MIDDLEBURY — Tuesday was not a good night for the already inexperienced Middlebury Union High School girls’ basketball team to be missing two starting forwards: Visiting Fair Haven is a balanced, veteran team that could well be in the Division II title mix.
Predictably, the Slaters took advantage in their 53-10 victory, dominating the boards with a 43-21 rebounding edge while their press and relentless man-to-man defense forced 24 Tiger turnovers.
Offensively, FHU moved the ball well for open looks outside, hit cutters going to the basket, and found their post players in good position. Six Slaters recorded at least four points, and 12 of the 13 who suited up scored. Senior starting forward Jennifer Genier led them with eight points, and junior guard Kayla Stoodley came off the bench for seven.
The Slaters’ two Orwell players — smooth starting junior forward Elizabeth Fyles and hard-working starting senior forward Hunter Pedro — fared well. Each scored six points and played strong defense, while Fyles showed excellent ballhandling and passing skills and Pedro hit the boards hard.
First-year Tiger coach Mary Nienow said her job so far has been teaching the basics, and plenty of time remains this winter for the Tigers to learn.
“A lot of it is just little fundamentals,” Nienow said. “We’re going to start with the fundamentals and just keep pushing. Fourteen more weeks is a positive amount. I told the ladies it’s not 14 more weeks that we have to deal with this kind of stuff. It’s 14 more weeks of improving one day at a time.”
And Fair Haven, a team that not only has played together at the varsity level for a couple of years but also has many players who have devoted themselves to offseason play, was a particularly tough matchup for the Tigers without two of their four returning varsity players.
Tiger senior forward Erin Connor had yet to record the mandatory 10 practices because of scheduling conflicts with courses she is taking at Vermont Technical College; she is expected back when the Tigers host another tough foe, Burr & Burton, on Saturday at 11 a.m. And junior forward Julia Cluss was ill on Tuesday.
“Two starters. Without them, we just have post players who are still learning the game of basketball,” Nienow said. “That’s covering where you need to be, bumping cutters, spacing, little things that they haven’t been taught.”
Nienow certainly didn’t fault the Tigers’ effort, and the defense improved after the Slaters took a 21-2 first-quarter lead. Senior guard Tiffany Danyow and junior guards Hannah Hobbs and Olivia Carpenter worked hard defensively, and Nienow said she liked the work of junior guard Carsyn Buxton, junior forward Sonia Howlett and sophomore forward Lejla Mahmuljin off the bench.
“There were girls out there who stepped up and got a lot of playing time, and it showed they were more comfortable out on the court,” Nienow said.
Danyow and Hobbs scored four apiece to lead MUHS, and senior forward Molly Wright’s baseline jumper with about seven minutes gone got the Tigers on the board.
Nienow was happy with how the Tigers handled Tuesday’s adversity.
“The girls kept their head up, and that’s all I wanted out of it, to stay positive and work on their defense, and they did,” she said.
As for the Slaters, they next face an interesting early-season test against another team that won big in its opener on Tuesday — Otter Valley, which defeated visiting Poultney, 58-20. The Slaters will visit the House of Noise in Brandon this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in what could be an early-season indicator for the Marble Valley League B Division.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.