For the Londonderry girls basketball team, the worst part of the entire situation is the unknown.
“You get going on this roller coaster and you feel that confidence starting to rise after every game, you start to feel like you’re unbeatable,” said coach Nick Theos, who’s team was slated to play Goffstown in last Thursday’s Division 1 state semifinal.
“To have those games pulled was heartbreaking for the kids. I got so many texts from them saying that they just wanted to play, to be able to finish it out. And it’s just that unknown. I can live with whether we would have won or lost, but it’s just that unknown of not knowing what could have been.”
The 10th-seeded Lancers (13-8) had made a magical run to the semis, upsetting archrival Pinkerton and second-seeded Merrimack in the process. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, the NHIAA announced the cancellation of the remainder of the winter sports season.
The ball was called off, and Cinderella had to stay home.
“It was very frustrating because we were on that roll,” said senior tri-captain Colleen Furlong. “I think we had just found ourselves and were really playing as a team. ... We were very confident that we could win a championship.”
Of course, Theos and the Lancers completely understand the greater health concerns at play, and respect the NHIAA’s decision. But to have the opportunity to compete for a title taken away by outside forces still stung.
Especially when you consider that the Lancers, who had won seven straight, were one of the hottest teams in the state.
“We knew all season that we were talented,” said Theos. “We knew we could play better, and luckily we were playing our best basketball at the right time.”
Still, despite the disappointing end, the Lancers need to be praised for what they were able to accomplish.
The team started out the year 2-4, and things didn’t look much better a few weeks later at 5-8. But that’s when the Lancers hit their stride. In fact, the team hadn’t lost since their Feb. 8 game against Pinkerton.
Theos credits the turnaround to a more balanced offense. Early in the season, it was senior Courtney Shay and junior Ashley Rourke doing the bulk of the scoring. But over the last seven games, Furlong, a Western New England commit, stepped up and was averaging 14 points per game.
“It was really exciting,” said Furlong. “Other teams knew who our top scorers were and were focusing on them. So we all knew we had to step up and do more.”
The Lancers will be losing Furlong, tri-captain Katie Sullivan and an 1,000-point scorer in Shay, a Hamilton commit, to graduation, but will still bring back plenty of talent. Rourke and fellow junior starter Ashley Schmitt are slated to return, as well as a handful of key reserves.
But when it comes to the 2019-20 season, Theos will always remember one thing.
“The determination,” he said. “They could have folded their tents a long time ago, but they didn’t quit. And that really stood out.
“In their minds, they weren’t going to lose another game.”
THE FINAL FOUR
Londonderry was slated to play sixth-seeded Goffstown in the Division 1 tournament last Thursday, while top-seeded Bishop Guertin was scheduled to play No. 4 Bedford in the other semifinal.
The winners of both games would have played in Saturday’s final at UNH.
The No. 10 Lancers had lost to Goffstown, 58-25, back in December, but had pulled off seven straight wins which included tournament upsets of Pinkerton and No. 2 Merrimack.
“That was our second game of the season and we were an entirely different basketball team back then,” said Londonderry coach Nick Theos. “I felt, as a team, that we could match up with them.”
Had the Lancers kept their magical run going, they likely would have faced Bishop Guertin in the finals. Had the powerhouse Cardinals beat Bedford, they would have been going for their fifth straight state title.
At this point, the NHIAA has not said how the cancellation of the rest of the winter season will affect its record books.
Basketball and hockey tournaments were still in either their quarterfinal or semifinal rounds, so deciding a state champion from the bunch is a difficult task. There have reportedly been talks of declaring the top team in the regular season as state champion, but nothing official has come out.
“I don’t know what’s going to end up happening,” said Londonderry girls basketball coach Nick Theos, who’s squad made a magical run to the Division 1 state semifinal as a No. 10 seed before the cancellations. “I don’t know if they’re going to name quad-champions, but at some point you want it to still be legitimate.
“But do I feel like we were one of the four best teams at the end of the year? Absolutely.
“But there’s no good answer. There’s no fair answer that’s going to make everyone happy. It’s trying to do the impossible.”