Experienced Patriots ready for new season
With a new coach came new offensive concepts, new defensive styles and a different way of looking at the game.
With less moving parts heading into this winter, it's all about building off those concepts and watching them grow.
MAU returns seven players from last year's team that went 13-8, but was upset by Brattleboro in the first round of the Division I tournament.
Three seniors were lost from that team as Anna Iannotti, Kaity O'Brien and Emma Arlotta all graduated in the spring. Of those three, Iannotti and O'Brien were starters.
With a majority of their starting lineup and pretty much all of their bench still in place, the Patriots are excited for the prospects for this season.
"Having seven returners from last year's varsity team that made a lot of progress as the season went on, we're definitely planning to build and go beyond what we did last year," said second-year coach AJ Mahar. "I'm really excited to see us add different things to our defensive repertoire and our offensive repertoire and see where it takes us. I have really high expectations for this group."
Last season was the coming-out party for junior Grace Mahar. While she played a solid role on the Patriots' state semifinal team in 2016-17, last year was where the onus shifted to her to be the go-to player for MAU. She fulfilled that challenge with flying colors, averaging 16.1 points per game. Her efforts on the boards might have even eclipsed her scoring ability as she set a team single-season record for most rebounds, breaking the record previously held by her sister, Jhonny.
Grace Mahar will run the point guard position once again for the Patriots, but will also see time in the post, so MAU can take advantage of her high-level rebounding skills.
"For her to be coming off the year she had last year, she keeps adding to her game," AJ Mahar said. "There's no hiding the fact that she put up the biggest numbers and had a major impact on our team last year."
The loss of Iannotti depletes some of the scoring punch inside the Patriots had previously, so MAU will need to rely on others around Grace Mahar to fill in that void.
Girls like seniors Cat Worthington and Caroline Musinski will be relied upon to fill those roles. The pair play on the wings and are just as deadly at cutting to the basket as they are shooting the three-point shot. Both girls made major strides in a starting role in 2017-18 and they each had three contests of scoring in double figures last year. Their scoring responsibility figures to jump up this season.
"We need to replace the points from the seniors we lost last year and I think Cat and Caroline both are prepared to do that," AJ Mahar said. "Their confidence level is at a whole other level than it's ever been in the sport. They've had great preseasons thus far and I'm excited to watch them step on the floor."
While the starting guards of Grace Mahar, Worthington and Musinski are pretty well set for MAU, the Patriots have to replace starting post players like Iannotti and O'Brien. Seniors Sam White and Tori Pembroke figure to step into those starting roles.
Pembroke missed all of last season with a knee injury, but is back this winter. She is expected to have a major impact in the post for MAU.
While there are seven varsity returners, there is handful of new faces gracing the Kates Gym floor this winter.
One newcomer who has stood out in the preseason has been junior Ari Douglas. Douglas was one of the top junior varsity players last season and moves up to varsity this winter.
"She has put in a ton of effort and has retained a lot in a short span of time," AJ Mahar said.
The Patriots have their usual slate of strong competition in the Marble Valley League with tough tests against Brattleboro, Rutland and Burr and Burton. Their non-league schedule once again features out-of-state teams like Pittsfield and Hoosick Falls. MAU split with the Panthers last year and lost to the Generals early in the season.
A new addition to the Patriots' schedule that figures to be one of the biggest tests of the year comes when they travel to play New York Class C state semifinalist, Cambridge, on January 19. The Indians started the season with a pair of wins and look to be on par with their efforts from last winter.
MAU begins regular season play Saturday against Spaulding in the North-South Challenge, which takes place at Rutland High School. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. at Keefe Gym.
Roster: Grace Mahar, Caroline Musinski, Cat Worthington, Sam White, Victoria Pembroke, Erin Farrell, Emilie O'Brien, Ari Douglas, Taylor Andrews, Taryn Cassano, Alexis Secoy, Claire Paquin, Lexi Gerow, Keely Greene, Lauren Gervais.
Adam Aucoin can be reached at email@example.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.
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