The Keene Beavers varsity boys and girls basketball team are off to hot starts in the Northern Basketball League as both teams have yet to drop a game in Division III play. The boys team, which is in its second year back after having no varsity program for three years, had one loss against Lake Placid heading into break and were paced by Colton Venner, who averaged 16.4 points in seven games.
For one team, it is steady as she goes.
For the other, it has been a year of vast improvement in their second season after returning from a three-year hiatus.
Combined, the Keene varsity girls and boys basketball teams have started the season 10-1, with the girls opening Northern Basketball League Division III play with a perfect 4-0 record and the boys team starting season 6-1 overall and 5-0 in Division III.
“It sure makes for better conversations about basketball,” girls varsity coach Brian LaVallee said. “Chad (Lopez) and I are good friends and we are always talking about the game. It’s great to see him smiling so big this year. We are hoping that we can, together, finish strong.”
“Brian is a great coach and we often compare what we are doing on the court,” Lopez said. “We can’t keep up with the scoring pace of his team, but it is nice to both be off to good starts in the league. One of the best things about it is to see the younger kids starting to pay attention and coming out to the varsity games.”
On the boys side, Keene is led by junior Colton Venner, who averages 16.4 points per game.
“It has been defense, mostly,” Venner said about the strong start to the season. “We have been pressuring the ball on the defensive side which is allowing us to explode out on offense and get off to this good start.”
“It is remarkable to see how much better everyone on the team has become,” Gabe Warner (6.6 ppg) said. “We have been able to gel together well.”
Staying healthy has been a key for the Beavers in their second season back as a varsity program. Point guard Austin Brown has been a threat from long range, connecting on 16 three-pointers and averaging 10.1 points per game. Senior Brandon Dumas has also been a key part of the Beavers gameplan, averaging 9.7 points.
“We all put in the hard work in the summer and did the things we needed to get stronger,” Venner said.
“We knew that we were going to have mostly the same team back this season, so we knew our strengths and weaknesses,” Warner said. “We have done a lot of work on our weaknesses to kind of make them go away. It has made everyone more confident this season.”
Venner said confidence is something that is felt throughout the school by both teams.
“The confidence is just 100 times higher with both teams winning games,” he said.
“It’s been pretty gratifying,” Lopez said. “They put a lot of work in during the offseason and had a very strong preseason. We got healthy and the players started buying into the system and now they are seeing what they can do together.”
Lopez said the team learned a lot in their first season as varsity players, one that saw them lose their first 13 games before finishing with a pair of wins in their final three contests.
“It made a huge difference in learning what to expect and what we were trying to do,” he said. “Now, the kids are playing with confidence and it shows.”
The boys will come out of the Christmas break with the top spot in Division III on the line as they will travel to Schroon Lake for a Jan. 7 meeting.
For the undefeated girls team, LaVallee is served by a mix of veteran experience in the front court and new players in the back court.
2012-13 All Valley members Naomi Peduzzi and Tucker Geiger have continued their hot play from a season ago, with Peduzzi averaging 13.8 and Geiger 13.0 points per game. Forward Taylor Geiger is averaging 11.5 points, while freshman point guard Hanna Whitney leads the team with a 16.3 points per game average.
“Its motivating to have older players that help move us along and learn to play at this level,” Whitney said. “It’s fun to play with this team. They are all supportive of me at the point guard position.”
“We are doing very well,” Tucker Geiger said. “We have three returning players and some newcomers, like Hanna, that are good ballhandlers and shooters who have joined the team and are really going to help us.”
“We are lucky to have two great ballhandlers come up with Elaina (Smith) and Hanna,” LaVallee said. “We have the three back in Taylor, Tucker and Naomi. Where we lacked before was in our guard play so this year we kind of have the complete package and can play an up-tempo game, play good defense and run. We want to get up 100 shots a game and Tucker and Naomi are going to clean up everything under the basket.”
While the girls team headed into the Christmas break undefeated, they will be challenged coming out of it with a Jan. 3 game at Class B force Saranac and games in the coming week against Division II foe Elizabethtown-Lewis along with divisional rivals Schroon Lake and Minerva/Newcomb.
LaVallee said the key will be focusing on the little things as they continue through the season.
“You can never stop and relax or just watch the ball when the shot goes up,” he said. “Your hands should always be up on defense, sliding your feet and not reaching in. It’s the little things that we want them to do crisp and clean.”
With such a good start to the season, it has been more than just the holiday spirit that has made for a festive atmosphere at Keene Central.
“Everyone’s mood has been up,” Whitney said. “They are all excited about the teams.”
“Everyone is pumped up and excited for the home games,” Tucker Geiger said. “It’s going to be exciting to watch.”