By Mal Boright
When the Champlain Valley Union High high-flying Redhawks girls basketball team reassembles after Christmas, it will face a second straight contest against an undefeated team on its cozy (to the foe) home court.
Coach Ute Otley’s Red and White-clads will motor up I-89 Saturday to meet 3-0 Bellows Free Academy for a 2:30 p.m. start at the Comets’ lair.
In their most recent outing, the Comets laid a 57-30 licking on home standing 0-4 Mount Mansfield Union last Friday night.
Next week, the Redhawks will journey to North Country Union Tuesday before returning home Friday (Jan. 2) to entertain Spaulding High.
Last Friday, CVU unleashed a 31-20 second-half explosion on old friend Rice Memorial High (now 2-1) for a 47-35 victory before a boisterous crowd at Rice’s Bill Hammond Gymnasium.
It was the Hawks’ first significant challenge of the young season and Otley could not have been more pleased with the way her young team—just two returning starters from last year’s champions—responded to capture a 51st straight triumph.
“To play like they did in that environment was great,” the coach said. “They kept their composure and nobody panicked.”
There were moments in the first half when there were all sorts of reasons to be beset by the hoop horrors that have shaken many teams in the home of their two-time championship game opponents.
In the second quarter, CVU found itself trailing 13-8 after a Rice six-point run. Cold artic breezes were blowing over the Hawks’ basket, where the Redhawks had hit just two of 22 shots and frustration was starting to appear.
Otley took a time out to settle things down.
On the trip down court following the tactically called confab, CVU found Maeve Higgins by her lonesome in the right corner and Higgins nailed a three-point bomb that relaxed the previously offensively struggling Redhawks.
Playing without sparkplug veteran junior guard Sadie Otley who sat out the first half after being called for two fouls in the opening two minutes, CVU was able to gain a 16-15 halftime lead.
With Otley back, CVU opened the third quarter with an 8-2 run and never trailed after that, although Rice, paced by slick-moving freshman Lisa Sulejmani (game high 17 points), kept matters tight before the Hawks rung up a 9-2 splurge to open the final reel.
Otley collected all of her 13 points in the second half with four hoops, mostly on hard, quick drives to the wicket, plus five hits in seven pops from the charity stripe.
On the all-important defensive end, coach Otley went to a 2-3 zone in the first half in an effort to contain the drives of Sulejmani. The Green Knights’ attempts to hit from long range over the active zone were for naught as Rice swished just six of 20 second-half shots. CVU recovered nicely from the early deep freeze and connected 11 times in 25 attempts, helped by eight Knight turnovers in the final quarter.
A huge inside presence for CVU was junior Annabella Pugliese, with 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“Annabella played great,” Otley said of the forward who was on the junior varsity a year ago.
Junior Laurel Jaunich, in her third year as a starter, hauled down nine rebounds to go with 12 points. Speedy guard Caitlin Grasso had four critical steals and at least two assists, plus three rebounds among the much taller big people, and five points.
Junior Lia Gagliuso (six points, six rebounds) and junior Amanda Daniels (three points, four rebounds) led effective work by reserves.
Willistonians on the Rice squad included starters Michelle Bolger at guard (two points, three rebounds) and forward Rachel Chicoine (four points, three rebounds).
By Mal Boright