The Marble Valley League has ruled Division IV girls basketball with an iron fist for the last eight seasons.
This past winter, Times Argus Player of the Year Alisha Celley and the Cabot Huskies nearly ended that Southern Vermont stranglehold.
Crashing the Barre Auditorium party for the first time in 13 years, Cabot threatened to pull off the shocker of the season during a 43-39 semifinal loss to eventual champ MSJ. Celley scored 19 points and was a nonstop nuisance against the 22-1 Mounties, who wound up cruising to a 50-36 championship victory over West Rutland.
The fact that Cabot was even competitive at the Aud stunned most fans. The Mounties’ only loss was against D-III runner-up Windsor, and few predicted the Huskies could hang against the three-time defending champs.
“ I think people were not expecting us to keep it that close, but we wanted it and I wasn’t surprised,” Celley said. “At the start I was a little bit nervous just because it was a new setting and it was a big game. But once I got settled I wasn’t nervous anymore.”
To put Cabot’s 16-7 season in perspective, four years ago Celley made varsity as an eighth-grader and the Huskies’ 0-20 campaign ended with a 79-11 defeat against Proctor. The following year Cabot finished at 3-16 after suffering a 67-28 playdown loss to MSJ. After going 7-12 two years ago and 9-12 last year, Cabot recorded its first winning season in 11 years. The Huskies also won their first playoff game in 11 years, earning a 38-25 playdown victory over Blue Mountain before edging Arlington in the quarterfinals, 44-42.
“My favorite experience was going to the Aud, and beating Arlington was huge,” Celley said. “We went down there for soccer season and lost to them, so it was nice to have them come up to us and beat them for basketball.”
Celley is also a soccer standout and this spring she decided to play softball as well. She remembers sprouting up at an early age, emerging as a natural candidate for power forward for basketball.
“I was always tall and people were like, ‘You should play,’” she said. “I started playing in elementary school and I started playing AAU in sixth grade and ended up really liking the sport.”
After competing for the Central Vermont Lady Warriors and the Orange Crush in AAU, Celley moved on to play for her current team, called the Vermont Sting. A handful of Vermont’s smallest schools are allowed to recruit eighth-graders in order to field a complete varsity team, so Celley began her high school career when she was still in middle school.
“It was a little intimidating,” Celley said. “But I was always really tall for my age and I was the tallest one on my team, so that helped.”
Even though Cabot’s combined student population for boys and girls is roughly 50 students, the Huskies put together two solid soccer seasons last fall and enjoyed more accomplishments on the basketball court.
“We ended up having a good-sized team,” Celley said. “We had a couple inexperience players, but we made it work and we did really well and our season was really successful.”
Celley closed our her high school career with 1,388 career points and is the all-time leading scorer in girls program history. Last year she became the 13th Huskies player to join the 1,000-point club and trails only Billy Waller (1,692 points) in career scoring.
“It was a goal of mine but I didn’t know it was really reachable until my 10thgrade year – and then I felt that I could do it.” Celley said of the milestone.
The 6- foot standout was 15 points shy of 1,000 entering last years playdown against Danville and she ended up scoring 16 that night. On the girls’ side, she joined former Huskies Stephanie Caffin Bushby (1,000-plus points, Anne Domey (1,006), Roz Vara (1,142), Ashley Marcotte (1,185) and Dorothy Pastor (1,260). Past Cabot boys to reach the elusive mark are Ron Sicely (1,001), Garret Bean (1,009), Cameron North (1,248), Phil Walbridge (1,371), Ian Ackermann (1,199) and Jimmy Ackermann (1,343).
Celley credits her recent achievements to a sneaky drop- step moves in the paint and improved freethrow shooting. Of her 1,388 points, she estimates that almost all were scored around the paint or from the foul line.
“There were maybe three or four (3-pointers) sprinkled in there,” she said. “I drop-stepped a lot and this year I improved a lot with my fouls shots, which was needed because I got fouled a lot. Every practice we would do a drill two or three times of taking practice shots after we had run, so we were tired.”
Continued work on second chance opportunities also paid off for Celley, who towered over many younger players. It was a pleasant role reversal from when she was an eighth-grader playing against seniors.
“We worked on putbacks in practice,” Celley said. “We had multiple defenders and our coach would put the ball up and you’d have to box out and put it back through contact. I definitely think my height is an advantage. And I consider myself to be fairly strong, especially in my legs, so that’s helpful.”
The Huskies instantly gained respect this past winter with victories over South Royalton, Sharon, Chelsea, Whitchester and Twinfield for a 5-0 start. Cabot’s star post player kept her team in the hunt during two close losses against D-III Williamstown, and a late-season victory over Chelsea gave the Huskies more swagger entering playoffs.
An Aud run still appeared improbable for Cabot considering the Marble Valley League’s recent dominance at the historic Barre gym. Proctor rattled off three titles in a row prior to MSJ’s three- peat, and before that Poultney prevailed in 2011 and West Rutland triumphed in 2010.
“I knew that we wanted to go (to the Aud), but I didn’t know if we would make it,” Celley said. “But then we kept winning and it became more of a reality. And then it happened.”
The Huskies will face a massive scoring void next year, though Celley is confident they’ll hold their own without her.
“I hope that Kiley (Currier) and Evelyn (Hislop) can work together under the basket and some of our guards can shoot some more and help us win,” she said.
Celley will take her game 26 miles northeast to Lyndon State College, where she’ll compete for a Hornets team that went 11-13 last year.
“I went to a couple of their games this year and I’ve always watched some of their basketball,” Celley said. “I’ve met all the girls and they seem nice and really welcoming, so I’m excited to get the opportunity.”
According to Cabot coach Devin Barber, Celley’s dedication and raw talent will take her far.
“ She is a pleasure to coach,” he said. “She works on her game constantly.”
Jayme Ducharme Williamstown Senior
The four- year varsity player averaged 14 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Devils, who turned a rebuilding season into a 15-7 campaign. Even when facing triple- and doubleteams, Ducharme managed to be coach Sid Sweet’s most consistent player. She scored 16 points in the fourth quarter against Littleton (N.H.), finishing with 28 points and sparking a come-from-behind victory. Ducharme did much her damage inside throughout the season, often freeing up open looks for her teammates around the perimeter.
“She brings her hard hat to every game,” Sweet said. “And as an undersized post player, she had to work harder and outhustle every opponent. She scored 1,083 points in her career, aided only by 28 three-pointers, so most of her points were earned down low. She was able outmuscle smaller players and could hit the fade over taller defenders.”
Emma Olmstead U-32 Junior
After taking her sophomore year off, Olmstead returned to the court for her junior season and provided an intimidating interior presence for the Raiders. She immediately boosted the Raiders, developing into a player who was able to execute both on and off the court for coach Travis Paquet.
“Emma helped inside immensely,” Paquet said. “She works extremely hard to improve her game and does whatever is asked of her with no grief. She loves to be inside where her shotblocking and rebounding can alter a game. She’s long and big and I think at times that was intimidating to other players.”
Becca Whipple Hazen Senior
When it comes to broadening a player’s game, coaches look for prospects who can be molded and evolve over the course of their careers. Whipple, primarily a 3-point shooter early in her high school days, put the work in and became one of coach Travis Hill’s more well-rounded players as the season played out. The Mountain Division Player of the Year finished with 1,005 career points while giving the Wildcats lots of legitimacy in Division III.
“We had a couple injuries and a player change school, so Becca’s role over the course of the season changed,” Hill said. “She put in a lot of time both in practice and individually with myself in order to improve. We would have really struggled without her. We had a string of games early on where she had 25 against Peoples, 17 against Lamoille and then 27 against Williamstown. She was a great leader for us and a dream to coach.”
Katie Lafaille Northfield Senior
There were many key ingredients behind the Marauders’ most successful season in 11 years, and Lafaille was at the top of the list. Voted the top defensive player in the Mountain Division, she was also one of the area’s most dangerous 3-point threats. Lafaille was a strong post player too, and opposing coaches used terms like “quick hands” and “good positioning” as well as “tough rebounder” to describe the Northfield forward.
Northfield was at its best during a 10- game winning streak early in the season, knocking off tough teams like Hazen, Chelsea, Peoples Academy and Stowe. The Marauders later capped a season sweep over the Wolves and won their first playoff game in five years before nearly upsetting Leland & Gray in the quarterfinals.
Emma Buonanno Stowe Senior
The Raiders standout wound up with 1,075 points over four years and makes a strong case as the area’s top three-sport athlete because of her soccer and lacrosse skills. Her high school career also coincided with the revival of girls basketball at Stowe, which lacked the numbers to field a team for several years.
Impressive speed and a high-level passing sense were two of Buonanno’s greatest strengths, triggering quality victories over Northfield (15-7), Cabot (14-7), Enosburg (11-11), Peoples Academy (10-11) and Hazen (8-13). Buonanno routinely proved she could take over a game single-handedly, recording a rare triple-double against Harwood with 21 points, 10 steals and 10 rebounds.
Gabrielle Cicio, Northfield
Beronica Tatro-Germain, Peoples
Reilly Flye, U-32
Emily Grady, Randolph
Kiana Johnson, Chelsea
Sara Walker, Oxbow; Alex Geising, Oxbow; Kayleigh Trojanowski, Oxbow; Whitney Renaud, Spaulding; Lauren Folland, Spaulding; Alexis Allen, Chelsea; Grace Kay, Chelsea; Jayden Hudson, U-32; Katie Morrissette, U-32; Mary Wilcox, Montpelier; Sarah Rose, Montpelier; Jenna Sprague, Randolph; Lucy Kelley, Randolph; Lydia Reed, Northfield; Destiny Keene, Williamstown; Hattie Moriarty, Stowe; Letty Hill, Hazen; Kylie Currier, Cabot.