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Yellowjackets’ system is built to win

  • Addison Cadwell, of Thetford, looks to pass out of the back court while covered by Evelyn Page, of Windsor, during Windsor's 61-47 win in Windsor, Vt., Friday, March 5, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Namya Benjamin, of Thetford, edges past Adi Prior, of Windsor, to shoot in Windsor, Vt., Friday, March 5, 2021. Windsor won 61-47. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Elliott Rupp, of Windsor, passes to a teammate while double teamed by Kelsey Smith, right, of Thetford, and Addison Cadwell, left, in Windsor, Vt., Friday, March 5, 2021. Windsor won 61-47. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 3/5/2021 9:44:43 PM
Modified: 3/8/2021 8:29:12 AM

WINDSOR — The names change, but the style’s still the same.

The Windsor High girls basketball team will press you to death, taking your mistakes and turning them into easy points. They’ll whip the ball around your defense for a layup, and if that doesn’t work, someone will drill a soul-sucking 3-pointer just when you think you’re making progress.

The school’s all-time leading scorer graduated? The veteran coach retired just before the season? As the Jacks showed in a 61-47 win over Thetford on Friday evening, the system ensures that Windsor will be among Vermont’s best on a year-in, year-out basis.

“We definitely work on making the extra pass and spacing teams out, and that’s what we did tonight,” said Windsor coach Kabray Rockwood, who stepped up from the junior varsity for Bruce Mackay in early January. “It worked with a good level of success.

“There was definitely an adjustment period. Fortunately, I’ve worked with some of these girls as long as 10 years, coaching them in junior high and AAU, so the voice was similar. It was just a different role.”

The Panthers and Jacks were among the final four squads in last year’s VPA Division III state tournament when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and cancelled things at the semifinal stage. Both seem primed for another run toward Barre Auditorium later this month. Based on Thursday’s evidence alone, Windsor (6-1) looks ready. The Jacks pushed the pace on Thetford (3-3), even as the visitors tried to slow Windsor down with a 2-3 zone. Pressure forced TA turnovers, which the hosts used for micro-burst rallies that gradually stretched their advantage.

Elliot Rupp scored 20 of her game-high 22 points in the opening half for the Jacks, who owned a 36-23 head at the break. Teammate Reese Perry poured in 11 of her 17 points in the second half.

Namya Benjamin paced TA with 13 points, and Kelsey Smith added 10 for the Panthers.

“The season’s so condensed, you’re trying to get stuff in, and we’re where we normally are around the first part of January,” Thetford coach Eric Ward said. “So be it. Windsor’s been playing very well this year, and we knew what they were going to do against us. But we got caught in the pace of the game.”

Windsor girls are taught to press, trap, force turnovers and play physically at a young age.

The system stays the same, and that makes losing someone the level of Olivia Rockwood, now at the University of Maine, less of an issue.

The Jacks’ starting five on Friday — Rupp, Perry, Evelyn Page, Adi Prior and Ashley Grela (eight points) — worked well as a unit from the outset.

They pressed the Panthers after every basket; whether or not Thetford scored in response, the quintet had the ball up the floor and in good shooting possession within seconds.

Windsor’s first mini-run turned an 8-8 tie into a 19-13 lead after one quarter. Rupp broke the deadlock with a layup, and she and Perry alternated baskets the remainder of the period to build the cushion.

“They know us so well, so there was a high level of anticipation,” Kabray Rockwood said. “A lot of preparation for this game to make sure we were ready.”

The Jacks used an 11-2 charge to open the second quarter to get the lead to double digits.

Rupp ended the gallop with a 3-pointer — one of four on the night — for a 30-15 lead with 4:13 left in the first half.

High-pressure defense can draw fouls, and Windsor collected them like trinkets in the first half.

Thetford was in the bonus before the first quarter was over, but the Panthers only shot 9-for-19 from the line in the opening 16 minutes.

A better percentage might have changed Thetford’s second-half strategy.

“You make those, you’re talking about a three-point game at halftime,” Ward admitted.

Thetford never got the deficit back to single numbers, the Jacks continuing to occasionally burst their way to greater comfort.

An 8-2 run to close the third quarter, with Grela, Page, Prior and Perry providing a bucket apiece, left Windsor holding a 48-32 advantage with a period to play.

The Yellowjackets’ only blemish this season came in a forfeit to Woodstock, when Windsor opted to not play against a team with a player holding a facemask exemption. They’ve averaged 77.5 points per game in their six victories, with an average margin of 45.5 points. Thetford gave them the closest contest they’ve had, and the Jacks still earned a comfortable verdict.

“We were definitely exposed in some things tonight,” Rockwood said. “Obviously, I’d put our team against anybody, but I’m not going to go on the record and say that we’re the team to beat. If we do what we need to do, we’ll be there.”

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




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