WEST RUTLAND — Toughness is an ingredient that has been a constant through a season that has seen the West Rutland boys basketball team achieve the No. 1 ranking in the Division IV state standings and a 6-1 record. It was on display again in Wednesday’s 51-31 victory over Black River.
Whether it is Tyler Serrani standing his ground to draw the charge or players like Liam Beaulieu and Kyle Laughlin muscling through heavy traffic to earn an inside hoop, the Golden Horde displays the toughness of football played in the trenches.
Maybe it is no coincidence that West Rutland coach Jordan Tolar was a lineman on the Woodstock Union High and Castleton University football teams.
“Coach asks us to work hard and to give up our bodies for the team,” Beaulieu said.
It has been a satisfying ride for the Horde after enduring a 1-19 season last year.
“It is fun playing against the teams that were beating us last year and being on the other end,” Beaulieu said.
The difference, Beaulieu said, is dedication in the off season.
“We just put in a lot of work in the off season,” Beaulieu said.
Tolar challenged his team immediately after the playoff loss to Sharon Academy that ended their 2017-18 season to do the work in the off season.
“I told them that had to be motivation for them,” Tolar said. “They bought into it. We had AAU, a summer league and we competed in the summer tournament at Castleton.”
The Horde has been enjoying this winning feeling but basketball has another side and coach Don Richard and his Black River Presidents are enduring that at 1-4.
“I don’t think that there are many teams in the division that we can’t beat, but not if we shoot the ball like that,” Richard said.
“We played good defense and we broke the press, but we couldn’t do anything with it after we broke it.”
He is hoping to see improvement Friday night when the Presidents host Proctor.
The Golden Horde got off to a slow start, not scoring in the first four minutes.
That meant the 2-0 lead Black River took on Ryan Boyle’s layup stood for some time.
But then Laughlin scored on a putback and Beaulieu knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Horde a 5-2 lead and they were off to the races. They led 24-15 by the half and 43-23 after the third quarter.
Senior Ryley Dow connected on a 3-point field goal to beat the third-quarter buzzer, eliciting the loudest cheer of the night.
“The effort was there, we were just kind of sloppy,” Tolar said of the Horde’s slow start. “But we flipped the script and began limiting the turnovers.”
Serrani led the Horde with 12 points and Michael Barrett added 11 off the bench. But the Horde spread the wealth on offense with Laughlin ringing up eight points and Beaulieu and Tim Blanchard seven apiece.
The Horde has some good tests coming up starting with a home game against Mid-Vermont Christian on Friday and then road games against Twin Valley on Jan. 17 and then, perhaps the toughest test of all, against Poultney on Jan. 19.
NOTES: West Rutland girls basketball player Kasey Serrani sang the national anthem. ... West Rutland had no school Wednesday, but the Presidents wanted to make the trip. ... Don Dunchus Jr., the third-leading scorer in West Rutland boys basketball history with 1,151 points, officiated the JV game.