Ground and pound: Football mentality permeates Hartford boys basketball

  • Hartford’s Joey Beggs (5) jumps above Woodstock defenders to grab a rebound during a game at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Hartford won, 69-59. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Hartford’s Brady Olmstead (3) jumps to save the ball from going out of bounds while Woodstock’s Rowan Smail (22) guards him during a game at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Hartford won, 69-59. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Hartford Assistant Coach Cody Tancreti talks to his players during a time out during a game against Woodstock Union High School at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Tancreti filled in for Head Coach Jeff Thomas who was out sick with COVID-19. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

  • Hartford’s Tarin Prior (4) searches for a teammate to pass to during a game against Woodstock Union High School at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. Hartford won, 69-59. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Hartford High boys basketball coach Jeff Thomas talks with his team during a Dec. 3, 2019, workout at Hanley Gym in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News — Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — Greg Fennell

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/11/2022 9:40:17 PM
Modified: 2/14/2022 5:41:57 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Thursday night’s boys basketball rivalry game between Hartford and Woodstock was a chippy, physical affair.

Each team was called for 23 fouls, including double technicals in the third quarter, leading to a combined 59 free-throw attempts. The game featured several tussles for the ball, clashes in the paint and players diving on the hardwood.

The host Hurricanes, who won, 69-59, to improve to 11-2, were well-prepared for all the physicality. Six of the 12 players on their roster played football in the fall, helping Hartford reach the VPA Division I semifinals.

They weren’t just any football players, either — they were the Hurricanes’ top skill position players on both offense and defense. Senior guards Tarin Prior and Brandon Potter, senior forward Jacob Seaver and sophomore guard Brady Olmstead all played defensive back, and they’re translating that defensive intensity from the football field to the basketball court.

Sophomore guard Brayden Trombly was Hartford’s starting quarterback, and head basketball coach Jeff Thomas said that experience helps his court vision. The Canes’ leading rusher in football, sophomore forward Brody Tyburski, frequently splits defenders on his way to the hoop.

“Toughness is obviously a great (skill) to have,” Thomas said. “We do have a lot of football players on the team, and they come together and play hard. That’s a really good thing for basketball.”

Those multisport stars have Hartford hoop enjoying its best season in recent memory. The Hurricanes last won a playoff game in 2013 and were a paltry 3-17 in 2019 — the program’s final year under Steve Landon, now the head coach at Woodstock. To replace him, Hartford hired Thomas who, coincidentally, is a former head coach of the Wasps.

Thomas led Woodstock to an undefeated season and a VPA Division II title in 2016, nine years after winning a championship with South Royalton in 2007. If he wins a state championship with a third school, it would be the Hurricanes’ first title since 1929.

“My first year here, I bought T-shirts with ‘1929’ on the back,” Thomas said. “We have the trophy that they won in 1929. It’s in our locker room to remind us every day why we work so hard.”

In his third season in White River Junction, Thomas appears well on his way. Hartford improved to 9-12 in 2019-20, losing in the first round of the playoffs. In the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season, the Hurricanes were 7-3 but again lost in the first round. This year, they’re putting themselves in position for a deeper run.

Hartford started the year by winning the inaugural Stretch Gillam Kickoff Classic at Hanley Gymnasium, beating Green Mountain and White River Valley — the latter of whom didn’t lose for nearly two months afterward. Seaver went off for 36 points in the season opener. The Hurricanes have kept up their winning ways from there, including a 40-point victory at Milton on Dec. 17 and a 35-point victory over Brattleboro on Jan. 14.

“Overall, (Brattleboro) was our best game,” junior guard Joey Beggs said. “We all played together; everyone contributed. It was the most fun we’ve had. We got the ball and ran.”

Seaver is Hartford’s leading scorer, averaging just shy of 18 points per game. Prior is good for roughly 15 per contest. But the Hurricanes’ role players and second unit are more than capable of coming up big on a moment’s notice. Tyburski led Hartford with 18 points in Thursday’s win over Woodstock and Potter added 17.

Assistant coach Cody Tancreti, who is filling in for Thomas this week as he recovers from COVID-19, said the team’s depth is evident in practice, when the Canes’ players are going against each other.

“When you’re going five-on-five against another group who’s just as good, it makes everybody better,” Tancreti said. “Our practices are very competitive — almost too competitive at times. During the game, if we’re getting tired, we have fresh legs.”

Those fresh legs were needed in a game like Thursday’s, with Trombly fouling out and Potter, Seaver and Tyburski all picking up four. Prior was the lone starter to stay out of foul trouble, and he was also in double figures with 10 points.

The Hurricanes are not shy about their lofty goals — besides the T-shirts and the 1929 trophy, Beggs said they envision themselves at Barre Auditorium, where the state semifinals and finals are held, at every practice. In order to get there, they’ll have to lean on the same core that got Hartford that far on the gridiron.

“I was a football player in college, so I speak a lot of that language,” Tancreti said. “When we run our press, we talk about getting the ball at the highest point, baiting the throw, playing almost like a free safety. There’s a lot of positive transfer when it comes to football and basketball.

“The mentality of the football players, we’re bringing that here. If something bad happens, move on to the next play.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.




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