A preview of New Hampshire high school boys’ basketball by division:
2012-13 champion: Trinity
2013-14 teams to beat: Trinity, Central.
Top players: Rich Ruffin G (Winnacunnet); Carmen Giampetruzzi F (Trinity); Eric Gendron G (Merrimack); Kobongo Ngalakulondi G/F (Memorial); Brett Hanson G (Central).
No intensive search is needed to find New Hampshire’s two best high school boys basketball teams this season, since both call Manchester home.
Manchester Central and Trinity look like the class of Division I, and will face each other in their season opener Tuesday night.
Trinity, last season’s Division I champion, has two of the division’s best players in senior forward Carmen Giampetruzzi and junior forward Wenyen Gabriel. There’s also plenty of talent and depth in the backcourt where Patrick Keefe, Ryan Otis and Brad Rhoades all return. The Pioneers also added junior guard Luke Testa, a transfer from Pinkerton Academy.
“We have a nice corps coming back,” Trinity coach Dave Keefe (Patrick’s father) said. “They can all get up and down the floor, but Central is the most talented and deepest team in the state.”
Keefe might be right. Central returns four starters from a team that went 16-4 last season, when it was upset by Bishop Guertin in the Division I quarterfinals. Dawson Dickson, a three-year starter at point guard, and junior guard Brett Hanson are among the returnees. Hanson figures to be one of the top scorers in the division.
Central also added transfer Jon Martin, a 6-foot-4 senior forward who played in Florida last season.
“He has a chance to be one of the better players in the league,” Central coach Doc Wheeler said when asked about Martin. “We expect to be better than we were last year.”
2012-13 champion: Pembroke Academy
2013-14 teams to beat: Pembroke, Pelham.
Top players: Jourdain Bell G (Bishop Brady); Nick Lazar G (Oyster River); Jake Vaiknoras G (Pelham); Pat Welch G (Pembroke); Andrew Lowman F (Windham).
Former Providence College and University of New Hampshire guard Matt Alosa guided Pembroke to an unbeaten season in 2012-13, and Alosa’s Spartans are the clear favorite in Division II again this season.
Everything starts with senior guard Pat Welch, who averaged 22.8 points per game as a junior. Alosa called Welch a Division I scholarship player. Senior forward Kafani Williams and 6-foot-5 forward Dominic Timbas will compliment Welch. Pembroke also added three transfers who are each 6-foot-7 or taller.
“Any of his starting five would be the best player on my team,” said Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey, who runs one of the top programs in Division II. “It’ll be Pembroke and then Pelham.”
Pelham will build around senior guard Jake Vaiknoras. The Pythons have a talented sophomore in Keith Brown, and will be better when point guard Joe Slattery returns from an injury suffered during the football playoffs.
2012-13 champion: Conant
2013-14 teams to watch: Conant, Berlin, Newport.
Top players: Robert O’Brien G (Conant); Eli Hodgson F (Conant); Andrew Houde G (Newport); Zach Bergeron F (Campbell); Jared Stauffeneker G (Mascenic).
Conant is the Division III team with a target on its back. The Orioles return three starters from a team that won the program’s sixth state championship in eight years last season.
Guards Kyle Carland and Robert O’Brien, and 6-foot-5 center/forward Eli Hodgson are the returning starters. Nick Panagiotes, Conant’s sixth man last season, is also back.
“If we want to reach our goals this year we are going to have to commit to defense and rebounding,” Conant coach Eric Saucier said. “We are quick and fast, but after Eli are not big.”
Newport won 21 games last season and returns junior guard Andrew Houde, who averaged 22.2 points per game as a sophomore; and Berlin welcomed back four starters from a team that reached the 2012-13 Division III semifinals.
“I think the top four teams in Division III this season will be Berlin, Conant, Newport and Hopkinton,” Saucier said.
2012-13 champion: Lisbon
2013-14 teams to watch: Derryfield, Epping
Top players: Jimmy Stanley G (Epping); Roger Larrivee C (Derryfield); Max Anderson F (Derryfield)/ Jordan Litts G (Wilton-Lyndeborough); James Fitzgerald F (Sunapee).
You’d have a hard time finding a Division IV coach who wouldn’t call Derryfield the favorite this season. In a league hit hard by graduation, Derryfield returns four starters from a team that reached the Division IV championship game in 2012-13.
The Cougars have a dominant post player in 6-foot-7 center Roger Larrivee (9.5 ppg last season). The other returning starters are guard/forward Bennett Doherty (8.1 ppg), shooting guard Tyler Zorn (9.6 ppg) and 6-foot-4 forward Max Anderson (9.7 ppg). Each of the four returning starters is a senior.
“I think we have the potential to be pretty good,” Derryfield coach Rob Bradley said. “But you still have to play the games, get it done.”
Epping and Sunapee are among the teams in the tier below Derryfield.
“Derryfield is clearly the favorite,” Newmarket coach Jamie Hayes said. “They return a ton of size and experience.”
A preview of New Hampshire high school girls’ basketball by division:
2012-13 champion: Bedford
2013-14 teams to beat: Bedford, Bishop Guertin, Londonderry, Alvirne, Pinkerton Academy.
Top players: Haley Driscoll F (Bedford); Jamie Sherburne G (Bishop Guertin); Aliza Simpson G (Londonderry).
Bedford beat Bishop Guertin to win last year’s Division I title, and those two teams are among the favorites in a division that appears to be deep at the top. Each team has one of the top players in the state: forward Haley Driscoll (Bedford) and point guard Jamie Sherburne (BG). Jeremy Faulkner is in his first season as BG’s coach.
Alvirne returns all five starters from last season, and Londonderry guard Aliza Simpson recently signed a national letter of intent to play at the University of New Hampshire.
Simpson, a 5-foot-9-inch guard, enters her senior season averaging 17 points, 9.5 assists, 5.5 steals and six rebounds per game.
“There isn’t a clear favorite in the division, but you have to start with Bedford,” Central coach Mike Wenners said. “And with Sherburne back it wouldn’t surprise me to see BG make another deep playoff run.”
2012-13 champion: Lebanon
2013-14 teams to beat: Lebanon, Oyster River, Coe-Brown.
Top players: Heather King F (Lebanon); Jen Schlim F (Coe-Brown); Jenny Mistretta G (Oyster River).
Lebanon went 24-0 en route to last year’s title, but will be without Moriah Morton, the 2012-13 Division II Player of the Year who is now at Dartmouth. The Raiders also have a new head coach in Rob Marsh, who guided the Lebanon junior varsity team last season. Former coach Tim Kehoe took the year off to help his brother through cancer treatments.
Heather King is one of three returning starters for Lebanon. King is among the favorites to be this year’s Division II Player of the Year.
There’s also a new head coach at Oyster River, where Dave Burrows has replaced Dave Nichols. Burrows has four returning starters to work with: center/forward Claire McCarthy, forward Claire Salmon, guard Jenny Mistretta, and forward Sara Messler.
Coe-Brown also looks like a contender. The Bears will rely heavily on junior guard Jen Schlim, who was a Division II all-state selection last season.
“There are a lot of good teams,” said Portsmouth coach Dan Parr, whose team lost to Lebanon in last season’s championship game. “It may come down to who’s playing the best late in the season, like we were last year.”
2012-13 champion: Bow
2013-14 teams to beat: Bow, Hopkinton, Gilford, Bishop Brady, Campbell, Fall Mountain.
Top players: Maddie Horner F (Bow); Sabrey Montore G (Hopkinton); Morgan Ferland (Fall Mountain).
Six players return to a Bow program that beat White Mountains 29-17 to win last season’s Division III title. The returnees include four seniors: forward Maddie Horner, guard Taylor Marston, guard Ashlie Tucker and guard Kirsten Bresson.
If Bow makes another run at the title it will do so without 1,000-point scorer Lindsey Nerbonne, who graduated and is playing field hockey at Syracuse.
A number of teams seem capable of preventing the Falcons from repeating as the Division III champion. Campbell, Fall Mountain and Hopkinton are among the teams in that group.
Campbell is perhaps the most consistent program in Division III. The Cougars have reached the state championship game in five of the last six seasons, but their only title came in 2011.
Hopkinton and Fall Mountain are each off to a 3-0 start in a league that started a week earlier than most other divisions this season.
2012-13 champion: Groveton
2013-14 teams to beat: Groveton, Sunapee, Derryfield
Top players: Erika Waterman G (Sunapee); Sadie Conroy G/F (Groveton); Hannah Comeau G (Derryfield).
The conversation in Division IV always begins with Groveton, which won its fifth title in the last six seasons by beating Colebrook 60-40 in last season’s championship game. Groveton will build around guard/forward Sadie Conroy this season.
Sunapee’s Erika Waterman is the reigning Division IV Player of the Year, and she’s back for her senior season. Waterman helped Sunapee reached the semifinals last season.
A healthy Hannah Comeau could be the key for Derryfield. Comeau, a guard, missed seven games with an ankle injury last season.
Hinsdale is another team to keep an eye on. Hinsdale returns senior guards Skylar Bonnette and Allison Scott. Both have been starters since their freshman season.
Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Follow him on twitter: @603sportsmedia.