The Londonderry High Lady Lancers captured the Division I championship for the second year in a row.
Coach Nick Theos’ troop capped off its superb 2014-15 campaign by besting the upstart, ninth-ranked Winnacunnet High Lady Warriors 48-33 in front of a large, vocal crowd in the championship battle at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester on Friday night, March 13.
The seacoast squad had knocked number eight Manchester Memorial, top-seeded Bedford, and then fifth-ranked Pinkerton Academy out of title contention in its three previous tourney contests.
But the Lady Lancers would have no part of playing the upset victim of Winnacunnet.
After posting a 16-2 regular season record and defeating number 15 Exeter, seventh-seeded Nashua North, and third-ranked Manchester Central in its three previous tourney games, the local contingent won every quarter of the title game in delivering the third state championship in the girls’ hoop program’s history.
“I knew we could compete,” said Theos after the title victory, when asked if he thought his 2014-15 crew could repeat. “We’re deep, and I knew that I could put every kid in there with confidence that they could get the job done. And that’s huge.”
Londonderry came into the championship contest having won seven consecutive games and 17 of its last 18 D-I games, with just one divisional loss since before Christmas. And the Lady Lancers bounced coach Cassie Turcotte’s Lady Warriors by a 58-47 tally in regular season play at LHS at the end of January.
In the championship contest against Winnacunnet, Londonderry held leads of 10-8 after one quarter, 27-18 at halftime, and 35-24 going into the fourth period. The Lady Lancers put the final touches on their second straight D-I championship by outscoring the opponent by a 13-9 margin during the final eight minutes of play.
Senior forward Tara Burke – a Londonderry resident who attended Lawrence (Mass.) Academy during her first two years of high school before coming home to LHS for her junior and senior years and two hoop titles – picked up a good amount of the slack for the injured junior low post stalwart Ashley Berube, who was lost to a knee injury in opening-round tourney play against Exeter. Burke finished with a game and team-high 11 points as well as six rebounds.
Junior point-guard Jackie Luckhardt did masterful work of running the Lady Lancers’ offense, scoring seven points, hauling down a team-high 11 rebounds, dishing out nine assists, and snagging six steals.
Senior guard Jenna Conroy – who occupied a seat on the LHS bench for every one of its games in the 2013-14 championship season due to a knee injury – played a significant role in the Winnacunnet win by netting eight clutch points in eight minutes of court time.
“This is just amazing,” she said amid the post-game celebrations. “It feels so great to be a part of it and to know that I contributed.”
The two-time state champs also received eight points and five rebounds from sophomore guard Kelsey Coffey, who has now played two seasons of high school varsity basketball and won two state titles.
“It’s amazing to be able to play with girls who are this good,” she said. “I knew we could win again this year, we’d just have to work harder. And it worked out.”
Senior swing-player Brittany Roche, who nailed memorable and clutch shots in the 2013-14 title team’s semifinal and final victories last winter, didn’t have an exceptional effort in this year’s championship game, with a modest output of five points and the recurrence of a back injury during the second half. But she was a key contributor to the LHS cause throughout the season and a significant reason for the repeat success of the 2014-15 Lady Lancers.
Asked if playing a Winnacunnet High Lady Warriors’ contingent that had already bested three higher-seeded opponents in the tourney had been the subject of pre-game conversation, Roche responded, “We just knew we’d have to put in our best effort today, no matter who the opponent was.”
Mission accomplished, again.