Raptors’ Senior Thinking Title, Not Personal Glory

Rivendell’s Lacey Stever, center, shown in action against Thetford last season, has been a catalyst for the Raptors this season. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Rivendell’s Lacey Stever, center, shown in action against Thetford last season, has been a catalyst for the Raptors this season. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

— Draped high on the east wall of the Rivendell Academy gymnasium, a vertical green-and-white banner lists all of the career 1,000-point scorers who have played for the Raptors’ boys and girls basketball teams. On the opposite wall, similar emblems denote all of the school’s league and state championships.

In the midst of her best season and well on the way to becoming the fourth Rivendell girls player to reach the 1,000-point milestone, it’s the west wall Lacey Stever is most concerned about as the 6-2 Raptors enter the meat of their schedule.

“We’re trying to get another banner on that wall,” Stever said while pointing to the one adorned with the team titles, then gesturing to the opposite. “Not another name on that one.”

Yet it’s simply a matter of time before the name of Stever, a 5-foot-7 forward in her fourth varsity season, will be added to the east wall. With an Upper Valley high 17.5 points per game this season, Stever’s career point total sits at 946 heading into tomorrow night’s home game against the Sharon Academy.

A speedy presence with an aggressive approach to scoring, strong fundamentals and a killer midrange jump shot, Stever led the Raptors in scoring as both a freshman and sophomore before finishing second last season to sharpshooting teammate Kathleen McCarty (891 career points). Stever scored just 11 points fewer than McCarty’s 229 despite missing six games with a thumb injury.

“As soon as Lacey gets the ball, she’s thinking about scoring,” said eighth-year Rivendell coach Russ Wilcox, whose team sits in sixth in the Vermont Division III standings, with its only losses coming to rival Thetford. “When she first came in as a freshman, I knew she was varsity (quality) right away.

“She’s was 5-foot-7 and I’d seen her playing AAU ball and could see how much of a natural scorer she was. She played inside a lot at first, but as she’s gotten better we’ve asked her to do more and she’s responded. Her best shot is the 8-12-foot jump shot and she’s a 3-point threat. She’s the whole package.”

For all of Stever’s scoring prowess, Wilcox has been most impressed with her commitment to defense and passing. Whether helping 2012 graduates McCarty, Amber Brooks and Autumn Brooks during previous seasons or feeding the Raptors’ new crop of contributors this year, Stever’s unselfish play has always been a cog in Rivendell’s gears.

Even after she scored a career-best 25 points against Oxbow in a 52-40 Rivendell win Jan. 15, Wilcox lauded Stever’s efforts distributing the ball more than her ability to find the basket. Sophomore Tao Ameden had eight points that night, three others had at least two baskets and a total of eight Raptors scored.

“That’s the best part of her game, the fact that she cares so much less about scoring than she does about winning,” Wilcox said. “We probably ask her to take 40 percent of our shots, but she’s helping setting up the other 60 percent. We’ve asked her to play point guard on certain nights, and she’s been great at it.”

McCarty (10.4 ppg in 2011-12), Autumn Brooks (8.6) and Amber Brooks (8.1) accounted for nearly 60 percent of the offense last year for Rivendell, which went 15-5 in the regular season and won in the first round before falling to the eventual D-III champion Olympians on the road on the quarterfinals.

The offense has fallen more squarely on Stever’s shoulders this year, but she’s embraced the challenge with double figures in every game and already exceeding last year’s 20-plus point games with three. No one else on the Raptors is averaging more than 6.4 ppg, yet the Raptors are scoring less than seven fewer points per contest, while giving up five fewer points per game than last season.

“It’s been an adjustment with the players we lost, but that’s the way it is with every high school team,” said Stever, who called former Raptor standouts Ida Kruse and Deva Steketee two of her greatest influences. “Everyone has different roles every year depending on (personnel), and I think this team has done a good job adjusting to what we have (this year).”

While Stever’s excellent play gives the Raptors a chance to win every night, teammates say her leadership off the court is equally valuable.

“She definitely does a great job unifying the team,” said Raptor senior Stefanie DeSimone . “The team bonding aspect of the game has been really important for us. We do a lot of stuff off the court together, and Lacey has done a great job unifying us.”

Despite all the changes, the Raptors have their sights set on a run to Barre Auditorium and the state semifinals, where they last landed in 2011 after an 18-2 regular season. That mark may be hard to duplicate, but Wilcox feels the parity in D-III will allow his team to have a great shot at a deep run once the tourney begins.

“There are a lot of teams beating up on each other near the top of the division,” he said. “We could be 16-4 and still end up the (No.) 8 seed. We’ve lost to Thetford twice by six points and they’re the second(-ranked) team, so we’ve got as good a chance as anyone.”

Beginning with tomorrow night’s Central Vermont League tilt with the Phoenix, the Raptors play two of their next three at home before hitting the road for five straight and six of their last nine to finish the regular season.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.