By Mal Boright
Call it the burst tactic.
Among their 23 victories in 23 games—including their first Division 1 state title since 1987—the Champlain Valley Union High girls basketball Redhawks would often take over contests with extended point splurges of eight to 18 points, leaving foes in the dust.
The burst that propelled the Redhawks to Monday night’s 47-42 win over Rice Memorial at the University of Vermont’s Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium in the Division 1 crowning test was a quick five-point detonation with a mere three-plus minutes remaining in a nerve-rattling final quarter.
The fiver snapped a 32-32 deadlock—the third and final lead change—to put CVU ahead for good despite some serious pushback by Rice’s veterans of its 2011 and 2012 championship triumphs over the red and white.
It was junior Emily Kinneston, Vermont’s Gatorade Player of the Year, who set off the critical eruption. Vexed by a 0-11 shooting off night (to that point), Kinneston cranked up a three-point bam that brought an earsplitting roar from the sea of red-clad followers jammed into the bleacher seats behind the CVU bench.
“Coaches told me to keep shooting,” Kinneston said, acknowledging she had a good look on the trey try.
Just seconds later, backcourt mate Kaelyn Kohlasch made a larcenous steal of the ball from a Rice guard at center court and sped in for a layup that boosted the CVU lead to 37-32. There was 2:49 remaining on the clock and thrills aplenty to come, but CVU had its third and largest lead of the night and followers thinking that victory was indeed possible after the Green Knights had generally the better of play to that point.
Rice’s junior point guard Hailee Barron, who, despite four fouls, unloaded 10 fourth quarter points to keep Rice alive and hooping, quickly responded with a three-point cord-snapper of her own.
CVU’s forward Amanda Lougee then meshed a baseline jumper—her lone hoop—after taking a pass from Sadie Otley. Now there was 2:17 remaining.
“That basket by Amanda was huge,” said Coach Ute Otley.
Another critical point for which Kinneston again had the solution came with CVU up 41-38 with but 36 seconds left. Kinneston leaped high and over all bodies to grab the rebound of a missed CVU free throw and was immediately fouled by big Cassidy Durda, the fifth and disqualifying foul for the Rice center (9 points, 11 rebounds). Kinneston nailed both charity tosses. (She hit seven straight from the line down the stretch.) That made it 43-38. Barron, still on fire, again canned a threebie, but Kinneston swished another two free flips and that pretty much did it.
In a very atypical first half for the Redhawks, Rice rolled to a 20-9 lead by forcing CVU turnovers and getting an inside game that got nine points from forward Tomi Akinpetide, plus six from Durda. CVU, crippled by 10 turnovers, went a shaky 26 percent from the floor, hitting but five of 19 shots. Rice was also 26 percent, but on seven-of-26 shots.
“Rice played very good defense and worked our guards, so we had trouble setting up our offense,” said coach Otley.
Just when things looked darkest, the Redhawks ran off the final eight points of the first half, with Sadie Otley lighting the flame with a trey and a deuce as CVU got to within 20-17 by intermission.
In the third period, Barron picked up her fourth personal foul early and had to take a seat on the Rice bench. CVU got in front for the first time 24-23 on a Laurel Jaunich shot (assist to Sadie Otley) with 3:55 left in the reel.
After that, it was two for the seesaw until Kinneston unloaded in the late stages of the game.
Kinneston may have had a difficult shooting night early, but as is typical of her game, she found other chores to help the cause such as a team-high 13 rebounds, the theft of four round pieces of leather from the Knights, and a team-high three assists.
Sophomore Carolyn Snell, not big but quick, had a game-high 16 rebounds for Rice.
CVU had three players scoring in double figures, including Kinneston (12), Otley (11) and Kohlasch (10). Jaunich worked for six point, six rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots.
CVU is the first top-seeded team to carry on to the title since Bellows Falls Union High in 2003. That Terrier team was also the last undefeated Division 1 champ.
It was a nifty last hurrah for seniors Taylor Goldsborough (4-5 from the line), Alexandra Krupp (CVU’s first hoop) and Elspeth Grasso (2 rebounds).
In knocking out a young Burlington High team in last Thursday’s semifinal at the Patrick Gym, the Redhawks opened a 15-point lead (45-30) with five-and-a-half minutes to go before the 15-8 Seahorses, fired up by some three-point blasts, made it close in the final minutes before CVU emerged with a 53-47 win.
Kinneston led the Redhawks with 14 points while adding three assists, three rebounds and three steals. Kohlasch and Jaunich each tallied nine points while Sadie Otley notched eight and Krupp fired in seven.
Goldsborough hauled in 10 rebounds and passed off for three assists while grabbing three steals.
CVU hit 19 of 48 shots for 39.6 percent while losing the battle of the boards to the bigger Seahorses, 38-29.
Reserve Ajla Medic led BHS with 21 points including three of its five treys.
Championship Box Score
Rice Memorial (42)
Snell, 0 1-2 1; Akinpetide, 3 4-6 10: Derda, 4 1-2 9; Avonda, 1 2-2 5; Barron, 5 2-4 15; Bolger, 0 2-2 2; Zuk, 0 0-0 0; Doe, 0 0-0 0; Cirignano, 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 13 12-18 42
Lougee, 1 0-0 2; Kinneston, 1 9-12 12; Beatty, 0 0-0 0; Krupp, 1 0-0 2; E. Grasso, 0 0-0 0; Kohlasch, 4 0-1 10; Otley, 4 1-2 11; Jaunich, 2 1-2 6; Grevatt, 0 0-0 0; Goldsborough, 0 4-5 4.
Totals: 13 15-22 47
Rice 12 8 7 15 – 42
CVU 9 8 10 20 – 47
Semi-final Box Score (March 14)
Burlington High (47)
O. Maher, 0 0-0 0; Garrison, 1 0-0 3; I. Maher, 2 4-6 8; Pidgeon, 4 1-2 10; Black, 1 0-0 2; Medic, 6 6-7 21; Morris, 1 1-2 3; Thach, 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 15 12-17 47
Lougee, 1 0-0 2; Kinneston, 5 4-4 14; Beatty, 0 0-0 0; Krupp, 3 1-2 7; E. Grasso, 0 0-0 0; Otley, 3 1-4 8; Jaunich, 3 3-4 9; Kohlasch, 2 5-6 9; Goldsborough, 1 0-2 2; Grevatt, 1 0-0 2.
Totals: 19 14-22 53
BHS 10 4 15 18 – 47
CVU 13 11 15 14 – 53