Cougars claw their way into D-IV final

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Jackie Connors
Derryfield sophomore guard Jackie Connors may not show up on the stat sheet as often as some of her counterparts, but her intensity and selflessness is a major reason why Derryfield finds itself in the D-IV championship game.

BRISTOL, NH — The Derryfield School varsity girls basketball team may be young, but these Cougars are fierce and they’re resilient, a reality North Country foe Pittsburg-Canaan frustratingly learned first hand when the two squads met in the Division IV semifinals Wednesday night.

Competing at neutral site Newfound Regional High School in Bristol, the third-ranked Cougars booked their ticket to the state championship game with a gutty 47-40 overtime triumph.

“It means so much to our kids and our school. Coach (Ed) Lemire (who coached DS girls for 39 years before retiring in 2018) invested so much energy into putting Derryfield on the map.  Our girls have tried to continue that tradition and represent that kids can be strong students and strong athletes, while having fun,” said current Derryfield head coach Courtney Cheetham. “The majority of our kids are three-sport athletes and are coming off their third-consecutive season of a final four championship run. It’s really awesome for female athletes at Derryfield.”

Indeed, success has been a common thread among Derryfield female teams in the last year, with the Cougars winning the program’s second lacrosse championship last spring and then reaching the soccer final four in the fall. Those efforts have undoubtedly set a standard that the DS girls basketball team has both fed off and added to.

“I believe in our kids and the culture they have created,” said Cheetham. “We … play Derryfield basketball, which I think means working hard, staying humble and having fun. At the end of the day, regardless of the result, I’m confident these kids will play with pride and positively represent our school and themselves, which ultimately, as female student athletes, is the most important thing.”

Up next for the Cougars is top-ranked and undefeated Concord Christian. Though Derryfield lost both regular-season games to the D-IV favorites, the Cougars gave them their two toughest tests of the season, including a 36-35 battle to the final buzzer in Concord on Jan. 18.

No other team has finished a game within 20 points of the Kingsmen, which has averaged more than 60-points per game and outscored opponents 1,201-445 this season.

Still, Derryfield is a complete team and has a true game-changer in freshman phenom Elyse Ngenda, who led Division IV in scoring this season.

Ngenda led all scorers Wednesday night with 26 points, in addition to pulling down 22 rebounds and playing stifling defense throughout the contest.

Elyse Ngenda
Elyse Ngenda has the Cougars in position to win their first state championship since 1998.

Ngenda is one of four freshman and three sophomores seeing significant minutes for the Cougars this season.

Another one of the Cougars’ standout freshmen, Tia Ferdinando, scored five of Derryfield’s last 8 points in the second quarter before Ngenda drained a three to send the game into halftime tied at 21. And sophomore guard Lilly Losey hit a significant three-pointer of her own in overtime to give Derryfield some much needed cushion, putting the team ahead, 42-38 to help secure the “W.”

“It’s been a team effort all year,” said Cheetham. “We have had multiple different starting lineups, multiple different people contributing. If we use everyone’s strength, and put them in a position to succeed, it sets up our team to do very well.”

Freshman guard Chloe Bremberg, left, freshman guard Katie McCormick, center, and sophomore forward Kenzie Miller – all contributors in the Cougars deep playoff run – celebrate a recent playoff victory.

Ava Plage, a junior, held Pittsburg-Canaan leading scorer Katie Loranger to 6 points, holding her scoreless in the second half and overtime.

“Our team has two seniors and four juniors (Sarah Naje, Ashley Hardner, Christine Nadeau and Plage),” said Cheetham. “Although the bulk of our minutes come from our freshman and sophomores, the leadership and experience that our seniors and juniors provide is immeasurable.  They have taken the young kids under their wings and taught them humility and maturity, and taken away the pressure so our youth can thrive.”

Guard Christine Nadeau is one of four juniors helping to lead the Cougars this season.

Also helping the Cougars get to this point, though their names won’t be found on a playoff stat sheet, are senior captains Emma Losey and Erin Caparelli, the team’s manager.

“Emma didn’t play her junior season due to injury, and missed the first half of our season. After returning for the middle of our season, she re-injured her knee in our Sunapee game, and has not played since. Regardless, she has come to all practices, been a positive leader and prioritized the team’s success over her inability to play,” said Cheetham. “Erin does not play basketball, but she does everything else for our team. She is a strong student leader, and keeps our team organized, on time and focused.  She tracks practice and in game stats and helps us recognize areas of growth and areas in need of improvement. Although neither has had a ton of on court minutes, both will leave immeasurable holes in our program when they graduate. On the bus ride to the final four, I turned to them and expressed my sadness and anger that they were seniors. They are the best.”

About this Author

ryanoconnor

Ryan O'Connor

As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.