St. Johnsbury ends CVU girls D-I basketball championship reign

Photo by Al Frey
CVU’s Lindsey Albertelli dribbles past a Hilltopper defender in Sunday’s final D-I playoff game at UVM.

Basketball is a game of runs.

Champlain Valley Union’s run at the top of Division I girls basketball is over.

And it was a 16-7 run in the first quarter by No. 1 St. Johnsbury that ultimately doomed the Redhawks in the D-I championship game on Sunday at UVM’s Patrick Gym.

“St. J is really hard to play from behind,” said CVU coach Ute Otley. “It’s the worst case scenario.”

The Hilltoppers’ hot start was too much for CVU to overcome as the top seed beat the five-time defending champs, 48-33, to win the state title.

“This is the greatest feeling ever,” said St. Johnsbury’s Josie Choiniere. “We have worked so hard to be able to beat CVU. We have been so ready for this game for so long.”

The end to an historic run in high school girls basketball came at the hands of Choiniere, who powered St. J’s early first quarter run with a 4-for-4 performance from behind the arc.

“We knew that, today, if we were going to accomplish our goal we needed to have a lot of confidence,” Choiniere said. “We needed to come out hard from the start.”

The sophomore guard’s three-point prowess was a known commodity for CVU and the Redhawks came prepared to defend the arc. But Choiniere took a step out farther, hitting her three-point shots from as far out as 25 feet.

“They hit four threes in the first quarter against a defense that was focused on taking away the three,” Otley said. “What are you going to do? They just kept shooting.”

Choiniere finished with 23 points to lead the Hilltoppers, while reigning Free Press Player of the Year Sadie Stetson added 10 points and Neva Bostic chipped in with eight points.

“St. J played really, really well,” Otley said. “They executed better than we did, that’s the reality.”
The Redhawks found themselves on the wrong side of the early score and tried to pull themselves back into the game. Some big baskets from Catherine Gilwee (five points) and Harper Mead (seven points) kept the game close.

“I felt like we had our openings, we just didn’t capitalize on them,” Otley said of her team’s offense. “Passes were all just a half-step slow.”

CVU’s Maryn Askew provided the bulk of the scoring in the second half, scoring 11 of her 13 points, but it was not enough against the top-seeded Hilltoppers.

“We learned a lot playing CVU twice this year,” said St. Johnsbury coach Jack Driscoll. “I thought the kids really executed the defensive game plan really well.”

Though the state title run has ended for the Redhawks – for now – the program has qualified for eight straight state championship games and shows no sign up letting up in the push to return to Patrick next season.

“I told them, ‘this game doesn’t define our season,’” Otley said. “It’s certainly a disappointing ending to a season where it felt like we were in it.”

With the now-reigning champs returning almost their entire roster – St. Johnsbury graduates only one senior – Otley and the rest of the Redhawks are looking at next season as a challenge.

“We are going to see in the next 365 days how hungry the CVU kids are,” Otley said. “Jack (Driscoll) said something as we were walking through the line. He said, ‘Ute you gotta know, you and your girls have made everybody in the state better. Chasing you for five years has made us better.’

“I shared that with the kids and I said ‘Are you guys gonna chase or are you gonna concede?”

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