By Tris Wykes
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Hartford High’s athletics facilities have improved so dramatically in recent years that it was startling to enter Hanley Gymnasium on Friday and find half a dozen ceiling lights out.
Half the basketball floor was bathed in a sort of twilight, but the dim view couldn’t lessen excitement created by the first day of indoor winter games allowed in Vermont. The darkness also didn’t obscure the Hurricanes’ dominance over visiting Springfield in back-to-back boys and girls hoops contests. The hosts won the opener 82-46 and the nightcap, 51-24.
“We’ve been ready to play for a long time and we were so happy to have a home game,” said Hartford boys basketball coach Jeff Thomas, whose team, like all other indoors squads in the state, had to wait months to face opponents because of Covid-19 restrictions. “Just when we were sick of drills and skill, we (were allowed to) start practicing. And then we got tired of practicing against each other.”
Shea Bean led Hartford with 15 points, followed by Brandon Potter with 13. Jacob Seaver and Danny Bushway each contributed 11 points, Tarin Prior had 10 and Colin Vielleux and Dylan Morse each chipped in 8. Sam Presch led Springfield with 13 points.
“I didn’t think we played that hard at times last season,” said Thomas, in his second Hurricanes season after previously coaching at Woodstock. “We picked and chose. So our goal tonight was to play hard every possession. It’s the one thing I think you can control.
“We shot pretty good and we ran the court well. I didn’t think our defense talked tonight. We didn’t rotate well and our hands weren’t high. There’s always something to work on.”
Hartford girls coach Heidi Bushway said her players needed a game after practicing since November. They didn’t get much of one from the overmatched Cosmos, who trailed, 11-2, after a quarter and 43-15 after three stanzas, but competing at all was enjoyable. Springfield received 8 points from Maddie Clark.
Early practices this season weren’t allowed to include contact, resulting in a forced focus on fundamentals that Bushway said left the Hurricanes’ ball handling and defense much improved. The addition of former South Royalton standout guards Sophie and Sarah Howe, along with onetime Lebanon High forward Emily Wright, all juniors, has helped as well.
The Howes “are good shooters and good defensive players and they bring a lot of energy to the floor,” Bushway said. “They’re scrappy and hard workers and they know where each other is on the floor. They were trying back-door passes to each other all night long. It’s nice to have players who connect like that.”
Bushway said playing in an empty gym is an odd sensation and brings new challenges. Such as getting the reserve players to cheer more, because there aren ’t any fans to do so.
“It’s so quiet,” the coach said. “And it’s hard to talk to the kids with a mask on, because they can’t hear you. But if we can play, that’s what I care about.”
Notes: Hartford’s boys were 9-12 last season and the girls were 11-10. Both teams exited the playoffs in the first round, the girls losing to Springfield, which later graduated seven seniors… Emily Wright is the younger sister of former Lebanon star Becky Wright, who has moved on to Southern New Hampshire University… Bushway said her twins, seniors Danny and Alex, are headed into the work force after graduation later this year. Alex previously played basketball for the Hurricanes but is not this winter. He also plays football and baseball…Thomas, a 1983 Springfield High graduate, said he played summer baseball for Mike Hatt, who’s now coaching the Cosmos boys basketball team. One of the girls game’s referees recalled that Hatt taught him driver’s education. Hatt was a three-sport athlete at Springfield High, graduated from Springfield (Mass.) College in 1982 and has coached football and basketball at various schools, including Stevens, Springfield, Brattleboro and Newport. He returned to the Cosmos for his current position in 2019. Hatt’s son, Cody, is an assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of Texas.
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