Sports

Winter Sports Report: Otter Valley boys’ basketball

BRANDON — A new coach is at the helm of the Otter Valley boys’ basketball team, and with that, a new team. Literally.
When it comes to varsity experience, head coach Mike Stark may start five juniors who have never played a varsity game. The team graduated nine seniors last year, and seven-year coach Greg Hughes stepped down in the off-season to spend more time with his family. There are only two returning players from varsity, and neither started last year.
But they have company. There are seven juniors on this OV team, plus seniors Logan Trombley and Julian Lopez, and sophomores Elijah Tucker-Bryant and Hayden Bernhardt. And Stark says they are hungry.
“This group has the ability to surprise some people,” he said. “Some of them feel like they should’ve been on varsity last year, so they want to go out and prove themselves.”
But even with a team stacked with seniors, last year’s squad only made it to the first round of playoffs, losing to Fair Haven and finishing the season with an 11-9 record. Stark said if his team goes .500 this season, he’ll be happy. And while he doesn’t rule out an even better record, he’s cautiously optimistic with an eye toward the playoffs.
“That’s our goal,” he said. “I’d like to say this year, but we have to be realistic. We want to start building the program a little more.
“We have some really good shooters,” he added. “Our goal this year is to run and gun, shoot and put up the ball a lot.”
This year’s team is not particularly tall, but they are fast.
“We are pretty quick and that’s the way we want to play up and down the court. That’s definitely our strength. We’re not very big, but we’re fast.”
Stark, 35, is no stranger to OV, having coached the junior varsity boys for the last six years. A Castleton graduate, he has worked for the Department for Children and Families for the last decade as a family services worker, licensing foster homes and investigating reports of child abuse.
Stark lives in Pittsford with his wife, Jaime, and children Reese, 6, and Porter, 4.
A native of the Northeast Kingdom, Stark played high school basketball at St. Johnsbury Academy. After moving to the Rutland area, he also coached middle and high school boys’ basketball, where he was an assistant coach. He is also a certified basketball official.
Stark said he is very excited to see what this team can do and says the boys’ dedication and enthusiasm for the sport is key.
“Basketball is their sport,” he said. “They’re willing to be here. It’s definitely a passion of theirs. They’re willing to put in the time and effort.”
Not to mention two recent scrimmages, where Stark said he saw some encouraging play.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I’m excited, these guys are excited. They’ve been waiting to play  a varsity game.”

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