Championship Reflections: Thetford Academy's Shock & Awe at the Aud

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy shows her nerves after missing her first shot at the foul line late in the fourth quarter of the Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Pomeroy made her second shot, widening Thetford's narrow lead over Williamstown. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy shows her nerves after missing her first shot at the foul line late in the fourth quarter of the Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Pomeroy made her second shot, widening Thetford's narrow lead over Williamstown. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler watches her three-point shot sink through the net in the third quarter of the Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Shyann Josler watches her three-point shot sink through the net in the third quarter of the Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Thetford's Michaela Pomeroy shows her nerves after missing her first shot at the foul line late in the fourth quarter of the Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Pomeroy made her second shot, widening Thetford's narrow lead over Williamstown. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Thetford's Shyann Josler watches her three-point shot sink through the net in the third quarter of the Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Thetford's Shyann Josler, left, reacts after the final buzzer during Williamstown at Thetford girls basketball VPA Division III championship game at Barre Auditorium in Barre, Vt., on March 1, 2014. Behind Josler, from left, Michaela Pomeroy hugs head coach Eric Ward and Kayley Gray hugs Jill Clark. Thetford won, 90-84. (Valley News - Will Parson)

E ric Ward knew he had something special on his hands this season. After losing in the Vermont Division III girls basketball semifinals to Williamstown last year, Ward saw how his veteran Thetford Academy team came back from that defeat with a firm resolve and dedicated work ethic. So he challenged their athletic pride and competitive drive.

“Our goals are to win the Capitol League, have a top-four seed and make it back to the (final four),” said Ward before the season.

Well. That’s one bucket list taken care of.

Win the league: check.

Top-four seed: check.

Return to the Barre Auditorium: check.

But these Panthers took it one step further: They parlayed their coach’s confidence into a state championship, snapping Williamstown’s 22-game unbeaten streak in the process. They did it with a stifling defense and a record-setting offensive display — making Vermont history at the same time.

All in all, not a bad showing for the Thetford girls.

The year started off with the closest game of the regular season, a nine-point win over Windsor. From then on, the Panthers picked things up, treating all of its opposition with equal disdain. On offense, the Panthers were scoring more than 50 points per game, while defensively they were allowing less than 30 points a game.

In fact, they held opponents to scoring in the teens three times and in the 20s a total of 10 times. It was a recipe for staggering success.

They were challenged on only two occasions — the first in a 10-point win over D-I U-32 at home, followed 10 days later by their first and only loss of the year to the same Raiders, a 53-40 decision that snapped an 11-0 streak.

But that was the last bump in the road. The Panthers closed out the regular season on a seven-game run, earning the top seed in the D-III tourney.

Leading the way was senior sharpshooter Shyann Josler. Along with a 12.6 ppg scoring average, Josler also reached the 1,000-point mark during the season. She was backed up by junior Michaela Pomeroy, who had an 11.2 scoring average and was the team’s defensive stopper.

Ella Chapman (8.2) came back from an ACL injury last year, and Jill Clark (7.1) rounded out the top scorers.

Reaching the tournament, Thetford easily dispatched first-round opponent Stowe, 72-46, and followed up with a quarterfinal mismatch with Hazen, 68-24. But the road started to get a little tougher as the semifinals — and the Aud — beckoned.

Enosburg, the No. 4 seed, pushed Thetford hard, forcing the tentative Panthers into turnovers that turned into points that kept the game close. It was so close that the two teams went into the fourth quarter tied at 34.

That’s when the Panthers took over. Behind Josler’s 11 points, the Panthers went out to a 49-41 lead and then closed it out from the foul line. Along with Josler’s 19 points, Chapman chipped in with a career-high 15 points — the fifth straight game she had reached double figures. Clark also added 12 points.

“The curse is over,” declared Josler after the victory. “We knew we had to win as a team and had a lot of girls step up. In the second half we started playing our game.”

It would carry over into the title game, where the Panthers played their game to historic heights.

Facing Williamstown’s ferocious full-court press, the Panthers never blinked. If anything, they were even more inspired. Hardened by playing 13 games against teams in higher divisions, Thetford went basket for basket with the defending champs. Heading into the final eight minutes trailing by three, Thetford went on an 11-0 run to decide the contest.

“We’ve got so many options this year,” Ward said afterward. “This team didn’t want to lose. They got down in the third quarter, and they fought back. It’s great to have kids that believe in themselves and don’t want to lose.”

With a 82-74 lead with 2:17 to play, Thetford clinched the title on the free throw line by a final 90-84 count. The combined points were a VPA girls championship game record.

It was also Thetford’s first title in four trips to Barre.

“It’s an amazing feeling; I’m so proud that I’m part of this team,” Pomeroy said after the game. “I have amazing teammates, seniors that are going to be gone next year. I’m so happy we got this far as a team.”