Hilltoppers dethrone Redhawks

Observer photo by Al Frey
The CVU girls huddle before teh Division 1 basketball finals vs. St. Johnsbury Academy on Saturday at UVM.

Girls’ five-time title run ends

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

Basketball is a game of runs, and Champlain Valley’s run at the top is over.

The Redhawks girls basketball team lost to No. 1-seeded St. Johnsbury 48-33 in the Division 1 championship game Saturday at UVM’s Patrick Gym, ending a streak of five straight Redhawk titles.

A 16-7 run in the first quarter by the Hilltoppers proved too much to overcome.

“St. J is really hard to play from behind,” said CVU coach Ute Otley. “It’s the worst case scenario.”

“This is the greatest feeling ever,” said St. Johnsbury’s Josie Choiniere. “We have worked so hard to be able to beat CVU. We have been so ready for this game for so long.”

Choiniere powered St. J’s first-quarter run with a 4-for-4 performance from behind the 3-point arc.

“We knew that, today, if we were going to accomplish our goal we needed to have a lot of confidence,” Choiniere said. “We needed to come out hard from the start.”

The sophomore guard’s 3-point prowess was a known commodity for CVU, and the Redhawks came prepared to defend the arc. But Choiniere took a step farther out, hitting her 3s from as far out as 25 feet.

“They hit four 3s in the first quarter against a defense that was focused on taking away the 3,” Otley said. “What are you going to do? They just kept shooting.”

Choiniere finished with 23 points to lead the Hilltoppers, while Sadie Stetson added 10 points and Neva Bostic chipped in with eight points.

“St. J played really, really well,” Otley said. “They executed better than we did, that’s the reality.”

The Redhawks found themselves on the wrong side of the early score and tried to pull themselves back into the game. Some big baskets from Catherine Gilwee (five points) and Harper Mead (seven points) kept the game close.

“I felt like we had our openings, we just didn’t capitalize on them,” Otley said of her team’s offense. “Passes were all just a half-step slow.”

CVU’s Maryn Askew provided the bulk of the scoring in the second half, scoring 11 of her 13 points, but it was not enough.

“We learned a lot playing (CVU) twice this year,” said St. Johnsbury coach Jack Driscoll. “I thought the kids really executed the defensive game plan really well.”

Though the state title run has ended for the Redhawks, the program has qualified for eight straight state championship games and shows no sign of letting up in the push to return to the title game next season.

“I told them, ‘this game doesn’t define our season,’” Otley said. “It’s certainly a disappointing ending to a season where it felt like we were in it.”

With the now-reigning champs returning almost their entire roster — St. Johnsbury graduates only one senior — Otley and the rest of the Redhawks are looking at next season as a challenge.

“We are going to see in the next 365 days how hungry the CVU kids are,” Otley said. “Jack (Driscoll) said something as we were walking through the line. He said, ‘Ute, you gotta know, you and your girls have made everybody in the state better. Chasing you for five years has made us better.’

“I shared that with the kids and I said ‘Are you guys gonna chase or are you gonna concede?”