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Still Getting in Sync: Panthers Win, But Still Look to Improve

  • Thetford's Erika Gray stretches to keep the ball in Thetford's possession during the Rivendell at Thetford Academy girls basketball game in Thetford, Vt., on Dec. 17, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Thetford's Erika Gray stretches to keep the ball in Thetford's possession during the Rivendell at Thetford Academy girls basketball game in Thetford, Vt., on Dec. 17, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rivendell's Tayo Ameden snatches the ball out of Thetford's possession in the last few seconds of the second quarter during the Rivendell at Thetford Academy girls basketball game in Thetford, Vt., on Dec. 17, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Rivendell's Tayo Ameden snatches the ball out of Thetford's possession in the last few seconds of the second quarter during the Rivendell at Thetford Academy girls basketball game in Thetford, Vt., on Dec. 17, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Erika Gray stretches to keep the ball in Thetford's possession during the Rivendell at Thetford Academy girls basketball game in Thetford, Vt., on Dec. 17, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Rivendell's Tayo Ameden snatches the ball out of Thetford's possession in the last few seconds of the second quarter during the Rivendell at Thetford Academy girls basketball game in Thetford, Vt., on Dec. 17, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Thetford — The Thetford Academy girls basketball team has returned its entire nucleus from last year’s Vermont Division III semifinalist. Now the Panthers just need to work on returning to form.

Thetford improved to 2-0 with Tuesday’s 44-23 win over Rivendell, but the Panthers are clearly still trying to find the right combinations as they struggled in many areas against an inexperienced, rebuilding foe in the Raptors (0-1).

Solid defensively and on the boards, Thetford clicked at times while building a 29-7 halftime lead. Yet they appeared far from a team hoping to bid for Barre in the third quarter, shooting 2-for-11 and turning the ball over nine times. For the game, the Panthers shot just 17-for-49 from the field and 8-of-24 from the free-throw line. It’s not what the team is looking for after winning 17 games a year ago on the way to a narrow semifinal loss to Williamstown at Barre Auditorium.

Thetford returns all five starters, plus senior forward Ella Chapman, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL.

Rivendell (5-for-25 from the floor) also struggled, but the Raptors’ defense continually thwarted the Panthers’ attempts to spark their bread-and-butter transition game.

Rivendell is coached by Hank Tenney, a defensive specialist.

“There were times where it seemed like we were just going through the motions,” said Thetford coach Eric Ward.

“This team that is at its best when we get going in transition, and we never really got going. You have to give Rivendell some credit because they got back on defense, and we got content to settle into our half court and didn’t execute it very well. When we did, we didn’t do a good job getting it in the hoop. We’re still trying to get everybody on the same page.”

Thetford senior scoring leader Shyann Josler sank a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter, but was held to nine points and just one basket in the second half, when she picked up her third foul. Chapman scored eight in a sturdy performance, while Michaela Pomeroy (11.0 ppg last year) was held to five and none in the second half.

The Panthers’ Elise Jackson and Shenia Covey scored five points each, with Covey coming off the bench. Thetford senior guard Jill Clark scored six points and had five rebounds as a substitute.

Thetford led on the boards, 31-21, and had 12 offensive rebounds.

“We have good size this year, and we have the ability to be deep,” Ward said. “We’re working hard in practice, but obviously we still need to work on some things.”

Thetford started off strong, getting to the free-throw line on three of its first four possessions and finishing the first quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 16-6 lead.

Josler hit her second 3-pointer, Pomeroy nailed a jump shot and Rozzlyn Kidder sank a layup on a feed from Clark during the rally.

Rivendell scored just one point in the second quarter on 0-for-10 shooting, allowing Thetford to extend its lead to 22. Lydia Leitschuh hit a jumper on another Clark assist and Covey scored twice in the final minutes of the half, first cleaning up a free-throw miss and later hitting after a pass from Leitschuh to help make it 29-7.

Whatever the reasons, Thetford appeared uninspired in the third quarter and committed nine turnovers in the period, many unforced.

“Sometimes, halftime can be the worst thing (for momentum),” Ward said. “We were throwing the ball away and started playing at half speed. We’re not going to be successful playing that way. If we played that way against Windsor (a 56-47 win in the season opener Saturday), we probably would have lost. We’re still a work in progress.”

Rivendell shot 0-for-10 from the field again in the third quarter, but tied the Panthers in the period, 5-5, by hitting all but one of their free throws.

The fourth quarter was even better for the Raptors as five different players scored, including jump shots by freshman Morgan Dexter and Tayo Ameden (five points) and a baseline layup by Jennifer DeBois (team-high eight points).

Rivendell returns three starters from last year’s 17-5 team, but one of its graduation losses was 1,000-point scorer Lacey Stever. The Raptors are also adjusting to a new coach in Tenney after Russ Wilcox stepped down.

“We were much better in the second half,” Tenney said. “In the first half, we let Thetford set up the tempo of the game, but that’s one of the best teams in Division III.”

Free Throws: Tenney has won nine state championships as a basketball and soccer coach, most recently in 2011 with the Rivendell girls soccer team. ... The Raptors were 13-of-21 from the line and 5-of-25 from the field. ... The Panthers had 18 turnovers to 12 for Rivendell. ... The Raptors were without sophomore Nicole Wurtz, who missed the game for personal reasons. Senior Megan Perkins left the game after hitting her head on the floor in the first half, and Hanna Rockwell left the game momentarily in the second quarter with an asthma issue. ... Josler was held to single digits for the first time since Jan. 31 against Montpelier (11 games). ... Rivendell plays its home opener Friday against Woodsville. Thetford plays at D-II Hartford on Saturday.

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