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A Total Effort for Lebanon Girls in Season Opener

  • The Lebanon girls basketball team celebrate their 54-28 home opener win over Hollis Brookline in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 7, 2018. Each team has each won a Division II championship over the past two seasons. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon's Megan Gradijan, left, and Hollis Brookline's Christina Balsamo scramble for the ball at center court in the fourth quarter of their game in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 7, 2018. Lebanon won, 54-28. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon's Rebecca Wright drives for the hoop and draws a foul from Hollis Brookline's Elizabeth Atkinson in the third quarter of their game in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 7, 2018. Lebanon defeated the defending state champions, 54-28. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon's Sally Rainey (25), Rebecca Wright (23) and Anna Wolke (15) stifle a passing lane for Hollis Brookline's Elizabeth Bonnette (11) in the second quarter of their game in Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 7, 2018. At right is Hollis Brookline's Brodie Kelley. Lebanon won, 54-28. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Friday, December 07, 2018

Lebanon — A 10-for-19 performance from 3-point territory? Just seven points allowed in the second half? A 31-19 rebounding advantage? Leads that grew from two points after one quarter to six, 15 and 26 over the last three?

Lebanon High girls basketball coach Tim Kehoe had a lot to like about the Raiders’ workmanlike 54-28 dismissal of Hollis Brookline at Lang Metcalf Gym on Friday night.

Lebanon, with the bulk of its roster back from last winter, handled the defending NHIAA Division II state champs with relative ease, even with the Cavaliers returning four starters from their title run.

The Raiders are similarly blessed. Their coach understands Friday was just one game in possibly two dozen this winter. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t pleasing.

“I’m really happy with it; I thought we played well,” Kehoe said. “Hollis can play better. I don’t think they had their best game, and we really played well.”

After a relative draw through one quarter, Lebanon (1-0) took over with superior perimeter shooting at one end of the floor and lock-down defense at the other. The Raiders got their usual output from junior Rebecca Wright (game-high 24 points), but a lot of those points came as a result of the other things Lebanon did exceptionally well.

“I call it a team win,” said guard Anna Wolke, who matched Wright with a trio of 3-pointers on an 11-point evening. “I think we really shared the ball well. We’ve been working really hard these last couple of weeks. We started right in the preseason, and we were ready to go.”

The Cavs (0-1) looked like a reasonably well-oiled machine through the game’s first eight minutes, at least on offense. Hollis doubled down on the 6-foot Wright at the defensive end, and Lebanon ultimately made the visitors pay with uncanny accuracy from distance.

The Raiders never trailed after junior guard Megan Gradijan buried a top-of-the-key 3 for a 17-16 lead with 5:42 left in the first half. The trifecta came in the midst of a 14-1 run with which the Raiders built their first double-digit lead, at 27-16, before Hollis called a timeout with 2½ minutes remaining until halftime.

Gradijan, Wolke and freshman Catherine Cole — on her first varsity shot attempt — all connected from downtown in the opening half. Lebanon actually took 12 3-pointers (and hit five) before halftime against six attempts from inside the arc, a ratio that Kehoe admitted won’t be sustainable over the length of a season.

On Friday night, it more than did the job. Hollis’ defensive clamps loosened on Wright as Lebanon kept hitting from distance, and the Raider co-captain took over with 17 second-half points. Lebanon also attacked 6-foot-1 Hollis center Elizabeth Atkinson, limiting her to a team-high eight points and keeping her in foul trouble all night.

“I think sharing the ball is really important,” Wolke said. “Our guard play, we don’t have as many, but I think we can all work together really well. And we hit shots tonight, which is really good.”

Wolke, the Raiders’ other co-captain, will have a say in Lebanon’s success this season, particularly on defense. After the Cavs’ Christina Balsamo stuck a pair of 3-pointers and showed little hesitation in hoisting more tries, Kehoe sent Wolke out to slow the Hollis junior down. With Balsamo and Atkinson blanketed, the champs netted just three second-half baskets and didn’t go to the foul line once in the final 16 minutes.

The schedule-maker did Lebanon no favors to start the campaign, with Friday’s date with Hollis to be followed by Tuesday’s visit from Hanover, which vanquished the Raiders in last year’s D-II quarters. Lebanon matched up well with Hollis; Kehoe expects the athletic Marauders to be an entirely different challenge.

“I think our kids were ready; they weren’t too amped up, which I liked,” Kehoe said. “I like the fact that our kids had a chip on their shoulder, because a lot of people — and rightfully so — were saying that Hollis and Hanover were, by far, the best two teams (in D-II). And we play them right off the bat.

“It was good for us. You can never get too high with a win this early in the season. But it helps our kids, and it gives our kids a little bit of confidence.”

It might give the rest of the state something to think about, too.

Free Throws: Gradijan hit two 3s on an eight-point night for Lebanon. Senior Izzy Peress also connected from downtown, give the hosts five different players with a 3-pointer. … Troy Guerin is back with Lebanon as junior varsity coach. Guerin stepped down from the Hartford varsity position after last season. … According to Kehoe, Wright — who entered the night about 200 points shy of 1,000 for her career — already has a couple of scholarship offers from Division II schools in the Northeast-10 Conference. … The Raider junior varsity looked good in posting a 38-13 victory to open their campaign. Junior jayvee forward Nicole Alvarez, with ice on one ankle, followed that up with a flawless national anthem before the varsity tilt.

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