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New Coach, Same Goal as Ed Kehoe Takes Over at Hartford 

  • The Hartford High School girls basketball team works on a shooting drill yesterday in White River Junction. The Hurricanes, who have a new coach this season, begin their defense of the Vermont Division II title on Saturday. (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan)

    The Hartford High School girls basketball team works on a shooting drill yesterday in White River Junction. The Hurricanes, who have a new coach this season, begin their defense of the Vermont Division II title on Saturday. (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • New Hartford coach Ed Kehoe instructs his players during practice yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    New Hartford coach Ed Kehoe instructs his players during practice yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Hartford High School girls basketball team works on a shooting drill yesterday in White River Junction. The Hurricanes, who have a new coach this season, begin their defense of the Vermont Division II title on Saturday. (Valley News — Ryan Dorgan)
  • New Hartford coach Ed Kehoe instructs his players during practice yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

— By leaving the Sunapee girls basketball coaching job to take the same position at Hartford High School, Wilder resident Ed Kehoe drastically reduced his commute. The Hurricanes hope the transition to Kehoe’s coaching style will be a short one, too.

Kehoe, a Mascoma High physical education teacher who spent 15 years with the Royals before coaching Sunapee for three, inherits a Hartford team coming off its first-ever state championship. After never reaching past the quarterfinals during a 17-year run in Vermont Division I, the Canes went 19-5 during their first year back in D-II last season, earning the No. 2 seed and charging through the playoffs.

Their 45-38 win over top-seeded Mount Abraham in the final at Barre Auditorium last March was a liberating moment for a program that repeatedly petitioned for — and was denied — D-II placement under previous coach Steve Landon prior to last year.

Now Landon has taken over the Hartford boys program and the Hurricanes’ go-to center, Vermont Gatorade player of the year Sarah Illingworth, is a freshman playing at UMass-Lowell.

This year presents new challenges for Hartford, which returns only two starters in captains Stephanie Grobe and Kelsey Kehoe, Ed’s daughter. Hurricane fans can expect a stylistic overhaul, the new coach said.

“As much as I’d love to slow the game down and dump it in to Sarah, she’s not here anymore and we’ve got to go with what we’ve got,” Kehoe said before yesterday’s practice. “Our tallest players are all about 5-foot-9. We don’t have a true post player, so it’s going to be a lot of crazy up-and-down, a lot of jumping down opponents’ throats (defensively) and pushing the tempo.”

The Canes do return a proven scorer in Grobe, a senior forward who averaged 11.0 points per game a year ago and was included among the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association’s Dream Dozen, a list of top underclassmen. Hartford’s next leading returning scorer is Kehoe (4.3 ppg), a tenacious guard who’s laurels rest primarily as a defensive gadfly.

Kehoe knows that, from an offensive standpoint, the team won’t be able to thrive on the exploits of Grobe alone.

“We didn’t only lose Sarah; we also lost Clara Leister and Katelyn Sheldrick (both to graduation), and both of those girls could score, too,” Kehoe said.

“It’s exciting to have Stephanie back. She’s going to be one of the best scorers in the state this year. The problem is, teams are probably going to know that and put their best defensive players on her. So the big question for us is, ‘Who else is going to score?’ ”

Hartford expects contributions from sophomores Heather Illingworth, Sarah’s sister, and Lebanon High transfer Chelsea Dow, who scored 38 points in 11 games off the bench as a freshman last year for the Raiders (coached by Ed’s brother, Tim).

Junior Taylor Johnson, who scored 4.2 ppg a year ago, figures to round out the starting five for the Canes, who open at home against Union-32 on Saturday.

Seniors Jess Barnum and Devon Day should figure heavily into the rotation, while sophomores Colby Frechette and Karla Medina will be featured as trap-and-run specialists. Junior Karianna Willette adds defensive depth off the bench, along with senior Amy Koh, who missed last season with an ACL injury.

“The good news for us is that we do have a lot of depth and girls who can play,” Kehoe said. “It’s just going to be a matter of being in better shape than anyone else.”

Ah yes, the running. As he did during a highly successful stint as the Mascoma girls coach from 1993-2008 — the Royals won three New Hampshire Class M titles and reached the title game seven times during his tenure — Kehoe has employed extensive running drills during the Hurricanes’ preseason. Agility work, sprinting and endurance exercises have all been part of the package as the Canes plan to out-hustle opponents in both quickness and stamina.

“That’s our goal, to be in better shape and outwork everyone,” said Kehoe, a Portsmouth, R.I. native who played collegiately at Bridgewater (Mass.) State University. “There are a lot of good teams in D-II and a lot of parity. We’re not always going to be the most skilled or the most talented team on the floor, so we need to win with effort and hard work. I think the girls have embraced that; they know we’re a running team.”

Even as the coach’s daughter, Kelsey Kehoe, admitted switching to her dad’s coaching style from Landon’s will be an adjustment. While Ed Kehoe spent the 2008-09 winter coaching youth-level play in Hartford and some of those players are now on the Canes’ jayvee team, only a few varsity players have been led by Ed Kehoe during the AAU season.

“AAU is a little more laid back compared to the high school season,” Emily Kehoe said. “When (Landon) left, we lost a coach we’d had since freshman year and that’s going to be an adjustment for anyone.”

Grobe is excited about the potential for a team still confident after bringing the D-II trophy to White River Junction last year.

“We’ve got a lot of good players,” Grobe said. “We’re going to play full-court defense with a lot of pressure, be quick to the ball and get layups. It’s going to be a good season.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.