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Depleted Lebanon Girls Basketball Still Hopes to Contend

  • Lebanon girls basketball players high-five each other after a successful passing drill during practice at Lebanon High School yesterday afternoon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Lebanon girls basketball players high-five each other after a successful passing drill during practice at Lebanon High School yesterday afternoon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Lebanon girls basketball coach Tim Kehoe runs the “Mad Dog” drill with his team during their practice yesterday at Lebanon High School. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Lebanon girls basketball coach Tim Kehoe runs the “Mad Dog” drill with his team during their practice yesterday at Lebanon High School. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Lebanon girls basketball players high-five each other after a successful passing drill during practice at Lebanon High School yesterday afternoon. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Lebanon girls basketball coach Tim Kehoe runs the “Mad Dog” drill with his team during their practice yesterday at Lebanon High School. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Lebanon — To the girls basketball programs looking at Lebanon High, down seven players — five by choice — from last year’s NHIAA Division II state semifinalists, and perhaps entertaining thoughts of a carcass ready for the picking, the Raiders would like to offer a familiar rejoinder from the situational comedy Home Improvement: I don’t think so, Tim.

Longtime Lebanon coach Tim Kehoe doesn’t think so, either. Yes, his Raiders lost something to graduation in guard Colleen Taylor, now playing at Maine’s St. Joseph’s College. More immediately, four seniors and one sophomore from last winter’s 21-3 roster — headlined by would-be starters Trina Scheie and Taylor Friedman — have cut into the Raiders’ depth and required several younger players to take on increased responsibilities.

Speaking during a Lang Metcalf Gym practice yesterday, Kehoe said his 22nd season at the helm will feature a team long in some areas, short in others and fully capable of making another Southern New Hampshire University visit in March.

“I think we have a split between young and old, and that’s a tough line sometimes,” Kehoe said. “We’ve got a lot of kids with a lot of experience and a lot of kids that don’t have much experience. There’s a lot more teaching going on, and a lot of the older kids are doing the teaching.”

When Lebanon’s season ended a 49-48 decision to eventual champion Souhegan in last year’s D-II final, the future included the return of Friedman at guard and a healthy Scheie at center, having lost the entire year to a knee injury. Over the offseason, however, both starters decided they no longer wanted to play basketball: Scheie has a future in college soccer, and the same for Friedman in field hockey. Two senior reserves, Leanna Travis and Hannah Gariepy, also chose not to return, and sophomore guard Chelsea Dow transferred to Hartford.

Still, the numbers tell an interesting story: Even without Scheie (14.09 ppg, third in the Upper Valley, as a sophomore) and Friedman (7.2 ppg last winter), Lebanon still has plenty of firepower returning.

The Raiders put four players among the Upper Valley’s top 25 scoring leaders last winter: Taylor (9.67 points per game) graduated, but the other three are all back. Seniors Moriah Morton — her 14.67 ppg was surpassed only by graduated Stevens star Richelle Dole (16.64) last season — and Emily Kehoe (10.96) will serve as captains, and junior Heather King (9.87 ppg) gets to return to her more natural forward position now that big sophomore Vanessa Fleury is ready to fill the paint at center.

“Emily and Moriah … are four-year players on the team and they’re great leaders,” Tim Kehoe said. “I think, if you watch them play, they’ve got a lot of energy and a lot of giddyup, and they’ll get after it. They get after it in practice and in games, and I think they’ll do a good job mentoring the younger kids.”

Morton’s rise in importance mirrors her play. The senior improved her offensive output by nearly five points per game during last winter’s semifinal run, scoring in double figures in 22 of Lebanon’s 24 games.

“Moriah may be the one kid that’s worked harder than anybody I’ve ever had in the program,” Kehoe said. “She makes 300 shots a day in the fall. She comes in here every day in the summertime and works on her strength conditioning and her shooting. She’s just a great overall athlete, and she can just take over a game.

“The one thing that we can hang our hat on is I believe she’s the best player maybe in the state, but she’s certainly the best player in Division II. When you’ve got that in your corner, you’ve got a pretty good chance to win.”

King improved consistently last winter as the person most affected by Scheie’s knee injury. Playing out of position as center, King produced nine of her 12 double-digit scoring efforts over Lebanon’s last 11 contests. Fleury’s full-time arrival on the varsity will enable King to play a more natural position while boosting the Raiders’ efforts on the glass, Kehoe maintained.

“Vanessa has improved a ton, and I think she’s going to have an impact on our team,” Kehoe added. “She kind of gives us that big team that we haven’t had in the last few years.”

Absent Friedman’s leadership and experience at the point, Kehoe is expecting a breakout season from junior Samantha MacDonald, who saw action both as a starter and reserve last year. Morton has also shown herself to be reliable with the basketball.

Lebanon’s biggest issues come in outside shooting and bench experience. The Raiders could bust any zone defense with its perimeter game last winter, but losing Taylor (39 3-pointers) and Friedman (24) robbed them of their best long-distance threats. Morton (17) is Lebanon’s top returning outside-the-arc shooter; nobody else sank more than three trifectas in 2011-12.

With an 11-player roster — what Kehoe termed “average” in size for him — the Raiders’ reserves will need to grow into the varsity game quickly, particularly in executing the pressure defenses Kehoe prefers. Junior Jenny Laramie debuted late last winter; she is joined on the roster by junior jayvee call-ups Claudia Boutin and Moriah Ramos along with three freshmen: Kendra MacDonald, Sonja Wolke and Brooke Falzarano.

“Right now, we have six kids who have a decent amount of experience,” Kehoe said. “We just have to stay healthy, then we have to really work hard to develop those other kids to a seventh- or eighth-man role. We’ve won the state championship before with just six players, but you’ve got to get awful lucky. … We want to keep on developing kids, and hopefully we get into that seven- or eight-man rotation.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.