MANCHESTER, NH — Every game presents a new opponent, and therefore a new set of challenges, yet the Derryfield School varsity girls basketball team seems to not only meet each new challenge head on, but the Cougars seem to be gaining momentum as they plow through some of the state’s top competition.
Thursday night, third-ranked Derryfield welcomed No. 6 Newmarket, including 6-foot-5 center Lena Nicholson, to the Cougar Den for a Division IV playoff clash and proceeded to pummel the visitors, 69-20.
“You just have to respect their level of athleticism. There’s not a lot of match for that in Division IV,” said Newmarket head coach Meghan Averill.
While everyone was was healthy contributed, it was the Elyse Ngenda show for the Cougars Thursday. The freshman phenom, who leads the state in scoring, dropped 40 points on Newmarket in three quarters before resting for the fourth quarter.
“Elyse had a fantastic game,” said Cheetham. “I give the kid a lot of credit. She’s really fun to watch when she gets to play like that.”
Ngenda also played a significant role on the other side if the court in shutting down Nicholson, who was limited to 12 points just three days after netting 27 in Newmarket’s 40-32 victory over 11th-ranked Hinsdale Monday.
“Every other team (tries to shut down Nicholson), but they don’t have a player like Elyse who can jump and recover like she does,” said Averill.
While coaches around the state have been awed by by Ngenda’s full-court athleticism, superior scoring ability and general basketball maturity, the freshman market standout says she’s but one cog in a machine full of playmakers.
“We’re all talented players and we all work hard,” she said. “We’re a young team, and we’re just improving each and every day, and … we’ve built a great bond as a team. We get along and we all love each other, so that’s a big part of the way we play.”
That team chemistry is likely to be tested by one of the top teams in the state in the semifinals when the Cougars travel to Newfound Regional High School for a semifinal clash with second-ranked Pittsburg-Canaan. The game is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. this Wednesday, March 2.
Pittsburg-Canaan, which defeated No. 7 Colebrook, 48-45, Thursday, is one of a handful of talented teams from the northern part of the state the Cougars have yet to seem, but Cheetham said her players are up to the challenge.
“Moultonborough was very well coached and a team we hadn’t played, so I think we’re going to try to do what we do, try to play Derryfield basketball, and you hope at the end of the day that’s going to be enough,” said Cheetham.
As far as Averill is concerned, if Derryfield plays the way it played Monday, there’s little doubt it’ll be the Cougars squaring off against undefeated top-seed Concord Christian in the tournament finale at Keene State College on Sunday, March 6.
“I would expect them to be in the finals with Concord Christian, and that would be a good game as their two regular-season matchups showed,” said Averill. “I really couldn’t tell you who would come out on top in that one, but it would definitely be those two teams I see competing in the championship.”