Engineering a Playoff Run
Woodsville Girls Look to Learn From Tough Losses
Woodsville girls basketball coach Jim Kinder rallies his team during halftime of Monday’s game against Rivendell. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodsville’s Alex Valliant jumps to take a shot while trailed by Rivendell’s Lacey Stever on Monday. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
Woodsville — While putting together a fine season, the Woodsville High girls basketball team has endured its share of difficult setbacks.
Heading into last night’s matchup with Littleton, four of the Engineers’ six losses had come by four points or fewer, some in heartbreaking fashion.
At Colebrook on Jan. 30, Woodsville led by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter, then attempted just one field goal in the final eight minutes while watching the Mohawks come from behind for a 69-65 win.
The Engineers have lost twice to neighboring rival Rivendell, the first when Raptors star Lacey Stever sank a 3-pointer with about 30 seconds left in a four-point loss and the second in overtime Monday, when the Engineers were 0-for-5 from the free throw line in a 34-31 loss. Free throws also costly in Woodsville’s 47-41 loss at Littleton on Jan. 4 as the Crusaders drew four fouls in the final one minute, 20 seconds and sank all eight free throws.
Yet with the New Hampshire Division IV playoffs approaching, fourth-year coach Jim Kinder feels his team is poised for a run. The Engineers (12-6; 14-6 league) have lost in the first round each of the last three seasons.
“I’ve had teams in the past where those types of losses would really hurt us (mentally),” the coach said. “With this group, I truly feel like it’s made us stronger. I believe that losses give you the opportunity to learn, and the losses we’ve had this year have definitely served their purpose.”
The Engineers, a mixture of seasoned veterans and first-time contributors, have excelled despite no one averaging double figures. The closest are 5-foot-10 center Chrissy Valliant (9.8 points per game) and fellow senior Tiarra Beatrice, who has scored 9.5 per game while transitioning to point guard from her natural shooting guard position.
Five others are scoring between 5-8 points per game for a Woodsville offense that has improved steadily throughout the season. After scoring just over 40 points a game a year ago, the Engineers didn’t fare much better at the start of the this winter, with just 40.9 per contest through their first seven league games. Since then, they’ve averaged 51 per game against D-IV foes, with plenty of contributions from varsity newcomers.
Freshmen Dee Martin (4.7 ppg) and Tori Clough (4.6) have done well rotating at shooting guard, while junior Erika Belyea, a jayvee player a year ago, has also scored 4.6 per game.
Sophomore Sam Thurston has followed up last year’s solid rookie campaign with another strong year, scoring 5.2 per game with four double-doubles.
Kinder likes the way his team has been spreading it out.
“You see some teams where one girl is scoring 24 points per game, and that’s just not us,” Kinder said. “We tend to get everybody involved, and I think it’s helped us, because everybody improves when they’re handling the ball and working toward our goals.”
Beatrice has helped distribute the ball after assuming the point guard position following the graduation of Corrie Kinder, while Martin and Clough have rotated at shooting guard to fill Beatrice’s old role. Chrissy Valliant has been sturdy at center to help compensate for the graduation of Stephanie McDermott, while Alex Valliant has stepped up big as of late. Her role increased after Thurston missed four straight games recently with an injury, and she has responded by nearly doubling her offensive output.
“It’s always tough when you lose a player like Sam, but it did open the door for some other players,” Kinder said. “Alex Valliant really came on strong.”
In last year’s playoffs, the Engineers fell at home to Moultonborough, 45-41, primarily because their offense failed to crack the Panthers’ 2-3 zone.
While the Engineers’ run-and-gun offense has improved dramatically this year, performing in the clutch has been a problem during their narrow defeats. It’s something they’ll likely need to correct if they hope to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008-09.
Woodsville’s seniors think the team is ready.
“We just need to stay aggressive,” said Beatrice. “We’ve been moving the ball much better, so we just have to stay strong with it for the whole game.
“Every game we’ve lost this year, it’s been because we haven’t finished (well).”
Jared Pendak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3306.