By Lauren Read
Last season, the Champlain Valley girls basketball program graduated an undefeated class of seniors and saw its historic win streak come to an end. Still, the Redhawks won the Division I state championship.
Not too shabby for a rebuilding year.
This season, the Redhawks will have to deal with the graduation of three of their starters as they look to make it six straight state titles. But there are no excuses for this group.
“I don’t think we have the intimidation factor that we did when we had won 96 games straight,” CVU coach Ute Otley said. “We have to earn it again.”
CVU plays Friday in the opening game of the Kevin Reill Memorial Tournament in the CVU gym.
“We’re going to be at a disadvantage in terms of minutes and experience on the floor,” Otley said. “We do have some kids who got significant minutes off the bench last year that are ready to take on a bigger role this year.”
This season, the Redhawks will lean on the leadership of their three seniors, Shannon Loiseau, Lindsey Albertelli and Julia Neal, plus the team’s other returning players.
“Even though we lost four seniors, everyone on the team still feels ready for this season because of the way this program is built,” Loiseau, a senior and three-year varsity player, said. “Everyone is ready to fill those spots.”
Otley will looking to those players, and talented newcomers, to start off with a strong defense and build from that as the season progresses.
“We’re going to be a defensive-first team,” Otley said. “That’s really where we are going to start … As a group we are more versatile defensively than we were last year.
“We’re not going to get away from what works.”
Offense will be a work in progress as the season begins.
“We are going to come with a balanced scoring attack,” Otley said. “We are going to read what the defense is giving us on any given night. We have some shooters, we have some ball-handlers, we have some good slashers and obviously, we have good post play.”
Loiseau will be a main target down low, with her height, but Otley will also look for some of the newer players to prove that they are options.
While Otley focuses on integrating the younger players — there are only three seniors this year — Loiseau, Albertelli and the other leaders are looking to take lessons from last year’s transition.
“The class that just graduated, they were very good at encouraging and making sure everyone was fully committed to the team,” Loiseau said. “We saw that and recognized it, and we are trying to use it now.”
With the returning seniors and juniors stepping into leadership roles, the players’ versatility is giving Otley options on the defensive end, and as program that always has high expectations, the Redhawks are ready to begin their title defense.
“Our returning varsity players, they all came back better,” Otley said. “There’s no relaxing. I am looking forward to watching this group forge its own personality.”