By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2022

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – The Hartford High girls basketball team scheduled a game with Danville this week on short notice. Unfortunately for the Vermont Division II Hurricanes, they were left with long faces Wednesday after a 55-42 setback to the Division IV Bears.

Hartford reached the playoff semifinals last season and started five of its eight seniors, but suffered its second consecutive loss without absent head coach Heidi Bushway, who’s expected back by the weekend. The Hurricanes fell by 10 points at Brattleboro on Monday. 

Hartford High’s Grace Gardner brings the ball up the court. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Sixth woman and senior Sophie Howe led the hosts with 11 points against Danville while senior guards Laci Sandvil poured in 17 for the Bears. Hartford was scheduled to host Woodstock on Wednesday, but the Wasps (5-4) backed out because of a shortage of available players.

“We’ve been canceling games every which way, so thank goodness (Danville was) willing to come,” said acting head coach Lacey Stever, a former Rivendell Academy star and college player who usually guides the Hartford junior varsity and assists with the top squad 

“We should have come ready to play, no matter who it was.”

Hartford High acting head coach Lacey Stever is a former college player. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Danville (5-5) graduated a pair of four-year starters after reaching the Division IV championship game last winter. The program returned six seniors, however, who second-year coach Nick DeCaro said “have been playing together almost since they could walk”. Wednesday, that group had Hartford (5-4) on the run from the opening tip.

The Hurricanes trailed, 13-8, after a quarter and never looked in sync at either end of the floor and despite Stever’s emotional exhortations. The Hurricanes have height with post player Emily Wright and forward Beth Dobrich, but the senior pair combined for only 10 points and didn’t play with much fire. 

That left the outside game, but two of the three starting guards, Sarah Howe and Elsie Davis, combined for three points. The other member of the backcourt trio, Grace Gardner, had seven points before she fouled out. Sophomore forward Madison Willey came off the bench and contributed eight points and played with some spunk, as did junior Marina Grassi.

Hartford High’s Marina Grassi eyes the hoop. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“We needed a spark so we put the bench in,” Stever said. “They got us really good momentum. Then we put the starters back in and we couldn’t seal the deal. We were missing shots and were late on some defensive rotations and that’s what killed us tonight.”

Stever, a physical education teacher at the Hartland Elementary School who played collegiately at Norwich University and Castleton State, said moving into the Hurricanes’ lead role wasn’t a huge change. Fellow assistant Brenda Griggs coached the JV team to a lopsided victory Wednesday.

“The three coaches, we’re at every varsity and JV practice together and we pretty much run the same stuff,” Stever said. “This level is just faster-paced and there’s a different group of girls when I turn around to sub them in.”

Last season’s Hurricanes surprised many with a late-season surge based on hustle and crisp execution. Could the same thing happen this time around? Stever paused before answering.

Hartford High’s Grace Gardner dribbles past Danville’s Laci Potter. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“I’ll just say there are 11 games left and there’s still time for that,” she said. “We have girls who are used to playing with each other, but I’m not sure they have their identity yet.”

Hartford is scheduled to host Division III foe Thetford (4-2) on Saturday.

Notes: Danville was scheduled to play Williamstown on Wednesday but that game was also canceled, leaving the Bears free to battle Hartford in a contest that was finalized fewer than 24 hours before it began… Stever and former Windsor High football and basketball player Luke Tancreti are slated to wed on June 18 in Fairlee. Not unexpectedly, the wedding party is littered with former Upper Valley high school sports competitors… DeCaro is a third- and fourth-grade teacher in Danville and previously coached the Bears’ junior varsity.

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Lacey Stever, right, Hartford High’s acting head coach, speaks with assistant Brenda Griggs. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.