REGION – Green Mountain has had some good boys’ basketball teams over the years; but unfortunately, they really have nothing to show for it. They have seven trips to the Final Four in the close to 50 years since they first found themselves in the postseason mix.
On the surface, a trip every seven years is not so bad, but they reached the cherished four in their first two years of tourney competition (1971 Proctor 67-44, 1972 Oxbow 73-53), again in 1983 and 1984 (Williamstown 83-73, Arlington 52-38), and 1987 (Peoples 80-65), but only two times since. Thus, the Chieftains have only made two trips in the last 32 years, an average of one every 16 seasons. They have two trips to Barre this century, 2003 and 2004 (Leland & Gray 87-71, 2004 Thetford 61-43).
Not one of the seven trips to the Final Four resulted in a victory or even a single digit loss contest. Every game was decided by ten or more points, with the average being over 16 points. The best showing was the 1983 loss to Williamstown. One thing that stands out is in those almost 50 years, six of the seven visits happened in back-to-back seasons. Good teams don’t just come in cycles. They usually feature players from more than one class, and their experience brings them back to the elite competition. These numbers are not meant to throw shade on Green Mountain but to provide incentive to future Chieftains to raise the bar.
This year’s edition of the Chieftains is an example of progress. Yes, they fell to Williamstown in the quarterfinals on the road Saturday 62-27, but they are the first Green Mountain team to win a postseason contest since 2005 – a period of 14 years. The team had been basically one and done if at all since one year after their last Final Four appearance. The 2005 team lost a close quarterfinal match 78-75 to South Royalton only to fall just short of three Final Fours in succession.
In recent winters, Brian Rapanotti’s team has fallen into a pattern of being seeded mainly seven through ten, which makes their opening play-off game a very competitive one, as it was this year when they defeated Oxbow 59-56. James Anderson was the Chieftains’ leading scorer in the postseason with 28 points. The only other double-digit performers in either contest were Brooks Ordway Smith with 13 and Ty Merril with 10 in the Oxbow win.
Rapanotti found out experience does matter in the playoffs, when his team took the floor at Williamstown. “We were ready to go, but the game was called really tight. I had been told it would likely be different, but we didn’t adjust to that and we got in foul trouble,” he related.
Having been on the sidelines on more than one occasion in similar situations, I fully understand what he means. The officials can be correct in their calls and consistent, but a more tightly called game that coaches feel happens more often up north, results in more fouls. The deeper bench gains a big advantage as was the case at Williamstown.
Bellows Falls (10-10) finished tied for first place with Green Mountain and Twin Valley in the C Division of the Marble Valley League. The Terriers will actually drop down to Division III by the Vermont Principals Association’s classification next winter and will now be competing in the C Division as a school in the ranks with its members. The C Division will go from a four-team league to a six-team loop, with Rivendel and White River Valley joining the top three teams who tied for the crown and Leland & Gray. The new landscape will present a much tougher schedule for Bellows Falls, who will only be playing two Division IV teams next winter. They had eight Division IV teams on their slate this season.
The Terriers played well in their long trip to third seeded Lake Region in their Division II tourney clash. They bowed 44-30, but comparative scores versus common opponents, predicted a more one-sided outcome. Coach Ryan Stoodley points out, “Our 2-3 zone kept them down much of the game. Our defense was pretty good at the end of the year. It was 22-15 at halftime and we played well enough to compete.”
Ryan Kelly had 17 points to spark the Terrier offense. Bellows Falls only loses one regular rotation player so may be able to stay on course against the upgraded schedule.
Fall Mountain (8-10) began the season with four straight victories, but players lost for periods of time and the season for assorted reasons, slowed down the momentum for most of the remainder of the season. The Wildcats did have one more hot streak when they won three of four games, including a victory over rival Bellows Falls 48-36. However, three straight losses to complete the schedule left them in 14th place and a trip to St. Thomas Aquinas didn’t turn out well. The parochial as hosts ran away with a 82-31 victory. Owen Marandino and Joey Murdoch tallied 11 and 8 points for Fall Mountain respectively.
Leland & Gray (4-16) won a couple showdowns with Black River (1-19) and that was basically what separated those two area opponents. The Rebels were a difficult match-up for the Presidents as Brud Sanderson’s team prevailed 67-37 and 57-34 in the two get-togethers. The low seed for the Townshend-based school made the opening postseason game difficult and they bowed to fourth seeded Peoples 55-32. Peoples was a strong enough foe to eliminate Windsor in the next round. Sanderson said, “We played well into the third quarter and then began to lose traction. Though we lost, being able to go and compete against a quality foe like Peoples was a good experience. The Presidents’ lone victory was over Mid-Vermont Christian 62-54 on the road.”
Springfield (3-17) did not qualify for the postseason. The Cosmos compete in Division II where there were more than the maximum 16 teams for the tourney. The Cosmos actually grew some this season and return much of their nucleus for next year. They split with Leland & Gray (won 53-44/lost 58-61) gave Fall Mountain a battle before losing (56-51) and their biggest win was over a Twin Valley team (57-49), who actually defeated Windsor.
Coach Mike Ruppel remains patient on the outside as his Cosmos takes steps each winter to become more competitive. He told me, “The most important piece is to say that I’m proud of the guys for how hard they competed this season. I think what most impressed me was the way our defense got better throughout the season. The team committed to being a great half-court man defensive team and we drilled it every day in practice.”
Fall Mountain Coach Justin Cassrino and Black River Coach Don Richard were unavailable for comment at this time.