Experience Pays for Lebanon Women’s Rec Basketball Team

  • Lebanon's Stacey Smith shoots over the defense of Tuck's Libby Flannigan during the Central Vermont Women’s Basketball League semifinal in South Royalton, Vt., on March 3, 2018. Lebanon won its fourth straight championship with a 44-26 win over Tuck’s the next day in the South Royalton School gym. (Rob Strong photograph)

  • The Lebanon women's basketball team during a timeout in the Central Vermont Women’s Basketball League semifinal in South Royalton, Vt., on March 3, 2018. Kristy Heath (standing, left), Cindy Hampton (24) and Brenda Griggs (3) have been with the team for years. (Rob Strong photograph)

  • Lebanon's Wendy Moody, right, looks to get the ball past Tuck's Logan Metcalf during the Central Vermont Women’s Basketball League semifinal in South Royalton, Vt., on March 3, 2018. Moody is part of a core group of players who have played basketball together since they were teammates at Lebanon High in the early 1990s. (Rob Strong photograph)

  • Brianne Barnes (23) and Stacey Smith were teammates at Keene State College in the mid-2000s and are together again on the Lebanon basketball team. They are preparing to play with their team in the Central Vermont Women’s Basketball League semifinal in South Royalton, Vt., on March 3, 2018. (Rob Strong photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 07, 2018

South Royalton — Brenda Griggs has a favorite saying when it comes to Lebanon’s style of play in the Central Vermont Women’s Basketball League: smarter, not harder.

For years, Lebanon has outsmarted — and outplayed — everyone else in the CVWBL. Guided by the experienced presence of three former Lebanon High teammates who’ve now suited up for the recreation league team for the last 20 years, Lebanon rolled to its fourth straight A Division championship with a 44-26 win over Tuck’s on Sunday in the South Royalton School gym.

Brenda Griggs, 45, 43-year-old Wendy Moody and 42-year-old Kristy Heath all played for the Raiders in the early 1990s and have been teammates on the CVWBL team since the late ’90s. Along with former Hartford High player Cindy Hampton, 54, Lebanon’s core is the most seasoned in a league catering primarily to players in their 20s and 30s.

It hasn’t stopped the women from racking up championships, and teaching opponents a thing or two along the way. For starters, it’s not a good idea to employ a press defense against them. They’re simply too adept at breaking it, skills first learned under Hank Tenney and Tim Kehoe at Lebanon High.

“We say ‘smarter, not harder,’ because the way we keep winning is with intelligence,” said Griggs, a 1990 Lebanon graduate and one of the CVWBL team’s point guards. “It’s a little easier for us to think outside the box, because we have a lot of knowledge built up. We’ve seen a lot of different scenarios over the years.”

They also understand the way the game is officiated at the recreational level, typically differing starkly from the collegiate ranks and requiring adjustments by those transitioning from the latter. CVWBL referees generally tolerate less physicality, as many of them double as Vermont youth level or high school refs.

“Certain officials, if they have experience doing college games, are going to let a little more go, but by and large, (CVWBL play is) a different game,” Griggs said. “It’s fundamentally different because, unlike college, there’s no shot clock and there are generally bigger and stronger bodies on the floor in college.

“So when (new CVWBL) players get upset and don’t understand why a game is being called a certain way, we remind them, ‘Hey, you’re in women’s league now.’ ”

For the team’s 40-something women, on-court chemistry continues to evolve. Elements such as speed have perhaps declined naturally with age, but the longtime teammates continue to set each other up for impact plays.

In a Saturday semifinal, also against Tuck’s, Griggs dished to Moody for an open baseline layup in the second half to extend Lebanon’s lead. Griggs, meanwhile, routinely sank mid-range jumpers, often with an assist.

“At this point, we know pretty much all of each others’ strengths and weaknesses,” said Moody, a Plainfield native and former CVWBL president who now lives in Windsor. “We know where each other is going to be. It’s like a sixth sense we’ve developed over the years.”

The womens’ relationships have also continued to blossom off the court, where they remain friends who hang out. Moody, Heath and Hampton are all mothers of several children, and every mom knows the others’ kids well.

“We’re like a family away from family,” Griggs said. “It takes a certain level of commitment to play for us. We meet up at certain times and travel together. If someone misses anything, it’s because of something important, work- or family-related, because we have that commitment to each other.”

Lebanon’s next tier of experience includes another former Raider, Stacey (Morse) Smith, and Merrimack, N.H., native Brianne Barnes. The pair were teammates at Keene State College in the mid-2000s and have enjoyed continuing to develop as teammates in the CVWBL.

“We’ve kind of been able to continue right where we left off at Keene,” said Barnes, 32, a Lyme resident and Oxbow High’s athletic director. “I’d say we both kind of just fit right into the flow of things with Lebanon.”

Along with their playing exploits, Griggs, Moody and Hampton have vast coaching experience at various youth, high school and AAU levels. Moody recently wrapped up a season coaching middle school boys basketball in Windsor and also coaches junior varsity girls soccer and softball for Windsor High, while Griggs remains a coach with the UVAL Blizzards, an Enfield-based AAU hoops program. Hampton previously spent 12 seasons coaching various Hartland youth basketball teams, as well as AAU.

“It’s great having the (older) players because a lot of them have coaching experience and have just been around the game for a long time,” said Barnes. “We get to pick their brains and get their insights about what to do and then offer our own suggestions.”

Indeed, Lebanon’s more experienced players are highly receptive to input from teammates. Former Hanover High standout Courtney Ness, 26, is the team’s youngest player and said her contributions during team meetings and timeouts are valued equally to that of the more seasoned players.

Ness’ experience with Lebanon’s CVWBL team has helped her rediscover joy in the game after an injury-plagued collegiate career at Brandeis University outside Boston.

“Especially during my junior and senior year (at Brandeis), basketball had become basically a painful, obligatory process,” said Ness, who suffered knee and foot ailments. “Playing with these women has helped me remember what I love about basketball: the laughter, the love of the game and the connections you make. Everybody does their part and is part of the team, which is awesome because collectively, we have a very high basketball I.Q.”

They have the trophies to prove it, too.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.