Eagle girls’ hoop surges past Otter Valley

BRANDON — Using pressure defense and transition scoring to spark two decisive runs, the veteran Mount Abraham Union High School girls’ basketball team defeated a young and scrappy Otter Valley squad, 59-41, in Brandon.
Senior forward Emma Carter (27 points) and junior forward Jalen Cook (17) did most of the finishing for the 2-0 Eagles, but a team-wide effort on the press helped force 26 OV turnovers.
And those turnovers figured prominently in an 18-0 Eagle run that spanned the first and second quarters and erased an early 9-5 OV lead, and a decisive 11-0 surge that closed the third quarter.
That run made it 46-27 after the 1-1 Otters had climbed back to within eight points after outscoring the Eagles, 9-3 in the first four minute of the second half.
Those OV points came courtesy of a sophomore Julia Eastman hoop and her two clever assists to classmate Alia Edmunds under the hoop, and senior Gabby Poalino’s three-pointer. Poalino led OV with 11 points and, as always, rebounded well, while Eastman scored 10.
Carter said defense made the difference for the Eagles, and should continue to do so, citing three senior guards as well as Cook for their work on the press.
“This year we definitely have the athletes to run the floor, and we can be more active on the top of our press, especially, with Jalen Cook, Abby Mansfield, Emma LaRose, Vanessa (Dykstra), who are all athletic and quick,” Carter said. “I also think when we get steals up top it gets us going.”
Coach Connie LaRose said the Eagles are still experimenting with different looks on the press and on defense — they played most of the game in a 1-3-1 zone after sticking with man-to-man in their two-point opening home win over fellow Division II contender U-32.
But she sees some of the tinkering beginning to pay off.
“We had flashes, where it was like, oh, wow, we got it now,” LaRose said, adding, “They got the press working right, and when that happens then we can be tough.”
First-year OV Coach Kelly Trayah saw things to like despite the setback, citing confident shooting, the effort to get back into the game in the third period, and the fourth quarter, which OV opened with a 12-2 run to force LaRose to restore order by reinserting her starters.
Trayah noted he started only one senior, Poalino, as well as three sophomores and a freshman, Mallory Lufkin, who scored six points and played credible defense on Carter when Edmunds (six points) ran into foul trouble. And he credited the Eagles, who started five seniors, for putting the heat on his team.
“I like what I’ve seen out of my younger girls,” Trayah said. “I thought they did great. My starting five was basically playing toe-to-toe with them. Then when they put that pressure on the subs that made a difference. Their pressure is really good. That pressure was really the difference.”
OV took its early 9-5 lead on hoops from four Otters; a Poalino drive at 3:30 created that score. But with the Eagles sputtering a bit, Carter took charge, scoring 13 of the Eagles’ 15 points in the period on a variety of cuts to the hoop, short jumpers, and transition baskets; she also set up junior Molly Murray on the break for the other two points.
The Eagles opened the second period with eight unanswered points in the first minute, six from Cook. She drove to the hoop for two, and then stole the ball twice and laid in two more baskets. LaRose made it 23-9 and completed the 18-0 run with a layup after senior forward Emma Radler’s steal.
The Otters found their footing with a transition hoop from senior Katie Coolidge and a bucket inside from sophomore Livia Bernhardt set up by Eastman. Two Poalino free throws at 1:37 made it 28-18, but Cook capped her big quarter with a three-pointer and a free throw and Mount Abe led by 14 at the break.
OV’s third-period counter-surge cut the lead to 35-27 before the Eagles answered with renewed pressure and an 11-0 run in which Radler and Carter scored four points apiece and Cook had two points and two assists.
Eastman scored six points and sophomore Leah Pinkowski hit two layups, one on a strong Poalino drive-and-dish, as OV cut the lead to 48-39 with four minutes to go. But the Eagle first string re-entered and took care of business: Cook hit a three, Carter went coast-to-coast with a rebound, and Mansfield fed LaRose on the break as Mount Abe pulled away again.
LaRose said she is confident more players will contribute as the season progresses.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who can play some role somewhere,” LaRose said. “My goal is we can bring along some of these kids, the juniors who are new to this, help them find their identity in the heat of battle.”
Carter added 10 rebounds to lead the Eagles, and Mansfield added four. LaRose and Cook had four assists each, while Carter (five steals), Cook (four) and Radler and LaRose (three each) led in that department.
Afterward Carter talked about the Eagles’ depth and cohesion.
“I feel like this year we have a team that works more like a team than I’ve ever been on at Mount Abe,” Carter said. “Everybody can score the ball. Everybody can rebound. Everybody can play defense. So I’m excited about it.”
On the previous Saturday the Otters had outlasted visiting Proctor, 60-53. OV emerged from a back-and-forth first half with a 30-28 lead and maintained an advantage throughout the second half. Three Otters recorded double-doubles: Poalino (22 points, 12 rebounds), Edmunds (11 points, 14 rebounds) and Bernhardt (10 pounds, 12 boards). Mary Kingsley chipped in five assists. Maddie Flanders led Proctor with 25 points.
On Tuesday, Trayah had no complaints about how his team competed with the Eagles, who he considers to be at the top in D-II.
“With what we have, we’re building. And really, if you look at D-II, I think Mount Abe is the team to beat,” Trayah said. “If I compare that, and we’re right there, we’ve got a season to improve everything.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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