Memorial girls get back on track against city foe

Crusaders overcome early-game jitters to pull away from Central

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Memorial’s Payton Moran makes a move to try to get past Manchester Central’s Sylvie Bangasimbo early in the Crusader’s 21-point victory Thursday.

MANCHESTER, NH – You’ll have to excuse Manchester Memorial High School girls basketball head coach Greg Cotreau and his players if they felt a little anxiety heading into Thursday night’s twice-delayed clash with cross-city rival Central.

Sure, the Little Green entered the contest winless through eight games, but the Crusaders, after a 4-0 start, had lost their last five games, and following nine days of inaction – and few practices – due to weather-related postponements, Cotreau said his charges had some rust to shake off.

Having to do so against a gritty rival didn’t help.

“It’s Central. We know them really well and they know us really well, and really, all these games normally go down to the wire no matter the makeup of each team because all the girls have played together for years,” he said. “We know their personnel and they know us, so at the end of the day, it’s who’s able to dictate their pace that ends up at the winning end.”

On this night, it was Memorial taking control of a tight early contest and then pulling away to earn a 63-42 victory and improve to 5-5 on the season

The game plan, said Cotreau, was to play a fast-paced brand of basketball to counter Central’s more methodical ball-control and defense-first approach.

And after a shaky start, that’s exactly what the Crusaders were able to do, turning an early deficit into a 17-14 lead coming out of the first quarter. They then held the Little Green to 5 points in the second frame to carry a 36-19 advantage into halftime.

Still, Central came out of the locker room ready to continue the battle, and the third and fourth quarters ended up being more like the first, with the Little Green going toe-to-toe with their more experienced foes.

“I knew we’d get a good effort. The girls play hard all the time,” said longtime Manchester Central head coach Mike Wenners. “Its a young group, it’s a group that hasn’t played a lot with each other, and we knew this year was going to have a lot of learning moments, but I’m proud of the way we played. Sometimes we have a hard time putting the ball in the basket, but I’ll take that effort any day.”

Memorial’s tight defense didn’t give Central players much room to work.

Ultimately, the Crusaders were able to maintain their advantage and extend it slightly to secure the 21-point triumph, and despite not having her best shooting night, junior standout Madison Pepra-Omani still led the team, and the game, with 17 points.

“She scored the ball some, but it wasn’t her typical scoring performance, but she’s grown and elevated her game in other areas,” said Cotreau. “As a freshman, and a little bit last year when she played, if she didn’t score, it was kind of like, what else is she going to do? Now, she has the mentality like, ‘OK, I’m not scoring, but I draw so much attention that I can find my teammates,’ and she knows that in order to play at the next level she needs to show that she can rebound at a really good clip for a guard, and I thought she was great on the glass today.”

Leyla Mohamed and the Little Green made scoring tough on Memorial star Madison Pepra-Omani, though the latter still netted 17 points. Stacy Harrison photo

Outside of Pepra-Omani-Omani’s contributions, Memorial’s scoring was well distributed among seven other players. Emma Rossi dropped 11, while Payton Moran scored 9 points – all in the second half – and Torle Adumene and Nyasia McKelvey each contributed 8 points. Marlaina Schmitt, Jocelyn Eosue and Kayleigh Brunette produced 6, 5 and 1 point, respectively.

Having broken it’s recent five-game string of setbacks, Memorial now looks to string some wins together against quality opponents.

“We knew that the way our schedule was that we were going to hit a bump in the road,” said Cotreau. “Now we have, I wouldn’t say easy games, but we’re not playing the BG’s and Bedford’s of the world, so Spaulding will present some challenges tomorrow (Friday) and then Dover, Tuesday, will present some different challenges, so we definitely still have our work cut out. We’re not done, but it felt really good to get back in the win column.”

The Crusaders did get off to a hot start this season by winning four winnable games, but that doesn’t diminish their efforts against some of the state’s top competition the next five games, said Wenners.

“They ran into a really tough part of their schedule” he said, “but when push comes to shove, they’re going to be fighting for a top-eight seed and a home game.”

That, said Cotreau, has been his team’s roadmap all along.

“I’ve been fortunate to have a couple years at Memorial where we were really good. You know, we went to back-to-back final fours and then we were a minute away from hanging a co-championship banner (in 2020), so we’ve had some really good teams,” he said. “We know the formula on how to get there, so now it’s can we put the pieces in the right order to do that, and a big part of that is hosting a home game because you win your home game and get into the quarterfinals, and depending who you matchup with, there are upsets all the time, and if you’re a heavy underdog, a team could come in and play tight, play nervous, and you can be out there playing care free and really put pressure on that team to actually come out and beat you, but it all starts with hosting that first home game.”

For Wenners, the goal the rest of the season is continued improvement.

“We’re better today than we were yesterday, and if tomorrow we can be better than today, then that’s a step,” he said. “If it shows on the scoreboard, great, but if it doesn’t, I can’t ever criticize the effort.”

Thursday’s effort saw McKenna Schneiderman and J.C. Mendez lead the Little Green with 14 points each, while Sylvie Bangasimbo had 10 points and Leyla Mohamed offered 4.

Now Central moves onto a road matchup at 5-3 Windham at 6:30 Friday night followed by a home game against 7-2 Pinkerton on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. They’ll then make the short trek to Merrimack to face the 2-6 Tomahawks next Friday, Feb. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

Manchester Central's Sylvie Bangasimbo drives in on Memorial's Marlaina Schmitt.
Manchester Central’s Sylvie Bangasimbo drives in on Memorial’s Marlaina Schmitt. Stacy Harrison photo

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About this Author

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.