Winnacunnet will host rival Exeter tonight in Hampton, with the girls basketball game at 5 p.m. and the boys following at 6:30.
EXETER � On paper, it�s been a tough first half of the season for the Exeter High School girls basketball team. The Blue Hawks enter rivalry weekend with Winnacunnet at 3-8, just outside the current Division I playoff bubble.
In reality, the Blue Hawks are loving life.
They recently caught a game down at Harvard, where a former assistant of Exeter coach Dave Sokolnicki is on the staff. This past Saturday, the girls were floor level at TD Garden before the Celtics� home game against the 76ers in an event set up by the boosters.
�They got a chance pregame to high-five some players,� Sokolnicki said. �It was great. I�m excited. The program has come a long way in a few years.�
�It was surreal,� junior point guard Sydney Taylor said. �When you step on that court it�s like a whole new game, and I feel like it just brought our whole team together. We�re not just a team on the court, we�re a team outside the court. It�s something else. Our friend group is our team outside of the game, and it�s something that no other team has I feel and no other team will ever have.�
Exeter was hoping to have a few more wins to its credit entering February, but the excitement for the second half is real. Taylor scored 17 points and the Blue Hawks took Goffstown � a top-four team that hasn�t lost since Jan. 10 � to the wire in a 50-48 defeat on Monday night. Exeter�s backcourt limited Goffstown star Kelly Walsh (29 points per game) to two made field goals and nine total points � which is no easy feat.
�Defensively we did what we wanted to do,� Sokolnicki said. �We wanted to hold Walsh down, and we did an unbelievable job. � We held her in check.�
Next up is a date in Hampton to play the Warriors, who were winless entering the week before knocking off Trinity, 52-42, on Wednesday. The girls game will tip-off at 5 p.m. Friday followed by the boys at 6:30.
�Not playing there since freshman year, I feel like we remember the tone and how it was, and the energy in there,� Taylor said. �We won last year and they had a streak on us, and now it�s our time to get a streak on them.�
The spectacle surrounding this year�s boys game is obvious � Exeter (9-0) hasn�t lost a game in the regular season, playoffs or Queen City Invitational tournament since March of 2018.
The total win streak is 36 straight overall and 30 in league play entering Friday night, and while this matchup is always a fun one, the Warriors (7-3) have added intrigue by recovering swiftly from an 0-2 start; they�ll enter this one with wins in seven of their last eight games.
�We�re everyone�s Game 7 of the Finals, everyone�s Super Bowl,� Exeter senior Jaedon Cliche said. �Everybody wants to beat us. They want to ruin the winning streak � and I don�t blame them. I would want to do it too if I was on the other side of it.�
The Blue Hawks are a deadly perimeter team, but their game is still fueled by defense and transition. Senior Ryan Grijalva is a Player of the Year candidate and Mike Leoard is among the top guards in the state. Cliche, point guard Matt McConnell, junior forward Jacob Gibbons, Jett Healy � the Hawks are deep, talented and will attack in a variety of ways.
That�s how they haven�t lost in almost two years.
�It�s going to be a huge game,� Cliche said. �I�m used to it from football, but some of the guys are just coming up and they�ve never been in quite a big game like that. So it will be up to me, Ryan and Mike to get them ready and just let them know it�s just a game, it�s just basketball. There�s a few more people there.�
Junior Brett Marelli has stepped up as Winnacunnet�s go-to scorer, and the Warriors should get a boost from the return of senior forward Nick Hepburn, who recently returned to the court after missing a year with post-concussion symptoms.
�I know they�re talented,� Cliche said. �They started a little slow but they�re coming on. We�ll be prepared.�
Rivalry weekend concludes Saturday night at The Rinks when the girls hockey team takes on the St. Thomas/Winnacunnet/Dover co-op at 7:20.
�It�s kind of fun that we get to play them in the same weekend,� junior goalie Zoe Greene said. �I know that it�s not totally Winnacunnet, but it�s still a rival for sure.�