Essex High School girls basketball coach Shawn Montague said he entered the 2010-11 season confident that his team was among those that had a chance to win the Division I state championship.
He might not admit it, but Montague probably had second thoughts following a 39-34 loss to Hartford on Jan. 7. That loss dropped the Hornets’ record to a mediocre 3-3.
Since then Essex has won nine games in a row, however, and seems to have established itself as one of the favorites in Division I.
“I thought we had all the pieces to be good,” Montague said. “It took us a few weeks to get going. We needed until the end of December or early January to find out who we are.”
Essex is a team that’s been winning with defense. The Hornets have allowed an average of 31 points per game during their winning streak. No opponent has scored more than 43 points in those nine games.
Unlike many teams, Essex rarely uses a press. The Hornets beat teams with exceptional half-court defense.
“Defense – that’s completely it,” Montague said. “I think it’s the sole reason why we’ve been successful. It’s tough to counter a good man-to-man defense.”
Montague is in his ninth season as the program’s head coach. He steered Essex to the 2006 state title, and will have to beat teams like Rice (11-3), Rutland (9-4), Champlain Valley (10-5), and South Burlington (12-3) to claim this year’s championship.
“It’s really tough to pick one or two teams as the teams to beat because a bunch of teams are good,” Montague said.
Essex finished 9-12 last season, but returned most of the players from the 2009-10 roster. Senior guard Jamie Panton is the team’s go-to player on offense. Panton is a four-year starter who has earned a basketball scholarship from Stonehill College.
“She does a little bit of everything for us,” Montague said.
Other key contributors this season include freshman forward Kara Scheftic, junior point guard Ali Wells, sophomore guard Kari Lavalette and senior guard Brooke Panton, Jamie’s twin sister.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel good about how this team is playing,” Montague said. “It’s a great group of girls to be around. There’s no friction. Good team chemistry.
“If we keep playing good defense I feel like we’ll be in every game.”
SHRINE ROSTER NEARLY COMPLETE
The 36-player Vermont roster for this year’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl will be announced next week.
The Vermont all-stars will face New Hampshire on Aug. 6 at Windsor High School. New Hampshire extended its winning streak to 10 games by posting a 34-20 victory in last year’s game. New Hampshire leads the series 42-13-2.
Champlain Valley Union’s Jim Provost is Vermont head coach. Provost also served as Vermont’s head coach in the 1990 Shrine game. New Hampshire prevailed 35-0 that year.
SPAULDING DOMINATING WITH DEFENSE
Spaulding will attempt to strengthen its position at the top of the Metro Division girls hockey standings when it meets BFA-St. Albans on Wednesday night.
Spaulding (10-0-4) is the only unbeaten team in the Metro Division. Seven of the Crimson Tide’s 10 victories have come by shutout. Spaulding hasn’t surrendered more than three goals in a game this season, and hasn’t allowed a goal in its last four contests.
RICE EXTENDS STREAK
The Rice boys basketball team extended its winning streak to 11 games by beating Colchester 67-45 Tuesday night. The victory improved Rice’s overall record to 12-1. The team’s only loss came against Mount Mansfield (59-50) last December.
Austin Robinson tossed in a game-high 19 points for Rice, which scored the game’s first 18 points. Rice received a 12-point, 12-rebound performance from Marcus Willingham, and 11 points from Casey Tipson.
CVU STUMBLES AFTER STRONG START
Champlain Valley Union looked like it would enter February as the only unbeaten boys hockey team in Division I, but after posting a 9-0-1 record in its first 10 games CVU suffered back-to-back losses against South Burlington (4-3) and Rutland (2-1).
CVU will play at BFA-St. Albans on Saturday in what could be a preview of this year’s Division I state championship game.
Rebecca Young scored the 1,000th-point of her high school career to help Concord defeat Williamstown 32-27 on Tuesday night.
Young entered the contest four points shy of 1,000 and finished the game with 16.
Roger Brown has covered high school sports in New England since 1992. He currently covers high school and college football in the Northeast for ESPN/Scouts Inc.