In girls’ hoop, Mount Abe pressure overwhelms VUHS

VERGENNES — Despite the loss of two starters to injuries before the season, the Vergennes Union High School girls’ basketball team has been holding its own this winter.
The young Commodores entered Friday’s game against visiting Mount Abraham with a 3-3 mark, and Coach Billy Waller has been happy with his team’s growth.
But a veteran Eagle team with designs on a Division II playoff run meant a challenge for VUHS, one especially difficult because Waller had planned to rely on injured junior Ciara McClay and sophomore Emily Rooney to handle the ball.
And the Eagles, who have a 5-3 record against a tough schedule, deploy a devastating full-court press and aggressive half-court man and zone defenses.
The result was predictable: The Commodores turned the ball over repeatedly and fell behind by 14-1 after one period and 28-7 at the half. Eagle Coach Connie LaRose called off the press and went deep into her bench in the second half, and 11 Eagles scored in a 52-27 victory, led by 20 points from senior all-star forward Emma Carter and six from junior forward Jalen Cook.
Waller credited the Eagles.
“When they play unselfishly and they fly around, they’re really good,” Waller said. “There’s reason for them to think they can be the best team in the division.”
And Waller praised his team for holding it together under the onslaught, and, as he said they have all winter, trying to play the game correctly.
“Even when we were getting beat tonight pretty good there hasn’t been that disappointing moment where I feel like I’m not getting through to them. Even then they just want to do well,” he said. “And in the second half, admittedly it was against some of their other players, they were trying to do the right thing … They’re a lot of smart kids, and you can see them starting to put it together a little bit.”
LaRose’s team was coming off three straight losses, two to D-I teams and one to fellow D-I contender U-32, and an erratic practice schedule.
“We just haven’t had breathing room since we started. Weather has created havoc,” LaRose said.
Friday’s game allowed the Eagles to use what LaRose said were tweaks to their press, and it looked like that work paid off. She said senior guards Abby Mansfield (five steals) and Emma LaRose (three steals) at the top of the press, in particular, played their roles well.
“Emma LaRose and Abby did a nice job of getting their ballhandlers where we wanted them with that press,” LaRose said.
She was also happy to have a chance to empty the bench, and senior guard Vanessa Dykstra, junior forward Cora Funke, and junior guards Molly Murray and Jasmine Gile all came in and chipped in four points.
“That’s been a long time coming where I could get more of them in. We’ve been going seven, eight deep, but when you carry 13 it’s really nice to get a chance to get those kids some minutes,” LaRose said. “They did some nice things offensively.”
In the first quarter Carter scored 12 of her points and Cook added a pair to account for all of the Eagle points. Sophomore Sophie Hatch’s free throw put VUHS on the board.
In the second, junior guard Kylie Comeau converted an offensive rebound at 5:50 for the first VUHS hoop, and Comeau also assisted junior guard Morgan Lynk’s transition hoop that made it 18-5 at 4:30.
But four Eagles scored in a 10-0 run to settle matters. Cook converted in the lane, Murray hit a jumper, Gile went coast-to-coast with a steal, and Funke hit twice inside to make it 28-5. VUHS senior forward Norah Deming’s late putback made it 28-7 at the half; Deming finished with eight points, adding four rebounds and two blocks.
The Eagles opened the second half with another 10-0 run, with Carter scoring twice, and the Mount Abe starters passed the baton to the bench.
For the Eagles, Mansfield tied Carter for the team lead with five rebounds as the Eagles earned a 32-28 edge on the boards. Senior forward Emma Radler led with three assists. Radler, Murray and Carter added three steals apiece.
LaRose would like to see a better effort rebounding and said the team has a tendency to pick up too many fouls. And a dash more patience wouldn’t hurt, either, she said. But she sees plenty of progress during the tough opening month.
“We’re coming,” she said. “We’re coming together.”
For VUHS Brianna Vanderway scored four points, grabbed seven boards and blocked two shots; Comeau scored four points; and junior forwards Emily Gosliga and Emma Bryant added three apiece.
 The Commodores were coming off a 34-31 win at Middlebury on Wednesday. The Tigers led at the half, 19-13, with senior standout Keagan Dunbar (27 points in all) scoring all 19 of their points despite double-teams and what Waller called strong defense from Bryant, Comeau and Lynk.
The 0-6 Tigers still led, 29-21, entering the fourth quarter. But the Commodores outscored them by 13-2 in the period, limiting MUHS to a Taylor Sylvester hoop in the final minute.
Vanderway scored the late go-ahead basket, and Bryant added two free throws to clinch the win.
Bryant, Emily Gosliga and Kate Gosliga all scored eight points; Hatch chipped in four in the fourth quarter, and Vanderway had 12 rebounds.
Waller said the Commodores have had contributions from up and down the lineup, and he is pleased that a team that will return all its rotation players next winter is working so hard to improve.
“I don’t know how many wins we’ll get this year, because our league is really tough,” Waller said. “But they’re exceeding where they really should be right now. And I feel like there’s a chance for them to grow into really being a better team.”

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