PEABODY — The 2017-2018 season was an odd year for the Peabody girls basketball team. For the first time in Tanners coach Stan McKeen’s tenure, Peabody fell short of qualifying for the state tournament. Peabody was in the hunt at the end of the year but lost two of its last three games of the season and finished at 8-12.
“We didn’t make the state tournament last year, the first time that’s happened in the four years I’ve been here,” McKeen, entering his fifth season guiding Peabody, said. “Our goal is to make the tournament, no question.”
This year’s team carries no shortage of senior leadership and experience. Peabody has nine returners and seven seniors on its roster, including captains Catherine Manning (forward) and Kristina Rossignoll (guard/forward).
“Catherine was our leading everything last year as a junior,” McKeen said. “She’s going to bring a lot back to the team this year. She was our leading scorer, our leading rebounder. She’s a tough player. She’s very smart. She’s a true leader.
“We’re expecting big things from Kristina,” McKeen continued. “She played the 1, 2 and 3 positions. She had a big year last year but like with any other senior, we’re expecting her to improve.”
Other seniors on the roster are forwards Brooke Hodas, Kaitlin Gorman, Liz Zaiter and Jonalyn Carpenter and guard Alyssa Saraceni. Also on the roster are sophomore forward Amber Kiricoples, junior guard Emily Carney, junior guard/forward Colleen Crotty, junior forward Georgia Leon, junior forward Deana Geomelos and freshman guard/forward Oluchi Okananwa.
McKeen said Okananwa has looked great thus far in the preseason and can help the Tanners in multiple roles.
“I believe she can play anywhere from the 1 to the 5,” McKeen said. “She can jump, she can rebound. She’s looked very good.”
McKeen believes his forwards are the strength of the team. The Tanners have 11 players on the roster that can jump in at the forward position. On the other hand, the guard position remains a big question mark. Peabody’s still looking for someone to emerge as the starting point guard.
“Our forwards will definitely be our focal points of our team,” McKeen said. “It’s funny because we’ve always had a natural at point guard. The last two years, we haven’t been sure who’d play point guard among the girls at the guard position.
“It’s going to be interesting minutes-wise,” McKeen continued. “We have 13 kids. We have so many forwards. We’re just hoping we can straighten out the guard position.”
Things have gone well for Peabody through the preseason. Manning and Rossignoll teamed up to organize captain’s practices during the fall which allowed the Tanners to get a jumpstart on chemistry.
“There’s real good chemistry with these kids,” McKeen said. “They’re very excited about (the season). The captains have done a good job so far. They had captain’s practices before the season started. I think we’ll be OK. This group gets along very well and we have to have togetherness.
“I’m looking for big things from this group. The first goal is to get the tournament. Not making it last year was very frustrating.”
McKeen foresees a competitive Northeastern Conference, per usual. Peabody will also test itself with a tough non-conference schedule and that could play a role in its march to a state tournament bid. The Tanners went 8-7 against NEC opponents last season and 0-5 against non-conference opponents.
“Classical graduated a bunch of kids but they always manage to have a good team,” McKeen said. “Danvers is always competitive. Saugus will be a good team. Everett will be tough. We play everybody once. Non-league wise we play Danvers and Saugus twice, and we have Arlington.”
Peabody opens the new season next Friday when the Tanners host Revere.