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GROTON — Last season, the Groton-Dunstable boys basketball team struggled down the stretch after getting off to a blazing start. So veteran coach Keith Woods is determined to develop depth on the squad this season and put together a season that is strong from start to finish.

Despite graduation losses that cost the services of Pete Liljegren, Brian Murphy and Paul Calderan, a talented cast returns, led by senior captains Kyle Romich and Will Peregoy, who will be the starting backcourt.

“Kyle has a Rondo game at point guard,” said Woods. “He can lead us in rebounding, scoring and assists and we go as he goes. He is our floor general offensively, and defensively he could guard any position on the court. He is about 6-3 and has gotten stronger and he is in charge of creating the right tempo for us.

“Will is a four-year starter and he can score in a variety of ways,” said Woods. “He is an excellent slasher to the basket and is the best finisher on the team. He has an improved shot with three-point range and he is going to be tough for opponents to match up with. He is moving to guard after being the small forward last season.”

A third returning starter will be senior Liam Barberich, who will be switching to small forward.

“Liam is our best shooter since Adam Dombrowski,” said Woods. “We want him on the perimeter because he will be a match-up nightmare. He has three-point range, but can also crash the boards. His challenge will be defending on the perimeter.”

The other two starters up front are juniors who came off the bench last season — Charlie Burke at power forward and Kenny Rutledge at center.

“Charlie has gotten tougher and has good inside moves,” said Woods. “He is athletic, has a nice mid-range shot and is mixing it up more this year and playing more physically. Kenny is athletic, can block shots and has a great touch on his shot from 10 to 12 feet. He is an outstanding rebounder at both ends of the court and he is getting it this season and playing with more focus. Our starting five combines size and athleticism and the consistency in size is a big plus.”

A quartet of players are making a push for time and will be crucial to developing the caliber of bench that Woods seeks — senior forward Aaron Honkonen, senior guard Ben Chilcoat, senior guard Chris McKinney, and junior center Phil Dubay.

“Aaron has the heart of a lion and combines the ability to penetrate with a deadly three-point touch,” said Woods. “He provides speed on the break and will be important in transition and maintaining tempo. Ben is athletic and has been impressive in pre-season. He is a good shooter with range. Chris and Phil are both injured right now. Chris is extremely competitive and brings toughness. He might be our best defensive guard. Phil is a pure rebounder with a soft shooting touch. He is a physical player who worked hard on his game during the summer. He is a nice addition and has a unique niche on the team.”

Adding further depth will be junior guard Eric Stone, senior forward-center Brad Ursprung, junior Mike Allen and junior forward Matt Plausse.

“Eric is strong and physical and is a good shooter,” said Woods. “Brad is physical and has a nice touch but is injured right now. Mike is hard working, coachable and team-oriented while Matt is a physical player with a nice mid-range shot.”

What are the Crusaders’ team strengths?

“I like our depth and versatility because it provides me with options,” said Woods. “I can put a large or small team on the court, or one with five excellent shooters. The chemistry is very good and the kids are working hard toward a common goal. They have unfinished business from last season, which has created incentive. I also like the experience we have.

“My concerns are staying healthy and our tough schedule, that includes nine Division 1 and nine Division 2 opponents. The kids established the goals, which are to win the league, win the Clark Tournament and to win the districts. The kids are hungry and they feel they could have made a run last season and are anxious to do it this year. The chemistry with this group is the best I have had here and they are willing to pass and share the ball. They just want to win.”

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