Harwood point guard Ashley Proteau, left, attempts to make a pass during Tuesday’s girls basketball game against Montpelier.

Vermont is a small state — both in size and population. And many Central Vermont’s high schools are small as well.

Bigger schools in larger states almost always feature both varsity and junior varsity athletics teams. And in some cases, for extremely large schools, additional athletic teams are made up entirely of freshmen.

Being cut from a team can be a fact of life and tryouts don’t always end well. While it’s not uncommon to see a freshman or sophomore compete on the varsity level, it is rare that an underclassman becomes the player that a team is built around every game. Some say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice and coaching for a level of proficiency to be achieved in any sport or discipline.

A unique feature this year for local girls basketball teams is that some of the best players have actually been on the younger side. While juniors and seniors still fill most of the starting spots, up-and-coming freshmen and sophomores are turning heads and making noise.

Here is a look at five players who are well on their way to being some of the top talents in the Green Mountain State. What remains to be seen is if their desire and commitment to the game allows for improvement. They’re certainly young enough to raise the ceiling.

Olivia Hogan

Twinfield freshman

A natural lefty, Hogan is the one player that opposing defenses plan for when facing the Trojans. It’s one thing to know she’s coming for you, and quite another thing to be able to do something about it. The varsity game is unforgiving, and early on Hogan had to deal with foul trouble in a few games. During the second half of the season, she’ll have to learn quickly to curb the silly fouls and stay on the court. If the Trojans intend to make a deep playoff run, it’s a goal that must be met. Hogan is a tall player who slides well with her feet defensively and runs the floor with a track athlete’s agility. She is comfortable shooting outside the 3-point line or in the post, and she’s a triple-threat player whose greatest asset is her feel for the game.

Sarah Howe

White River freshman

Need someone who can sprint up and down the court for all 32 minutes? Call Sarah Howe, who was formerly an eighth-grade standout at Chelsea. She supplies an endless amount of energy on both sides of the ball. Howe is comfortable with the ball in her hands or moving without it, and she finds simple ways to convert easy baskets. She also provides a bulldog mentality on the defensive end that coaches love. It’s rare to see a player like Howe who is willing to dig deep defensively and isn’t worried about padding any offensive stats. What’s most interesting about Howe is that she gets her points by running the floor. She’s not the tallest player, but on her Wildcats team, she possesses the defensive intuition to pick off a pass and go straight to the hoop. She’s a pest against opposing offenses, forcing them to make errant passes while trying to deal with the Wildcats’ pressure defense. Moving forward, she will have to learn how to stay on the floor and avoid ticky-tack fouls. If she finds confidence with her jumper or curling off picks for spot-up shots, look out.

Natalie Folland

Spaulding sophomore

It’s been quite some time since the Crimson Tide have had a player with Folland’s skill set and gift for scoring. She’s comfortable dropping 3-point bombs and is a willing rebounder. Folland is the kind of player who does her best with what she’s brought. Folland helped her team finally earn an elusive victory and break a long winless streak earlier in the week against South Burlington. A player’s sophomore year is usually a time for transition, and some athletes either take a step back or a step forward. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, they’ve gotten more of the latter with Folland. The multi-sport standout also exemplifies the big difference between a shooter and a scorer. A shooter can shoot you in and out of games, a scorer is going to consistently produce points every night. If Folland is to take the next step, it may be with the mind to be less unselfish — always tough for an underclassman. She’s got a good touch from the perimeter and the natural ability to create space to get her shot off. She also responds well in pressure situations and is not afraid to take the big shot.

Emily Poulin

Spaulding freshman

If there is one underclass player who has met and overcome adversity, it is Poulin. After not being named to the varsity team early in the season, she joined the squad following a few injuries to other players and she wasted no time responding. She has some of the best defensive instincts on the team, and it became apparent that the Crimson Tide might have a second player to build a future with. Poulin is an efficient offensive contributor who gets to the free-throw line and makes her shots. She also has a strong compass for the rim, and with a little practice she could be an incredibly strong finisher. She passes well out of the double team and can beat her defender off the dribble, which often gets her pointed toward the rim. Deceptively quick and with long arms, Poulin has the potential to be a solid perimeter defender and extraordinary help defender. She’s at her best when she keeps her dribble and slips by defenders.

Ashley Proteau

Harwood sophomore

Proteau is known as one of the area’s top soccer strikers, but her knack for maintaining ball control has been a huge benefit on the basketball court as well. The Harwood program has high hopes this season after a few down years, and the Highlanders (8-4) have already surpassed their victory total from the last three years combined. While the fight for state-wide respect still remains a priority, Harwood is makes steady progress in its quest to earn a home playoff game for the first time since 2005. Proteau has been a bright light in the backcourt all season, even thought she’s not known as a shooter. Her best attribute is the ability to dribble and set up the offense. That itself is a rare thing for a sophomore, and Proteau is the type of player who gets through a press off the dribble. And if Proteau can get to the paint, even better. Much of the Highlanders’ progress as a program this winter can be credited to Proteau’s ability to advance the ball offensively.

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