Bow girls’ basketball, the ‘least basketball-minded team in the state,’ prepares to tip off the D-II playoffs as the top seed

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 03-03-2023 2:55 PM

A Thursday 9 a.m. practice during February break doesn’t sound like much fun, especially on a dreary, chilly, rainy morning.

But the Bow High girls’ basketball team stands in a semicircle around head coach Phil Davis and assistant coach Joe Evans before practice even starts, analyzing the Bow boys’ basketball playoff game against Coe-Brown played the night before. Most of the team attended the matchup in Northwood.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation revolves around defense.

“You watch all the playoffs, the boys and the girls, it seems like those teams that play defense seem to end up winning,” Davis said. “So that’s what I keep telling them.”

It’s not like they need the reminder, though.

Watch any game film from this season, and the Falcons’ priority in every matchup shines through clearly. Through elite speed and athleticism, Bow frustrated opponents with tenacious defense, forcing turnovers that led to easy baskets and making it exceedingly hard for teams to score the basketball.

The Falcons didn’t allow more than 37 points in a game all season.

Any of the players will admit unprompted that offense isn’t exactly their strong suit, so they have to hang their hat on defense.

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“I don’t think some of us are the best shooters necessarily, but we have our good defense,” senior Alex Larrabee said. “We can come down the floor and take those easier layups.”

The Falcons’ journey to an 18-0 regular season and the top seed in the Division II playoffs has been conventional, but it also hasn’t been. They’ve won every game by at least 12 points, most by more than 20. But they also have a roster where four of their five starters (and several bench players) don’t play the sport year-round. They’re less elite basketball players and more so elite athletes.

In an athletics landscape where the overriding belief holds that heavily investing in a single sport is better than dabbling in a few, Bow proves otherwise. If you’re athletic and play hard, you can compete for championships at the high school level.

“I can’t take all the credit for the defensive intensity because the intensity and the want, they have it,” Davis said of his players. “I don’t have to ever teach effort. It’s just there all the time. I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to coach that. I just have to organize it and let them go.”

And as Bow prepares to face No. 8 Pembroke (14-5) in the D-II quarterfinals on Saturday night, there’s no reason to believe that intensity and that energy won’t be there yet again. When you love being a part of a team as much as the Falcons do, it all becomes second nature.

“The biggest part of this team is just how much fun we have,” Larrabee said. “I think the reason why we’ve had so much success this year is because we all genuinely look forward to coming on the court every single day. We all come into practice at 8 a.m. in the middle of February excited to be here.”

Defense, defense, defense

Since Davis took over the program three years ago, the message has stayed consistent: defense, defense, defense.

“We’re not amazing shooters, so that’s how we win games,” senior guard Bella LaPerle said. “It’s all defense.”

Talk to most coaches and they’ll emphasize the importance of strong defense for multiple reasons: It can lead to easy buckets in transition, and it can disrupt the flow of the game for the opponent, forcing bad shots.

Bow executes on defense as precisely as any team in the state. Deft athleticism sparkles as the common denominator.

“We know our defense is something we can control,” senior guard Lyndsey LaPerle said. “We know that our defense needs to come, and our athleticism needs to be there.”

It sounds overly simplistic, but maybe it is that simple. The Falcons might not have the most talented pure basketball players, but they’re certainly one of the most athletic teams in D-II.

“Most of our team’s main sport is not basketball,” junior guard Juliette Tarsa said. “Having the athleticism for different sports really benefits us because we all have standout speed, which helps our defense and how fast we are on the court.”

Davis estimated that they spend about 65% of their practice on defensive drills, working on their footwork and building their endurance to defend for long stretches of time.

The latter reflects a wrinkle opponents have tried to exploit, without much success this year.

Against Bishop Brady on Feb. 10, the Giants took deliberately long offensive possessions in the first half, forcing the Falcons to stay locked in mentally and physically. It marginally worked – Brady trailed 14-8 at the end of the first quarter – but Bow ultimately won the game, 50-22.

“We feel like we can guard for long periods of time,” Davis said. “(Playing slow) is going to shorten the game, which is obviously the goal of the other team, but they’re gonna get tired. … We know we can hang with everybody for that first half, and the second half – with the conditioning of our team – is where we really hope to spring it on them.”

‘They really buyinto each other’

Any team that spends as much time together as Bow does would be forgiven for growing tired of each other. The Falcons relish it.

“It’s probably one of my favorite parts of high school, being a part of this team,” Tarsa said. “We all have that same excitement for basketball.”

Added junior Sidney Roberge: “I don’t dread coming to the gym ever. … We’re all just so close, so it makes it so enjoyable.”

They also spend eons together off the court. Sleepovers, eating out and watching the boys’ basketball team play are all part of the equation.

So are deli meats.

Before every home game, the team meets at one of the player’s houses for pregame deli sandwiches.

“We eat a lot of deli meat,” Larrabee said. “A lot.”

A quick poll of some of the players revealed that the go-to pregame meal seems to be turkey with cheese on white bread. Some prefer mayo; others avoid it.

Regardless, it’s all part of what makes playing in this program such a fulfilling experience.

“That’s why this team is so, so good,” Davis said. “They really buy into each other.”

‘That taste in your mouth’

Losing to Hanover, 55-24, in last year’s championship game lit a fire under this year’s returning players.

But the players don’t ruminate on what they could’ve or should’ve done in that game as much as they use it as a helpful reminder to steer them to where they ultimately want to end up.

“It’s in the back of our mind, but it’s not to the point that we’re over-fixated on it,” Larrabee said. “We understood what happened last year for us to end up falling short, so I think this year our threshold of hard work is just so much higher in us.”

Watching a practice makes that threshold of hard work clear.

“You better be ready to run; you better be ready to sprint,” said Bella LaPerle. “You need to be ready and practice how you play, because it influences the game.”

The Falcons have had an unorthodox number of practices in preparation for Saturday night’s quarterfinal matchup against Pembroke. Their last regular season game was on Feb. 21, 11 days ago.

A worry about rust and grogginess early on in the game isn’t unfounded. But that intensity from Bow persists as it prepares.

There’s also the added component that this will be the third meeting between Bow and Pembroke this season; Bow won the first two by an average of 21.5 points, but the Spartans have come on late in the season, winning 10 of their last 12 games, including Wednesday night’s playoff game against Merrimack Valley.

Bow will have to slow down Annelise Dexter, the 5-foot-11 forward who can take over a game, as well as players like Taylor Renna, who can shoot the ball from deep.

But if the Falcons can execute their game, spearheaded by unforgiving defense, they’re confident they’ll have a chance to advance to the semifinals.

“I’m excited just to go after it, ‘release the hounds,’ as Coach would say,” Roberge said. “Use our speed to our advantage because we’re so fast, and we move the ball so well.”

And if that isn’t enough to put Bow over the top, their team chemistry provides an added boost.

“We want to win together,” Larrabee said. “I think at the end of the day, our chemistry’s going to outwork every side of the ball.”

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