The Mount Mansfield boys' basketball team raised its Division I record to 7-0 by beating Spaulding 63-39 Friday night. Anyone looking for the secret to the Cougars' success this season need only look at the defensive end of the court.
The Cougars are allowing an average of 31 points per game through their first seven contests. Six of Mount Mansfield's seven opponents have failed to score more than 39 points.
“Right now I'm very happy with how we're doing things defensively,” Mount Mansfield coach Jeff Davis said. “We're doing things very well in that end.
“We don't do a lot of trapping and gimmicky stuff. We just play solid man to man. The guys realize that playing good defense is as important as executing in the offensive end.”
Mount Mansfield reached the Division I semifinals last season, and returned seven of the top eight players – including four starters – from that team. There are seven seniors on this year's roster, five of whom start.
The leaders are forward Tom Lacy and 6-foot-8 center Eric Suder, both of whom have started since their freshman season. Lacy is averaging a team-high 13 points per game – no other player is averaging more than seven – and Suder is averaging three-and-a-half blocks and eight rebounds per game.
The other starters are point guard Troy Springer, guard T.J. Wesson and guard Cody Sharrow. Springer and Wesson shared a starting job last season. Davis, who is in his 13th season with the Mount Mansfield program, called Sharrow the best defender he's ever coached.
“He's a great athlete – he's going to play baseball at South Dakota State next year – and if size allows it we always put him on the other team's best player,” Davis said
Rutland entered the week as the only other undefeated team in Division I, but Davis said he considers Rice Memorial – last year's Division I champion – the team to beat. Mount Mansfield beat Rice, 45-32, in the opener for each team.
“In Vermont it's such a short preseason,” Davis said. “We have a veteran team, which has helped, and Rice was at a point where they were still figuring things out. We felt pretty good about things coming into the year because of what we had coming back and going to the Final Four last year.”
Davis said as well as his team has been playing, he does have some concerns. Chief among them is the team's lack of height.
“We're small, so if Eric [Suder] gets in foul trouble that would be a problem,” he said. “That's my biggest concern. Also, we're not a team that's going to score in the high 70s or 80s, but we do need to score more.”
The Cougars won back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005, when they allowed an average of 37 and 45 points per game, respectively. It appears defense could earn Mount Mansfield another state title this year.
“It's a group of tough kids who like to defend,” Davis said. “They enjoy it.”
HORNETS CREATE BUZZ
Like Mount Mansfield, the Essex High School girls basketball team has produced favorable results this season by placing a priority on defense. The Hornets received 19 points from junior guard Kari Lavalette and improved their record to 6-0 by beating St. Johnsbury, 41-33, Thursday night.
No team has scored more than 53 points against the Hornets this season. Four of the six teams they have beaten failed to score more than 37.
Meanwhile, the Essex boys hockey team is off to a 9-0 start. The Hornets are 22-0-1 in their last 23 regular-season games. Their last regular-season loss came on Jan. 5 of last year.
Mount Anthony Union girls basketball coach Leo Reynolds collected the 300th victory of his 19-year coaching career when the Patriots defeated Monument Mountain, 53-44, on Dec. 22
Abby Iannotti collected 18 points and 13 rebounds in the win.
Reynolds became the 34th high school basketball coach (boys and girls) in Vermont to reach the 300-win plateau.
Roger Brown has covered high school sports in New England since 1992. He currently covers high school and college football in the Northeast for ESPN/Scouts Inc.