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The Biggest Constant This Season? Change

Stevens' Natalie Wilson drives against Hillsboro-Deering's Hannah Pepper during their game at Stevens High in Claremont, N.H., on December 6, 2013. The Cardinals won the game 50-26. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Stevens' Natalie Wilson drives against Hillsboro-Deering's Hannah Pepper during their game at Stevens High in Claremont, N.H., on December 6, 2013. The Cardinals won the game 50-26. (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Relentless change is inevitable in high school sports, and there’s no better example of that than with this year’s field of girls basketball teams. Some prolific scorers from past years and other longtime coaches around the Upper Valley will not be seen on the benches this season, but ready to take their place are others looking to take a leap forward from promising 2012-13 seasons.

Lebanon, Hartford, Newport and Rivendell each face the departure of coaches. The unbeaten defending state champion Raiders will go about their title defense without longtime coach Tim Kehoe but with three returning starters from last season to help offset the graduation of more than half of their scoring punch. Rivendell lost 1,000-point scorer Lacey Stever from last season’s 17-5 team but returns a trio of experienced senior leaders.

Coach Eric Ward’s Thetford team is ready to make a leap forward this season. The Panthers welcome back seniors Jill Clark (who played last season at KUA after two years at Thetford) and Ella Chapman (limited to four games last season due to a torn ACL). In all, a group of six seniors will lead the D-III Panthers through a schedule featuring many teams from D-I and D-II as Thetford looks to improve on last season’s 17-6 record and loss to Williamstown in the state semifinals.

Here’s how the teams stack up:

Hanover

Coach: Dan O’Rourke (13).

League: New Hampshire Division II.

Last Year: 15-7, lost to Merrimack Valley in playoff opener.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Holly Schlosser (F, capt.), Molly Cornell (G, capt.), Cathleen Beliveau (C), Erica Hinck (G), Eileen Daley (G). Juniors: J.J. Daniell (G), Christine Croituro (G). Sophomore: Lexie Hamilton (G).

Who’s New: Junior: Delilah Fairclough-Stewart (F). Sophomore: Caroline Rodi (F).

Who’s Gone: Safiya Walker.

Players to Watch: Holly Schlosser and Cathleen Beliveau look to provide toughness and a strong presence inside, while J.J. Daniell and Lexie Hamilton anchor a strong and deep backcourt.

Team Strengths: Team speed, athleticism, work ethic, outside shooting.

Team Weaknesses: Size. No one on the team is over 6 feet tall, so rebounding will be at a premium.

Toughest Foes: Souhegan, Coe-Brown, Lebanon, Pembroke, Goffstown.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “Last spring, this group of girls set goals for themselves and have been working hard to achieve them,” O’Rourke said. “With another year under their belts, they are stronger, faster and more experienced. They are a passionate, committed, hard-working group of girls who are fun to coach. We want to improve each day and peek in March.”

Hartford

Coach: Bill Soule (1; interim coach stepping in for Ed Kehoe).

Leagues: Marble Valley League, Vermont Division II.

Last Year: 19-4, lost in semifinals.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Karianna Willette (F, captain), Allison Courtemanche (G), Hanna Hausler (F), Taylor Johnson (F). Juniors: Colby Frechette (G), Heather Illingworth (F), Karla Medina (F).

Who’s New: Juniors: Emma Bergeron (G), Melissa Robison (C). Sophomores: Kristen Davis (F), Kelsey Fogg (G), Shanan Hamilton (F), Alexis Johnson (G), Paige Kehoe (F), Megan Newton (G).

Who’s Gone: Kelsey Kehoe, Stephanie Grobe, Devon Day, Jess Barnham, Chelsea Dow. Ed Kehoe is taking the year off from coaching to concentrate on cancer treatments.

Players to Watch: Karianna Willette is a senior captain and can play multiple positions. Taylor Johnson is a fourth-year varsity player who will provide good leadership, while Heather Illingworth will bring experience and a strong post game.

Team Strengths: Athleticism, defense.

Team Weaknesses: Inexperience, size.

Toughest Foes: The Hurricanes will face eight teams from D-I along with a slate of tough D-II opponents and matchups with D-III stalwarts Thetford and Windsor.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “This is an athletic group that has experienced success in other sports and who have been a part of back-to-back strong basketball seasons,” said Soule, who has also coached varsity girls basketball at Sharon Academy. “This team will mirror coach Ed Kehoe’s teams with a couple different wrinkles. For a lot of these kids, this will be their third coaching change in three years, but this is a group that is not going to make excuses. ”

Kearsarge

Coach: Kurt McCandless (2).

League: New Hampshire Division III.

Last Year: 1-19, missed state tournament.

Who’s Back: Senior: Anna Cahill (G, captain). Juniors: Morgan Johnson (F), Claudia Carle (F), Lexi Bryk (G). Sophomores: Eleanor Angus (F), Sydney Bryk (G).

Who’s New: Sophomores: Lily Huntoon (G/F), Brianna Sullivan (F). Freshmen: Katlyn Kleckner (G), Devi Kraushaar (F), Maicy Hansen (G/F), Courtney Lauster (F).

Who’s Gone: No key losses.

Players to Watch: Senior captain Anna Cahill will be a team leader and was honorable mention as an All-State selection last season.

Team Strengths: Athleticism, energy.

Team Weaknesses: Youth and inexperience.

Toughest Foes: Mascoma, Bishop Brady.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “We are returning everyone from a very difficult season a year ago,” McCandless noted. “With the year of experience and a good group of incoming freshmen, this year’s team is looking to be competitive in every game and show improvement all season.”

Lebanon

Coach: Rob Marsh (1; interim head coach stepping in for Tim Kehoe).

League: New Hampshire Division II.

Last Year: 24-0, state champion .

Who’s Back: Seniors: Heather King (F, captain), Sam MacDonald (G, captain), Jenny Laramie (G, capt.), Mariah Ramos (C), Claudia Boutin (F). Junior: Vanessa Fleury (C). Sophomores: Kendra MacDonald (G), Sonja Wolke (C).

Who’s New: Senior: Ryleigh Stearns (F). Junior: Lindsey Clark (G). Freshmen: Joslin Wainwright (F), Meredith Melendy (G).

Who’s Gone: The defending champion Raiders graduated Emily Kehoe (first team all-state) and Moriah Morton (the D-II player of the year, now at Dartmouth). Tim Kehoe is taking the year off to help his brother, Ed, through cancer treatments.

Players to Watch: Senior tri-captains Heather King, Sam MacDonald and Jenny Laramie bring championship experience, while Vanessa Fleury will be counted upon in the post.

Team Strengths: Effort, height and experience with three returning starters from last season’s undefeated title-winning team.

Team Weaknesses: Replacing more than 50 percent of last season’s scoring output, courtesy of Morton and Emily Kehoe.

Toughest Foes: Hanover, Coe-Brown, Souhegan, Goffstown.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “I’m really excited about the upcoming season,” said Marsh, a longtime Lebanon assistant coach. “We will be challenged this year. We’d like to be playing our best basketball come postseason time, and then anything can happen.”

Mascoma

Coach: Mike Neily (6).

League: New Hampshire Division III.

Last Year: 14-7, lost in second round of playoffs.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Lindsey Thompson (F), Alex VanZandt (G), Amanda Guerin (G). Juniors: Michaela Selinga (F/C), Dani Jones (G).

Who’s New: Juniors: Kialah Reeder (G), Kaycee Lashua (G), Naomie Kocurek (F). Sophomores: Alaina Pringle (G), Tonya DeCamp (G/F), Ashley Wood (F).

Who’s Gone: Kori Kosiorek and Erin Tevere fronted a six-player graduation class.

Players to Watch: The Royals will lean on their three seniors with Lindsey Thompson down low and guards Alex VanZandt and Amanda Guerin providing a spark from the outside. Junior Michaela Selinga is 5-11 and will add depth in the frontcourt.

Team Strengths: Speed, depth in the backcourt.

Team Weaknesses: Size.

Toughest Foes: Newfound, White Mountains, Fall Mountain.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “We have to run and play strong defense to be successful,” Neily said. “We do have a lot of depth in the guard position to hopefully wear opponents down. I think we can be successful and I think we can go deep into the playoffs this year.”

Mid-Vermont Christian

Coach: Perry Seale (4).

League: Vermont Division IV.

Last Year: 10-10, lost to Arlington in playoff opener.

Who’s Back: Senior: Phoebe Seale (C). Sophomores: Anna Seale (G), Emma Bryan (G).

Who’s New: Junior: Rachel Carlson (F). Freshman: Danyelle Goodwin (G). Eighth Grade: Rachel Seale (F).

Who’s Gone: Morgan Riddle was Mid-Vermont’s sole graduate.

Players to Watch: Phoebe Seale is a 6-foot center who enters her senior season with nearly 1,000 career points and is expected to play a big role on both ends of the court. Point guard Anna Seale will again take charge of the offense, while 6-1 eighth-grader Rachel Seale will be a shot-blocking threat and weapon on the offensive end.

Team Strengths: Height in the frontcourt, speed and transition play.

Team Weaknesses: Depth.

Toughest Foes: Twin Valley, Sharon, South Royalton.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “We have a great group of committed girls; it is the most talented team I have had in the last four years,” coach Seale said. “Provided we stay away from injuries and illnesses, we will pose a threat in postseason play. Our team goal is to put 40-50 points per game on the board. If we do this, we will have a strong season showing .”

Newport

Coaches: Doug Beaupre, Tim Spanos, Samantha Hemingway (1).

League: New Hampshire Division III.

Last Year: 6-16, lost to Fall Mountain in prelims.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Sky Curtis (G), Renee Magoon (G). Juniors: Anna Stefan (F), Chrissy Merritt (F). Sophomores: Stephanie Carl (F), Samantha McNeel (G), Brooke Beaulieu (G), Kaitlyn Batista (G).

Who’s New: Sophomore: Katrina Batista (G). Freshman: Kirsten Kibbey (G).

Who’s Gone: Four of the five starters on last year’s team graduated with Jen Kidder, Darien Hubert, Alex Stefan and Ashley Plante.

Players to Watch: Stephanie Carl, Chrissy Merritt and Kirsten Kibbey will be counted on to provide much-needed experience and leadership.

Team Strengths: Quickness, determination, defense.

Team Weaknesses: Lack of varsity experience.

Toughest Foes: Sunapee, Hopkinton, Monadnock.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “It is so hard to predict wins and losses given the amount of varsity experience we have, (but) the major goal is to be extremely competitive every minute on the court while exhibiting the best sportsmanship possible,” said former coach Dave Muzzey, who unexpectedly resigned his job last week for personal reasons.. “The other goal, as it should be, is to make it to the postseason. I am most looking forward to watching this team develop into a solid basketball team.”

Oxbow

Coach: Barry Emerson (1).

League: Vermont Division III.

Last Year: 7-14, lost to Peoples in the state tournament.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Lauren Tomlinson (G), Mikayla Hodge (F), Jasmin Clark (F), Cassie Hutchinson (G), Savannah Fay (F), Malaina Wright (G), Sabrina French (F). Juniors: Morgan Brill (G), Amanda Wheeler (G).

Who’s New: Senior: Helen Mae Metcalf (F). Junior: Kathleen Metcalf (F). Freshman: Dahlia Klarich (G).

Who’s Gone: Emily Speck, Dilan Clements.

Players to Watch: Lauren Tomlinson provides great leadership, while Mikayla Hodge should be the main threat in the post this season.

Team Strengths: “Our strength will be our willingness to play hard as a team from tip to horn,” Emerson said.

Team Weaknesses: New system along with the new coaching staff.

Toughest Foes: Thetford, Williamstown.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “I am really looking forward to working with this group of kids this season,” Emerson said.

Rivendell

Coach: Hank Tenney (2; also coached the Raptors in 2003).

League: Central Vermont League, Vermont Division III.

Last Year: 17-5, lost in quarterfinals.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Hannah Rockwell (G), Megan Winagle (F), Megan Perkins (G). Junior: Tayo Ameden (G). Sophomore: Jennifer Debois (G).

Who’s New: Juniors: Emily Ghio (F), Miranda Garrow (F). Sophomores: Nicole Wurtz (C), Corrie Lyndes (G), Quenla Haehnel (G). Freshman: Morgan Dexter (F).

Who’s Gone: Lacey Stever — and her career 1,000-points — along with Stephanie DeSimone and Kate Maddock. Coach Russ Wilcox also stepped down.

Players to Watch: Seniors Megan Winagle, Megan Perkins and Hannah Rockwell are expected to step up as team leaders, while Tayo Ameden will add scoring punch and Jennifer Debois is a defensive specialist.

Team Strengths: Defense, speed.

Team Weaknesses: Size.

Toughest Foes: Thetford, Williamstown, Oxbow, Peoples.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “(Russ Wilcox) built a strong program while at Rivendell and had a great knowledge of the game,” Tenney said. “I thought my coaching days were done, but the players have really pulled together and worked hard and they are making it fun to be back. The three seniors on this year’s team all played soccer with me as freshmen when we won the title, so I am no mystery to them.”

Sharon

Coach: Brian Allard (2).

League: Central Vermont League, Vermont Division III.

Last Year: 2-19, lost in playoff opener to No. 1 seed Hazen.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Caroline Price (F), Abby Hurwitz (G). Junior: Suzie Moses (G). Sophomore: Katheryn Elderd (F).

Who’s New: Seniors: Mollie Faccio (G), Sierra Dreesman (F). Junior: Mackenzie Young (F). Freshmen: Mallory Lloyd (G), Grace Dorman (F), Anyata Hamilton (G), Jocelyn Johnson (G).

Who’s Gone: Samantha Abrams and Eliza Putnam fronted a four-player graduation class.

Players to Watch: Seniors Caroline Price and Abby Hurwitz will be team leaders along with junior Suzie Moses, while freshman Mallory Lloyd has looked strong in the early going.

Team Strengths: Depth, team speed.

Team Weaknesses: Size, inexperience.

Toughest Foes: Williamstown, Rivendell.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “I’m very excited about this season, even with seven new players; as the season progresses we should be fun to watch,” Allard said. “This is a great group of young adults that want to learn and be the best team possible.”

South Royalton

Coach: Jim Hewitt (1; 15 as varsity basketball coach including past jobs).

League: Central Vermont League, Vermont Division IV.

Last Year: 6-15, eliminated in first round of state tournament.

Who’s Back: Juniors: Rylee Lewis (F), Larissa Stride (F), Brooke Knudsen (F), Jacqueline Fulcher (captain/F). Sophomores: Rachel Moore (captain/G).

Who’s New: Sophomore: Summer Spaulding (G), Alexis Madore (F), Jocelyn Hewitt (G), Cora Honigford (F). Freshman: Autumn Wing (G).

Who’s Gone: Hewitt takes over for Bob Gray after two seasons. The Royals graduated Emily Berk, Cheryl Flint, Ellen Manby, Kim Lakin and Sarah Caron.

Players to Watch: 1. Returning point guard Jacqueline Fulcher, who “probably has the most varsity experience” on the team, according to Hewitt. 2. Rachel Moore, who will serve as a co-captain with Fulcher. Hewitt: “She leads by example. She tries to be a student of the game and is very respectful.”

Team Strengths: Despite the fact that he hasn’t coached varsity basketball in a decade, Hewitt is familiar with most of this year’s Royals. “In one way, shape or form, I’ve coached all of them in fourth or fifth grade,” he said.

Team Weaknesses: South Royalton needs to bolster a defense that allowed more points, on average, than any other in the region last winter. Being a small roster against bigger schools added to the challenge.

Toughest Foes: Craftsbury, Whitcomb.

Etc.: Hewitt has seven-year stints with the Chelsea girls and Whitcomb boys in his high school basketball coaching resume, making the semifinals twice and finals once with the Hornets.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “No. 1, we’re going to be competitive every game; we’re not going to give up,” Hewitt said. “We should try to beat the teams we should beat and compete with the teams that are much bigger than us. By playing this difficult schedule, it will make us stronger for the playoffs.”

Stevens

Coach: Ross Dole (2).

League: New Hampshire Division III.

Last Year: 4-16, missed state tournament.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Kirsten Dole (F), Alexis Melcher (G), Morgan Busby (C), Cheyenne Kemper (G). Juniors: Amerin McCall (F), Madelyn Whipple (G), Natalie Wilson (F).

Who’s New: Juniors: Nikki Root (G), Sam Booth (C). Sophomores: Aly Lizotte (G), Emily Varnkham (G), Kayla Falconer (F).

Who’s Gone: Adelina Hilerio.

Players to Watch: Madelyn Whipple is a talented point guard who looks to improve on last season’s strong play. Alexis Melcher is a sharpshooter in the backcourt, while Morgan Busby is a center with plenty of speed to run up and down the court. Senior Kirsten Dole provides the intangibles.

Team Strengths: Chemistry, speed, teamwork.

Team Weaknesses: The ability to drive to the basket, inexperience at varsity level.

Toughest Foes: Fall Mountain, Hopkinton, Mascoma.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “I’m very excited about this year; it’s been nothing but positive so far,” Ross Dole said. “The girls really get along well, which has made practices successful. They work together, and we’re getting a lot accomplished. I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can go as the season progresses.”

Thetford

Coach: Eric Ward (6).

Leagues: Capital League, Vermont Division III.

Last Year: 17-6, lost to Williamstown in semifinals.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Shyann Josler (G), Tegan Pellerin (G), Tara Pellerin (G), Erika Gray (G/F), Ella Chapman (F). Juniors: Michaela Pomeroy (G), Elise Jackson (F), Rozzlyn Kidder (F), Lydia Leitschuh (G). Sophomore: Kayley Gray (G/F).

Who’s New: Seniors: Jill Clark (G/F; played two years at Thetford before transferring to Kimball Union Academy for her junior year), Shenia Covey (F).

Who’s Gone: Kaitlin Olsen.

Players to Watch: Shyann Josler was the Capital League player of the year last season. Ella Chapman played just four games last year and is back after recovering from a torn ACL. Michaela Pomeroy is a defensive stopper and plays with high energy.

Team Strengths: Experience, depth, athleticism.

Toughest Foes: Hartford, Union-32. The D-III Panthers have 14 games scheduled against teams in either D-I or D-II.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “We have experience and depth this year; this is a very athletic team who enjoys playing the game,” Ward said. “The girls and I are excited about the upcoming season; we feel with some hard work and good luck, this could be a very successful year. The team has been pushing each other in practice and came in with a great attitude. Our goals are to win the Capital League, have a top-four seed and make it back to the (final four).”

Whitcomb

Coach: Dennis Wood (4).

League: Vermont Division IV, Central Vermont League.

Last Year: 14-7, lost in playoff opener.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Ashley Stearns (F), Nicole Begin (G/F), Kaili Walton (C/F). Juniors: Savanah Sheppard (F), Casey Holtz (G). Sophomores: Phoebe Parrish (G/F), Lindsey LaPerle (G). Freshman: Brianna Hillier (G).

Who’s New: Freshman: Laura Vaillancourt (C).

Who’s Gone: Cambry Zullick, Mackenzie Delia, Reba Hart.

Players to Watch: In the first year as playing a co-op team with Rochester, Nicole Begin returns after leading the Hornets in assists last season along with the high-scoring Ashley Stearns. Phoebe Parrish was Rochester’s leading scorer last season. Whitcomb sophomore Lindsey LaPerle will be counted on to run the team from the point.

Team Strengths: Balance on offense, team speed.

Team Weaknesses: Height, depth.

Toughest Foes: West Rutland, Arlington, Williamstown.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “The girls (from the two schools) got along very well in soccer this fall; they’re enjoying having enough numbers to really practice and play,” Wood said “We all know each other; (joining) will make us stronger in the future. I’m looking forward to watching this team play up-tempo and scoring some points. We’ll be fun to watch.”

Windsor

Coach: Bruce Mackay (8).

Leagues: Marble Valley League, Vermont Division III.

Last Year: 8-13, lost in the first round to Green Mountain. That loss marked the first time since 2006 that the Yellowjackets didn’t reach the final four.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Mariah Marsh (G), Taylor Potwin (F), Elizabeth McCabe (C), Annie Nelson (F). Junior: Haley Wood (G).

Who’s New: Juniors: Iyanna Nelson (F), Ashlee Bly (F). Sophomores: Katey Comstock (G), Emily Williams (G), Maddie Morse (F). Freshman: Ashleay Wilcox (G).

Who’s Gone: Ashlee Dimick, Nikki Kibling, Rachel Meagher, Ashley Blake and Laura Dana graduated. Also, Lindsey Clark transferred to Lebanon, and Maryam Orogi is concentrating on indoor soccer this winter.

Players to Watch: “It’s hard to say who our standout performers will be; it will be someone different every night,” Mackay said. Regardless, freshman Ashleay Wilcox figures to provide a big spark.

Team Strengths: Team play, quickness, work ethic.

Team Weaknesses: Size, lack of a proven scorer, inexperience.

Toughest Foes: As the only D-III team in the B Division of the MVL, the Jacks have a schedule loaded with D-II foes such as Hartford, Burr & Burton and Lake Region.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “I really am looking forward to this year and to see how much this team will improve,” Mackay said. “We have great team chemistry along with some toughness and some unknown basketball-related qualities that the coaching staff needs to bring out in each of these players. I think that we will be an enjoyable team to watch because we will come to play every night.”

Woodstock

Coach: Roger St. Hilaire (1).

Leagues: Marble Valley League, Vermont Division II.

Last Year: 12-1 as a junior varsity team; Woodstock did not have a varsity girls basketball team in 2012-13. The Wasps’ last varsity win came in January 2010.

Who’s Back: Juniors: Schuyler Benoit (G/F), Amber Barcomb (G). Sophomores: Natausha Smallwood (G), Gabbi Rozumek (G), Paitra Martin (F/C).

Who’s New: Freshmen: Madison Schulz (G/F), Mariah Luce (G), Hannah Reali (G/F), Loretta Blakeney (G/F), Lexi Fitzgerald (F), Emily Chase (G).

Who’s Gone: Emma Blaiklock.

Players to Watch: Paitra Martin, Amber Barcomb and Schuyler Benoit all look to play large roles in the Wasps’ return to varsity status.

Team Strengths: Team speed, hustle, depth with returning players.

Team Weaknesses: Youth, size.

Toughest Foes: West Rutland, Proctor.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “We are very excited to be a varsity team this year,” said St. Hilaire, a longtime AAU coaching veteran. “We know it will be tough, and we have a very challenging schedule, but this group works very hard. We had a tremendous summer and are looking forward to continuing to push this program forward to try to earn a playoff berth. I think we may surprise some teams this year. Being young gives us time to come together as a team. We will struggle early on as we try to get our new players up to speed, but once these girls understand our system, we will be able to compete and we hope to improve dramatically as the season goes on.”

Woodsville

Coach: Jim Kinder (4).

League: New Hampshire Division IV.

Last Year: 15-7, lost to Hinsdale in quarterfinals.

Who’s Back: Seniors: Erica Belyea (G), Christina Valliant (F/C). Juniors: Sam Thurston (F/C), Maggie Kinder (F/C), Lottie Page (F/C). Sophmores: Dee Martin (G), Tori Clough (G).

Who’s New: Junior: Brittany Derrington (G). Freshman: Courtney Derrington (G).

Who’s Gone: Tiarra Beatrice, Alex Valliant, Danelle Huntington, Abby Simano.

Players to Watch: Christina Valliant, Sam Thurston and Maggie Kinder all enter their third seasons on the varsity team and figure to be team leaders.

Team Strengths: Experience, size, athleticism.

Team Weaknesses: Depth.

Toughest Foes: Groveton, Sunapee.

Coach’s Final Thoughts: “Having only 15 players in the program for both jayvee and varsity may pose a challenge,” Jim Kinder said. “Judging from the early season, the girls have come to play basketball and are willing to put their heart and soul into the team. … (H)ow well we learn to defend will determine if we belong in the championship game in February.”