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Jolene Cadwell takes over Thetford girls basketball for late Eric Ward

  • Thetford Academy Head Coach Jolene Cadwell, middle, watches fromthe sidelines as her daughter, Addie Cadwell, left, tries to steal the ball from a Mount Mansfield Union opponent during their scrimmage in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Cadwell is replacing the late Eric Ward, who died of cancer last spring. (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

  • Jolene Cadwell, Thetford Academy’s new head girls basketball coach, assesses her team's opening quarter against Mount Mansfield Union in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Cadwell was assistant under former coach Eric Ward, who died of cancer last spring. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jolene Cadwell, Thetford Academy’s new head girls basketball coach, middle, and Assistant Coach Robin Pettingell, right, react to a defensive play during a scrimmage with Mount Mansfield Union in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. Pettingell coached Cadwell when she was a student at Thetford Academy. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2022 10:10:59 AM
Modified: 12/8/2022 10:10:39 AM

THETFORD — Jolene Cadwell became the Thetford Academy girls basketball head coach under unfortunate circumstances, but she’s modeling her coaching style after her predecessor as closely as she can.

Cadwell took over the Panthers this summer, following the death of Eric Ward from colon cancer in May. Ward had spent 14 years leading the varsity team and brought Thetford to Barre Auditorium nine years in a row, winning the first three state championships in school history.

“You have to play to the strength of your players, but in terms of putting emphasis on defense, that is certainly the way Eric coached,” Cadwell said. “He really wanted kids to work hard and grow as people. He cared about the kids a lot, and that was pretty inspiring.”

The Panthers promoted from within by bringing in Cadwell, an assistant under Ward for the last two years and the middle school coach before that. A former three-sport standout at Thetford, Cadwell was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and starred in soccer and softball as well. She went on to Bates College, playing basketball and soccer for the Bobcats, and after spending a year in Boston, she returned to Thetford, interning at TA to earn her teaching license.

Cadwell then worked in Fair Haven, Vt. for a year before again coming back to her alma mater, where she has been a math teacher in 2005. While in Fair Haven, she was an assistant women’s basketball coach at nearby Castleton University under Tim Barrett, who still leads the Spartans today.

Upon her arrival back in Thetford, Cadwell worked with the basketball and soccer programs before her daughter and son were born, then returned to coaching when her daughter, Addie — now a junior guard on the Panthers’ varsity squad — reached second grade.

“She’s always been my coach throughout everything,” said Charlize Brown, a junior forward who played for Cadwell’s youth teams in Strafford as far back as third grade. “She always likes to be as close to the court as she can, so when Eric passed, she would be there because she loves the sport so much.”

Thetford posted the open coaching job like any other vacancy, and Cadwell, with her experience and familiarity with the program, was hired by previous athletic director Blendon Salls shortly before Salls stepped down and was replaced by Bri Barnes.

The Panthers finished 11-9 in Ward’s final season, which included a three-week pause due to COVID-19 cases, and fell in the VPA Division III quarterfinals to Williamstown in a close game. Just two seniors graduated from last year’s team, and centerpieces like Brown, senior Madi Mousley and junior Whitney Lewis are back. But Thetford’s most important returner may be Addie Cadwell, who missed all of the 2021-22 season with an ACL injury.

“(Addie) brings a lot of intensity,” Brown said. “She’s a very competitive person and she definitely shows that on the court. Being out was really hard for her.”

Cadwell’s tenure officially begins with a tough road test against White River Valley, which reached the semifinals last year and returns essentially all of its production, on Dec. 13. The Panthers prepared for that with a scrimmage Tuesday night against Mount Mansfield, last year’s Division I runner-up.

Typical practices for Cadwell are similar to the way Ward ran things — she leads the team through ball-handling and shooting drills, works on setting up the offense and defense and simulates specific game situations. Barnes said Cadwell organized summer workouts even before she was named the new head coach.

“This is a really good group of girls. They work hard, they don’t complain and it’s a nice group to work with,” Cadwell said. “There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the season last year, including with Eric, and he stayed positive the whole time. If I can be as positive as he was the entire season, good things can happen.”

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


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