West Rutland and Thetford have each been to the Final Four at Barre Auditorium eight straight years. Still, it never gets old.
Fans will be as excited as ever on Saturday when those teams go after a state championship in girls basketball at Barre Auditorium. The No. 3 Golden Horde tips off the day at noon in the Division IV title game against No. 1 Blue Mountain and No. 2 Thetford clashes with No. 8 Oxbow in the nightcap at 7:30 p.m. with the Division III crown at stake.
The middle game is the Division II clash between No. 3 Fair Haven and No. 4 Lake Region at 3:45 p.m.
The venerable old building on the hill was built in 1939 and is known for its mystique. It was listed among the nation’s 10 great places to watch high school basketball by USA Today and has hosted stars like Johnny Cash and Phish.
It has showcased championship games through the years that will be talked about forever and Saturday has the look of an event that might produce its own classics that will live on whenever high school basketball is discussed.
Who can forget a freshman named Gretchen Pembroke making a heave at the buzzer to give Montpelier a victory over Oxbow in the title game, or the 1988 shootout when Randolph defeated Oxbow 82-68. The stars were out that day: Future college basketball greats and hall of famers Jen Niebling for Randolph and Jade Huntington for Oxbow.
That’s what it’s been about at The Aud: Championships, great performances and unforgettable moments.
What will happen this year that will take its place among them? We can’t wait to find out.
West Rutland vs. Blue Mountain
The Bucks have the top seed and they boast Lauryn Alley, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the semifinal victory over Mount St. Joseph.
West Rutland has size and depth. All five starters are athletic and can play with more like them coming off the bench.
The Horde has uncommon size for Vermont’s division of the smallest schools. Starter Elizabeth Bailey is 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-freshman Kara Lanfear comes off the bench.
Bailey can score and rebound but she is also an intimidating presence on defense. An early blocked shot frequently has teams thinking twice when the ball goes down low.
Other key contributors include Kiana Grabowski, Samantha Callahan, Kasey Serrani, Jenee McGee and Kiera Pipeling.
Grabowski and Pipeling give the Horde two excellent ball handlers. Grabowski and McGee can shoot the 3-pointer.
It is a complete team poised to bring home the program’s first title since 2010, when the Horde defeated South Royalton 55-40.
The Bucks are gunning for their first title since 2002 when they beat Wilmington 69-63.
Alivia Crum backed up Alley with a nine-point effort in the semifinals.
The Bucks’ press was effective against MSJ but the Golden Horde has a penchant for breaking presses for easy points.
The Bucks and Westside never met during the season.
The Bucks are 20-2. One of the losses was to Woodsville, a New Hampshire team, and the other a narrow defeat to Division I Burr and Burton Academy.
West Rutland brings a 17-5 record into the game.
Pulling the strings for the Horde will be newly minted 300-victory coach Carl Serrani, who will be recognized for that milestone on March 23 in Windsor at the Vermont Basketball Coaches Association’s Celebration of Basketball.
Lake Region vs. Fair Haven
Fair Haven has won the crown as recently as 2016. Kaleigh Brown is the only Slater from that team playing today.
Castleton University standout Alexis Quenneville was on that 2016 team and she will be in the stands Saturday for both the Division IV and Division II games. She is a cousin of West Rutland’s Jenee McGee.
Brown had a big game in the semifinal, but the leading scorer over the season for the Slaters was Ryleigh Coloutti, a prolific 3-point shooter.
The Rangers are led by sophomore guard Tia Martinez, who can also stick the 3-point field goal.
“I think Martinez is their primary scorer but their secondary players are very good as well,” Fair Haven coach Kyle Wilson said. “They play a lot of people so we will have to be very aware of our assignments in knowing who is coming off and on the floor so that we have our best matchups. That will be very important.”
Kerigan Disorda is the Slaters’ top perimeter defender.
“If we get scoring from her that’s a bonus. She does so many little things that people don’t pick up on,” Wilson said of Disorda. “She always guards the best perimeter player on the other team.”
Courtney Brewster is a scorer and rebounder inside, but but she is also to interior defense what Disorda is to perimeter defense.
The starters figure to be Coloutti, Brewster, Brown, Disorda and Katrina Bean.
The Slaters bring an 18-5 mark into the game against the 19-4 Rangers.
The Rangers and Slaters did not meet during the season. The Rangers lost twice during the year to Harwood, a team Fair Haven beat handily in the opening round of the playoffs.
But the Rangers own some victories over very good teams like Thetford and Randolph.
Oxbow vs. Thetford
Thetford knows the way to the Barre Auditorium. Eric Ward’s Panthers have been a fixture.
Oxbow wears the Cinderella slipper. The No. 8 Olympians stunned No. 1 Hazen in the quarterfinals and then toppled No. 5 Green Mountain on Thursday to reach the title game with a 10-13 record.
Emi Vaughn led Thetford in its 55-48 win over Windsor in Thursday’s semifinal with 16 points, while Namya Benjamin tossed in 13. The Panthers can also get scoring from Kiana Johnson, a 1,000-point scorer who played for Chelsea and came to Thetford when Chelsea closed its doors this year. Johnson is a relative of Brad Johnson, who scored 1,523 points at Chelsea from 1999-2002.
Oxbow features balanced scoring that was on display Thursday with Emma Parkin leading the way with 10 points. She was followed by Kaysea Neil with eight, Melanie Neil with seven and Mariah Shumway with six.
Oxbow is one of the most storied programs in the state. Graduates Jade and Jazz Huntington are two of the only three girls basketball players in the state to eclipse the 2,000-point mark and Elizabeth Burnham accomplished the rare career double of 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. And, of course, there is the late and legendary coach Mona Garone.
Now, the 2018-19 O’s want to make some history of their own. If the slipper fits one more time, they will need to beat a talented team that is has a heavy dose of Auditorium experience.
NOTES: No. 1 CVU and No. 2 St. Johnsbury will battle for the Division I state girls championship title Sunday at the University of Vermont. ... This is the ninth straight year for the CVU girls in the D-I title contest. ... Oxbow becomes the second highest Division III seed to reach the championship game. Hazen lost as a No. 10 seed in 1994. ... All five Thetford starters were members of the state championship soccer team this past fall. ... Thetford will be the first D-III team to play in six straight championship games. ... Oxbow won the state softball championship so the D-III game will pit soccer state champions against soccer state titlists. ... Lake Region coach Joe Houston’s assistant, Abbey Lalime, scored 1,252 points for the Rangers before graduating in 2010. She was a member of the 2009 title team at LR.