Today the Granite City becomes chiseled in marble. All three of the girls state championship games at Barre Auditorium will have a distinct Rutland County flavor.
Before you think that we dropped our Rand McNally in some quarry, yes even the Division III contest between Windsor and Thetford carries a strong Rutland County element. Both parents of Windsor guard Olivia Rockwood played their college basketball in Rutland County, where they are well-remembered by hoop fans — her mother Erin Farnsworth, at College of St. Joseph and her father, Kabray Rockwood, at Green Mountain College.
The strongest Rutland County interest will come in the Division IV game that tips off the day at noon. County rivals Mount St. Joseph and West Rutland clash, just as they did a year ago.
Mill River will carry the color of Rutland County in the Division II game against Northeast Kingdom entry Lyndon.
There is also a homecoming of sorts in the D-II game as Lyndon’s senior forward Zea Macris will be playing in the town where she still lives.
Macris attended Spaulding High of Barre until becoming a boarding student at Lyndon in the spring semester of her sophomore year.
Her transfer has been a windfall for the Vikings. She batted .621 in softball last season and has helped take Lyndon to a state championship in that sport.
Now, she would love to contribute to Lyndon’s first state girls basketball championship. The Vikings have never even been to a title game until today.
Here we go:
MSJ vs. West Rutland
Mount St. Joseph is gunning for its third straight title — the one that qualifies the program to be called a dynasty in many people’s eyes. This is also the Mounties’ fourth consecutive state championship appearance.
Count on another close game. The two regular-season meetings went to the wire, MSJ winning 35-32 at West Rutland and 47-45 in their own Martin McDonough Gymnasium.
“We won’t change our style. We led most of the game (both times),” West Rutland coach Carl Serrani said. “We just kind of lost our heads at the end.
“It was a missed defensive assignment and a 3-pointer (by MSJ’s Lyndsey Elms),” Serrani said.
Senior Jenna Eaton, a 1,000- point scorer, has been a constant for the Mounties, scoring, handling the ball and distributing it.
Serrani feels, though, that the maturation of MSJ freshmen have made the Mounties a better team as the season progressed.
“Their two freshmen (Angela Perry and Lyndsey Elms) must be a pleasant surprise to them,” Serrani said. “They have grown up during the season.”
Lyndsey’s older sister Shannon Elms is tough inside and deadly on 12-footers.
Other mainstays have been Izzy Harvey, Gabby Giancola and Bethany Garrow.
The No. 2 Golden Horde brings a 21-2 record into the game and will start five seniors: Brooke Raiche, Katie Callahan, Lauren Harvey — Izzy’s cousin — Julia May and probably Kelsey Wedin.
Serrani has six starters — starting either Kayla Coombs or Wedin depending on the other team’s size.
Raiche is coming off a memorable semifinal game in which she scored 22 points and passed 2010 graduate Katie Lincoln as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
The No. 1 Mounties are 21-1 with their lone loss coming on the road against Windsor.
Mill River vs. Lyndon
No. 1 Mill River is becoming a fixture at Barre Auditorium. The Minutemen won it all in 2015 and lost to Fair Haven in the title game in 2016.
Now, the Minutemen will gun for their second title in three years at 3:45 p.m. against Lyndon.
“I have so much respect for Ken Webb, Jo Jo Valente and their entire staff,” Lyndon coach Eric Berry said. “They have built a very strong program that has been up here every year. I know they won’t be intimidated by the environment.
“They are very disciplined and
everyone who gets to this game has to be disciplined.”
Berry feels the Minutemen are complete but a couple of players really have his attention — Rylee Nichols and Olivia McPhee.
Nichols is a good rebounder and shooter.
“Nichols is someone who controls the team,” Berry said.
Windsor coach Bruce Mackay lost two close games to Mill River and he also endorses Nichols.
“Shemadea3totieitone gameandmadea3towinitin the other. She’s a good player,” said Mackay.
McPhee quarterbacks the team, a quick point guard who handles the ball well and is an outstanding passer.
“McPhee is just extremely fast and has a high motor,” Berry said. “She is a competitor. It’s so good to see kids like that.
“We’ve got to know where No. 34 (Nichols) and No. 15 (McPhee) are at all times.”
Berry knows the 19-4 Minutemen represent a tough obstacle in the path of the Vikings’ first state crown.
“You don’t get the No. 1 seed by not being a great team,” he said.
The Vikings will have six “starters” with the lineup depending on matchups: Macris, Jade Berry, Emma Corey, Madalyn Sanborn, Camryn Heath and Shaylan Mosher, the team’s leading scorer.
The Minutemen sometimes struggle to score but they never allow many points.
“They are a great defensive team,” Berry said. “They make you work for everything. I am impressed with their ability to not give you a good shot but also with the way they box out and make it one and done.”
The Minutemen have gotten plenty of scoring and rebounding from Tessa Davenport and Melissa Fay. Britney Blanchard and McKenna Ludden have also been key players.
Emerson Pomeroy has come on strong off the bench, giving the Minutemen some solid guard play. She is also a solid defender.
The No. 2 Vikings are 20-3.
Windsor vs. Thetford
No. 1 Windsor and No. 2 Thetford just might bring down the curtain on the Aud’s championship extravaganza with the most points of the day.
“I expect a high-scoring game,” said Thetford coach Eric Ward. “I don’t think it will be as many points as the 90-84 game we had here against Williamstown, but I think it will be high scoring.”
Ward’s Panthers defeated Williamstown for the title in that game in 2014, the most points in a girls Final Four game ever at the Auditorium.
Windsor coach Bruce Mackay agrees that it could be a pretty high-scoring affair.
“Both teams can put it in the hoop,” he said.
Guard play drives the Yellow Jackets. The athletic Olivia Rockwood and lightning quick Ashleay Wilcox are as good as they come and combined for 45 points in the 61-47 semifinal victory over Winooski on Thursday night.
They are also good ball handlers, passers and defenders.
“I think those two are the best guard combination in Vermont. They can do it all,” Mackay said. “Having Olivia has made Ashleay better because now she does not have to do everything.”
You never discount the having-been-there before factor at Barre Auditorium and Mackay is well aware of that.
“ Their experience is going to help them. They have been there the last six years and we haven’t,” Mackay said.
“I think it is going to be a great game.”
But the Yellow Jackets have now weathered one Auditorium appearance and Mackay believes Thursday night’s experience will help.
“I think we were nervous in the locker room, but once we got that first hoop we ran our offense well,” he said.
There is some uncertainty for he Jacks — the health of starter Anika Abrahamsen, a starter and strong rebounder who was injured late in the semifinal game and helped from the floor.
Windsor is 20-3 and Thetford 18-5. The I-91 rivals met twice during the season, the Jackets winning the first meeting 60-57 and Thetford prevailing 60-59 in the second game. Both were early in the season.
Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.
Follow Tom on Twitter @ RHSportsGuy