Call it “The Season of Legends Revisited.” Call it “The Season of Old Faces in New Places.” Call it “The Season of The Dynasty.”
Call it whatever you want, but just appreciate the fact that it is here. The girls basketball season gets started on Friday.
Legends revisited? Sue Pollender, who won 325 games, seven league titles and a couple of state championships from 1969 through 1997, is back. She will be an assistant coach to Howie Paul at Black River this season.
The new gym floor at Black River will be dedicated to her before the opener against Green Mountain on Dec. 10.
Another legend, Shirley Bruso, has moved back to the area from North Carolina. The former longtime Mill River girls basketball and softball coach will now be able to spend her retirement watching her granddaughter Molly Bruso play for the Minutemen.
The dynasty? Mount St. Joseph Academy is chasing another state championship.
A 35-29 win over Proctor in the 2015 Division IV state championship game was the start of four consecutive state crowns for the Mounties.
Some of the most imposing roadblocks to the dynasty come in the form of Rutland County neighbors Proctor and West Rutland.
The unusual twist to the MSJ title run is that G.J. Garrow becomes the third head coach during the five years following Dan Elliott and Bill Bruso.
There are many familiar faces in new colors as players switch schools more frequently.
There are also new coaches and two old ones returning. Chris Hughes is back at the helm of Proctor after a two-year absence and Kyle Wilson returns to Fair Haven after a one-year hiatus.
Here are some of those stories as we look at the teams in the Herald’s coverage area:
The Presidents got a windfall when Tatum Armstrong transferred in from Burr and Burton Academy after practices started.
“She is a very good player. She should help a lot,” coach Howie Paul said.
She will complement Hope Kelley, who was an All-MVL player last year.
Two other starters return: Emily Perham and Jae Greineder, as well as sixth man Rebecca Rogers.
Gabriella Tobeldini is an exchange student who has never played the game.
Rounding out the squad are eighth-graders Riley Paul, Chloe Ayer and Jordan Devereaux and freshman Jazmin Beam.
The Presidents endured an 0-20 season last year and coach Paul is hopeful the players can experience some wins.
”Last year we were in games. This year I think we can win some. I think we’ll be better,” he said.
Ryleigh Coloutti is the igniter. She brings the energy to both ends of the floor. She is an outstanding perimeter shooter but can also handle the ball and distribute it.
She’s not the only returning starter. Coach Wilson also has Courtney Brewster and Kaleigh Brown back as players who started for Leo Hutchins’ Slaters.
Wilson would love to replicate the Slaters’ 2016 state title, but as he says, “there are a lot of new faces.”
He saw the result of that in a recent five-school scrimmage at Fair Haven when the Slaters started slow and then began to hit their stride in the second half.
Other returning varsity players are Kyleigh Grenier, Katrina Bean, Kerigan Disorda and Sydney Rathbun.
Others vying for time are Megan Ezzo, Theresa Culpo and Abby Brown.
Likely floating between the JV and varsity level will be Zoey Cole, Emma Ezzo and Emma Briggs.
The Slaters open on Friday at the New York Coaches vs. Cancer Tournament at North High School. Their two opponents at the event will be Northeast Clinton Central and Moriah.
When you are coming off a 16-4 campaign and everyone returns, you have a right to be excited. That’s the situation in Chester.
Returning starters are Hannah Buffum, Rachel Guerra, Maya Lewis, Annie Lamson and Paige Karl.
The 5-foot-11 Buffum is the center and Guerra is also in the post.
Karl will be running the show from the point.
“She is high energy,” coach Terry Farrell said of Karl.
Others who will see the floor a lot include Alyssa Ripley, Allie Kenney, Maddie Wilson, Reilly Merrill and post player Lily Jones.
Farrell’s teams have made their living with pressure defense and that won’t change.
Karl will be a high impact player on both ends of the court.
“I say that she is the best on-the-ball defender, at least in the MVL,” Farrell said.
The Chiefs open Dec. 10 at nearby rival Black River.
A highlight of every season in Chester is the holiday tournament, which includes boys and girls teams. This year it is set for Dec. 18-20 and Green Mountain’s first-round opponent will again be Twin Valley.
Jillian Perry takes over point guard duties for the Mounties, freeing Julia Lee, the team’s top returning scorer, to slide into the No. 4 spot.
Sophie Markowski is Mount St. Joseph’s second-leading scorer and has some size that can help in the rebounding department.
The Mounties lost Lyndsey Elms, another top scorer, to Proctor.
“We lost a lot of scoring and we will be a lot smaller,” first-year coach Garrow said.
Lee and Markowski are the only regular starters back from last season, but Ella Paquin did start a few games and logged a lot of playing time.
Perry comes over from Rutland, where she did not play high school basketball, but has experience from AAU basketball.
“She is a good ball handler. She has lots to learn but she is a good point guard,” Garrow said.
Freshman Tiana Gallipo is also expected to earn a starting role.
Rounding out the roster are Rory Cararra, Miracle Wood, Selina Wilbur, Melissa Moise, Makayla Williams, Lucy Gallo, Meghan Cole, Sienna Diesel, Brooke Bishop, Ellie Tracy and Emily Pitts.
There will be some green mixed in with the red, white and blue at Mill River. McKenna Ludden is the Minutemen’s lone returning starter.
But the cupboard is not as bare as that might make it look. The lightning quick Emerson Pomeroy is back after a year away from basketball and she was an important player in the backcourt two years ago.
And there is a windfall with Molly Bruso moving in from North Carolina. Coach Ken Webb said he could see immediately that she was one of his better players.
Jessica Roberts has been slowed by a couple of routine operations but Webb is looking for her to be at full strength soon in the post.
Sadira Majorell could become a starter.
“She is very athletic,” Webb said.
Grace Gilman and Tessa Badgeley saw some varsity minutes last year and will be looking for more.
Freshman Malori Carlson’s athleticism was on display as a soccer goalie this fall.
”She could help us out someplace,” Webb said.
Kelsey Sheehe and Lexi Bowen could give the Minutemen significant minutes off the bench.
“We’re young. We’ll make some mistakes,” Webb said.
The Minutemen will open at home on Saturday against U-32.
“They lost all five starters but I still think they will be pretty good,” Webb said.
The Minutemen went 8-12 and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.
The key to taking that next step will be for this new-look lineup to get used to playing together and to cut down on mistakes as the season progresses.
Kelly Trayah watches his players in their other sports. Viewing their games in soccer and field hockey this fall, the idea came to him to get out and run more on the basketball court.
“That is really where they excel, in setting the pace,” Trayah said. “Even our bigs (Leah Pinkowski and Livia Bernhardt) run well and have good endurance.”
Bernhardt and Pinkowski should make the Otters formidable in the post.
Bernhardt has been impressive in the preseason in the way she has been finishing around the hoop.
OV returns 10 players from last year with Felicity Drew and Kele Park being the only seniors.
Bernhardt is a member of a large class of juniors that also includes Emily Doty, Julia Eastman, Alia Edmunds, Isabella Falco, Mary Kingsley and Pinkowski.
Eastman will be the point guard. She had an ankle injury near the end of soccer season but pushed herself hard in the first basketball practices with no problems. That has given her more confidence.
Edmunds is versatile and could play any of the five positions. Kingsley is a decent shooter and the Otters will be trying to get her the ball out on the wing more.
Sophomore Mallory Lukfin is a standout defender and will guard the opponent’s best player who is not a post player.
Freshman Alice Keith will also see minutes.
Sophomore Mia Politano, along with freshmen Brielle Mackie, Lauren Konarski and Brittney Jackson, will swing between JV and varsity, taking advantage of the new rule that allows players to play five quarters in a day between the varsity and JV game.
The Otters will be hoping to take a big step up from last year when they went 4-16 and lost to Mount Abraham in the first playoff game. It all starts on Dec. 10 at West Rutland.
The Blue Devils will have a very different look. They no longer have 6-footer Leanna Mason, who rang up more than 1,000 points over the past four years.
Instead, the Devils will count on their athleticism and coach Todd Hayes believes that is a strength of this team.
Returning starters are sophomore Grace Hayes and Julia Bruno, the only senior.
Hayes started as an eighth grader and has brought the ball up the floor. The plan is to move her off the ball more this year.
She, Emily Haneley and Kassidy Mack will share the point.
Mack is a boost after transferring back from a year in Fair Haven.
Hannah Webster started a few games last year as an eighth grader.
Marissa Holcomb and Kylie Constantine will also be counted on.
Haneley and Hannah Welch are eighth graders but they could play prominent roles in the backcourt.
“Our eighth graders are ready to play. We aren’t just throwing them in there,” Hayes said.
Coach Hayes was encouraged by what he saw in the recent scrimmage against Whitehall.
”We are in better shape than we were last year,” he said.
A girls soccer team was added this year and that has helped with the conditioning.
“A lot of the girls were in the weight room all summer,” Hayes said.
”Missing Leanna will hurt. But we will be more balanced and we are athletic. The players understand the concept of playing defense and we haven’t had that.”
The Blue Devils endured a 4-17 season including a first-round playoff loss to an Arlington team that made it to the Final Four in Barre.
The Devils open Friday at Twin Valley.
The Phantoms came within an eyelash of making the trip to Barre last year, losing to Arlington in a quarterfinal game.
Coach Hughes believes the pieces are there to be able to take that final step and get back to the Barre Auditorium for the Division IV Final Four.
And there are a lot of pieces. The Phantoms return four starters but five in all. Lyndsey Elms, who started for MSJ, makes an already strong team even stronger.
Allie Almond, Maddie Flanders, Rachel Stuhlmueller and Maggie McKearin are the four who started for Proctor last season.
They also have Sarah Pecor back after getting a good deal of playing time last year.
Another transfer is Maeve Sheehe, a sophomore who comes over from Rutland.
Rounding out the squad are Sydney Wood and five freshmen: Kaitlyn Regula, Lacie French and triplets Dez Angel and Jazz Traverse.
“We’re very excited to have Lyndsey. She has been in a lot of big games and has played very well in so many big games,” Hughes said.
The point guard responsibility will fall to Almond, who is strong in so many facets of the game. She can not only handle the ball, but score.
“Allie will be our primary point guard but Maggie McKearin, Maddie Flanders and Lyndsey can all handle the ball. We have got multiple ball handlers which I love to have,” Hughes said.
The Phantoms open on Dec. 12 at home against MSJ.
“Division IV is more wide open than usual,” Hughes said.
He sees the Rutland County triangle of the Phantoms, West Rutland and MSJ all being serious contenders but he adds that Blue Mountain and Arlington also are capable of making the run.
The Phantoms have Sharon Academy and Rivendell new to the schedule.
Elise Magro and Leah Charron are the only two returning starters for the Raiders, but that’s a good foundation to build around. Magro gives Rutland some scoring from the outside and she is also a good ball handler who can crash the boards. Charron is a post player who can rebound and score on the interior.
Kendra Sabotka and Rylee Burgess also played significant minutes.
Makieya Hendrickson and Anna Bower were sub-varsity players who should make a strong bid for appreciable playing time on varsity this season.
“They have been doing well at tryouts,” Rutland coach Nate Bellomo said.
The opener comes on Dec. 7 with the North-South Challenge featuring Essex, Spaulding and Mount Anthony.
Bellomo believes he has a group of players accustomed to playing with one another from the lower levels and that could translate into a little different look.
“They may have a little bit more freedom this year with the ability to create on their own,” Bellomo said. “And we would like to push the ball a little more.”
In order to do that, they will have to rebound. Charron gives them the size to lead that challenge.
“Big is one thing, but we also have to have the right mentality to rebound,” Bellomo said.
That could be the key to advancing in the Division I playoffs, where the Raiders got knocked out in the first round by South Burlington.
He feels the Marble Valley League portion of the schedule will not be easy.
“It’s a grind by the end of the season in the MVL with Brattleboro, Burr and Burton and Mount Anthony. It comes down to who is playing well at that time and who is healthy,” Bellomo said.
The numbers are down in the program, but Bellomo said the players who are there are the ones who should be there.
The possibilities of taking the next step after a 10-10 season are exciting in Cosmos Land.
They played a Randolph team that made it to Barre very tough before bowing out of the Division II playoffs last year and most of those players are returning.
That includes senior and four-year starter Hannah Crosby. She brings it all to the equation: ball handling, passing, scoring and defense.
Junior Hailey Perham will be a three-year starter lending even more experience.
Julianna Albero-Levings is one of the league’s better defenders.
Then, there is the post presence of 6-foot-2 Gabby Wardwell.
“She came to basketball late as an eighth grader,” Springfield coach Joe Costello said of his junior center.
That means her basketball IQ is still developing.
“She runs the floor as well as any forward I have seen and she has soft hands. You can’t teach soft hands,” Costello said.
Yet another returning starter is Jessica Cerniglia.
Others expected to contribute are Ashley Chamberlin, Ashley Quelch and Kaylee Warren.
The Cosmos will continue to try to create space for driving the lanes and then feed the shooters when the defense begins to collapse.
They have a late opener, taking on Oxbow on Dec. 14. The Cosmos play only three games in December and that means an extremely crowded schedule in 2019 when they must play 17 games between Jan. 2 and Feb. 21.
Unlike last season when coach Carl Serrani was trying to replace five starters, this year the Golden Horde has plenty of familiar faces in the lineup. Four starters return: Kiera Pipeling, Elizabeth Bailey, Jenee McGee and Samantha Callahan.
Other returnees are Kasey Serrani, Deanna Kenyon, Madison Guay and Kiana Grabowski.
Pipeling and McGee are the top returning scorers and Bailey gives the Golden Horde something a lot of Division IV teams don’t have by being 6-foot-2.
“I think because of Elizabeth we will try to play more of an inside-out game this year,” Serrani said.
The schedule will be testing owing in part to that Rutland County triangle of West Rutland, Proctor and MSJ.
“I think the MVL is up for grabs,” Serrani said.
Serrani loves what he has seen in the preseason.
“I think there are four or five of them who have really grown up,” he said. “They have a lot different attitude and are giving a better effort.”
The schedule will look a little different with two games against new opponent Rivendell. The Horde is also playing Division II neighbors Fair Haven and Otter Valley.
The Horde went 15-8 last year with three of the losses coming at the hands of MSJ, the last of those in the semifinals at Barre Auditorium.