Paul Pecor guided the Rice Memorial boys basketball team to two Division I championships in his first seven seasons as the program’s head coach, so it made headlines when he called the 2010-11 Rice team the most talented group he’s ever coached.
Then Rice made headlines again when it lost to an 0-2 Mount Mansfield team that failed to score more than 47 points in either of its first two games.
Pecor said that loss may have been a good thing, and it’s hard to argue otherwise. Since then the Green Knights have won seven games in a row to raise their record to 8-1. Rice’s latest victory came Tuesday night, when it avenged its earlier loss to Mount Mansfield, 55-34.
“Everybody was freaking out and saying we were overrated after that loss, but you know what? It helped us. It refocused us,” Pecor said. “I’m literally watching us get better as we go.”
That’s not good news for other Division I teams. Rice returned four starters from a team that won nine games last season: sophomore forward Marcus Willingham, sophomore guard Casey Tipson, junior forward Jake Maynard and junior forward Tim Rensch. Willingham, Tipson and Rensch are each averaging more than 11 points per game.
The Green Knights also added guard Austin Robinson, a transfer from Burlington High School, to the mix. Robinson is averaging 14.1 points per contest.
Pecor said the most indispensible player on the roster isn’t a starter, however. It’s senior Christian McCormick, a senior captain who agreed to come off the bench.
McCormick, a guard, was the starting quarterback for the Rice football team, which won the 2010 Division II championship. He was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year for football.
“He’s the one guy we can’t do without,” Pecor explained. “I would love to go six on six with anybody in the state, but they don’t let us do that. He’s definitely the floor leader.
“The one thing that’s nice about us is our balance. In Vermont your four, five and six players are usually role players. We can pick on those guys with our matchups.”
Rice, which has won 11 state championships in boys basketball, was anointed as the team to beat when it finished first in a preseason poll among Division I coaches. Like Rice, Mount Anthony, Brattleboro and BFA-St. Albans are also 8-1. Rutland is 9-2.
Rice has already beaten Mt. Anthony (61-55) and Rutland (61-58).
“We’re very good and very athletic,” Pecor said. “We’re a private school so these guys haven’t been playing together for years and years like kids at some other schools. We had to be patient with this group.
“I was probably crazy for making that preseason statement, but I still stand by it.”
Victories by Zak Hale (119-pound weight class) and Ben Price (140 pounds) helped the Mount Anthony Union wrestling team stun Timberlane at the Timberlane Invitational in Plaistow, N.H., last Sunday.
Mount Anthony earned 263 points. Timberlane, which has won the New England championship in each of the last three years, finished second with 238.5 points. Timberlane had won the 17-team event in each of the last 19 years.
Eight Mount Anthony wrestlers placed second: Rachel Hale (103), Chris Schramm (112), Liston Gauthier (130), Brandon Marcoux-Schaefer (135), Jimmy Zupko (145), Jason Welch (160), Spencer Foucher (189) and Justin Bassler (215).
Mount Anthony’s Jesse Webb (285) and Tyler White (152) each finished third, and Bailey Willard (125) and Cameron Foucher (171) placed fourth.
THE HOOP SCOOP
Twenty-four Vermont seniors – 11 boys and 13 girls − have been nominated for the 2011 McDonald’s All-American basketball games. South Burlington had three players selected – the most of any school.
The final rosters of 24 boys and 24 girls will be named during the 2011 McDonald’s All-American Selection Show, which will be televised by ESPNU on Feb. 10. The boys and girls games will each be played March 30 at the United Center in Chicago. The girls game can be seen on ESPNU. The boys game will be televised by ESPN.
Boys nominees: Troy Davine (Rutland), Jake Donnelly (Champlain Valley), Ben Ferris (Essex), Jalen Miller (Winooski), Clayton Palmer (Mount Anthony), Jaren Scrubb (Stowe), Ryan Shea (U-32), Alexander Snyder (Rutland), Nick Swim (BFA-St. Albans), Ryan Tatro (Hazen) and Josh Varney (South Burlington).
Girls nominees: Rachel Crews (South Burlington), Dannica Dabrowski (Twinfield), Chelsea Dunham (Lamoille), Jenna Hoffman (Burr and Burton), Reagan Jewell (Rice), Jennifer Loyer (Mount Abraham), Jamie Panton (Essex), Kristy Pinkham (Otter Valley), Devyn Reed (Fair Haven), Katherine Ritter (Middlebury), Brittney Robertson (Burlington), Liesl Ulrich-Verderber (BFA-St. Albans) and Natalie Wimett (South Burlington).
COPLEY REMAINS ON THE RUN
Colchester’s Brandon Copley was recently named Vermont’s top high school boys cross country runner by Gatorade and ESPN RISE.
Copley won the 2010 Division I state championship in 17 minutes, 26 seconds. He also finished 13th (first among Vermont runners) in the New England championship.
“Brendan is a hard worker who has a true passion for running,” Colchester coach Morgan Samler said. “Winning the state meet as a junior this year was a statement about the type of runner and person he is.”
Ross Mandigo scored each of his team’s seven goals when the Stowe boys' hockey team defeated Burlington 7-6 on Jan. 15.
Mandigo, a junior, surpassed 100 career points in a victory over Peoples Academy earlier in the week.
Northfield girls basketball coach Lori Shepard collected her 100th career victory when Northfield defeated Danville 37-21 on Jan. 15. Northfield’s Kaitlyn McCullen scored a team-high 19 points in the victory.
Robbie Dobrowski scored five goals and added an assist to help the Champlain Valley Union boys hockey team raise its record to 9-0 by beating Rutland 6-3 on Jan. 17.
Spaulding entered the week as the only unbeaten girls hockey team in the state (7-0-4).
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.