The football state championships will delight a huge crowd at Rutland’s Alumni Field this Saturday but peoples’ thoughts are already well into the high school basketball season.
High school winter sports are arguably the most important of the school year. They bond communities and sustain our mental health through long, cold, dark winter months. While darkness falls well before 5 p.m. local sports get us off the couch and insulate us like a warm blanket.
High school boys and girls basketball teams will begin practice a week later than usual this year, with the opening day of workouts set for Dec. 2 and the first games beginning a couple weeks later.
Here’s a quick look around the county boys’ teams to whet your whistle:
Rutland High School made its school record third-straight trip to the Division I finals and will have another test of its “next man up” credo after graduating four starters, including player of the Year Jamison Evans.
The sole returning starter is junior guard Evan Pockette, who began to blossom with regular minutes last year.
Rutland’s 43-game win streak is gone but help is on the way from the JV team where players like sophomore Jevan Valente will likely see significant playing time and transfers from MSJ will help. They include 3-point shooter Maddox Traynor and scrappy Joey Giancola.
With their Keefe Gym floor under repair, the Raiders will begin the season with College of St. Joseph as their home digs.
Another former Mountie, Logan Starling, has transferred to Proctor where 3-pointers will fill the air when he joins a backcourt that includes Brennon Crossmon and Joe Valerio.
Where does this leave MSJ, the defending Division II champ?
Searching for a new identity. The Mounties graduated the keystones of their title, Leo Carranza and Logan Montilla (plus Keaton Wright-Chapman) but return second-year big man Jake Williams and the 6-foot-5 sophomore will likely be asked to take a much larger role in the offense.
MSJ has other key pieces back in Andre Prunty, Chance Passmore, Keegan Chadburn and Cole Blanchard.
The county will continue to be rich in Division IV, where Poultney, Proctor and West Rutland return solid rosters.
Poultney, which lost in the finals, graduated Eli Rosario and Levi Haviland but gets back speedy guard Levi Allen, who was out with an injury last season. He will join a squad that includes guard Caden Capman and forward Heith Mason.
Proctor will be looking for inside scoring to complement its deep backcourt. The Phantoms lost in last year’s semis. West Rutland will be hoping to take another two steps after falling to Poultney in the 2019 quarterfinals. Westside returns all but two of its 2018-19 roster, including Kyle Laughlin, Tyler Serrani and Liam Beaulieu.
There will be different looks around D-II where Rutland County teams remain very competitive. Fair Haven, where there was a season-long soap opera last year revolving around one player, looks to have calmer environs this winter as well as a legit title contender.
Zack Ellis, Kohlby Murray, Aubrey Ramey, Andrew Lanthier and Joey Gannon, all logging a lot of starting minutes in 2018-19, are among those back for the Slaters.
Mill River, with a strong returning roster that includes Aidan Botti, Tyler Regula, Will Farwell and Tyler Shelvey, will be one of the Fair Haven’s chief rivals. The Minutemen lost to MSJ in last year’s semis.
Otter Valley is in transition after building a strong presence in the D-II picture. OV graduated much of its roster and has former JV coach Michael Stark taking over for Greg Hughes.
If you’re wondering about what the D-I North will look like: Division I semifinalist Rice returns Leo Chakin and Michel Ndayishimiye from its starting lineup; semifinalist Mount Mansfield graduated six seniors; and defending state champion St. Johnsbury returns just about everyone save for star guard Alex Carlisle.
But for now, go enjoy Saturday’s three state football finals.
It might not be a bad idea to pack along that blanket, too.