Girls’ hoop stars sparked strong seasons

ADDISON COUNTY — All four local high school girls’ basketball teams ended up with something to brag about this winter: All won Division-II playoff games after faring well enough to earn home court for the first round.
And all four benefited from outstanding performances, none better than that of Middlebury junior Katie Ritter, who repeats as the Addison Independent Player of the Year.
Coach Cindy Atkins’ Tigers finished 14-8, a four-game improvement over a year ago, including a 4-5 record against nine D-I foes. Two Tigers join Ritter on the Independent all-star squad.
Coach Ray Counter’s Otter Valley girls posted a 10-12 record and earned the No. 6 seed in D-II, not quite matching their high hopes, but playing respectably nonetheless. Three Otters earned spots here.
Coach Connie LaRose’s 9-13 Mount Abraham team was predictably inconsistent given its youth, but gave its coach her 300th career win this winter and played its best game of the season to open the playoffs. Three Eagles are honored on the Independent team.
Coach Billy Waller’s Vergennes team improved by four wins from last winter to 7-15 despite a tough schedule with eight D-I games, earning the No. 8 seed in the process. A junior scorer made the Independent squad.
Selections to the Independent team are based on observation, stats and consultation with the coaches. Congratulations to the following:
KATIE RITTER, MUHS JUNIOR, PLAYER OF THE YEAR. NOTES: Explosive scorer who also brings and all-around game to the table … Averaged a local high of 15.6 points per game despite being the focal point of opposing defenses, while also contributing 3.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals … Versatile shooter who can hit from behind the arc, pull up for a jumper or take it to the hoop … Scored 19 points in first half of key win vs. Mount Abe … Excellent passer and ballhandler with good court vision … Fine rebounder and defender … Unselfish team player and leader.
ATKINS’ QUOTES: “Katie was always guarded by the opponents’ best defender, or doubled … Katie had some huge scoring games this year, yet she always looked to include her teammates … She has a fantastic work ethic … She’s an amazing athlete and a great competitor.” 
JENN LOYER, MOUNT ABE JUNIOR. NOTES: Excellent all-around player who ranks among the state’s best point guards … Averaged 15.1 points and 4.0 assists, and that second total would have been higher on a more experienced team … Smart and strong defender with quick hands who led local players with 4.5 steals per game, and averaged 3.5 rebounds … Possesses a fierce competitive drive.   
LAROSE’S QUOTES: “She always leaves everything she’s got on the court … This was a great year of growth for Jenn, and I really anticipate it will continue next year … She is without question one of the top two passers I’ve ever coached … She has incredible court vision and court savvy.”
AMANDA SANDERSON, OV SENIOR. NOTES: Relentless rebounder and defender who did all the little things for OV — setting picks, boxing out, taking charges and helping on defense … At about five-seven, led all local players with 10.0 rebounds per game … Scored 6.2 points per game while shooting a team-best 44 percent … Averaged 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals … Could guard anyone from point guards to post players … Co-captain and daughter of Coach Counter. 
COUNTER’S QUOTES: “She always thought team first … It’s been great as a parent to watch her progress … It’s a tribute to her hard work and dedication … You’ve got to watch the game (carefully), because if you don’t, you will miss all her (contributions) … She’s a tremendous leader.”
ALI PROVOST, VUHS JUNIOR. NOTES: Consistent, hard-working shooting guard who averaged 14.6 points per game … Reached double figures in 20 of 21 starts … Added averages of 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals … Has three-point shooting range, and this winter showed improved willingness and ability to attack the basket, earning almost seven free throws a game … Good team defender with a knack for picking off passes.
WALLER’S QUOTES: “She got the other team in foul trouble. She really drove to the basket … She can create her own shot … She can drive, she can get into the lane and draw fouls, can shoot from the outside, and her ball fakes are improved … She’s a stronger kid than she was a year ago … She reads passing lanes.” 
KAYLA WHITTEMORE, MUHS SENIOR. NOTES: Again brought terrific defense and rebounding and tons of intangibles to the Tigers this winter … Led the team with 8.5 rebounds per game from the small forward position, and averaged 6.2 points … Asked to cover opponents’ best opposing guard or forward, effectively used her strength and quickness to slow them down … Set the tone as the Tigers successfully dealt with adversity this winter.
ATKINS’ QUOTES: “I always assigned Kayla to the player we needed to shut down … She’s a solid all-around basketball player … She led by example … Kayla’s always working hard on the court … Kayla was the heart of our team this year.”
NICOLE BROWN, MUHS JUNIOR. NOTES: Dangerous low-post scorer who added the ability to put the ball on the floor this winter … Scored 9.5 points per game and sparked wins vs. OV and Mount Abe with 19-point performances … Averaged 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and improved her individual and team defense.
ATKINS’ QUOTES: “Nicole offered a solid presence in the paint … Nicole has solid low-post footwork … She has great speed end-to-end and works hard … Defensively, she was a vocal leader on the court … Nicole’s offensive game moved further away from the basket this year with strong moves from the high post.”
SHANNA GEBO, MOUNT ABE SENIOR. NOTES: Versatile player whose responsibilities ranged from low-post offense and defense to ballhandling … Excellent defender and athletic rebounder who averaged 7.0 boards per game and hauled down 18 at OV … Helped across the board with 7.0 points, 2.5 steals and 2.5 assists … Upbeat, vocal leader and captain.
LAROSE’S QUOTES: “All year long she gave us 110 percent … She never left anything for later … She’s got such leaping ability, and really good hands and anticipation … Shanna is very athletic … We asked her to fill a lot of different roles … She did a really good job in the leadership department.”
KRISTY PINKHAM, OV JUNIOR. NOTES: Quick, strong guard who led OV with 8.8 points per game … Tenacious defender who contributed across the board with averages of 2.6 rebounds, 1.75 assists and 2.0 steals … Solid outside shooter and ballhandler with the ability to finish on the break.
COUNTER’S QUOTES: “Kristy is a warrior … She comes to compete every day. I’m glad she’s on my team … She’s really starting to assume a positive leadership role … Kristy is willing to take that shot at crunch time … She just has true competitive spirit.”
MICHELLE LEFEBVRE, OV SENIOR. NOTES: Four-year varsity player held back by injuries in previous winters who enjoyed a productive senior season at forward … Averaged 6.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals … Strong rebounder and defender with a nice touch around the basket.
COUNTER’S QUOTES: “She really stepped it up this year. She got healthy and started playing the way she was capable of playing … She got some very tough rebounds for us … The thing that impressed me the most about her was on the defensive side … She’s a great kid.”
K.C. COUSINEAU, MOUNT ABE JUNIOR. NOTES: Junior center who went from a bench-warmer to a key starter in the second half of the season … Led Mount Abe with 8.4 rebounds per game and averaged 4.0 points despite seeing few minutes early on … Smart defender and passer who averaged 1.9 steals and 1.8 assists … Recorded 9 points, 11 boards in Eagles’ final regular-season game, and 8 points, 14 rebounds, in their playoff win.
LAROSE’S QUOTES: “She reads things in there extremely well … I was very impressed with a lot of the passes she made … Around the basket, she was without question my best offensive player … K.C. was certainly my most improved player, and in the second half of the season she became one of our top scorers.”
Sports reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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