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The Conant girls basketball team celebrates its 2020 NHIAA Division III semifinal win over Campbell at Trinity High School in Manchester.

JAFFREY — The Conant girls basketball team knows a thing or two about winning.

Coming off back-to-back undefeated championship seasons, the Orioles are now ready to embark on what is shaping up to be another successful basketball season in Jaffrey.

Conant brings back a majority of its core from last season, including juniors Brynn Rautiola and Emma Tenters, who will be taking more of a leadership role this season.

Seniors Teagan Kirby, Mylie Aho and Reagan Depres will round out the experienced roster that’s going for its third consecutive state title.

“We have the core group back,” said head coach Brian Troy. “We went from being a younger team to being an older team. This team is excited to try and repeat as champions.”

It seems easy for the pressure to build up for the girls on the court, not having lost in two years, but Rautiola and Tenters both said that they haven’t felt much of that pressure throughout the preseason.

“We’re just going out and taking one game at a time,” Rautiola said. “We have that end goal. We talked about it at the beginning of the season, but we know just one game at a time will get us there.”

“People have their expectations, but it’s just one game at a time, making sure we put our full, 100 percent effort into every game,” Tenters agreed.

One significant difference in the team, to say the least, will be the loss of back-to-back Division III Player of the Year Elizabeth Gonyea, who was a key piece of the last two championship teams.

Gonyea not only brought valuable basketball talent to the court, but she also helped create a “family” culture on the team off the court, an important part of sustaining any program.

Troy said that culture has stuck around.

“It sounds cliché, but we’re a family,” Troy said. “Our chemistry is really good. They’re really excited.”

The team understands what it lost in Gonyea, but knows this roster has the pieces to fill that gap.

“Liz set a great foundation for us, so this year is just continuing that,” Tenters said. “Other players can step up. We have a lot of players with leadership and talent, so we just need to make sure we keep stepping up. We had a great role model in her for the last two years, so we just need to keep carrying that on.”

“I think leadership-wise, [Liz] really held us together a lot,” Rautiola said. “When things started to break down last year, she’d huddle us together, so I feel like that needs to be replaced. We just need to keep playing together, because she definitely held us together.”

The team will be playing a normal D-III schedule again this year after playing out of their division for much of the season last year due to the COVID-adjusted schedule. That means the Orioles will see teams like Fall Mountain and Kearsarge in the regular season, two teams who will also be vying for that D-III title this year.

But that’s not something Rautiola and Tenters are thinking about his year.

“I’m excited for every game,” Tenters said, and Rautiola agreed. “I’m excited for all of them.”

The championship defense kicks off Friday with a trip to Somersworth at 8 p.m.

Read the full girls basketball season preview in the weekend edition of the Sentinel

Chris Detwiler can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1411, or cdetwiler@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Detwiler.