By Mal Boright
If it’s March, it must be the Champlain Valley Union High and Rice Memorial High version of girls hoop hoedowns.
The two Division 1 powers will meet for the title for a fourth straight year Saturday (2:30 p.m.) at the University of Vermont’s Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium.
Coach Ute Otley’s 23-0 Redhawks will be seeking a second straight championship and their 47th straight victory over the past two campaigns. Rice had captured two titles in a row before CVU interrupted with a crowning triumph a year ago.
The two finalists have three days to prepare for the test on Saturday. It’s not as if the players are not familiar with each other.
The Redhawks tripped Rice twice during the regular season. They rapped the Green Knights 52-32 at Bremner Gymnasium in December and then scored a 59-49 victory at Rice in late January after trailing by four points with some three minutes remaining in the game. It was as close as any team has come to the Redhawks this winter.
The stage for the final was set Tuesday night in the Patrick Gym semifinals, when the Redhawks brushed past a spunky Colchester High squad 62-43 after Rice had taken care of business against Mount Anthony Union High of Bennington, 47-34.
Colchester, which finishes at 18-5 after its second semifinal appearance in three years, gave CVU some tense moments in the third period after the Redhawks had moved out to as much as a 17-point lead, thanks in large part to senior guard Kaelyn Kohlasch’s scorching of the strings (23 points on eight-of-14 shooting, including five treys).
The Lakers were cluttering the inside areas near the CVU basket with their zone defense, but CVU’s patient passing created overshifts and open shots for Kohlasch, who made them pay.
With the Redhawks up by an apparently comfortable 44-29 count, Colchester center Jackie Nagle hit a layup with three minutes and 38 seconds left in the reel. About a minute later, Nagel (16 points, 6 rebounds), drained a trey and the Lakers followers came to life.
A missed CVU shot plus turnovers and Colchester added two more baskets and the Lakers were within a mere six points (44-38) of the frontrunners with their rooters in the stands going bollywonkers.
Otley took a time out with 1:54 remaining in the quarter.
When play resumed, it was Kinneston Time.
The Redhawks veteran senior creator of many things good (and trouble for opponents) immediately stopped the Laker onslaught with a jumper in the key, assist to Sadie Otley. Moments later, after a Colchester turnover, Kinneston passed the ball inside to a free Laurel Jaunich (11 points, 6 rebounds) to restore CVU to a 10-point advantage.
Kinneston then blocked a Colchester rebound shot after a missed three-point try.
For the game, Amazin’ Emily had 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals.
The crisis ended when the Redhawks outpointed Colchester 14-5 in the closing stanza.
The tall Nagle was solid for Colchester and sidekick Pearl Abiti pitched in with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“She (Nagle) is big,” said CVU forward Amanda Lougee who came off the bench to add 10 points and five rebounds with starting forward Amanda Beatty (4 points, 5 rebounds) in foul trouble.
It will be the fifth title appearance in seven years for CVU, which is 14-4 in semifinals.
HORNETS, FALCONS CVU PLAYDOWN VICTIMS
Twice on the road to Patrick Gymnasium and the Division 1 Semifinals, the Champlain Union High girls basketball team knocked off foes for the third time this season.
CVU bumped off neighboring Essex High 55-34 Saturday afternoon after opening the second season with an easy 56-14 bopping of 16th-seeded North Country Union a week ago Wednesday.
Though they had fallen 49-34 and 50-24 in their previous meetings with the Division 1 top seeds, the Hornets did not go quietly even as the Redhawks recovered first from early frostbite of the shooting hands that chilled both teams.
It was more than three minutes into the game that CVU broke a scoreless tie on a layup by Kinneston (11 points, 9 rebounds. 3 steals). The Hawks had bricked their first four shots, but hit four of their next eight for a 10-0 lead at the quarter. Essex went zip-for nine in the stanza.
CVU got its offensive game going in the second reel, Beatty and Kohlasch combining for 11 points, and rolled out to a 38-17 advantage with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Hornets then rose from the expired as center Kara Sheftic hit a turn-around shot in the key and forward Mychaela Harton buried a trey and followed with an old fashioned combination layup and free throw to cut CVU’s lead to 13 points and give sudden life to the Essex cause.
Essex, with the Redhawks back on their heels, got within 41-31 with about five minutes left in the game. CVU recovered with a seven-point run to finish it.
Harton and Sheftic had 10 points each to pace the 14-8 Hornets.
CVU’s stat sheets were once again a tale of balance. Center Jaunich had nine points and six assists, Kohlasch had nine points and three rebounds while guard Otley was all active all the time with four points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Jenna Brassard and Caitlin Grasso each had four points in reserve roles.
Ten players scored for CVU in the win over North Country as the Redhawks rumbled to a 31-3 lead by halftime and cruised the remainder of the way.
Jaunich led with 14 points and seven rebounds while Kinneston tossed in 13 points and Lougee had eight.