By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2022

HANOVER – It’s best to get to Hanover High girls basketball games early. There’s plenty of seating, but when it comes to competitiveness, the Marauders’ contests are generally over by halftime. 

Thursday was more of the same, Hanover trailed early against visiting Hollis-Brookline before taking a seven-point lead into halftime and cruising to a 54-34 victory. The Marauders improved to 9-2 overall and 9-0 in NHIAA Division II play.

Hollis Brookline’s Eva Kelley, center, is bedeviled by Hanover’s Caroline Adams, left, Stella Galanes (3) and Skouly Kachikis. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Stella Galanes led the hosts with 20 points, followed by Melissa Whitmore with 12 and Sydney McLaughlin with 10. The latter, a sophomore guard who looked wide-eyed and tentative at times last winter, dominated for short stretches of Thursday’s matchup as her team roared into the lead.

“Defensively, we played well but the first quarter was probably the coldest-shooting quarter we’ve had all season,” said 21st-year coach Dan O’Rourke. “I think we were 2 for 16, but then we settled in. This group is highly competitive and they know every possession matters.

“If we get sloppy, it’s going to show, but I think we were just missing shots tonight.”

Hanover High’s Melissa Whitmore finds herself in a thicket of lower limbs. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The Cavaliers aren’t a pushover, but Hanover made them look that way at times. O’Rourke noted Hollis Brookline began the game in a triangle-and-two defense, closely guarding Galanes and Whitmore. 

“They dared our other three kids to beat them,” the coach said. “I called a time out and said the only way we’re going to beat this is for those other players to hit shots. At first, Sydney was hesitant. But we told her we believed in her and that if she was open, she had to shoot.

“I was happy to see her first three of the second half go in. She started smiling and the confidence came and she hit two or three more after that.”

Hanover High coach Dan O’Rourke watches his team improve to 9-0 in NHIAA Division II play. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

The Marauders have won their division games by an average margin of 35.3 points. O’Rourke is smart enough not to say it outright, he can see the obvious: his team is the odds-on favorite to win the state title.

“If we play how we can play, teams will have to play their absolute best to beat us,” he said. “But it’s not impossible and we have to get better the next three or four weeks.”

Hanover doesn’t play second-place Merrimack Valley (9-1) during the regular season but had no trouble beating Pembroke, Laconia and Bow, the third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams in the Division II standings. A significant challenge arises Saturday when defending Division I champion Bedford (7-1) visits for a 1:30 p.m. game.

Hanover High’s Melissa Whitmore drives towards the lane. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Galanes’ reputation as a bombs-away gunner will no doubt draw the Bulldogs’ attention. The junior routinely converts layups on the run and while under duress but also excels at flat-footed shots from under the hoop.

“Stella has put an enormous amount of time into her skill work and at getting stronger,” said O’Rouke, who guesses his standout’s height at 5 feet 7. “She’s one of our leading rebounders and had two or three put-backs tonight.”

Hanover’s unsung ingredient might be junior forward Amina Ajwang, who often pinballs through the lane and off overmatched opponents before making shots or drawing fouls. Think Charles Barkley, but without the scowl, although Ajwang made only 1 of 4 free-throw attempts Thursday and the Round Mound of Rebound averaged 74 percent during his NBA career.

“Her trajectory is very steep,” O’Rourke said of No. 10’s learning curve. “She’s a happy-go-lucky kid who apologizes when she knocks people over. We’re trying to get her to be meaner, but it’s not really in her nature.”

Hanover High’s Amina Ajwang is a developing force for the Marauders. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

As with all teams in this time, the specter of Covid illness looms for Hanover and could potentially be the one opponent it can’t overcome at a given time. O’Rourke, a physician, said his team’s discipline extends to conscientious mask-wearing, hand-washing and distancing. 

“We wear masks all practice long and they’re very diligent about taking the precautions they need to,” he said. “So far, so good.”

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Hanover High players, from left, Sydney McLaughlin, Eliza Daigle, Melissa Whitmore and Caroline Adams stand for the national anthem as viewed through a door window. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.