Vermont Season Preview
Things already underway up north as Vermont was the first New England state to tip off the 2010-2011 high school basketball season. In this preview NERR contributor Cody Hatt takes a detailed look at what to expect this year in the Green Mountain State.
Defending State Champion: Essex Runner-Up: Burlington
The southern part of the state has claimed only one state championship in the last 17 years, making the long trip up Interstate-89 to the University of Vermont’s Patrick Gymnasium and raising the trophy as the Vermont Division I state champion. With Burlington and defending state-champion Essex both losing a significant number of players to graduation, perennial Marble-Valley League powers Rutland and Mount Anthony appear loaded with the necessary combination of talent and experience to seriously contend for the crown and end a nearly two-decade trend of northern dominance. However, Rice head coach Paul Pecor, an individual who understands what it takes to lead his program to the promise land at Patrick, returns a deep Green Knight team featuring a plethora of returning and new talent that could spoil a southern uprising, setting up what should be an exciting, highly-competitive atmosphere come March.
Early Season Favorites
Rutland: Rutland should be one of the top teams in the state with a dynamic one-two punch of senior point guard Troy Davine and 6’7” senior center Alex Snyder. A terrific athlete with great size for a lead guard at 6’2”, Davine is a confident player capable of beating his defender one-one-one in the half-court and pushing the pace in transition to make a variety of plays in the open floor. Snyder features a legitimate back-to-the-basket game and uses his superior size and physicality up-front to punish smaller defenders around the basket. With a strong supporting cast of shooters, including Mike Triller and Tyler Ballard, the Raiders will also depend on the play of returning starter Andrew Borkowski and rising-sophomore Tre-Pratt Hysell to complement the leadership of Davine and Snyder and make a legitimate push towards the Final Four.
Mount Anthony: Despite losing first-team all-state selection Kyle Callanan to graduation, MAU returns 6’8” Clayton Palmer and 6’4” Charles McVay, whose strong low-post scoring and rebounding as starters a year ago were big reasons why the Patriots were able to make a run to their third consecutive Final Four. Head coach Dan Sleeman will look for highly-talented senior Hunter Stratton to assume leadership duties at the lead guard position, while knock-down perimeter shooter Travis Seevers and rising sophomore Aary Bibens should help form a strong supporting cast to complement Palmer and McVay on the interior.
Rice: After a strong finish to last year’s season in which they upset Rutland in the first round of the playoffs, Rice returns four starters in sharp-shooters Jake Maynard and Casey Tipson, lead guard Chris McCormick, and athletic finisher Marcus Willingham. 6’4” power-forward Tim Rensch had a strong summer and transfer Austin Robinson from Burlington may be the most talented guard in the state. With so many weapons, Rice’s biggest challenge could be developing a solid chemistry and finding enough touches to satisfy each of its capable scorers. With a load of talent at his disposal and a long season to figure things out, look for Pecor to have the Green Knights playing their best basketball of the year come tournament time.
Mount Mansfield: Head coach Jeff Davis features a talented nucleus of returning players, including 6’8” center Eric Suder, who had a breakout summer with Lone Wolf on the AAU circuit. Three-point specialist Tom Lacy is back from an injury and should carry much of the scoring load, while second-team team all-Metro performer Ethan Brown will add outstanding athleticism and scoring ability from the wing. The big challenge for the Cougars will be to find a consistent, stable presence to lead them at the point guard position.
Also in the Mix
Burlington: After graduating four of its five starters, including player of the year Joe O’Shea (Holy Cross), Burlington will rely on several players with little game experience to compete in the always-loaded Metro Division. 6’2” senior forward Curtis Rodgers showed well at the Lone Wolf Summer Showcase and could put up big point and rebound numbers, while pure-shooter Connor O’Shea and Ben Vachereau are two players capable of making an impact. Having graduated the likes of Tyrone Conley (UNH) and Clancy Rugg (UVM) in recent years, head coach Matt Johnson has embraced the rebuilding challenge before with impressive success, so don’t be surprised if Burlington ends up being a tough out in the postseason.
Spaulding: The Tide will look to senior Evan Tullar to lead them this winter, as the 6’4” wing returns as one of the best overall athletes in the state with an improved perimeter skill-set. 6’5” sophomore forward Brooks Mayo appears poised for a breakout season after getting valuable minutes last year as a freshman. Senior Lucas Dutil will provide experience at the point guard position, while sophomore Evan Grubb provides a high motor and toughness that should allow him to contribute early.
Essex: The defending state-champion Hornets lost seven of their eight rotation players to graduation, but return second team all-state guard Ben Ferris, who might be the best pure scorer in the state. The 6’2” wing will need some help from senior Owen Walsh and 6’3” Sophomore Tom Carton in order for Essex to make a repeat run deep into the playoffs.
CVU: Second team all-state selection Jake Donnelly and returning sharp-shooter Robert Russ team up to form one the state’s top backcourts. The big question for the Redhawks is their unproven frontcourt.
Brattleboro: The Colonels lost four starters to graduation, but return point guard Travis Elliott-Knaggs, who features the quickness, ball-handling, and perimeter shooting ability to have an outstanding senior season. Knaggs willingness to embrace a leadership role will be a key to Brattleboro’s success, while juniors Tommy Heydinger, Travis Beeman-Nisbett, and Soren Pelz-Wash have good size and skill on the perimeter and will be asked to carry a bulk of the scoring load.
Defending State Champion: Union-32 Runner-Up: Missisquoi
With defending state champion Union-32 returning its two best players from a year ago, including one of the state’s premiere talents in Ryan Shea, the Division II race will once again go through Montpelier as the Raiders look to capture their fourth title in the last nine years. However, repeating should be no easy task for Dan Gandin’s club, as 2010 Final Four teams Fair Haven and Missisquoi both return deep groups of talented upperclassmen hungry to take their success from a year ago one step further. Add to the equation a resurgent Mount Saint Joseph program that has added a group of highly-talked about transfers from New York City and the Division II landscape has the potential to offer an extremely competitive view as the season unfolds.
Big Things Expected
Union-32: The defending champion Raiders enter the new season as a serious threat to repeat. Big-time playmaker Ryan Shea, who scored 20 points in last year’s state finals, returns as one of the state’s premiere perimeter players, as does athletic wing Carter Austin-Bradley. Jack Shea should provide leadership and quickness at the point guard position and, with a successful history of defending state titles, look for head coach Dan Gandin to have his team hungry for a return trip to the Final Four in Barre.
Missisquoi: Runner-up Missisquoi returns all five starters, including one of the state’s best shooters, Matt St. Amour. St. Amour had a great AAU season with Lone Wolf and appears poised to add his name to the list of Vermont’s top overall players. Senior standouts Ben Fournier and Kyle Lumsden are also back, with both players capable of putting up big numbers on offense on any given night.
Fair Haven: After being upset in the semifinals of last year’s tournament as the top overall seed, head coach Bob Prenevost is looking to lead the Slaters back to the finals for the first time since 2005. Leading the way for the early season Marble Valley League favorite will be 6’4” senior Mac Standard, who features a strong inside game to go along with a nice touch out to 15-feet. Juniors Robert Coloutti, an outstanding three-point shooter with the ability to attack off the bounce, and Levi Ellis are also expected to be consistent contributors in what should be a deep supporting cast.
Mill River: Despite losing one of the state’s best young players in 6’4” Harrison Taggart, who opted to transfer to St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, the Minutemen are still expected to be one of the top teams in the south. At 6’6”, 275 pounds, junior Nate Halligan is a physical force inside with improving footwork and a soft scoring touch around the basket. Guards Alex Goyette and Jay Carlton are capable shooters from the perimeter and, along with 6’3” wing Elliot Stewart, both should benefit from the attention Halligan is sure to receive on the interior.
In The Hunt
Mount St. Joseph: After struggling mightily for the last several seasons, a revival of the MSJ boy’s basketball may be in the works. With some new faces on the varsity roster, look for the Green Wave to be better than expected. While the addition of multiple out-of-state transfers has the southern Vermont basketball community buzzing, keep an eye on the development of 6’3” freshman Tyler Ackley, who uses a wide frame to create space under the basket, and 5’11” combo guard Patrick O’Rourke, who has good quickness and competes hard at both ends of the floor.
Windsor: With point-guard Austin Soule lost for the season due to a knee injury, the Yellow Jackets will have to rely heavily on 6’3” forward Jacob Page to keep pace with Mill River and be competitive with Fair Haven in the Marble Valley League.
Vergennes: After graduating all-state selection Connor Merrill and Logan Williams, the Commodores are expected to be in somewhat of a rebuilding process through the first part of the upcoming season. Junior Jake Bushee will need to assume a greater load both statistically and from a leadership standpoint and, after losing multiple young players to injuries last season, the development of several unproven players could prove critical to Vergennes’ overall success.
Harwood: Head coach Ray Drake always seems to get the most out of the talent pool in Harwood and, after finishing second in the final VBCA Coaches Poll a year ago, keep an eye on the Highlanders to be playing a competitive brand of basketball heading towards the postseason.
Montpelier: With a relatively young squad, the Solons’ success will relate directly to their ability to mature and compete with the upperclassmen-laden teams around the state. Arlo Patterson should be a focal point on both ends of the floor, after having a solid summer with Lone Wolf. Other potential contributors include forwards Matt Dowling and Ben Estes, to go along with Jacob and Jesse Smith on the perimeter.
Defending State Champion: Hazen Runner-Up: Lake Region
With one of the state’s most versatile inside-outside scoring tandems in point-guard Adam Whitney and forward Ryan Tatro, Hazen appears reloaded and ready to defend its title in Division III. Despite significant losses to graduation, Lake Region, Winooski, and Fairfax figure to be legitimate Final Four contenders. Northfield will feature the freshmen combination of Chris Collins and Ryan Booth, both of whom are talented young players capable of making immediate impacts for the Marauders and elevating their status mightily within the division. Overall, while Hazen appears solid as the early season favorite to capture its second straight title, the rest of Division III appears to be a wide open race with several programs having the opportunity to make a run towards the Final Four in Barre.
Defending State Champion: Williamstown Runner-Up: Proctor
Perennial Division IV powers Twinfield, Danville, and Twin Valley are once again expected to be front-and-center come tournament time looking to punch their respective tickets to the Final Four at the historic Barre Auditorium. Twinfield features one of the state’s most intriguing young prospects in 6’6” junior forward Chad Copeland, who possesses solid mobility and a variety of polished back-to-the-basket moves on the block. Websterville boasts its own imposing big-man in 6’9” center Andrew Shuman, who, with a more aggressive brand of play, has the chance to dominate against several of the undersized teams within the division. 2010 state finalists Williamstown and Proctor both have large voids to fill after losing several key contributors from last year’s squads, but players like Proctor’s Nate Salgo, who played well on the perimeter last year in Barre, and Williamstown’s freshman forward Jason Manwaring and Seth Atherton give each team respectable talent on which to build as the season unfolds.