New group to lead MAU girls basketball in 2017-18

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BENNINGTON — High school sports have long been a cyclical enterprise.

One group comes in and brings their respective program to a certain level, before their time at the school runs out and it's time for another group to take that mantle.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

The Mount Anthony girls basketball team appears to be entering a new cycle in its history heading into the 2017-18 season.

Across the board, there are many changes from the group that made it all the way to the Division I state semifinals and lost to CVU.

For starters, former Patriots coach Dan Sleeman left the program, following one year coaching the girls and 15 coaching the boys team. In his place is a man who made quite the impact at MAU when he was suiting up for the Patriots: AJ Mahar.

Mahar, a 2004 MAU graduate, has a multitude of coaching experience he brings to the Patriots. He most recently was an assistant under Southern Vermont College men's basketball coach Dan Engelstad and has seen what it takes to build a successful program first-hand.

On the court, the changes might eclipse those on the sidelines. MAU is losing its three top scorers from last year's 18-5 squad as Madison Little, Brianna Legacy and Jordyn Burke all graduated last spring.

Little was a 1,000-point scorer for her career with the Patriots, averaging 17.2 points per game during her senior year. Legacy averaged 10.7 points per game last year, while Burke chipped in 6.4 per game.

Mahar is cognizant of the difference that trio made for MAU and knows it's going to take a balanced approach to replace that scoring punch.

"They were three great players and we're definitely going to miss them a lot this year," Mahar said. "With that being said, I feel like it's going to be more of a balanced attack. We're not looking to any one player to rely on to score the ball. I'm excited for the challenge we have in front of us and to see who's going to step up and take it upon themselves to assert themselves offensively."

Filling those shoes is going to be tough for the Patriots and they'll be relying on some key returners to do just that. They return their fourth highest scorer from last season in senior forward Anna Iannotti, who averaged just over six points per game.

A player to watch will be sophomore Grace Mahar, who figures to have a major offensive role this season. Grace, who is AJ's younger sister, scored more than 100 points as a freshman and saw plenty of minutes on last year's state semifinal squad.

Senior Kaity O'Brien could see an increased role as well, having notched three games with five or more points last season.

MAU is carrying 12 players on its roster, with three seniors, five juniors and four sophomores.

Iannotti and Mahar will figure to be the offensive catalysts on the Patriots and their coach understands the important role they'll play.

"With Grace and Anna, the experience of playing last year and going to the semifinals, they're going to be crucial for us in playing in some of these bigger games," AJ Mahar said. "Our non-conference schedule is insanely tough this year, so we don't have any favors there. It's going to be fun to see them take ownership of this team and see what happens."

Coming in as a first-year coach, AJ Mahar has instituted a lot of different plays and styles that his players aren't as used to. Having little time to prepare from the first day of practice last Monday to their first official game this Saturday, it's important that MAU comes together and gels quickly. AJ Mahar feels like the team has done that well and sees the unity as a major strong suit moving forward.

"They're a very close team and they've come together really well," he said. "I think a lot of it has been about how they've been challenged mentally and physically during the first week."

The Patriots will scrimmage Hoosac Valley this Thursday and will begin their regular season slate against Essex on Saturday in the North-South Challenge. Tip off is set for 3 p.m. at Keefe Gym in Rutland.

Roster: Anna Iannotti, Emma Arlotta, Kaity O'Brien, Catherine Worthington, Victoria Pembroke, Caroline Musinski, Sam White, Alanood Belal, Grace Mahar, Emilie O'Brien, Rachael Jones, Erin Farrell.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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