Girls’ basketball: What to watch as D-I and D-II playoffs near

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 02-18-2023 10:12 PM

In yesterday’s paper, I broke down all you need to know on the boys’ side of Division I and II basketball as the playoffs near. Today, I’ll look at where the girls’ teams stand with a few days left in the regular season.

Bow

Bow girls’ basketball has stolen the show among area teams this year. Off to a 17-0 start, the Falcons have soared above the competition all season long, beating opponents by an average margin of 28.8 points.

Disappointed in the D-II championship game last year after losing to Hanover, head coach Phil Davis has talked all season about how his team entered 2022-23 with a renewed focus on moving past that sour taste in their mouths.

“I think they’re just really dialed in,” Davis said after Bow beat John Stark on Jan. 27. “With that heartbreaking loss in the finals last year where we didn’t put our best effort forward, I think the returning players realized what it was going to take. They put that energy, that feeling into every single game.”

The calling card for the Falcons is their suffocating defense. With speed at the guard position, notably Lyndsey and Bella LaPerle, Bow makes it challenging for opponents to bring the ball up the floor without turning it over. Oftentimes this season, the Falcons have jumped out to a three- or four-possession lead before the opponent can really run an offensive set because of the turnovers they can force.

In that matchup with John Stark in late January, for example, the Falcons turned the Generals over 24 times.

Davis has also had a plethora of players step up to score the basketball, particularly Alex Larrabee and Juliette Tarsa – Larrabee in the post and Tarsa from all over the floor. 

And with so many games ending as blowouts, Davis can give his bench players more experience. That might not play a huge role in this year’s playoffs, but looking ahead to next year when Bow will lose three of its starters, those reps should hold value. 

Pembroke Academy

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Just across the Merrimack River, Pembroke hopes to find consistency as the Spartans close out the regular season. Holding a 9-3 mark through its first 12 games, Pembroke alternated loss/win over its last four – though the defeats came to Bow (15-0) and Kennett (14-1), the top two teams in the division. The Spartans then beat a 13-4 Milford team on Friday night, 59-56.

They’ll have to find a way to beat a top team like Milford in the playoffs if they want to make a deep run.

After a 45-22 loss against Bow on Jan. 3, head coach Steve Langevin explained the difference in his team’s performance against the Falcons compared to the success they’d had earlier in the season.

“They’re a feisty bunch, and we need to get to that point,” he said after that game, referring to Bow. “We need to get a lot more aggressive and fight for those loose balls and get stronger. Part of it is physically we’re not as strong as they are. We’re young.”

With more experience under their belts six weeks later, perhaps the Spartans will be better prepared to take down a top team in D-II.

MV, John Stark and Brady

Further down the standings, Merrimack Valley, John Stark and Bishop Brady all sit within 2½ games of each other.

After starting the season against some of the tougher competition in D-II, MV’s rattled off four straight wins to climb over .500 to 8-7 entering Friday. 

Head coach Bob McNutt explained after the Pride’s win over Bishop Brady on Feb. 3 that he was hoping his team could use the next stretch of games to find consistency on offense. MV hasn’t quite found that, scoring under 50 points in each of the four wins during their streak, but the defense has remained stout.

“I think we can turn the corner here down the stretch and get on a winning roll if we continue to play well and we continue to do things that we’ve been doing,” McNutt said after that game. “We’re right there. … The girls, they're getting better each day.”

Meanwhile, the Generals seemed to hit a low point in their season after losing to Bow, 60-26 on Jan. 26; it was their fifth loss in a row after starting the season 5-1.

But since then, they’ve steadied themselves, going 4-2. The team was dealt a blow in December when senior guard Meghan Mefford tore her ACL in the Capital Classic. Head coach Tiffany Lewis has had to rediscover how to keep her team active and disruptive on the floor.

“We’ve definitely been missing her defensively since break,” Lewis said in late January, referring to Mefford. “She’s just that little spark that we’re missing right now and won’t have back this season, and it’s just trying to figure out our identity without her and how to bring that intensity back up.”

Bishop Brady’s dealt with injuries of its own; head coach Sal Alosa was without starting point guard Payton Bryson against MV a few weeks ago. Also like John Stark, the Giants have had extreme stretches of success and failure this year.

After winning their first game of the year, the Giants lost five in a row, then won five in a row and have since lost six more in a row. Even still, they currently sit at 14th in the D-II standings, enough to make it in – the top 15 in D-II girls’ reach the postseason.

“We want to make the playoffs, and I think they’re in good position to do that if we can pull off at least one or two more wins,” Alosa said in early February. “I think they have the capabilities of doing that once I can get everybody back healthy.”

Through Friday, the Giants have not won a game since, with one left in the regular season. 

Coe-Brown

Finally, Coe-Brown could be the last D-II area team to sneak into the playoffs. Currently 4-12, the Bears are a half-game behind ConVal for the 15th and final spot. 

It’s been a tough last few weeks for a team that started the year 3-5 but has gone 1-7 since that point. 

Head coach Joe Vachon expressed optimism after his team put together a valiant effort in a loss to MV back in December, their second game of the year. 

“As far as my girls go, I was very proud of how they worked today,” he said after that game. “They did a good job. It’s just another building block.”

With three games remaining on their schedule, the Bears will continue to try to build some momentum into the playoffs.

Concord

On the D-I side, Concord also continues to battle for playoff positioning. The Tide have won five in a row through Friday to improve to 10-7 and have risen to eighth in the standings.

Just a couple of weeks ago, head coach Rob Darrell spoke of wanting to see his team play more consistently from start to finish.

“It’s a good group of girls,” he said after losing to Portsmouth, 52-31, on Jan. 30. “We’re trying to find the right mix. In this division, it’s not easy. I feel with effort, a 32-minute game, we’ll make a run for the playoffs.”

Since that point, the Tide have shown significant improvement and now hope to improve their seeding as best they can with one game left on their schedule. Entering Friday’s slate of games, six teams were within one game of each other in the standings.

The D-I playoffs begin with the preliminary round on Feb. 28, while the D-II playoffs get underway on March 1.

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