Girls’ basketball: After slow start, Merrimack Valley comes alive to pick up much-needed win over Coe-Brown

Merrimack Valley forward Jada Lucas (right) scores on a layup as Coe-Brown forward Zoey Smith defends during the first half on Tuesday.

Merrimack Valley forward Jada Lucas (right) scores on a layup as Coe-Brown forward Zoey Smith defends during the first half on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Merrimack Valley forward Jada Lucas (right) scores on a layup as Coe-Brown forward Zoey Smith defends during the first half on Tuesday.

Merrimack Valley forward Jada Lucas (right) scores on a layup as Coe-Brown forward Zoey Smith defends during the first half on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 12-19-2023 11:55 PM

PENACOOK – Merrimack Valley desperately needed a win on Tuesday night. Things didn’t start well.

Playing on its home floor after starting the season 0-2, the Pride fell behind Coe-Brown, 12-6, at the end of the first quarter. 

About midway through the second, though, MV (1-2) flipped things around and stormed out to a 22-16 halftime lead on its way to a 42-25 victory. 

The Pride’s sophomore forward Jada Lucas led all scorers in the game with 12 points. Junior guard Sydney Bailey and junior forward Kayla Smith both added eight points apiece. Smith also secured 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, Kalina Kasprzak led the Bears (1-2) with 10 points.

Here are three notes from Tuesday’s contest:

Team rebounding helps flip the switch for MV

During its lackadaisical first 12 minutes of play, MV allowed Coe-Brown to corral more than a handful of offensive rebounds leading to easy second-chance points. Head coach Bob McNutt implored his players to remember that all five on the floor have to rebound. Once they made that adjustment, he said, he noted a massive difference in their play.

“We need all five girls rebounding balls,” he said. “If we do that we’ll be a pretty good team. And then I think we just picked up the energy level. We tried to press a little bit. We were running a lot. I thought when we were running the ball, that was really effective for us. When we could push the ball up the floor, I thought we were more athletic than them, and I thought it showed in those spurts.”

If the Pride are going to find success this year, emphasizing their athletic abilities will be paramount. Quicker than teams he’s coached in the past, McNutt said this group will need to continue to work on harnessing that skill to their advantage.

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“We’re a team that has to run. We have to run,” he said. “When we get defensive rebounds, we have to get in transition, and we gotta look to run the ball first. … Right now, we’re struggling to shoot the ball. If we can defend like we did tonight and we could push the ball and get some easy baskets, I think that’ll generate some of our offense.”

Win gives the Pride much-needed positive boost

MV had the unfortunate circumstance of facing two of the likely top teams in Division II to start the season, Pembroke and Hanover, so righting the ship at home against the Bears could reorient the Pride in the right direction headed into the holiday break. The team will take the long bus ride up to North Conway to face Kennett on Friday before a week-long hiatus from the regular season.

“This was a big one for us. We didn’t want to go 0-3,” McNutt said. “We knew we needed this one. We played well against Pembroke, just not good enough. We played well against Hanover for spurts, but we’re just not playing 32 minutes of basketball. We’re a pretty good team. We have to clean up some things. We’re not a deep team, but once we get in shape, and once we figure out how to run offense a little bit better and we come together as a team defensively, I think we'll be pretty good.”

Coe-Brown continues to gain experience playing together

Bears’ head coach Joe Vachon mentioned that one of the biggest shortcomings for his group revolves around their lack of experience playing together. That, coupled with fatigue that seemed to set in after their strong start, became too much for the team to overcome.

“Our conditioning isn’t where it needs to be, and we start to get tired and if it’s not falling, a good team like Merrimack Valley’s going to keep coming at you,” Vachon said. “We just didn’t have things go our way. As far as for us, where we need to get to be, this is just another step in the process of trying to get better.”

The Bears return to action on Jan. 3 in a road game at Kingswood.