Lebanon girls fall to dominant hoop team from tiny school 

Lebanon High's Izzy Hamilton (2), shown against Bow on Jan. 31, 2023, led the Raiders with 10 points during a 56-31 loss to NHIAA foe Concord Christian on Dec. 19, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lebanon High's Izzy Hamilton (2), shown against Bow on Jan. 31, 2023, led the Raiders with 10 points during a 56-31 loss to NHIAA foe Concord Christian on Dec. 19, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. VALLEY NEWS FILE — Tris Wykes

Concord Christian girls basketball coach Becky Carlile and assistant Matt Smith guided the Kingswomen to a 56-31 NHIAA Division II victory over Lebanon on Dec. 19, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. The pair's daughters have played a major role in the team becoming one of New Hampshire's best during the past four seasons. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Concord Christian girls basketball coach Becky Carlile and assistant Matt Smith guided the Kingswomen to a 56-31 NHIAA Division II victory over Lebanon on Dec. 19, 2023, in Lebanon, N.H. The pair's daughters have played a major role in the team becoming one of New Hampshire's best during the past four seasons. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Tris Wykes

Drew Kantor

Drew Kantor

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-21-2023 2:36 AM

LEBANON — A minivan idled outside Lang Metcalf Gymnasium on Tuesday evening as members of the Concord Christian Academy girls basketball team milled about following their NHIAA Division II game against Lebanon.

“That’s the team bus,” joked coach Becky Carlile. “We just pack them all in.”

Concord Christian has only eight players, but don’t pity its lady hoopsters. The Kingswomen not only took their collective foot off the gas during a 56-31 victory over the Raiders, but they improved to 55-2 during the past three-plus seasons.

“They’re my favorite for the title,” first-year Lebanon coach Jeff Sowa said when asked for a far-too-early handicapping of the division race. “They blew out a good Laconia team (Monday) night.”

Lebanon led, 16-11, after a quarter, fueled by Izzy Hamilton’s eight points. Any dreams of a monumental upset died quickly, however, when Concord Christian held the hosts without a point during the second stanza while embarking on a 28-0 run that extended into the third quarter.

“They’re so disciplined,” Sowa said. “They don’t get themselves into sticky situations.”

The Kingswomen were stuck in the NHIAA basement not long ago. Concord Christian went 5-47 during three seasons from 2017-20 in Division IV, the organization’s lowest level. During Carlile’s first season as coach, 2019-20, her team posted a second consecutive 2-16 record.

The former Southern Nazarene University (Okla.) player guided Concord Christian to an 8-1 record a year later, then oversaw an undefeated season and the program’s first state title two years ago. Last winter, the Kingswomen petitioned up a division and lost once en route to another crown.

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Founded in 1974, Concord Christian has roughly 350 students from kindergarten through grade 12, with about 150 at the high school level. Three families have provided five current Kingswomen girls basketball players and much of the program’s liftoff during recent years.

Senior Taylor Rioux and sophomore Kayden Rioux are sisters. Sophomore twins Emma and Kate Smith are the daughters of assistant coach Matt Smith, a former college player. He’s married to Becky Carlile’s sister, Carrie Smith, who is CCA’s athletic director and another ex-college player. They have six children, two of whom currently play in college.

Becky Carlile’s daughter, junior Lilli Carlile, rounds out a quintet that, while not always playing together in the high school offseason, are dedicated club ball competitors who are sometimes coached by Matt Smith and share a fierce desire to win.

“Because of that, they’re willing to pass the ball around,” Becky Carlile said of her team’s eye-catching and rapid ball movement. “They know if they do that quickly, someone’s going to have an open look. There’s no one who feels they have to be the one who scores.”

Kayden Rioux scored 22 points on Tuesday, including 18 from beyond the three-point arc. On many of those attempts, she didn’t have a defender within five feet because Lebanon’s defense had been misdirected and run ragged. Concord Christian returns all five starters from last season’s team.

“Our kids have been in the gym since they were babies, watching their older siblings play,” Becky Carlile said. “They have a really high basketball IQ because of that.”

The Kingswomen (4-0) are also highly fit and often press on defense, although Becky Carlile saw little reason to do so Tuesday, her team’s second game in as many nights. Refreshingly, the blue-and-white doesn’t flavor its dominance with attitude. Its coaches were extremely polite while protesting an obvious blown call.

“We’d rather take a couple of (losses) in a season than have easy wins,” Becky Carlile said. “It’s not fun for us or the other team, and it doesn’t teach anyone anything.”

Concord Christian doesn’t have much height, but its players are so well-positioned and relentless that they usually grasp rebounds anyway. The obvious question is how it will handle foes with both wide-ranging athleticism and taller players in the paint, but the Kingswomen might have to climb to Division I to provide an answer.

As for Lebanon, 25-31 and on its third coach in four years, improvement seems underway. The Raiders were more poised and fundamentally sound than during their scrambly opening-night loss to visiting Hanover last week.

Point guard Norah Burns is diminutive but fierce and finished at the rim. Post player Drew Kantor was more agile and less flustered with the ball in traffic. Hamilton led the hosts with 10 points and will need to continue to be an outside threat for the Raiders to significantly improve on its three victories last winter.

“We’ve been breaking down video to show them defensive positioning in our zone,” said Sowa, whose team struggled mightily on the boards. “We wanted to be more relaxed and organized on offense. Then (Concord Christian) started to pressure us during the second quarter and we panicked a bit.”

Not the first or the last time the Kingswomen will cause consternation this season.

Notes: Sowa said it’s hoped senior forward Maddie Jewell, a previous starter still recovering from an automobile accident, will be back within a month. … Raiders assistant Dennis Fitzgerald was the head man at Rivendell during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, going a combined 10-30. … Former Lebanon standout Catherine Cole attended the game. She’s a sophomore guard at Connecticut College (4-7) and has played in every Camels game and started seven of them while averaging 5.7 points per contest. … Former Lebanon girls basketball coach Tim Kehoe, still a physical education instructor at the school, served as the night’s administrator in charge. The Raiders reached the division semifinals 20 times, the finals 11 times and won five titles during his reign, which ended when he stepped down in 2020. He’s Sowa’s father-in-law. … Concord Christian won last season’s championship with only seven players.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.