Winter sports practices are less than two weeks away, so it’s never too early to look at who to watch when the ball is thrown up for real, hopefully on Jan. 11.
The Rutland Herald had a handful of our coverage area teams reach the pinnacle last winter and there are others that could contend for that honor this winter.
Let’s take an early peek at what hoops may have in store around here.
Fair HavenLet’s start with the obvious. The Fair Haven boys and girls basketball teams combined for just one loss last winter, both winning state titles.
Whether that happens again this winter, I don’t know, but expect both clubs to be among the best Division II has to offer.
The Slater boys have arguably the best guard group in the division, with Sawyer Ramey, Zack Ellis and Kohlby Murray. They lose bigs Aubrey Ramey and Joey Gannon, but they have plenty of talent to fill those holes.
In Bob Prenevost, we trust.
The girls are similarly stacked, led by seniors Ryleigh Coloutti and Courtney Brewster. With role players like Emma Briggs, Zoey Cole, Megan and Emma Ezzo still in the fold, a 3-peat can’t be ruled out.
The Proctor boys won the Division IV title outright last year and the girls shared theirs with Mid-Vermont Christian.
Expect both to be among the best in Division IV again this winter.
Losses of Joe Valerio, Solomon Parker and Logan Starling will hurt for the Phantom boys, but having Conner McKearin and Brennon Crossmon back for their senior year helps a ton. Don’t count out Bryson Bourne taking the proverbial next step as well.
Similarly, the loss of Maddie Flanders, Lyndsey Elms and Allie Almond will sting for the Proctor girls, but with everyone else coming back, the Phantoms should be just fine.
Maggie McKearin and Rachel Stuhlmueller have plenty of big-game experience and sixth-man Hope Kelley could see a big uptick in her role this year.
The Rutland boys found themselves in unfamiliar territory last year, getting ousted in their first playoff game, but with a less-experienced nucleus, that wasn’t totally shocking.
The Raiders lose two starters this year to graduation, but the return of leading scorer Evan Pockette really helps, as does the valuable experience of Noah Depoy on the block. There are plenty of others who got varsity minutes last winter that could continue to develop this year.
The girls, who are one of four that shared the D-I title last winter, will have to find a way to replace Rylee Burgess in the post. The attention she commanded from defenses can’t be overstated.
But in terms of a guard group, this team is pretty dang good. Kendra Sabotka, Sarah Ferrara and Karsyn Bellomo is a trio I’d put up against anyone in the Southern Vermont League.
Mill RiverWe’re waiting on pins and needles to see who will lead the Mill River basketball teams this winter.
The untimely passing of boys coach Jack Rogers leaves a void on the Minutemen’s sidelines that will be tough to fill.
The girls are also looking for a new coach, and with practices less than two weeks away, we’ll know soon who will fill those roles.
On the court, the Minutemen boys graduated four starters from last year’s super-talented group. They also lose Aidan Botti, who is going to prep school this year.
Just like on the soccer pitch, Malori Carlson will be essential to the Mill River girls’ success on the hardwood, with a Minutemen group that could be young again.
West RutlandLet’s start with the Westside girls that definitely have a sour taste in their mouth with how last season ended.
The Golden Horde bowed out in the D-IV semifinals and their repeat dreams were dashed.
I know girls like Kiana Grabowski, Elizabeth Bailey and Anna Cyr are chomping at the bit to get back to that stage. The graduation losses of Jenee McGee, Kiera Pipeling, Madison Guay and Deanna Kenyon will hurt, but this team has shown time and time again that the talent in the pipeline is always ready.
Eighth grader Peyton Guay led the soccer team in scoring and word has it that she is an even better basketball player. Time will tell if there is room for her on the varsity.
The West Rutland boys showed flashes of greatness last winter, but finished just under the .500 mark. Tyler Serrani, Levi Petit, Mac Perry and Tim Blanchard all return for a club that could be dangerous in D-IV.
MSJBoth Mount St. Joseph basketball teams could make some noise.
The Mountie boys lost just one senior, returning do-it-all point guard Andre Prunty, 3-point snipers Keegan Chadburn and Maddox Traynor and post pivot Jake Williams, among others. They could be in the thick of things if they get off to a good start.
The MSJ girls surprised a lot of teams with how good they were last year. Just like their male counterparts, they didn’t lose much to graduation.
Ella Paquin, Jillian Perry, Tiana Gallipo, Ellie Tracy and Meghan Cole is a veteran core to build off of.
The Poultney boys have been consistently good these past few years, but the Blue Devil girls are on the rise too.
Poultney loses Kassidy Mack, but has a wealth of up-and-coming talent to count on. Grace Hayes, Hannah Webster and Hannah Welch make up a core that give a tough game to anybody they see in D-IV.
Point guard Levi Allen is back for a senior season with the Blue Devil boys and there is plenty of talent around him.
Heith Mason is a big loss, both figuratively and literally, but senior Ryan Alt has shown himself to be plenty capable in the post.
Silas Haviland and Jesse Combs are talented wings that will complement Allen.
The Springfield girls have quite the challenge on their hands, replacing a senior class that was critical to their success these past few seasons.
Filling the spots of most notably Hailey Perham and Gabby Wardwell is a tough task. Senior Haley Streeter will be one to watch as the Cosmos turn the page on last year.
The Springfield boys have their own retooling to do, with the graduation of Dylan Merrow, Damian Warner, Jacob Stepler and Noah Zierfus.
Never count out those Otter girls. That’s a lesson we learned.
They almost upset West Rutland and gave plenty of other contenders everything they could handle.
Alia Edmunds, Livia Bernhardt and a few others are big graduation losses, but the return of junior guard Alice Keith is huge.
She showed last year just how special she is on the court with her ability to do it all.
It was a rough year for the Otter Valley boys last winter, but they are plenty talented to make a jump in 2020. Cole Letourneau, Parker Todd, Dylan Gaboriault, Alex Philo, Hayden Bernhardt and Lane Eddy all got valuable minutes last year and surely want to find the win column more.
The Green Mountain girls went through a rebuilding year in 2019-20, but a jolt of talent from the now-closed Black River could give them a big boost in energy.
Riley Paul and Chloe Ayer will be two great additions to a club that already boasts a great scorer in Kim Cummings. The Chieftains could surprise some teams.
Dylan McCarthy and James Anderson are big losses on the boys side, but Ty Merrill, a consistent scorer, is back for his senior season, as is Sawyer Pippin and Skyler Klezos.
This team may not have the pedigree it has on the soccer pitch, but they are plenty talented and could be a threat.