Commodores girls’ basketball move to 5-1

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team on Monday night ended their non-league schedule about as well as could have been hoped when December began — with a 55-23 victory over visiting Harwood that allowed the Commodores to finish 2015 at 5-1.
But Coach Billy Waller said the Commodores know their remaining games will come against their Lake Division foes, five of whom are Division I teams, even if Middlebury and Missisquoi have yo-yoed between D-I and D-II in recent years. And the other two are D-II powers Mount Abraham and Milton, who have losing records so far against tough schedules.
The Commodores also know, he said, four of their wins have come against winless Harwood and Montpelier.
But, Waller added, context is important: Those wins vs. the Highlanders and Solons have come by an average of 36 points and have allowed him to develop his bench players, VUHS is just one win shy of 2015’s total, and many of the same players in the past have not succeeded against the same teams.
The Commodores are better, he said, first listing his four senior forwards. 
“Just two years ago against the same group of teams we went 0-4 with many of these kids. So what it tells me is that many of these kids, who we brought up when they were awfully young and maybe not ready, is they’ve improved,” Waller said. “Tamara (Aunchman), Nikki (Salley), Sarah (Poirier-Thayer), they’re better basketball players as seniors. Bri Gebo, she’s a much better basketball player.”
Then he added junior guards Shay Pouliot, who scored a game-high 15 points on Monday and sank a buzzer-beater vs. Winooski two weeks before, and Caroline Johnston, who chipped in a game-high five assists vs. Harwood.
“Their ballhandling, for both of them, is just way better,” he said. “Shay’s able to get to the basket. Caroline’s able to get to the basket.”
Freshman guard Ciara McClay, who has rotated in the backcourt with the juniors, has also played well and scored nine points vs. Harwood.
“The McClay girl has obviously added some energy and some enthusiasm,” Waller said. “She came out and helped set the tone for us early.”
Waller said his substitutes have all proven useful: Senior Melina Myers and junior Alyson Gebo have both shot well from the outside; junior forwards Rebecca Maloy, Abigael Dobson and Lily Russell have earned minutes through effort in practice, and junior Breanna De Smit’s versatility has made her valuable.
“What this schedule has done for them is show them, OK, if I work really hard in practice, I might be able to bring some of that into the game,” Waller said.
On Monday, nine Commodores scored in their 55-23 win over the 0-5 Highlanders. All five starters — Salley, Aunchman, Poirier-Thayer, McClay and Pouliot — scored in the first quarter, in which the Commodores forced three Harwood turnovers in the first 70 seconds and took a 6-0 lead on hoops by Salley, McClay and Aunchman. Pouliot scored seven in the period, which ended at 17-5, VUHS, after Harwood’s Lauryn Green sank an improbable three at the buzzer.
At the half, it was 30-13. The second quarter highlight came on back-to-back fast-break hoops by Aunchman, both set up by Johnston. McClay also scored twice in the period, during which Waller began substituting freely.
VUHS switched from man-to-man to a 3-2 zone in the second half, further baffling the Highlanders, who committed five straight turnovers to open the third period. Aunchman (10 points, six rebounds) scored four in the quarter, Salley (six points, six rebounds, seven steals) picked off several passes at the back of the zone, and Johnston capped the period with two driving buckets to make it 46-17.
In the fourth, consecutive hoops by Maloy in the post sparked VUHS, which built the lead to 55-17 before Green hit another three at 1:25 and Harwood’s Caitlyn Marino followed with the final three of her team-high 11 points.
Maloy, Johnston and Poirier-Thayer each scored four for VUHS, and Gebo and Aunchman contributed three steals apiece. Harwood finished with 36 turnovers, while VUHS had 20. Counting team and deadball rebounds, VUHS prevailed on the boards, 39-27.
Waller said the Commodores have shown the maturity to remain focused on improving in practice regardless of results.
“We know the schedule down the road can be a little daunting, but having said that we are ready to be challenged. We’re ready to take that next step. I can tell by the way they’re practicing,” he said.
As for improving on last winter’s win total, Waller is confident in the Commodores’ defense, and said it will come down to offensive efficiency.
“What it’s going to take is belief, first of all, that you can do it, and then execution of the plays. We’re not going to get as many transition buckets as we got tonight,” Waller said. “When we set up in our offense, can we get a quality look? And if we get that quality look, can we knock down that shot? I think our defense is going to play (well) no matter who we play.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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