Dunbar leads Independent team — again: Tiger junior tops girls’ all-star squad

ADDISON COUNTY — We have a three-peat on the 2017 Addison Independent Girls’ Basketball All-Star Team.
After sharing the honor as a freshman and owning it outright as a sophomore, Middlebury Union High School junior Keagan Dunbar once again demonstrated the all-around game and the competitiveness to earn the nod as the Addison Independent Player of the Year.
Dunbar helped Coach Jen Heath’s Tigers to the best local regular season record, 13-7, but didn’t do it alone: Two of her teammates join her on the Independent squad.
Despite injuries, Coach Connie LaRose’s Mount Abraham team also finished with 13 wins after a first-round Division II playoff victory, and the Eagles also split two games with the Tigers. Three Eagles, two juniors and a sophomore, made the Independent team.
Coach Billy Waller’s Vergennes group got off to a fast start, but a couple of injuries and the tougher Lake Division slate slowed them down, resulting in an eight-win season that was still an improvement over 2016. Two Commodores are honored here.
Coach Steve Keith’s Otter Valley unit played just about everybody close, especially because of the Otters’ dedication to defense. But a challenging schedule — five D-I games plus another eight against teams that reached Barre in D-II, III or IV — helped limit OV to seven wins. Two Otters earned spots on the Independent squad.
Selections were made based on observation, statistics and consultation with the coaches. Congratulations to the following:
KEAGAN DUNBAR, MUHS JUNIOR, PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Notes: Skilled, hard-working, determined guard at both ends of the court who averaged 20.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.9 steals and 1.5 assists per game … Has a quick release, excellent ballhandling ability and three-point shooting range, and is unsurpassed at finishing lefthanded in transition … Scored her 1,000th point this winter and extended her own single-game program record with a 37-point game vs. Milton … Effective one-on-one defensively and particularly dangerous in the press … Voted a team tri-captain as a junior on a senior-heavy team.  
Heath’s Quotes: “Keagan had another great season for us. She’s definitely maturing as a player … She sees the court. She can score. She plays good defense … On our press she got a lot of steals and converted those into layups … She’s improved every year. She works in the offseason. She works during the season … There’s not a better player that I’ve seen this year … She’s not only a good player, she’s a good teammate. She helped the younger players a lot … She is a coach out there for us … She loves the game of basketball and loves being around her team.”
EMMA CARTER, MT. ABE JUNIOR. Notes: Strong, skilled three-year starter at forward for the Eagles who led the team with averages of 21.5 points — shooting 39 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the line — and 8.8 rebounds  … Improved her help defense and chipped in 2.8 steals and 1.3 blocks per game … Has three-point shooting range and the ability to slash to the basket … Elected a team captain and became a team leader … Works hard to improve her skills and fitness … Reached the 1,000-point plateau this winter and dropped 40 points on the Tigers.
LaRose’s Quotes: “When she went to the free throw line it was money most of the time … She becomes that second help against pressure defense, too … She almost became another guard in those situations … Her court awareness and her recognition of what was happening out there defensively was greatly improved this year … She has an incredible work ethic … Across the board she’s just grown so much in all ways … She’s clearly one of the better athletes in my time that I’ve coached.”
GABRIELA POALINO, OV JUNIOR. Notes: Relentless rebounder and defender who led the Otters with 9.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game while averaging a local best 1.8 blocked shots… Scored effectively in the post, on the offensive boards or with a mid-range jump shot despite becoming the focal point of opposing teams’ defenses … Passed well out of the double-teams she saw as the season progressed … Strong, athletic and quick, and plays hard.
Keith’s Quotes: “She had a terrific year overall … They were throwing double teams at her, coming down at her from the guard spots. They were making life tough for her … She’s very smart, very driven … She really understands spacing … She played real well on help defense … She came over and made some really nice plays … She could defend real well in the post … She’s a great kid … She’s a pleasure to be around, a pleasure to coach.”
XZAVIA BERRY, VUHS SENIOR. Notes: Came into her own as a first-time starter in the middle and led VUHS with 8.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.75 blocked shots per games … Athletic player who grabbed between 16 and 18 rebounds several times … Effective defender who was fearless taking charges … Played well with her back to the basket and showed nice touch in the post, particularly off the glass … Blended well with new teammates after transferring from Mount Abe.
Waller’s Quotes: “People figured out pretty quickly that’s where we wanted to get the ball a lot. She had some big games for us … She played some of her better games against the D-I competition …  She made the right decisions most of the time whether she should go to the basket or find someone else … Nobody got off her feet better than she did … She’s not afraid of contact. She embraces the physical game.”
PAYTON BUXTON, MUHS SENIOR. Notes: Athletic two-way player whose averages of 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds from the guard spot were both second on team and whose 62 steals, 2.9 per game, edged Dunbar for the team high … Good ballhandler who made smart decisions … Could finish a the basket and hit from behind the arc, winning the D-I and II three-point contest at the annual Senior Classic with a record 17 makes in a minute … Tri-captain and four-year varsity letter-winner.
Heath’s Quotes: “She did take care of the ball … Payton is a great all-around player … She’s very unselfish … The 95 rebounds, I think, is pretty impressive … She plays great defense … She could shoot the three, and she could drive, and she passed well … We’ll miss Payton a lot next year … She really keeps her cool … I can’t think of a time I saw her flustered … Payton’s just a great kid.”
EMMA LAROSE, MT. ABE JUNIOR. Notes: Skilled and reliable ballhandler who averaged a local best 3.9 assists and just 2.0 turnovers a game as the Eagles’ point guard … Preferred to pass rather than shoot and averaged just 2.5 points, but hit several big baskets late in games … Smart, active defender who averaged more than a steal and a deflection a game and 1.8 rebounds … Co-captain and team leader.
LaRose’s Quotes: “She says, ‘My job is to get the ball to the players who can score’ … She grew in her own confidence … She just grew and grew in not wanting to get rid of the ball so quickly, moving the ball quickly if that’s what the situation dictated, but if nobody was open she could deal with that pressure defense … Defensively, she’s smart. She’s got a great basketball IQ. She’s at the right place at the right time … She works extremely hard both at practice and at games.”
JALEN COOK, MT. ABE SOPHOMORE. Notes: Forward who was capable of scoring in bunches and averaged 8.6 points, second best for the Eagles … Contributed across the board with 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.9 blocked shots and a steal per game … Could step outside and hit from behind the arc or attack the basket … Versatile, long-armed defender with a nose for the ball.
LaRose’s Quotes: “She’s a very good athlete. She’s going to get better … Her shooting range has improved a lot since a year ago. She can hit the three … She’s got a quick first step. She can get to the rim. She worked hard at that this season … The long arms, the quick hands, the athleticism, they make her a steal threat every time she’s in a one-on-one situation … Overall, I think she made good decisions.”
JULIA LEE, OV SOPHOMORE. Notes: Skilled second-year starter at guard and small forward who was second for OV with 7.8 points per game … Could hit from outside or finish on the break … Added 3.5 rebounds, 1.75 assists and 1.5 steals per game … Often defended opponents’ toughest counterpart … Had the ballhandling ability to back up at point guard.
Keith’s Quotes: “She was asked to do a lot on top of scoring … Julia was probably our top defender, our toughest on-ball defender … As the season progressed her three-point shooting got stronger … She liked to push the ball in transition and could attack off it … She got us into the offense and could handle the ball out front if she needed to … She was good with the basketball.”
CIARA McCLAY, VUHS SOPHOMORE. Notes: Smart player who was second for VUHS in points per game (6.4) and total assists with 35 and led in steals with 2.6 per contest … Good ballhandler when needed to fill in at the point … Increased her scoring average as the season progressed … Had quick hands on defense and was strong enough to defend bigger opponents.
Waller’s Quotes: “She really was our second-best offensive option … She had a run of scoring between eight and 10 points a game for seven or eight games in a row, and when she didn’t it was only because the other team put their best guard defender on her … If I said this kid is hurting us offensively, I need to put you on her for a while, she rose to that … She’s the one who works hardest in getting into the lane for us.”
LILY SMITH, MUHS SENIOR. Notes: Posted modest stats, but earned recognition here with tough, relentless one-on-one defense, on and off the ball … Notably held the Eagles’ Carter and North Country’s Carley Giroux in check in back-to-back games to close the regular season, Carter scoring eight points after torching MUHS earlier in the winter … Good ballhander who hit some key shots for VUHS while averaging 3.2 points and 1.7 rebounds. 
Heath’s Quotes: “You saw what she did against Emma Carter, and then when we played North Country she did a really good job against their best guard … Lily was one of the best defenders I saw no matter who we played … I think there’s not a lot of kids who want to do that … She was very valuable … She did hit big shots when the other team would go on a run.”

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