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Commodore junior tops Independent all-star squad

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — Three of the four local union high school boys’ basketball teams had plenty to brag about by the end of this past season, and the fourth began a rebuilding process that should pay dividends next winter.

Coach Peter Quinn’s Vergennes Union High School squad earned the No. 2 seed in Division II and reached the final before running into to Springfield’s postseason steamroller. The Commodores had plenty of talented players, not the least of whom was junior forward Connor Merrill, the Addison Independent Player of the Year. Three other Commodores join him on the 2009 Independent Boys’ Basketball All-Star Team.

Each of the other three teams featured all-new starting lineups. Coach Chris Altemose’s balanced, deep Middlebury unit enjoyed the best record of the group at 13-8, earning a home D-II playoff game and wins over two final-four teams in a tough schedule. Three Tigers are honored here, but truly the group should take a well-earned collective bow — singling out athletes from the team proved to be a challenge.

Coach Bill Leggett’s Mount Abraham squad started slow, but put together a streak of seven wins in 10 games — including a road playoff victory at MUHS — before losing a quarterfinal at Springfield. The Eagles also had the best record among local teams in intramural competition to win the unofficial area crown. Two Mount Abe seniors earned spots on the Independent squad.

Coach Bob Walsh’s Otter Valley team had a disadvantage compared to MUHS and Mount Abe, who started seniors: OV’s five new starters were all underclassmen. Their youth and inexperience showed in a 3-17 season, as did their dedication on defense: Only six teams cracked 50 points against them. Walsh’s crew also has a notable feather in its cap — a regular season win vs. Springfield. An OV junior made the Independent team.

Selections were made based on observation, statistics and consultation with the coaches. Because of the balance of talent, first and second teams were not chosen; instead, players are listed alphabetically after the Player of the Year. Congratulations to the following:

CONNOR MERRILL, JUNIOR FORWARD, VUHS, PLAYER OF THE YEAR. Notes: Six-foot-four forward who established himself as one of the top juniors in the state with a team and local high average of 16.6 points ... Showed a variety of post moves, including a deadly fall-away jumper, while hitting 51 percent of his two-point tries ... Had tremendous range and hit 45 percent from behind the arc ... Excellent team defender who blocked 5.4 shots per game, many while stepping up to help teammates ... Strong rebounder who pulled down 8.2 per game ... Poised player who works hard to improve.

Quinn’s Quotes: “People overlook the defensive part. He was such an anchor for our defense ... Technically, he’s a very good shot-blocker ... He kept so many blocked shots in play ... What a variety of moves he had. The ability to hit that short jump shot made him so dangerous in the post ... All of a sudden he’s outside hitting back-to-back threes ... He’s focused. He wants to win. He keeps his teammates focused .... He’s a pleasure. I’m real happy he’s coming back.”

JOSH CARTER, SENIOR GUARD, VUHS. Notes: Point guard who capped his three-year varsity career with another strong season, averaging 12.6 points on 48 percent shooting, 3.5 assists and 2.1 steals ... Possessed three-point shooting range, but really sparked the VUHS offense when he used his ballhandling skill to penetrate and create shots for himself or teammates ... Intelligent, fast defender with quick hands.

 Quinn’s Quotes: “Josh, on ball, was just a great defender ... When he was getting in the middle, we were very tough to stop ... Josh was the guy who everyone was comfortable having the ball in his hands ... He was a smart defender. He really learned how to defend each player individually ... He was an unselfish player ... He had that great instinct to take what the defense gives you ... He provided really, really good leadership.”

ELI COHEN, SENIOR GUARD, MUHS. Notes: Relentless defender who helped spark the Tigers’ success with his hard-nosed play, poise and upbeat attitude ... Scored 7.1 points a game, pulled down 4.7 rebounds as a guard and averaged 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals ... Also led the Tigers with 3.5 defensive deflections per game ... Typically covered opponents’ top perimeter threats.

Altemose’s Quotes: “He brought so much every day ... He had fun playing, and he worked so hard ... We always matched him up with the other teams’ toughest ballhandlers, toughest guards ... He always made it tough for opposing guards to do anything, and created a lot of offense for us out of that, too ... He would believe the team could make it happen, His body language in those situations was crucial.”

CAM CURLER, SENIOR FORWARD, VUHS. Notes: Smart player who played consistent, mistake-free basketball ... Contributed across the board by averaging 9.8 points, 2.8 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals ... Selective shooter who converted 61 percent of his attempts ... Hard-working team player with a winning attitude who provided valuable leadership as a captain.

Quinn’s Quotes: “If everybody worked as hard as Cam did on the court, we would have been an even better team ... He’s one of these ultimate team guys who did not care about his stats. He cared about winning ... He did everything pretty well. He rebounded pretty well, he defended pretty well, he could score ... The influence that a captain has over his teammates, that’s something that is really hard to measure, but if you want an example of it, look at Cam Curler.”

SETH DELORME, SENIOR FORWARD, MUHS. Notes: Slashing scorer who led the Tigers with 10.3 points per game in his only varsity season, shooting 47 percent from the floor, mostly from the paint or from close range along the baseline ... Added 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game ... Became only one of four players in MUHS history to score 40-plus points in a game; his 41-points vs. Montpelier is No. 5 in school history.

Altemose’s Quotes: “He was a good defender for us ... Seth was the closest thing we had to a vocal leader ... He always believed we would find a way to make it happen ... He understood how to get the guys going ... He was a coachable guy who worked hard ... He was our most consistent player throughout the season.”

KYLE KAYHART, SENIOR GUARD/FORWARD, MOUNT ABE. Notes: Versatile, athletic player who averaged 10.5 points, 2.3 assists and 5.4 rebounds ... Typically drew a tough assignment in man defense, and could play anywhere in a zone ... Could also handle the ball out top on offense or play in the post ... Credited by Leggett along with co-captain Corey Kimball for keeping the Eagles positive when they struggled early on ... Picked for the North-South all-star game.

Leggett’s Quotes: “Kyle’s pretty athletic ... He can rebound, gets up the air quite well ... It was a credit to the captains to hold things together ... He could certainly shoot the ball, and he could defend, too. There were times I put him on the other team’s best player ... He could pay guard, He could play forward ... In the zone he could play out top or play underneath and pound the boards for us ... He’s a great kid.”

COREY KIMBALL, SENIOR GUARD, MOUNT ABE. Notes: Blossomed into a reliable and at-times dangerous scorer, leading Mount Abe with 12.0 points per game ... Could hit from behind the arc or slash to the basket and finish ... Also moved the ball well and found teammates, averaging 2.5 assists ... Pulled down 4.6 rebounds per game and defended the perimeter well.

Leggett’s Quotes: “He was a very even-keeled, positive individual ... He led by example ... There were times he could be a little explosive (scoring) ... He could shoot and also drive ... He’d find a way to get to the hole ... There were times where we used him on defense to guard someone in particular ... He rebounded pretty well. He moved well. He was tough to box out.”

JOEY MASSORES, JUNIOR FORWARD, OV. Notes: Hard-working, versatile athlete who assumed a major role for the young Otters at both ends of the floor ... Averaged 10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals ... Had three-point shooting range, plus the ability hit a medium-range shot or attack the basket ... Was asked to guard opponents’ top scorers in almost every contest.

Walsh’s Quotes: “He was our defensive stopper. He did a good job with that ... What was remarkable was that he was boundless in terms of energy. He had to turn around and be the go-to guy on offense ... He moved well without the ball, he took the ball strong to the basket, and he had a very nice jump shot, and he’s got range. He’s got all the tools.”

WILL PITKIN, SENIOR CENTER, MUHS. Notes: Six-foot-five center who led MUHS with 7.5 rebounds per game ... Averaged 7.4 points on 49 percent shooting ... Blocked 1.1 shots per game and changed many more ... Capable of big nights, with Altemose crediting his work vs. Montpelier in late December and vs. VUHS on Feb. 13 (20 rebounds) as pivotal in key wins.

Altemose’s Quotes: “He was obviously our best rebounder .. I think his great strength this year was his ability to change shots without fouling ... He really focused on fundamentals to make himself as good as he could be ... He kept working hard, kept his head up ... He won a couple games for us ... He was a force inside, and also became a good passer out of the post.”

LOGAN WILLIAMS, JUNIOR GUARD, VUHS. Notes: Explosive scorer who merits a spot here despite missing 11 games with a broken collarbone and then being slowed by a sprained ankle and sore shoulder upon his return ... Averaged 12.5 points and 2.0 steals per game ... Led VUHS in scoring in both games before he was hurt in December ... Scored his team’s first 14 points and finished with 27 on Feb. 13 at MUHS, and scored a team-high 16 at Mount Abe in his first game back.

Quinn’s Quotes: “He’s a great shooter. He’s an intense competitor, and he has ice water in his veins ... When he has the ball he just demands so much attention, and he’s so aggressive offensively ... I think he kind of scares people, because he can do so much with the ball. Not only is he a great three-point shooter, but he can take the ball to the basket and finish ... He really wants to improve his whole game.”

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