Ex-Thetford Teammates Reunite at All-Star Event

  • Thetford Academy's Shyann Josler shoots a lay up over Blue Mountain's Jordan Farquharson during their match in Thetford, Vt., on December 27, 2013. Thetford won 54-14.(Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Thetford Academy's Shyann Josler shoots a lay up over Blue Mountain's Jordan Farquharson during their match in Thetford, Vt., on December 27, 2013. Thetford won 54-14.(Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sunapee's Erika Waterman is chased by Hinsdale's Skyler LeClair, left, and Allison Scott during the New Hampshire Division IV State Championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., on March 8, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Sunapee's Erika Waterman is chased by Hinsdale's Skyler LeClair, left, and Allison Scott during the New Hampshire Division IV State Championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., on March 8, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford Academy's Shyann Josler shoots a lay up over Blue Mountain's Jordan Farquharson during their match in Thetford, Vt., on December 27, 2013. Thetford won 54-14.(Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Sunapee's Erika Waterman is chased by Hinsdale's Skyler LeClair, left, and Allison Scott during the New Hampshire Division IV State Championship game at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H., on March 8, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

There isn’t much Shyann Josler and Erika Waterman could’ve done together that they didn’t eventually accomplish on their own. That fact doesn’t dissuade the occasional what-if, however.

What if the four freshmen Eric Ward elevated to Thetford Academy’s varsity girls basketball team four years ago had stuck together all the way through? How would having Waterman as a fellow guard have altered Josler’s competitive trajectory, if at all? Might the Panthers have won more than one Vermont state championship?

All themes for a science fiction-meets-basketball movie someday. The reality is Josler and Waterman have one more game to play together, albeit from opposite benches during this afternoon’s Twin State Basketball Classic at Keene State College.

“It’s definitely starting to hit me know,” said Waterman, who will represent Sunapee High School for her final competitive hoop game this afternoon. “It also makes me really excited. It’s going to be weird playing against Shyann. I haven’t seen her in a while.”

Try three years.

As fall turned to winter in 2010, Thetford coach Ward made a decision: With the likelihood that the Panthers would struggle with an inexperienced roster, he decided to give four freshmen — Josler, Waterman, Ella Chapman and Jill Clark — spots on the varsity. Ward’s plan: Expose the quartet to top-level competition early with the hope they’d mature quicker and guide TA to bigger things down the road.

Seventy-five percent of the experiment paid off last winter when Josler, Clark and Chapman marshaled the Panthers to the school’s first Vermont Principals Association state crown. The other 25 percent — Waterman — had long since left town, moving to Sunapee after her freshman year when her father remarried and relocated.

Worry not: Waterman didn’t win a state basketball crown, but she — as Josler did — scored more than 1,000 points in her high school career. Waterman’s Lakers did make the NHIAA Division IV state final last season, losing to undefeated Hinsdale.

“It’s come full circle,” Ward said this week. “If they’d played together (more), it might have been different. That one year, then Erika going to Sunapee and Shy at Thetford … it’ll be neat for me to be part of the game and have those two as part of the game.”

Josler, Clark and Chapman played basketball together since the third grade; any worries about the increased level of play as TA freshmen could be offset somewhat by familiarity. Waterman didn’t have such a luxury, growing up in Lyme.

Families there can choose where to send their children to high school. Waterman selected Thetford because her older sister, Courtney, had a good experience there.

“She played a lot more shooting guard; we looked to her for the 3(-pointer) more,” Josler said. “She would come in for me sometimes at the point and take that position. It was nice to have someone else to give me a breather and stuff. I don’t remember playing the shooting guard as much as I did the point.”

The Panthers went 7-14 with the four freshmen, losing to neighboring Oxbow in the Division III first round. A few weeks later, Waterman learned she’d be leaving town — and TA.

“It was definitely hard leaving; (Lyme) was basically my home town since I was born,” Waterman said. “But when I went and shadowed at Sunapee, it was definitely an athletic school, very good academics-wise. I played basketball with a couple of the girls on an AAU team, so I wasn’t blind-sided. I did know people, and I did know the basketball coach.”

First with Ed Kehoe as coach, then under Tim LaTorra the last two years, Sunapee regularly booked trips deep into the NHIAA tournament. Waterman’s guard skills netted more then 1,000 career points; the Lakers made two trips to the D-IV semifinals before last winter’s run to the finals. While Waterman didn’t net a state title on the hardwood, she did get one in girls soccer last fall as the Lakers’ goalkeeper.

“It was really exciting for me, having to push myself to get to 1,000 points and keep the same mentality of always team-first, never about you,” Waterman said. “We’d seen what we’d done two years before. The only thing left was the state championship. Being a senior, that’s all you want.”

Josler felt similarly. TA went to the Vermont hoop semis in her sophomore and junior years — just like her former teammate did across the Connecticut River— before making the finals last March. With Josler scoring 18 points, the Panthers outscored Williamstown, 90-84, in the highest-scoring VPA girls final ever.

“Becoming a captain my junior year was something that changed me a bit,” Josler said. “I wasn’t considered an underclassman anymore. I wasn’t looking up to juniors or seniors. I was taking over that role and having others look up to me. I really liked that position.”

Had both Josler and Waterman gone through four years at Thetford together, Ward might have to make some decisions.

Both play in the backcourt. Both are of a similar size. Might he have had to move one or the other to a different part of the floor for playing time?

“We’d have put up some big numbers,” Ward said with a laugh. “That game in Barre, Williamstown let us play basketball; they were the first team to do that. (Others) usually sat in a zone and didn’t let us do anything. We’d get up 15 or 20 points and rein in the horses.

“We could have scored 75 or 80 points a game last year. We would have been up and down (the floor). Whether both of them would have scored 1,000 I’m not sure, but they would have come close.”

Waterman’s competitive career ends today; she’s eschewing college basketball (barring a successful tryout) to concentrate on engineering at UNH. Josler isn’t done yet; with nursing in her future, she’ll join the Norwich University women’s basketball team in the winter.

“I’m a little nervous, maybe; I’m not sure what to expect yet,” Josler said. “It will be different. The (Great Northeast Athletic Conference) is a very competitive division. I never wanted to go to Division I. But I think, in Division III, they’re competitive and teams work hard, and I’m excited to be part of the team there.”

First, however, there’s this little matter of a reunion of two former high school basketball teammates now on opposite sides of the river.

“Weird; that would be it,” Josler said. “It will be strange. We’re not going to be wearing the same uniform. We could be guarding each other at some point.”

Free Throws: Ward will be an assistant coach for Vermont in the game, with expectations of moving to serve as head coach in next year’s contest. … Lebanon’s Heather King, the New Hampshire Division II player of the year, on the Granite State roster, will join Waterman on the Granite State roster. … Mid Vermont Christian’s Austin Sayers is the only Upper Valley representative in the boys contest. The girls start the doubleheader at 4 p.m., with the boys to follow at 6 p.m.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.