Group of Seven: How Concord Christian girls’ basketball became champions with small roster

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-28-2023 7:12 PM

Watch the Concord Christian girls’ basketball team play and you might assume they have a couple players out sick, with just two girls on the bench. But that’s the whole team at full strength.

There are no players out with illness or injury; no one is academically ineligible; no one is on vacation. They have a roster of just seven.

In a sport that requires five players on the floor at a time, CCA barely meets the mark. Yet, the program doesn’t just field a team for the sake of it; they field a team to win. And win it has. 

Concord Christian took home the Division III championship on Saturday night after beating Conant, 49-35, at Keene State College, finishing the season 21-1. It was the school’s first time playing in Division III; the program won the Division IV championship last year, which is where the smallest schools in the state typically play.

The roster construction has its positives (tight-knit family, equal playing time) and its negatives (hard to simulate game action in practice, foul trouble in games). And it surely lends itself to head coach Rebecca Carlile creating a different experience for her players than a coach would for a roster of 10 or 12. 

 As she explained, though, she values the opportunities it creates for her players more than she lets the obstacles constrain them.

“There’s no room for selfish play,” she said. “And I think our girls demonstrate that by the way they pass, the way they share the ball. They want to win, and they don’t care who scores as long as we win. I consider it more a blessing than a curse for sure.”

A fun little community

While a roster of seven might be a bit of an extreme even for a small school like CCA, filling out a roster still becomes an annual challenge.

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Last year, Carlile had to obtain waivers from the NHIAA so eighth graders could play for her. The year before, she needed waivers for seventh and eighth graders. 

For the 2022-23 season, the youngest players were in ninth grade. No waivers were needed.

They’re also all part of a tight-knit family. Literally.

The seven players span four families: Taylor and Kayden Rioux, Megan and Sarah Muir, Emma and Kate Smith and Carlile’s daughter, Lilli.

Carlile certainly appreciates not having to worry about many parent complains, especially qualms about playing time. 

“All seven of our girls are contributors, and we know that we have to win as a team,” she said. “There are no superstars. Even though somebody might be the high scorer, we have to have all seven girls playing. … There’s not a lot of drama. Everybody gets pretty much equal playing time for the most part.”

Learning opportunities

The family environment and relatively equal playing opportunities form the nucleus of the program. But with such a small roster, Carlile’s had to think outside the box when it comes to instruction, especially in how to simulate game situations in practice.

The math forbids them from running 5-on-5 drills. Sometimes, she asks the boys on the junior varsity team to help them out.

“You don’t have as many learning opportunities,” Carlile said. “You can’t run your offense and notice the breakdowns in the offense during practice and adjust in practice. … Honestly, I would say a big thank you to some of our JV boys that would stick around after practice and stand in a gap, run a 2-3 zone or whatever.”

CCA fortunately made it through the year without dealing with injuries that could have derailed the season. However, Carlile’s also needed her players to be ultra careful in games because she can’t afford to have anyone in foul trouble.

Their only loss this season, a 59-58 defeat at Conant, served as the example of why staying fundamentally sharp on defense is even more vital to them than it is most teams. Foul trouble potentially decided the game. 

“Did that affect the game? You can’t ever really tell,” Carlile said. “It probably does. When there are only seven, it kind of messes with the mojo. Somebody who you rely on for a certain thing isn’t there.”

But like with all of the challenges a seven-player roster presents, Carlile does her best to find the opportunities for her players to learn. In this case, it forces them to be excellent technical defenders.

“My girls are tremendous athletes,” she said. “They play really solid D. They keep their hands up, they move their feet.”

It’s been really fun

The group of seven that was Concord Christian girls’ basketball this season made up for its lack of depth with its combination of talent and discipline, with its familial bond and love for each other, the essence of what most parents would hope their kids derive from high school athletics.

Is having a seven-player roster the ideal situation? Not by any means. But it forces creativity and a nuanced look at the game, something Carlile and CCA excelled at this season.

“It’s a blessing. It’s been really fun,” she said. “It’s come with its challenges for sure like we’ve mentioned. (But) they’re a great group. I’m proud of all of them.”

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