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Senior’s Return Helps Thetford Reach Title Game

  • Brooke Horniak, front left, and her Thetford Academy teammates Kate Vaughan, front middle, and Jordan Mousley, front right, celebrate their 51 - 40 win over Hazen in the Vermont Principals Association Division III semifinal at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Emi Vaughan, of Thetford Academy, right, competes for a dropped rebound with Lizzie Brown, of Hazen, as Brooke Horniak, of Thetford, middle, provides backup during the Vermont Principals Association Division III semifinal at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Thursday, March 8, 2018. Thetford won 51 - 40. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford Academy Coach Eric Ward has a word with Emi Vaughan during the Panthers’ 51-40 win over Hazen in the Vermont Principals Association Division III semifinal game at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jordan Mousley, of Thetford Academy, right, takes control of a loose ball intended for Casey McAllister, of Hazen, left, during the Vermont Principals Association Division III semifinal at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Thursday, March 8, 2018. Thetford won 51 - 40. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Matt Wadsworth, of Thetford, cheers the Thetford Academy girls basketball team during their 51-40 win over Hazen in the VPA Division III semifinal at the Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 09, 2018

Barre, Vt. — Doctors told Thetford Academy’s Danielle Robinson that her last season of varsity girls basketball was over. The ankle injury she suffered two minutes into the Panthers’ regular-season finale against Hazen on Feb. 24 was too severe for her to recover in time to return to the court.

Robinson, of course, had other ideas.

The senior made her return to the Thetford lineup in Thursday’s VPA Division III semifinal game against top-seeded Hazen, scoring 10 points off the bench in a 51-40 victory at Barre Auditorium that sent the defending champion and No. 4 seed Panthers (17-6) to their fifth division final in as many seasons.

Thetford will take on No. 3 Windsor in a rematch of last year’s final for the D-III championship at 7:30 p.m on Saturday night back at the Aud.

“I went to the doctor, and they told me it was over,” Robinson said. “I just knew it wasn’t. I just persevered and worked through it.

“My mom’s a physical therapist, so that helped a lot,” she added. “A lot of massaging and a lot of ice baths every night. … I was very determined (to return).”

The Panthers are 2-2 in title games since 2014 and have not lost in the semifinal round since 2013. Thursday’s game was Thetford’s first postseason meeting with Hazen since 2014, a 68-24 win. The Panthers have never, according to VPA records, lost to Hazen in the playoffs.

Robinson, who leads the Panthers with 220 points and 11 points per game this season, missed two playoff games and 12 days with a twisted right ankle. She wore an ankle brace against the Wildcats and said she was operating at about 65 percent.

That didn’t stop her from making a difference. Thetford fell to Hazen, 48-47, on a last-minute 3-pointer in its season finale. Her strength underneath the basket, said freshman teammate Emi Vaughan, made a big difference in the rematch.

“She’s just so strong,” Vaughan said. “She’s not afraid to drive and go to the basket. It’s really good to have her.

“I’ve been coming here (to the Barre Auditorium as a spectator) for so long, it’s just so great to finally be playing here,” she added.

Vaughan led the Panthers with 13 points. Kate Vaughan, Emi’s sister, scored six points, and Lily MacVeagh finished the game with five.

“She’s just that threat inside,” Thetford head coach Eric Ward said of Robinson. “I think Hazen didn’t think she was going to play very much. When she was out there, there was that X factor tonight. We were a different team to play tonight. We’ve done well without her, but with our team, we don’t rely on any one person.”

Thetford won the game on runs.

Its first was in the first quarter, a 10-0 explosion in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds of the period that gave the Panthers a 14-7 lead. The teams traded buckets in the second stanza, giving Thetford a 32-23 advantage at halftime.

Hazen came alive early in the third quarter, scoring nine straight points to cut the Thetford lead to, 34-32. But the Panthers’ experience helped them refocus, closing on a 11-0 run to re-establish control. The Panthers held Hazen to just eight points in the fourth, spending much of the quarter playing keepaway in the Wildcats’ end to secure the victory.

“When they got it down to two points, 34-32, there was a point where we could have folded,” Ward said. “We went on that run (to answer), it was over. … We’re playing with different kids, but I think the kids are very comfortable playing here. We’ve been here for seven years; this is our fifth final. We may not win on Saturday, but these girls have given themselves an opportunity. That’s all we can ask.”

Lizzie Brown led Hazen with 10 points. Casey McAllister and Lynn Brown finished the game with nine points each. The semifinal appearance was Hazen’s first since 2013, and only its third since 2000. It has not appeared in a state final since 1999 and has not won a championship since 1991. The Wildcats finished their season 18-4.

Thetford’s squad changed considerably after last winter’s title run; it graduated eight seniors from the group and returned a team largely made up of underclassmen. Vaughan’s emergence as a playmaker opened the door to the Panthers’ future. Ward said he’s excited about what this team can do in the years to come.

For now, the Panthers’ focus is on Windsor. Thetford erased a 15-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining in last year’s championship tilt against the top-ranked Yellowjackets, leaving Windsor stunned. Ward believes the pressure is on Windsor to come away with a different result.

“I think it’s more important to them,” Ward said. “To us, it’s just another game. They thought they were going to beat us last year. They didn’t. We’re just going to take it as another game.”

One thing’s for sure: Robinson will be out there, giving all she’s got.

“I think I’ll be about 70 percent, but not majorly better. It’s going to take time,” she said. “I’m just going to go out there, try my hardest and push through the pain.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.