Windsor 44, Thetford 40: Yellowjackets make it 2 straight crowns with new starting cast

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-04-2023 8:35 PM

BARRE, Vt. — The Windsor High girls basketball program just doesn’t do rebuilding years.

After graduating their entire starting lineup from last year’s VPA Division III state champions, the 2022-23 Yellowjackets roster featured just two seniors and one junior. But though the personnel was different, the final destination was the same: another top seed, and another state title.

Down five points early in the fourth quarter on Saturday to No. 3 seed Thetford, Windsor sophomore point guard Sophia Rockwood, who came in averaging around 16 points per game, committed her fifth foul. But even without one of their top sources of offense, the Yellowjackets rallied, complementing junior forward Sydney Perry’s interior game with enough outside shooting to come back for a 44-40 victory and a repeat championship.

“Last year, we were playing for those five seniors,” Perry said. “This year, this one’s ours. It’s ours to hold and have for the rest of our lives. That banner’s going to hang up there forever.”

Two nights after Windsor (21-2) used a dominant fourth quarter to get past Peoples Academy in the semifinals, and more than two months since staging a fourth-quarter comeback against the Panthers early in the season, the Yellowjackets did it again. A minute after Rockwood’s fifth foul, freshman Cassie Clark knocked down a massive 3-pointer, her only points of the game. Sophomore guard Audrey Rupp’s connected from the left corner moments later to give Windsor a one-point lead.

The Yellowjackets all but sealed it with under a minute left when sophomore guard Brianna Barton dumped in a pass to Perry for a layup that put them up by two scores. Perry filled the box score with 16 points, 20 rebounds and two blocks.

“Cassie Clark hitting a big shot, Audrey hitting a big shot in the corner, (freshman forward Kemari Wildgoose) running the floor and getting a layup, Sydney running the floor — it’s our conditioning,” Windsor coach Kabray Rockwood said. “Our strategy is to try to wear you down during the course of the game and get to the point where we can start running away.”

The Panthers (17-6) started strong with a junior guard Kelsey Bogie 3-pointer, but the Yellowjackets led by two after a fast-paced first quarter. Thetford struggled throughout the first half to score in the paint and was a mere 5-for-19 from the free throw line for the game.

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Junior guard Addie Cadwell led all scorers with 21 points but made just one of her 11 free throw attempts. The Panthers’ leading scorer in Thursday night’s semifinal win over Hazen, junior forward Charlize Brown, did not register a point Saturday.

“That’s what you can’t control,” Thetford coach Jolene Cadwell said.

“They were doing all those things we were talking about, and sometimes the shot just doesn’t fall. (Windsor) hit some big shots, and we didn’t capitalize on the ones we needed to. That’s how sports work sometimes.”

Cadwell’s team came out hot to start the second half, with Bogie finding the coach’s daughter to give the Panthers their first lead since the opening minutes. Two baskets in the paint by Addie Cadwell — who missed all of the 2021-22 season with an ACL injury — late in the third quarter put Thetford in front again, and junior guard Mason Fahey’s driving layup extended the Panthers’ lead to six.

Thetford, which won three championships and reached the semifinals nine straight times under the late Eric Ward, made its return to the finals in the first season since the beloved coach’s death from colon cancer last May.

“I give credit to the kids,” Jolene Cadwell said. “It was a tough spring, and they worked hard this summer. They worked hard, and they earned some respect.”

But the Yellowjackets, who won their final 18 games dating back to the Connecticut River Classic in late December, took control down the stretch. Rupp added eight points, seven rebounds and three assists for Windsor, Barton also had eight points and three assists, and Rockwood, before fouling out, chipped in with seven points and three steals.

With only forward Skylar Thibodeau graduating among the Yellowjackets’ starters, they’ll be the presumptive favorites to three-peat next year. Perry, Rupp and Rockwood each had an older sister star on championship Windsor teams, and now the younger siblings are shining just as brightly.

“To be where we are today compared to where we were on Nov. 30, it’s unbelievable,” Kabray Rockwood said. “The fact that we have pretty much everybody coming back, we’ll have that opportunity all over again.”

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

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