Gunn sinks final-seconds foul shots to clinch victory in tight game
By Lauren Read
When the buzzer sounded at Patrick Gym on Saturday, it set off a familiar scene for high school girls basketball fans.
For the fifth year in a row, the Division I season ended with Champlain Valley celebrating a state championship.
“Amazing, unbelievable,” said CVU senior Marlee Gunn. “It never gets old.”
The Redhawks topped No. 1 St. Johnsbury 36-33 in a tight, nervy final to cap off the five-peat and capture the program’s eighth overall state title.
“After the big class of eight graduated, a lot of people said ‘CVU is starting over,’” Gunn said. “It didn’t feel like that within our own group, to prove everybody wrong feels awesome.”
While the celebration may have been reminiscent of the last five years’ worth of fun for CVU, this year’s Redhawk team stepped out of the shadow of its predecessors.
“The past four state champions had a level of experience that most high school teams can’t get to, they were physically so superior,” said CVU coach Ute Otley. “That older group always seemed like they were destined for it.”
“This group just decided that they were going to fight their way through and win it for us.”
After Champlain Valley watched the 2015-16 roster’s stalwarts—who had completed their four-year varsity career without losing a game—exit stage left with a victory lap, many questioned whether the program could return to glory this season.
“There were a lot of people who said they couldn’t do it,” Otley said. “They turned around and did it.”
But while the Redhawks may not have had future college players or an air of invincibility this season, they did have one thing: experience.
“Especially for the seniors, it was all about learning from the big grade who had just come out and graduated and using what they taught us, turning it into our own leadership skills,” Gunn said. “It was full maturity out here, we just stayed calm and got it done.”
Champlain Valley held an eight-point lead to start the fourth quarter, but watched the Hilltoppers go on a 9-2 run that saw the top seed go ahead 33-32 with just under three minutes remaining.
Then the Redhawks let their title game expertise kick in. First, they fed the ball into Shannon Loiseau, who had a definite size advantage under the basket. The junior used a pump-fake to create space, then stepped around the defender for the lay-in for the 34-33 lead.
“That duck and under by Shannon Loiseau, so huge,” Otley said. “That’s what we had been trying to do, not so successfully the second half, and we finally got that one.”
After tough defensive efforts kept St. Johnsbury off the board, CVU turned to Gunn to seal the deal. The senior, who spent the last three years watching her predecessors make the big shots, stepped to the foul line with nine seconds remaining and her team clinging to a one-point lead.
“In the timeout, coach was talking about things other than the free throws,” Gunn said. “We weren’t really focusing on it at all.
“Then she looked at me and I said ‘I got it.’”
Gunn did not even flinch, nailing the two shots and clinching the five-peat for the Redhawks.
“Even though we had a young team, we still had more kids who played on this floor,” Otley said. “This is a different environment and our experience paid off for us in the end.”
Gunn led the Redhawks (21-3) with 11 points, while Loiseau had six points and 10 rebounds. Sadie Stetson scored 15 points to lead all scorers for St. Johnsbury (20-3) and Josie Chioniere added eight points.