GROTON -- Success in something that has become commonplace during Mark Hennelly's run as the coach of the Groton-Dunstable girls' basketball team. Four trips to the District finals and nine post-season appearances in 10 years have built the program into one of the best in Division II. The pieces are in place to make it 10 out of 11 as the Lady Crusaders look primed to make another playoff run in 2012-13.
"I am very excited about this group and really believe that we have the potential to be very good," said Hennelly. "Our goal as always is to make it to the Districts and see what happens. The kids have been working hard throughout the off-season and first week of tryouts and we are just going to take it one day at a time and put in the work to be as good as we can possibly be this season."
A trio of senior captains will provide the leadership for Groton-Dunstable this year. Rachel McCarron, who committed to UMass-Lowell, will start in the front court while Riley Rogers and Cate Cullen are in the mix to start at shooting guard and small forward, respectively. "Rachel is a four-year varsity player who is coming off back-to-back Mid Wach B MVP awards," said Hennelly. "She is versatile and can play any spot. Rachel is a strong rebounder with excellent footwork in the post as well as improved range on her shot. Her aggressiveness shows on both sides of the ball and she really is the full package as a player."
"Riley had a great off-season and has developed into a defensive stopper on the perimeter. She is a hard worker who has shown a lot more confidence in her game thus far. Riley has a good jumper, can score in transition and is the vocal leader of this team. Cate is a physical player who is a solid defender. She does a great job of getting out on the break offensively and is working on becoming a more consistent offensive player. She has a great work ethic and is a real leader by example."
In competition with Rogers and Cullen at the shooting guard/small forward position is senior Jamie Park. "One of the biggest improvements I have seen so far has been in Jamie's game," said Hennelly. "She does a little bit of everything. Jamie has good range on her shot and defensively, she is very smart. She works hard, is extremely coachable and has a great attitude."
Rounding out the starting lineup is senior center Leanne Mueller and sophomore point guard Lindsey Werner. "Leanne will play mainly center and power forward, but she has the most consistent three-point shot on the team and stretches the floor for us," said Hennelly. "She has an aggressive side to her game and will get to the basket offensively. Leanne has great size and uses it to her advantage when rebounding the ball. She is gaining confidence in her all-around game and is poised to have a big year.
"Lindsey is waiting to explode this year and has everything you look for in a point guard. She has tremendous ball-handling skills, a great knowledge of the game, is coachable and can create her own shot. Lindsey has really improved on the defensive side and has developed into a complete player. We are going to run a more fast-paced style offense this year and she is ready for the challenge."
Providing options in the back court for the Lady Crusaders are junior guards Celina Antonellis and Kim Contonio along with sophomore Melyssa Langell. "Celina is a tenacious defender with great ball-handling skills," said Hennelly. "She does a great job of using her speed to get out and score in transition. Celina is a smart player who plays with a toughness that allows her to play bigger than her size.
"Kim has a great work ethic and really made strides during the off-season. Her jump shot has really come along well and she carries a great team-first attitude. Melyssa has a great mid-range jumper and is doing a nice job of picking up our system. She is a hard worker who can do a lot of things for us on the defensive side of the ball."
Sophomores Ariana Lacombe and Alex Pray, along with freshman Val Lukevitch, give Groton-Dunstable solid depth in the front court. "Ariana is a physical, athletic player who can do a lot of things. She is a strong defender and rebounder who is improving on the defensive side of the ball.
"Alex has good size and strength, which helps her in the post. She is a good rebounder with nice post moves and is working on finishing at the rim. Val is a smart player with very good instincts. She has a solid jumper and plays much bigger than her size."
One of the biggest additions that won't be taking the court is the return of assistant Jon Conlon to the mix after a year away. "It was tough not having Jon on the bench last year because he has excellent game-management skills and has earned my trust to throw any idea at me during a game," said Hennelly. "We built a great relationship in the past, and I am excited to have his knowledge of the game back in the fold."
With a group of versatile, athletic players, Hennelly is ready to turn up the tempo this year in search of another District appearance. "We don't have a lot of size, but we do have a lot of speed and we are going to play a brand of basketball that takes full advantage of that," said Hennelly. "This year, we are going to run a lot and press nonstop. We might make mistakes, but they will be made by being aggressive, which I can live with. I believe with our mix of speed and skill that we can be successful and the team chemistry is really strong with this group. I am looking forward to going to battle with this group of kids and I think we can make a run not only at a playoff spot but a league title."