CHESTER, Vt. – Green Mountain finished their regular season as the number one seed in Division III. I spoke to many media members and fellow coaches and no one mentioned the Chieftains as a serious title threat. I received a couple of “can’t count them outs,” but no close to ringing endorsements. After all, when was the last time the Green and Gold had ever won a meaningful game?
How good was this team from Chester? My quick answer is, “Very good.”
In many ways, they lost their single game at the perfect time. The Chieftains may not agree with this, but losing to Bellows Falls 52-42 in the last game of the regular season was jarring and kept them from being undefeated.
But ask Gonzaga today if they would trade a regular season loss for their title game loss. We all know the answer would have been yes. And to spite, who knows how that game would have turned out if the Chieftains had not lost the services of their most likely best player Jack Boyle before halftime to injury? Who believes in fate one way or another? Just asking.
On to the postseason where the first place seed really didn’t do the Chieftains any favors except line them up with three tough match-ups. Over the years, very few teams have faced this kind of artillery to claim a championship. Here’s thinking the gritty victories they pulled out during the regular season, and especially the loss to Bellows Falls, created a mindset to somehow conquer the route they had to take.
After defeating Oxbow easily 62-34, next was a Vergennes team, which competes most seasons in Division II and has had their share of success there. The pandemic held their season down to eight games, only one of which was against Division III competition. Seven of their eight games were played against Division I and II schools and many expected them to compete for the title. Eighty-five of the 90 tournament games Vergennes has played in their previous tournament journeys have been at the Division II level. Prior to tournament play, when I looked at the pairings, I considered this one more unfortunate road bump to Green Mountain head coach Brian Rapanotti establishing his program.
“We had talked following the BF game and I thought this group would refocus and respond the right way when they needed to. Most of them played soccer and they had had successful tournament experiences. So despite the fact they hadn’t played in big basketball games, I thought they would be okay,” Rapanotti offered.
There were a number of ups and downs throughout the Vergennes game. Green Mountain had numerous chances to make the right game play choices, and they were ripe enough to make that work out in a thrilling 58-57 overtime victory. There were likely very few supporters and casual observers who realized this was a big time game versus an eight seed that was definitely one of the top teams in this year’s tournament. Now, what was next?
Defending champion Thetford was on deck, and they had already upset a strong Windsor team on the road to set up this match-up. A year ago, the Panthers had disposed of Green Mountain on the way to their most recent title and possibly this stirred the pot a little to energize the Chieftains. No less an authority than veteran Windsor coach Harry Ladue told me, “That will be a really tough one for Green Mountain. Thetford is coming together and peaking at the right time.” Little did anyone outside of Chester know how much the Chieftains were peaking and the Panthers were tamed in Chester’s Nason Gym 75-51.
Then came the title game where Green Mountain was matched with the best of the best, the champion of champions, Williamstown, who had six titles in the last 20 years. The morning of the title game Rapanotti told me, “Although they have been to eight of the last nine title games, none of these kids have actually played in those games so I don’t think that will be a factor.”
I sat silent for a moment and decided not to say a thing. That’s quite an imposing history to cast away so easily, but he was certainly right in the end.
They competed in another of those nail-biting thrillers that went into overtime and needed a last minute comeback in regulation, which was dependent on a late season full-time call up from the junior varsity, to make a steal and pass to one of their unprimed scorers to sink a big hoop. The score came at the most convenient time in the school’s first championship game ever. Such a tale could only be believed in pandemic times, and even then it’s still tough to believe there would be a group of kids gritty enough to pull such a thing off.
Rapanotti provided me with a short capsule on each of his players who were part of this historic team:
Austin Kubisek, the lone freshman on the team. “He played four quarters of JV but was physically ready enough to be a competitor who grew by practicing with us regularly.”
Evan Mosher This sophomore usually played five or six minutes a game and “is a ferocious competitor who brought rebounding and defensive skills to us. He had a huge putback versus White River Valley.”
Reid Hryckiewicz, a junior who “had 14 first half-points against Leland & Gray and you need this kind of player to step up when needed on a championship team.”
Brandon Rose developed much of the season as a swing player with the JVs. But the junior came up with probably the biggest steal in GM history in the final game. “He can really score the ball as he at times had 25 points in a half of a JV game. He has become more comfortable with the ball in his hands and as everyone saw in the Williamstown game he is a very good decision maker.”
Kagen Hance, a junior who was the Chieftains first man off the bench much of the season. He averaged about four points a game and “started the season strong but then missed some time, but [he] came back to give us some solid defense and rebounding we needed.”
Everett Mosher This junior “who helped lead the way to everyone understanding their roles [and] hit three big threes that were at important times this season.” He averaged about 11 points a game.
Skyler Klezos One of four remaining seniors, he “was a coach’s dream because he did a little bit of everything. He has a relentless motor who was a big contributor to our rebounding and defense.” He averaged about 6 points a game and converted the big hoop off from Rose’s steal, which set up the overtime title win.
Sawyer Pippin “He embraced our defensive stopper role, taking it to another level.” He is a strong ball handler who averaged about 9 points a game.
Ty Merrill “His role became more defined as the year went on. He became a leader who can be depended upon to score the ball. This role became more comfortable to him this season.” He was the team’s leading scorer at about 15 points a game.
Jack Boyle “He was the unquestioned leader and heart and soul of the team. He didn’t come to us as a natural flow basketball player, but everything about him improved during his two years with us concerning his skills and hoop decision-making. He became the inside presence we needed as down the stretch as he played more inside as he realized if you give me the ball inside nobody can stop me. This was the key to beating Vergennes.” Boyle averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Head coach Brian Rapanotti’s lasting memory: “To me it was all about the pig pile at the end of the game. That was really something. That was my favorite part. I made a conscious effort to watch how they reacted and that was really something to watch.”
This article is the second part of a story published in the April 7, 2021 edition.