Girls' Basketball: Title defenders are also contenders
Bow began its defense Friday night. Lebanon and Groveton open their seasons this week. Division I play commences next week.
Here's a division-by-division look at what's ahead:
Last season, Bedford dethroned Bishop Guertin of Nashua, 39-38, for the state title. This season, Manchester Central coach Mike Wenners, again sees those as the teams to beat.
"There isn't a clear-cut favorite entering the season, but it starts with defending state champion Bedford," Wenners, entering his 12th season with the Little Green, said. "They have very good talent and depth. Haley Driscoll is a very good player surrounded by many other good players who start and come off the bench."
Simpson, a senior and Londonderry's all-time assists leader, signed her letter of intent to attend the University of New Hampshire. She'll be in the running for Division I Player of the Year honors this season.
Alvirne of Hudson, Nashua North, Winnacunnet of Hampton, Pinkerton Academy of Derry and Salem all figure to finish in the top eight.
"We don't possess an explosive offense, which means we're going to have to contain teams in the 40s to have a chance to win," he said. "My sleeper pick is Trinity (of Manchester), which should be a playoff team. They return many juniors and sophomores."
There's a changing of the guard at Lebanon this season. Longtime head coach Tim Kehoe has taken a leave of absence for family reasons. Longtime JV coach Robbie Marsh will be the head coach of the defending state champs, who finished an unbeaten season by knocking off Portsmouth, 48-41, for the state title last season.
Portsmouth, led by longtime head coach Dan Parr, returns three starters: seniors Abby Salvadore, Tighe Loch and Phoebe Collins.
Oyster River of Durham, Windham, and Coe-Brown Northwood Academy figure to challenge for the state title.
Bow is coming off a season capped by a 29-17 victory over White Mountains of Whitefield in the division final. Head coach Bill Vermette noted six players return to his lineup, including seniors Maddie Horner, a forward, and guards Taylor Marston, Ashlie Tucker and Kirsten Bresson. Bow lost its season-opener to Bishop Brady of Concord last year, then rattled off 25 straight wins to complete its title run.
"This is my fourth season at Bow, and there are more teams getting better and stronger, making our division tougher to compete in," he said.
Groveton defeated Colebrook, 60-40, for the 2012-13 title.
"Groveton will always be in the mix," said Ed Lemire, entering his 30th season as head coach at Derryfield School in Manchester. "Basketball is big in that community. The kids work hard, and the coaching is very good. I would look for good things to come from Littleton, as well."
"She's outstanding, and Sunapee will be tough to beat because of her," said Lemire. "She can hit the three-point shot if you play off her and can drive to the basket, as well. Sunapee was in the semifinals last year, and I believe they'll contend this season."
"If they're both healthy, we will be competitive," Lemire said.