. I loved the players. I wanted to go there, but it was completely out of reach. I was not a Division I athlete or player.”

Pinkos had some smaller schools on her radar, but then decided she didn’t care. “If I can make it as a walk-on, I’ll go there and that’s how it happened,” she said, enrolling at UNH and walking on to the basketball team. She made the team, but didn’t play much – maybe a total of six minutes in six games. It was one of those deals where she’d get a minute here, 10 seconds there. The coach might ask someone to go in at the end of the game for the star player. “Yeah, I’ll go in,” Pinkos recalled saying.

She worked her butt off after that first year. A player got injured during her sophomore year, so she was able to slide into the starting lineup. She never left. She went on to be a two-time captain and made the all-conference first team as a senior.

After college, Pinkos wasn’t sure what she was going to do. She had a summer job in Newmarket directing a summer recreation program. Part of her still wanted to play. She had some friends that were playing overseas, so it was in the back of her mind. By this time it’s August and her options are less than they were. Then one of her UNH assistant coaches approached her and said she was changing careers to be a teacher. Was Pinkos interested in the position?

She was.

Pinkos talked to coach Kathy Sanborn and took the position. “My friends were my teammates,” she remembered. “So for me to be a young assistant coach on staff with people I played with was a little odd.” It was not an issue for Pinkos. She figured since she’d been a two-time captain, she was a leader anyway. She was at UNH for three more seasons as an assistant.

Then she left to play professionally in Germany, something she did for a half a season. She came back and pieced together different jobs to make ends meet – intramural official, substitute teacher. Then she got an assistant job at Boston College, and she was in the coaching game for good. Next she was at Providence College, and then in 1996 she accepted a job as an assistant at Northeastern University, where she stayed for nine years leading up to the SNHU post.

In between she interviewed for quite a few head coaching jobs. She got the New Haven job, but turned it down. “It wasn’t the right fit at the time for me,” Pinkos said. She also applied for the UNH job, but didn’t get it. “It was good for me because I probably wasn’t ready.”

She was also up for jobs at Saint Anselm College and St. Michael’s College, and didn’t get either. “When this job (SNHU) opened up, it felt like it was home because I had grown up in New Hampshire,” Pinkos said.

She met with then athletic director Chip Polak. She had a lot of people call on her behalf. “It became a perfect fit,” she said. “Who knew 18 years later I’d still be here.”

There was certainly work to be done. Not only had there been 14 straight losing seasons, but in the previous 13 the Penmen had never won more than eight games. The culture was not great. “The biggest thing looking back was trying to create a culture,” Pinkos said. “I had to do a lot of convincing to these kids that this is a new way of doing things and that basketball needed to be a priority and not your social life. Even in my first year there were everyday victories.

One of those victories was a nine-win season in 2005-06, four more than the previous season and the most by a SNHU team since the 1991-92 season. “We beat some big teams that first year,” she said. “We did some nice things. The kids kind of got on board. Two seasons later they won double figure games (13) and in 2008-09 they went 18-11, the first winning season in 17 years.

“We got better and better,” Pinkos said. “We did have a couple down years in the middle for whatever reasons. It’s a tough league. The last seven, eight years we’ve been able to have a pretty good program.” SNHU has had six winning seasons in the last seven years. There was no season in 2020-21 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The kids have bought in,” Pinkos said. “It’s not a lot easier, but people will listen now when you call. Because kids want to go to a winning program and it’s a great university.”

One of the big turning points that has propelled the Penmen into a consistent winning program was recruiting Kylie Lorenzen in 2015. She went on to become the program’s leading scorer (1,798 points) and rebounder (932), leading SNHU to three winning seasons in four years.

Pinkos has taken a lot away from the different coaches she has worked with. Bob Foley at Providence gave her insight into Xs and Os, but mostly she learned about recruiting and competitiveness. “Recruiting has a lot to do with it,” she said. “Each year you get better players. The list is so long of really talented players we got here in the program.”

Which is why it has been important to Pinkos to hammer home from day one of building that culture of doing the right thing, being good teammates and good people, and working hard. “And committing to the program and being really selfless,” she said. “Over time that culture is not something I have to teach. It’s now taught by the older players. That was my goal.”

That culture has gotten SNHU to where it is now. The current team is 4-2 and 4-1 in the competitive Northeast-10 Conference, coming off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.

“The last two years have been unbelievable,” Pinkos said. “These kids are hungry to win.” The two years are particularly striking as they came off the covid year in which there was no season. It was extra tough for SNHU as they were one of the few schools that shut down. Pinkos couldn’t even work out with her players. In fact, she said she went nearly a year and a half without seeing them in person. “We tried to maintain communication with a text, email, a zoom call,” she said. “I went for a walk with a couple kids – just being outdoors.”

The Penmen came back with a vengeance with 2021-22. They went 21-7 to make the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in over 30 years. “I think it was just missing it, putting some pieces together recruiting,” Pinkos said. “We had Meg Knollmeyer as a transfer. We just had some kids who were hungry.”

When the team returned, Pinkos said the Penmen “learned to appreciate each other and the opportunities that each one of us had and not to take it for granted. It just clicked.”

There were still challenges. Covid had not gone away, and still hasn’t. There were practices with just four players due to covid. They had to reschedule five games because of covid. SNHU played seven games in a 14-day span. “Which I think took a toll on our kids,” Pinkos said. “Two kids ended up getting injured in the same game – tore their ACLs. We still managed to finish the season. It was heartbreaking for our players, to this day for Meg Knollmeyer and Gyanna Russell. It was heartbreaking for them to end their careers on torn ACLs after a year of covid. Those are moments you hate as a coach. But it was also the most rewarding year because those two helped put Southern New Hampshire on the map.”

SNHU won the NE-10 regular-season championship and hosted the NCAA Division II East Region Championship, losing to Daemen College, 70-59.

“We did it again. We pushed through last year,” Pinkos said. “We had some pretty good wins. We were able to just take care of business.” SNHU went 22-8 overall, making the NCAA East region Championship at Assumption University in Worcester, Mass. They won the program’s first-ever NCAA tourney game with a 65-44 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas before falling in the semis to Jefferson University, 62-49.

“We’ve got a big, talented team this year,” Pinkos said. “We had a tough loss the other day ( to Post, 57-51). Those things happen. I hope we can get back there. But nothing in life is guaranteed.” SNHU lost its second game to nationally-ranked Bentley on Wednesday, 59-52.

The Post loss was humbling, according to Pinkos. “You’ve got to work for everything. Nothing is easy,” she said. “We didn’t shoot well. We didn’t play our best. We hope to get back there. That’s our goal.”

SNHU should have a good shot of doing just that with some very good veteran players returning to the roster, led by Adrianna Timberlake and Jess Knight, both mainstays on the last two NCAA tournament teams.

“I feel like if we do the things we’re supposed to do, winning will take care of itself,” Pinkos added. It’s proven, so far, to be a successful recipe for SNHU.

Great Bay CC hoop climbs into national spotlight

By Mike Whaley

Alex Burt has proven beyond doubt that you can get there from here. When Burt took over the Great Bay Community College men’s basketball program in December of 2018, he inherited a team that had never won more than five games and was in the midst of a second canceled season in which he used to recruit players for the 2019-20 season.

Things got better, but it took some time and some patience.

The Herons went 9-13 in 2019-20, setting a program-record for most wins. After the Covid-19 pandemic forced GBCC to miss its third season in four years in 2020-21, the team came back the following year to go 13-12, the first winning season, and win the program’s first playoff game in the Yankee Small College Conference (YSCC).

After a breakout 2022-23 season, Dover’s Kinglsley Breen will play a key role this year as the GBCC hoop team looks to return to the USCAA Division II National Tournament. [Mike Whaley photo]

The Herons took a huge step forward last year as the addition of Dover’s Kingsley Breen and former UMaine-Machias standout Theo Wolfe sparked a 22-9 record, a trip to the conference championship and an at-large berth in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) Division II National Tournament in Richmond, Virginia. GBCC came in as the 10th and final seed, upsetting the number seven and two seeds en route to the USCAA final four. Their Cinderella run ended with a 69-61 loss to Miami-Hamilton. Burt was named USCAA D-II Coach of the Year.

Great Bay is officially on the basketball map now, made even more apparent with its recent ranking as the number three D-II team in the nation in the USCAA preseason poll. The USCAA is a national college organization, like the NCAA, that caters to both two-year and four-year schools. While Great Bay is a two-year school, athletes there do have the option of playing a sport for four years in the USCAA for GB.

“Last year we were the sleeper school,” said Burt, a Dover-native who starred at Dover High School and Plymouth State University. “People kind of knew what we were up to, but no one gave it respect. We always felt we had to do more just to get seen by somebody throughout the league. This year it’s going to be a totally new experience for me, a totally new experience for all of our guys. We’ve kind of got a target on us.”

Breen, who earned All-American honors, feels the Herons still have a point to make. “We’re trying to still stay the underdog,” he said. “Historically we haven’t been up there with everybody. We still have to prove ‘OK, we’re here. This is not just a fluke.’”

GBCC’s Theo Wolfe was a key part of last season, averaging a double double. [Mike Whaley photo]

The Herons certainly have what it takes to make another run, led by three returning starters: Breen, Wolfe and senior Bryce Gibson from Auburn, Maine. The trio are the team’s top returning scorers: Breen (16.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Gibson (16.2 ppg, 42.5 3-point pct.) and Wolfe (15.4 ppg, 12.2 rpg).

The big void to fill will be that of two-year standout and defensive stopper Alex Taveras of Portsmouth, who is now a preferred walk-on at the University of New Hampshire. Taveras led the YSCC in 3-point shooting (45.9 pct.), while averaging 12.8 ppg and 5.5 rpg.

GBCC has a good crop of incoming players, while returning role players like former Kingswood Regional HS star Ethan Arnold and Dover’s Cam O’Brien could expand their parts in support of the starters. 

GETTING THERE

Before Burt took the job, there had been three seasons with three different coaches resulting in the following: 4-19, 5-18, no season. Nothing to write home about.

In fact the Herons had already canceled a second straight season when Burt took the job in 2018, which eventually turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

It wasn’t, however, pretty right out of the gate. “That year the idea was just to fill a roster,” Burt said. “The early going was difficult.” In talking to players and parents he had to, of course, tell them there was no team at the moment. “But I’m here to create one,” he said. “The selling point wasn’t really there.”

But Burt persevered and it wasn’t long before he was able to get a half dozen players on board, including N.H. Division IV Player of the Year, Hunter Bullock from Epping, Londonderry’s Ethan May, a N.H. Division I All-State player, and another all-state player from Epping in Dylan Desrosier, who had been on a previous GB team, and who hung around for four years and was part of last year’s final four squad. Another recruit was Jordan Williams, an all-state player from Maryland. The biggest pick-up turned out to be George Mortimer, a former Traip Academy star, an older player who had played a year at the University of Southern Maine in 2011-12 and went on to be GBCC’s leading scorer.

“Once I got some kids in the door, I started getting all-state kids in the door. It snowballed from there,” Burt said. “I was able to put together a roster that would at least somewhat compete in the YSCC.”

The Herons turned a massive question mark into success, going 9-13.

But then Covid hit, and the following season was canceled, the third time in four years that the Herons did not have a season. 

GBCC guard Bryce Gibson had a breakout season last year, averaging 16.2 ppg and finishing second in the YSCC in 3-point shooting. [Mike Whaley photo]

But GBCC made the best of it, as difficult as it was. The big positive for Burt was that he was able to double down on recruiting. If not for that Covid year, it’s unlikely that the Herons would have been able to get Gibson and Tavares.

Tavares was a big high school star in Portsmouth, scoring over 1,000 points and playing on several state championship teams. He went to Plymouth State, but never played a game. Several weeks into his fall semester he broke his leg. He missed the entire 2019-20 season, which led him to consider new options.

Burt had heavily recruited Tavares in high school, so he was on his radar. When Tavares decided to make a change, he contacted Burt.

Gibson, meanwhile, had played a year at UMaine-Augusta. They had a coaching change and he decided he wanted some change himself. He contacted Burt about the GBCC program. “I saw that it was a newer school, a newer program,” Gibson said. “I reached out.”

“That whole year allowed me to put some stronger pieces together going into 21-22,” Burt said. 

The Herons in turn took another step forward. They went 13-12 to achieve the program’s first winning season, which also included capturing a playoff win for the first time.

That brings us to last year. GBCC continued to forge forward. Burt added two more key pieces in Wolfe and Breen. Wolfe had played one year at UMaine-Augusta, but Covid and financial woes led to the school suspending its athletic programs in July of 2020. Wolfe eventually found his way to Great Bay.

Breen was a Dover HS star, who left Dover after his junior season for Malden Catholic, a private high school in Massachusetts. He reclassified and spent two years there, “trying to get a better education and better focus.”

Breen had some college plans, but they didn’t work out. “I didn’t have the grades I wanted to, if I’m being honest,” he said.

Breen and Burt had a connection, which made Burt laugh a little. It was 2016, and Burt was preparing for his first of two years playing professionally in Europe. He was working out at the Dover Rec. Breen was a seventh-grader. “I remember that kid would be trying to shoot at the hoop I was working out on and totally getting in my way,” Burt said. 

So when Breen finished up at Malden Catholic and was trying to figure out what to do next, he already had this unusual dynamic with Burt dating back to the Dover Rec when Burt was a young adult and Breen was a child.

Breen visited the campus and liked what he saw. “It was really family-oriented – a good vibe,” he said. “It was a second chance I felt like.” It also didn’t hurt that the team had several Dover players – O’Brien and Jackson Rutland.

With the addition of Breen and Wolfe, Burt saw the potential. “Those two players pushed us over the top,” Burt said. “We had a solid group with that 13-12 year and Alex being our leading scorer. We had some other decent pieces to keep us competitive. It pushed us into a whole other category.”

FINAL FOUR OR BUST

It didn’t immediately take off. The Herons went 5-4 in November, including three straight conference losses, but after that they started to come together. By mid January, Burt said they were all on the same page. “Everybody woke up on the right side of the bed one day,” he said. “We just took off. Something totally clicked.”

At one stretch, they won seven of eight games, including signature victories over Central Maine CC and Southern Maine CC, the defending national champion. They ended the regular season with an 18-7 record, and a so-so 7-7 YSCC record. In the first round of the conference tournament, they played Maine-Augusta at CMCC and pulled out an 86-78 win. They had four players in double figures, led by Tavares with 22 points; Wolfe had 18 and 13 rebounds, while Breen (12) and Gibson (10) also chipped in.

They sent them to the conference semis against Paul Smith College, upset winners over NHTI. They rolled, 96-67, led by Wolfe’s 20 points, 16 apiece from Breen and Tavares, and 12 from Gibson.

In the final, they met SMCC, but the run ended there, 59-47. Only Wolfe (14 points) reached double figures as the Herons shot just 31 percent from the field. “We did not play good offense in that game,” Gibson said. “I don’t think we expected the physical part of the game when we got to that one.”

“It was a defensive battle,” Burt said. “We held them in the 50s. They held us to 47 and we averaged in the 80s. It was my first conference final and all my guys. The gym was rocking. It was pretty fun.”

Losing, however, was tough. SMCC as the conference winner earned the automatic bid to the USCAA Division II national tournament. Great Bay’s season seemed to be over.

“We’re in the locker room’ we’ve got guys crying thinking their season is over,” Burt said. “We’ve got guys who are graduating unsure if their competitive careers are over.”

The thing is, Burt knew in the back of his mind that there was a chance they could make the national tournament field of 10. It is not a reach for the YSCC to get three or even four teams, so why not Great Bay?

Burt knew on the bus ride back to New Hampshire from CMCC that the selection show would be going on. “Part of me did n’t even want them to pull out their phones,” he said. “We weren’t guaranteed a frickin’ thing. We were a dark horse, a sleeper school.”

Burt was thinking to himself that they’re on their way home and he’d about to have his players pull out their phones and maybe be upset again. Then he said, “Let’s have a little faith here.”

So they pull out their phones, and the teams are picked – 1-2-3, right up to nine, and no Great Bay. “I’m going ‘come on please, this would be horrible,’” said Burt. “Then they shouted us out with an at-large bid. They mentioned our record, some of the guys, and our seed, and said ‘we’ll see you guys in Virginia.’”

The bus blew up. “”Everyone was just absolutely fired up,” Burt said. “Now it wasn’t over. All year long we were the school that was winning some games, but not being talked about. And finally we’re being talked about.”

The players’ responses were predictable. “It was nerve-wracking,” Breen said. “We were like ‘oh man.’ Obviously they’re going through the numbers and it’s no way, no way. It’s the last one. We finally got in.”

“We’re on our phones just watching the teams get picked,” recalled Gibson. “We’re sitting there for the 10th pick with our fingers crossed, hoping we get picked. Then it happened. It was crazy.”

Ethan Arnold was sleeping in the bus when GBCC got picked. “I got woken up by the guys on the bus,” he said. “That was a pleasant wake-up surprise.”

As the 10th and final seed in the tournament, there wasn’t a lot of expectation. However, the Herons felt good about themselves. SMCC and NHTI were also in the tournament, and they knew they could play with those teams.

“As a whole group, we believed that’s where we’re supposed to be,” coach Burt said. “It wasn’t the luck of the draw. We’re there.”

The 2022-23 Great Bay CC squad advanced to the USCAA Division II Final Four. This year they have been picked third in the preseason poll. [Courtesy photo]

The Herons made a statement. In their first game vs. seventh-seeded Villa Maria, they fell behind four points at the half. But sparked by Breen, they dominated the second half to win 79-67. Breen led the way with 27 points and eight rebounds, while Gibson added 22 points, five rebounds and five assists. Wolfe had 16 points and 13 boards, while Tavares added five points and 10 rebounds.

In the second round vs. No. 2 Penn State Mont Alto, GBCC jumped out to a 45-30 lead at the break en route to a convincing 75-58 win. Breen again led the way with 20 points and five boards. Tavares (12 points, 16 rebs.) and Wolfe (12 pts., 11 rebs) had solid supporting games, while Desrosier and Gibson combined for 17 points.

Now they were off to the final four against Miami Hamilton. The run ended. Great Bay trailed by six at the half, 32-26, and twice tied the game in the second half, but could not pull ahead. Their season ended with a 69-61 loss.

Breen had another big game with 22 points, while Gibson added 11 and Wolfe had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards. Breen was named to the all-tournament team. “It was a turning point for me personally,” Breen said. “I just saw a chance to play against some great competition and really try to dial in. I thought it was great.”

STAYING ON TOP

Once an afterthought in the YSCC, Great Bay will begin this season as a team to beat. It’s a new look. “We’ve always felt like we’ve had to do more to get seen by somebody throughout the league,” said Burt. “This year is going to be a totally new experience for me, a totally new experience for all our guys. We’re going into this year, we’ve kind of got a target on us.”

Nine players return and seven new players join the roster. Burt is excited about the possibilities. “We’ve got a lot in the preseason to do,” he said. “We have things to adjust, things to fix to get us stronger and sharper. We’re making those progressions that we can.”

Breen, Gibson and Wolfe will be at the forefront of what the Herons do. Breen knows this season will help open the door for his final two college years. “I definitely feel like the Division II, Division I conversation isn’t out the door with the talks I’ve been able to have,” he said. 

The Great Bay CC men’s hoop team set a school record by winning 22 games last year and advancing to the USCAA D-II Final Four. [Mike Whaley photo]

Breen talked about some of his teammates, noting that Wolfe “definitely has that old-school feel. The haircut helps,” he added with a laugh, referring to Wolfe’s afro that is reminiscent of NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld. “He’s a great guy to play with. You get him the ball in the offense we play and he knows how to make plays. He draws a huge amount of attention on offense and defense.”

As for Gibson, Breen said, “him a the two (guard) that’s a 1-2 punch in the backcourt. He’s just a pure scorer.” Gibson has also hit the weight room to add some muscle to his frame

Arnold is another player who hopes to step up his role, filling the shoes, as he sees it, of Tavares. “I’m definitely going to play more of a leadership role,” Arnold said. “I’ll be one of the key defenders with Alex Tavares going to UNH. He’d guard the best player on the other team. I’m looking forward to getting into that role. I’m looking to be more of a lethal scorer.”

The seven new players include four freshmen: Joe Gutwein (ConVal), Stephen Gitau (Dover), Jordan Berko (Farmington) and Jared Biaya (Portland, Maine). Gutwein (6-1) and Gitau (6-2) are guards, while Berko is a 6-foot-6 forward and Biaya is 6-8. The rest of the newbies include 6-4 Mpore Semuhoza (a CMCC transfer), 6-4 Sean Murphy of Exeter (back after missing last year) and 5-5 guard Antoine Bailey from New Orleans. “I’m super excited about our new group,” Burt said.

Gutwein was an all-state guard at ConVal, and he is hoping he can help the team out anyway possible. “The guys are great,” he said. “Our chemistry is strong . This is a group that wants to be in the gym everyday. Kingsley, Theo, and Bryce, that’s our big three right there. They’re so dominant defensively and offensively. And that goes for everyone on our team as well. We are loaded with talent.”

Breen likes what he’s seen with Gutwein in the early going. “You can tell he can really play the game,” Breen said. “He’s smart, he fills the lanes. He’s just always in the right spot.” Gutwein has some personal physical adversity he must deal with every day – he was born profoundly deaf in both ears, accessing sound with a cochlear implant. “Honestly, in a noisy gym, it is difficult to hear,” he said. “My teammates and coaches use hand signals to communicate plays. I’m also super visual and always checking.”

The Herons open the season Saturday at home with a non-conference game against Quinsigamond Community College.

“Ultimately I took the job to build something special and create something special for these guys to take with them to whatever their chapter may be,” Burt said. “Now we’ve got to stay there.”

Jen Robinson Watson: Former Coe-Brown star finds masters niche in England

By Mike Whaley

No one is as astonished as Jen Robinson Watson to be playing competitive basketball at age 45. But here she is.

Once a New Hampshire schoolgirl star at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy from 1992 to 1996, the 6-foot-3 Deerfield native played college ball at New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University) before embarking on a career and a life that has kept basketball close at hand.

She currently lives in northern England in Yorkshire with her husband, James, and two children, Elizabeth and Harry. James and her run the family canal boat tourism business, Skipton Boat Trips.

Watson recently tried out for and made Great Britain’s top-flight masters women’s basketball team – the O40’s GB Maxiballers. Last month she was chosen as team captain as the team prepares for the world championships next month in Mar Del Plata, Argentina.

“Trust me, no one is more surprised than I am,” Watson said during a recent phone interview. “I’m just trying to stretch it out as long as I can. I’m hoping I’ve got another five years. I don’t envision playing on the (over) 50 team, but we’ll see how it goes. I feel really grateful for everything I have so far. It’s alright if it finishes. I feel like I’ve had a great career.”

Which is true.

Watson grew up in Deerfield, a small N.H. town that is a 30- to 40-minute drive to many destinations in the southern half of the state. Presented with multiple choices for high school at Concord HS, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial, Oyster River and Coe-Brown, Watson dug her heels in against Coe-Brown, where her three older sisters had gone. “I didn’t particularly want to go there,” she said. “It was kind of my last choice because it was probably my best choice for me as a teenager. I rebelled against it and definitely wanted to go to Oyster River.”

Then Coe-Brown girls hoop coach Tom Hall started planting the seed of coming to and playing at the Northwood school. “I thought he was a great coach and we got along well,” Watson said. “I ended up going there and absolutely loved it. It was a great experience.”

There was plenty of success. Coe-Brown lost three games during Watson’s four years, won two Class M state championships, and lost in a third. She scored over 1,000 career points. In 2021, Watson was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.

Watson played in college, but that experience was not the same. She was heavily recruited by the University of Maine, an NCAA Division I program. “Everything was great, and then the night before I was going to sign my scholarship, they called me and said ‘actually our first choice called and decided she wanted to come, so we don’t have room for you anymore. Thank you for everything and best of luck,’” recalled Watson.

At the time, Watson was devastated. She did not have a backup plan, and was suddenly in panic mode. Fortunately, a former UMaine assistant coach, Deb Reardon, had taken the head job at New Hampshire College. She invited Watson to join the team, which she did.

It was a great academic experience. But basketball was difficult. Used to winning at Coe-Brown, there was a lot of losing at NHC. The team won 11 games in her first three years, including an 0-27 mark during Watson’s junior season. “Basically I thought that was the end of my playing career,” she said. “I didn’t want to play any more after my junior year. I was thinking about giving up.”

The school made a coaching change just before Watson’s senior year. The new head coach was Dennis Masi and his assistant was Chris Wood. Ready to give up the game, the two convinced her not to. “I loved them,” she said. “They completely changed my whole attitude towards basketball; made me fall in love with it again.”

Watson had a decent senior year, the team won eight games, and she ended her career three points short of 1,000 points.

Masi talked with Watson after the season, noting she had some unfinished business. He felt she could play at the next level. She briefly considered pro basketball in the U.S., but figured that level was too much. Then she thought about playing in Europe.

Here the story takes an interesting turn. Already planning to vacation in Scotland thanks to a plane ticket purchased by her sister, Watson reached out to a team in Edinburgh. She was invited to their training camp, which she fit in during her vacation. The coach suggested she’d be better off playing in England – better money and more opportunity. There was one problem: it was already July and English teams were allowed just one American on their roster. Still, the coach was able to put Watson, who had returned to N.H., in contact with two teams. The Doncaster Panthers, located in Yorkshire, showed interest and offered her a contract. “I took a chance, got on a plane and came over,” she said.

Watson played one season with them, but was cut after the season. The coach was honest. It came down to Watson not scoring enough points. During that time, she had met her husband. “I left England thinking that was fun. One and done,” she recalled. “I met this great guy. I thought that was that.” Except it wasn’t.

She got a call from a team called Stockport, near Manchester, England. They had heard she had been cut, so they reached out. They couldn’t pay as much, but they were willing to piece together some other jobs coaching and working at area elementary schools to make it work. She played with the Lapwings for three seasons.

“Some of those girls are my current teammates,” Watson said. “I made some great friendships and am still quite close to the club.”

But after three years the Watsons needed a change. Her husband was in the British Army and decided to leave. There wasn’t much money. “We had to grow up and get some real jobs,” she said. “We went back to America.”

Watson stepped back from playing basketball while in the U.S., but she still stayed close to the sport. She coached the women’s team at Bard College, an NCAA Division 3 school in upstate New York, for five years; was the athletic director and  head girls hoop coach at St. Francis High School in Watsonville, California, also for five years; was an assistant principal at a California elementary school for one year, and then spent three years as an assistant commissioner for the California’s high school sports governing body running large-scale athletic events.

In 2018, the Watsons bought the family canal boat business in England, moved overseas and have been there ever since.

Both of Watson’s children are athletic. Elizabeth, 12, is a soccer goalie, while Harry, 10, is a basketball player. Both are big for their age and are projected to be tall like their mom when they get older – Elizabeth (6-4) and Harry (6-9). Mom calls Elizabeth a “tough little cookie,” while she describes Harry as “long and lean and athletic.”

Back in England, competitive basketball was not on her radar. Watson was playing with a local league team, but had not heard about masters basketball. An old teammate contacted her to say there was an ad online looking for women 40 and older to play for a FIMBA masters team to represent Great Britain.

“We both stewed on it for a while and then thought ‘why not?’” Watson said. “‘Let’s go for it.’ We jumped in the car and decided to give it a go. It was brilliant.”

Watson made the team. It started from there with six women. Today, the team has a roster of 21. The team ended up representing Great Britain last summer in the European Championships in Malaga, Spain. “It’s grown from there and there have been more opportunities from that,” Watson said.

Watson was already on a local league team, which is essentially neighboring towns playing each other. She joined the FIMBA club team with friends. Both are social teams. 

This past January, Watson attended a tryout for the top-level over-40 team, the GB Maxiballers. She made the team and started training for the world championships in Argentina, to be held Aug. 25 to Sept. 3. In June, she was picked as the team captain.

Although she is on three teams, the commitment is hardly overwhelming. The Maxiballers require one weekend every other month for a weekend of training. The FIMBA club team is a one weekend a month commitment, and her local league squad plays once a week. The Maxiballers are very competitive, but the other two teams have a fun factor that she enjoys. To illustrate that, her club team recently played in a tournament in Venice, Italy. “It’s very social,” she said. “Equal parts basketball and beer drinking.”

Staying in shape at her age is a challenge. “Being older and a big inside player, I have to work harder at things like fitness and endurance,” Watson said. “I do work out a lot on my own. I have a trainer I work with to get me ready.”

Watson had had no traumatic injuries, but there has been wear and tear on her knees. “They feel like they’re 85,” she said. “That’s a challenge. When you’re playing masters, you’re playing against other people your age. Everyone’s got little bumps and bruises.”

She laughs. “When you get to the tournaments on Saturday, everybody looks like LeBron James. When you go home on Sunday you definitely feel your age. … My knees struggle a little bit,” she added. “I’ve learned how to stretch out properly. I have to put in a little more time to get ready before and I have to take care after.”

Watson continues to embrace her New Hampshire roots. She still wears her reversible Coe-Brown warmup top when she practices. In fact, she left it behind after a recent Maxiballers training session. “I thought I had lost it,” she said. “I got pretty emotional, and then it turned up with a guy at the front desk.”

After her playing days, Watson sees herself getting into coaching. “It kind of naturally happens anyway,” she said. “I boss people around and people tend to listen.”

Player/coach anyone?