Getting up to varsity speed

Nikos Carroll puts up a short jump shot during CVU’s game vs Essex on Tuesday the 30th in Hinesburg
Graham Walker drives the lane for an under hand scoop during CVU’s game vs Essex on Tuesday the 30th in Hinesburg.

Boys basketball team quickly gaining experience

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

Reality soon set in for the Champlain Valley Union High School boys basketball program after coming down from the success of the 2016-17 season — a 22-win campaign that resulted in the program’s first state championship appearance.

The Redhawks said good-bye to all but four of the members of the state finalist team, and only one of the remaining players, Graham Walker, had seen significant action.

Anyone looking at the numbers would say that CVU was going to be in a rebuilding year.

“I wasn’t very embracing of the term ‘rebuild,’” said CVU coach Mike Osborne. “I thought we had a lot of talent on JV. It was just a matter of getting them some experience.”

The Redhawks proved their coach right, winning the first five of their seven games and looking like a team that would challenge the top of the Metro Division.

Even the losses showed that CVU was ready to compete, with a three-point loss to Rice and a tight rematch with D-I state champs Rutland proving that the talent had remained — albeit with different names on the jerseys.

“We’ve got a lot of new kids and a lot of young talent,” said senior captain Will Burroughs. “They have been in the program as long as I have, so they are on the same page as we are.”

The defensive strength of the group emerged almost immediately. The Redhawks held opponents to under 50 points in five of their first seven games.

“The preparation is key,” said senior captain Spencer Dooley of the team’s defensive success. “We’re scouting the team we are playing next, watching film, keying in on their best players and figuring out how to stop them.”

In addition, the Redhawks’ rebounding prowess has surpassed even their coach’s expectations and has helped them on both ends of the court.

“I thought we would be a better rebounding team, but we have been very good,” Osborne said. “Offense has been the challenge.”

The offensive struggles have led to a bit of a reality check in three games with top D-1 teams, as CVU has dropped all three match-ups. The losses to Burlington, Mount Mansfield and St. Johnsbury had dropped the Redhawks to 5-5 and sent them back to the drawing board.

But they have rebounded in the last two games, defeating Essex and Spaulding to move back to 7-5.

“Those losses helped us identify what we need to work on so we can keep getting better,” Dooley said. “It was kind of a wake-up call. We are not the same team as last year. Every single game is a battle.”

Offensively, only Walker came into the season with any time against the top players in the state. He has moved to point guard this season to replace departed talent.

“These guys have played so much ball together,” Osborne said. “It’s just the speed of varsity basketball in the Metro, the quality coaching, the scouting, the game-planning, teams being coached to limit your strengths and make you play to your weaknesses.

“We’ve got to get better at cleaning up our weaknesses.”

Despite the recent challenges, the CVU players have no doubt that they will be competing with the top teams in the Metro.

“The Metro is as wide open as ever this year,” Burroughs said. “I think there are six teams that have a viable chance to win, us being one of them.”

One thing the Redhawks have going for them: They know what it takes to get to Patrick Gym after last year’s run, and this year’s group is determined to follow up on that success.

“Our goal is always to win a state championship and at least make it to Patrick,” Dooley said. “I think by the end of the season, we will be there. We have as much of a chance as anybody else.”

With eight games remaining in the regular season, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the CVU team — can they fix their offensive woes? Will the defense stay strong? — but the one thing no one has to worry about is a rebuild. This team is fully focused on winning this year.