By Bill Murphy
Lets say you have two choices in Vermont’s two largest Girls Basketball Divisions. You can choose the defending champion OR you can take the field. In both cases, it is clear how everyone will line-up. In Division I, the consensus easily says Champlain Valley Union. In Division II, the clear pick is the field. This is no slam against Mill River. They are a good pick, BUT, in a division with many justified contenders, Mill River is only a fraction of the pack.
Those who follow these two divisions know that CVU has won 84 consecutive games and counting. In the world of High School basketball, that is years, basically four and many think a loss is not in sight. Ute Otley’s charges are 13-0 this time around and have won their games by an average of over thirty points a contest. Could they possibly lose this year?
Eventhough many readers will not agree, OF COURSE they can. They are human. “St. Johnsbury is a very formidable opponent,” Otley tells us of the team that gave the CVU’ers a run for their money on top of the Hill earlier this season 39-35. There has also been a challenge by Mount Anthony 55-45, BUT, all other get togethers with CVU have not been close at the end. Otley seriously tells us, there have been more challenges though, than most people realize.
“Alot of teams are coming out really hyped to play us. They are having great first quarters and eventually, especially in the second half, it becomes a war of attrition and we use our depth to wear them down. Our depth is the key to our success,” she lets on.
Believe it or not, the word “winning” is not in CVU’s daily vocabulary. Otley says “our focus each game is on what we can do well in tonight’s game. We never talk about getting a win tonight, the focus is always on the team goals we set for that game. They are all about getting better and we always look forward to adding something on offense and defense that will give us more options. For example, lately, we have been working on a new defense. Sometime we will use it and see how it works. If it doesn’t work, we will go back to what has worked well until now.”
Thus one can see why it is easy to pick CVU against the field in Division I. They keep winning and are up to meeting the challenge of a new and improved way of doing things, BUT, everyone should know, there could come a day, either in the regular season OR in the post season, where last winter an unusual set of circumstances left the state dangling for a few days to see IF, CVU could overcome a test from Rice. The 84’ers prevailed 30-27, BUT, that example proved that the possibility, could be just around the corner.
Tourney time is less than a month away and the Redhawks want to be playing their best at that time. There are four other teams which are likely to end up in the Final Four, BUT, we all know there always could be someone who crashes the party. Presently Rice, Burlington and Essex are all 10-3 and St. Johnsbury is 9-4 and are expected to be the challengers. CVU has beaten each of them once and has a remaining game with each, with the most anticipated one February 5th, at home versus St. Johnsbury. The other encounters areFebruary 8th at Rice, February 15th at Burlington and February 18th at Essex.
In case you were wondering IF the Redhawks win out, including three post season games, they would have won 94 in a row. Then, the new challenge would be next season.
Ken Webb knows his team at Mill River does not stand out from the field, BUT, are definitely one of the prime contenders for Division II honors. All four teams from last winters Final Four in Division II are lined up a little over the halfway mark and ready to go and that is unusual.
“That’s very interesting,” Webb says of the present state standings which show Mill River (10-3), Lyndon (11-2), Lake Region (7-3) and Fair Haven (9-4) all lined up second thru fifth respectively, going on to say, “usually at least a couple of the teams from the year before fall off, but, right now the standings show the strength of these programs right now.”
How about number one? WELL, they were elsewhere last winter. That is Union 32 (11-1) and they competed in Division I a year ago and finished fourth in the regular season and were only missing from the D-I Final Four BECAUSE Rutland beat them in the quarterfinals. “They were playing good competition and that only makes you better,” Webb said of U-32, going on to remark, “we played them earlier this year and lost (50-37), BUT, it was a close game until the end and we would be glad to have another opportunity to face them in the play-offs.” Last years Final Four was special.
Each of those games was a spectators dream. In the semis, Mill River defeated nearby foe Fair Haven 33-29 and Lake Region did the same to neighboring Lyndon 45-43 in the Barre Auditorium.That was just the tune-up for the pulsating 50-46 finale won by Mill River over Lake Region and NOW, the four teams have to make room for Union 32. Something has to give.
“The teams that win the close games during the regular season usually do well in those type of games in the tournament,” Webb said, continuing to note,” and “we won our share of close games last year and have won even more this year. I hope it helps. I am certainly pleased with our play this season. We had a lot of holes to fill and to say we are 10-3 at this time has me very excited, BUT, there are seven important games left.”
The five teams mentioned certainly have a good chance to move on to Barre, BUT, this time around don’t rule out the next two in the standings. Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax (8-3) and Lamoille (7-4) with a little bit of luck could squeeze their way into the Auditorium picture.
UVM A CONTENDER?- If you are a Catamount fan this is a no brainer, the answer is yes, BUT—-.
The truth is, of course they are a contender, BUT, how big? UVM has been inconsistent to date, HOWEVER, their big 66-50 victory at New HampshireWednesday night, shows they do have the potential to win big games.
How big is Saturday’s Stony Brook game at Patrick? Big in the sense they need to stay consistent. They don’t have to win, BUT, there is the necessity to show Stony Brook that they can compete. Vermont IS one of the top four teams and what is important, is that they are playing their best basketball in March when the real games begin. Then, there is also this little thing about homecourt advantage in the post season. That could come down to a contest next Saturday night at Albany.
Consistency on defense has been a real concern for John Becker’s team and in the post game press conference at UNH, Cat Kurt Steidl let us in on what the formula was for that game and it might well be one which in some extent is part of things for the Stony Brook encounter and their star Jameel Warney.
Steidl said that “part of our game plan was, they had three really good big men, who we wanted to stop and we wanted to make sure the guards were helping out our big men down low and also getting some rebounds and that was the main focus and we executed it very well.”
On the subject of defense Becker emphasized that it was a key and related, “we knew we had to really bring it on the road against a very good team and I think the guys really responded.”
The next question IS , how will they respond Saturday at 2 p.m.?