GROTON — The Groton-Dunstable girls basketball team has moved in among the elite of Central Massachusetts basketball with three consecutive trips to the Central Mass. Division 2 finals. Graduation was unkind to the Lady Crusaders, costing them the services of Sandra Lanier, Eva Mahan, Mandy Woitowicz and Jenny Moore, but the cupboard is hardly bare. A strong nucleus returns, and although they will be younger this season, the Lady Crusaders will still be dangerous.
The starting backcourt features a pair of veterans in senior captains Heather Moody and Kasey Pelletier.
Moody will be starting her fourth varsity season and her role has increased every year. She brings an aggressive mindset, both offensively and defensively.
“Heather is intense, athletic and is our leading returning scorer,” said coach Mark Hennelly, now in is eighth season. “She can take the ball to the basket or score from the outside, including three-point range. She is quick, determined and is willing to take the big shot. She is also our best defender.
“Kasey will be our floor general from point guard,” said Hennelly. “She handles the ball well, is an excellent leader and has a good long range shot. She has the ability to post up and she is our press breaker.”
The three other starters will be senior Kat Falco at power forward, sophomore Carley LaMalva at small forward, and sophomore Anna Towle at center.
“Kat came off the bench last season and she is an outstanding rebounder and defensive player who can play both inside or outside,” said Hennelly. “She has a good shot, makes good decisions and we are looking for her to score more this season.
“Carley is very versatile and is emerging in all categories,” said Hennelly. “She rebounds well, has an improved outside shot and she can shoot off the dribble. She is a smart player who is unfazed by pressure.
“Anna is a fighter in the paint and is a strong rebounder,” said Hennelly. “She is capable of finishing with either hand and has an improved midrange shot. She is fearless and poised.”
The Lady Crusaders figure to have a strong bench, starting with sophomores Amy Mattson and Kayla Meijer, and freshman Rachel McCarron.
“Amy handles the ball well and looks to score from both the inside and outside,” said Hennelly. “She has good quickness and is a key player for us in handling defensive pressure. Kayla came off the bench last season and she has been playing well. She has improved her finishing and she is a tenacious rebounder who plays with a physical and aggressive style. She gives us a toughness and she is always enthusiastic and positive. Rachel has made an impression and she is an impressive newcomer. She has solid post moves and great footwork. She takes the ball to the basket well and is not intimidated playing at a new level.”
The team’s depth doesn’t end there as freshman guard/forward Riley Rogers, freshman guard Kate Cullen, sophomore guard Erika Eipp, junior guard/forward Olivia Spead, and senior forward Breezy Riposa provide more options.
“Riley has a big upside,” said Hennelly. “She is intelligent and listens and learns. She has good quickness and is a tenacious defender. She is developing offensively but does a nice job of playing within herself. Kate has the ability to create her own shot from the inside or outside. She is aggressive both offensively and defensively, works hard, is determined and loves the game. Erika is athletic and is our fastest player. She has a desire to improve and is working on her skills. Olivia is one of our most improved players and has the ability to create her own shot. She works hard and wants to improve. Breezy goes right after it and plays with an enthusiastic energy. She is a physical player and is a coach’s delight and she always gives 100 percent effort.”
What are the Lady Crusaders’ strengths entering the season?
“Heather and Kasey provide great leadership,” said Hennelly. “Even though we are younger this season, we have the experience of our seniors plus our sophomores who have a year of varsity under their belt. These girls set high standards for themselves and work to meet those standards. The girls are very determined, I like the toughness that we play with, and we have a very strong sophomore class that is emerging.
“My concerns are the overall youth on the roster and that we open with six consecutive road games,” said Hennelly. “If we can get off to a good start we can turn that into a positive.
“Our goal is to win our league and to win the Districts,” said Hennelly. “The key to the season is our younger players stepping up in expanded roles, plus our seniors adapting to their new roles and accepting being the focal point of the team. I can’t wait for the season to get going. I am very excited about the combination of passionate seniors and talented younger players that we have on the roster. Another thing that creates an air of excitement is there is more mystery surrounding this team than last year. We have only one returning starter and it is going to be interesting to see how this turns out.”