Champlain Valley Union could join exclusive company in its chase to retain the Division I crown for the third consecutive winter.
Mill River (D-II), Richford (D-III) and Mount St. Joseph (D-IV) are also gunning for repeat titles.
Will they do it? Can they do it?
Their paths to find out start Tuesday night when teams across the state collide in playdown rounds of the high school girls basketball tournament.
The Redhawks, entering tournament play with a 91-game winning streak, have their sights set on a fourth straight championship. Only Essex (1 in D-I) and Chelsea (1 in D-IV) can lay claim to winning at least four in a row. Mill River (two seed) and MSJ (top seed) are among the favorites in their respected divisions while Richford, as the fourth seed, would be more than happy to serve in the upset role again.
As tradition demands, here are my picks for the 2016 postseason, along with storylines for each tournament:
• What to know: No. 1 CVU (20-0), its unblemished run a modern hoops record in Vermont, is undeniably the favorite. While they were challenged in spots, the Redhawks won every game by at least 10 points except for a 39-35 nailbiter at St. Johnsbury. They also held opponents to under 30 points on 14 occasions this winter and boast the state’s top two players in forward Laurel Jaunich, the reigning Free Press Miss Basketball, and point guard Sadie Otley. That aside, parity reigned in Division I, with a handful of teams brimming with confidence to make advancing a tricky endeavor for all. … No. 2 Rice (14-6) overcame a slow start to find itself in a familiar position: In the thick of a title race. Sophomore guard Lisa Sulejmani has ignited Rice’s offense, highlighted by a 39-point performance against Mount Anthony in double overtime in mid-January. .. Third-seeded Essex (14-6) has experience from last year’s finalist team but went a combined 1-5 against CVU, Essex and Burlington this winter. … The No. 4 Seahorses (13-7) welcomed back Norah Mitchell to its frontcourt-heavy lineup recently, but BHS endured a 2-4 slide down the stretch. … Polar opposites for their philosophical approaches, No. 6 St. Johnsbury (12-8) and No. 8 Mount Anthony (10-10) are sleepers to watch –– the Hilltoppers for their methodical ways and the Patriots for their run-and-gun, high-volume shooting theatrics.
No. 1 Champlain Valley over No. 16 Spaulding
No. 8 Mount Anthony over No. 9 Middlebury
No. 4 Burlington over No. 13 Mount Mansfield
No. 12 Rutland over No. 5 North Country
No. 2 Rice over No. 15 Burr and Burton
No. 10 BFA-St. Albans over No. 7 Colchester
No. 3 Essex over No. 14 Brattleboro
No. 11 South Burlington over No. 6 St. Johnsbury
CVU over Mount Anthony
Burlington over Rutland
Rice over BFA
Essex over South Burlington
CVU over Burlington
Rice over Essex
• Championship: CVU 40, Rice 25 –– For the sixth straight year, these two rivals meet at Patrick Gym in the Final Four. But, like the other matchups, this one won’t be close as the senior-led Redhawks close out an unprecedented run with their 95th straight win and fourth crown in as many seasons.
• What to know: Relegated to Division I in the previous two seasons, No. 1 U-32 (19-1) returns to its more comfortable surroundings in D-II. And it’s where the Raiders, riding a 16-game winning streak, have positioned themselves as title favorites behind the play of Liz Aitchison and Andrea Symonds. U-32, its last title coming in 2004, have two wins over Lyndon and early season triumphs at Mill River and home against South Burlington. … Defending-champion and two-seed Mill River (16-4) might be peaking at the right time, closing the regular season on a five-game winning streak highlighted by topping Fair Haven and Hartford to avenge earlier defeats. .. Lyndon (17-3), at the third slot, has only lost to U-32 since the calendar turned to 2016, while No. 5 Lake Region (15-5) compiled a resume that includes a split in two meetings with the Vikings, a narrow win over St. Johnsbury and a two-point loss to South Burlington. … Fair Haven (15-5) is lurking as the five-seed.
No. 1 U-32 over No. 16 Bellows Falls
No. 2 Mill River over No. 15 Springfield
No. 3 Lyndon over No. 14 Woodstock
No. 4 Fair Haven over No. 13 Otter Valley
No. 5 Lake Region over No. 12 Vergennes
No. 6 Milton over No. 11 Randolph
No. 10 Lamoille over No. 7 Mount Abraham
No. 8 BFA-Fairfax over No. 9 Hartford
U-32 over BFA-Fairfax
Mill River over Lamoille
Lyndon over Milton
Lake Region over Fair Haven
U-32 over Lake Region
Lyndon over Mill River
• Championship: U-32 50, Lyndon 48 (OT) –– The teams’ third meeting of the season produces the most dramatic conclusion, with the Raiders, the division’s top team from start to finish, slipping past the Vikings in a thriller.
• What to know: Emilee Bose and No. 1 Enosburg (17-3) enter the posteason with a 10-game winning streak and could be poised for the program’s fourth title and first since 2008. A possible quarterfinal matchup with Winooski could prove challenging –– the Spartans tagged Enosburg with its last loss and only fell 25-20 in the second meeting. … Second-seeded Thetford (15-5) has recent history on its side for a deep run with four consecutive trips to Barre Aud, back-to-back finals appearance and the 2014 crown. …Williamstown (16-4), the third seed, has won eight games in a row, many by large margins, yet against a slate of D-IV league foes from the CVL. … That leaves reigning champion Richford (15-5), the four seed in a division with only seven teams earning winning records this winter. Four of the Rockets’ losses are to Enosburg and Lake Region.
No. 1 Enosburg over No. 16 Poultney
No. 9 Winooski over No. 8 Windsor
No. 2 Thetford over No. 15 Peoples
No. 7 Leland & Gray over No. 10 Northfield
No. 6 Twin Valley over No. 11 Oxbow
No. 4 Richford over No. 13 Green Mountain
No. 5 Rivendell over No. 12 Hazen
No. 3 Williamstown over No. 14 Stowe
Enosburg over Winooski
Thetford over Leland & Gray
Twin Valley over Williamstown
Richford over Rivendell
Enosburg over Richford
Thetford over Twin Valley
• Championship: Thetford 44, Enosburg 40 –– The Panthers, bitten by another Mountain Division team a year ago in the finals, reclaim their crown, the program’s second in three years.
• What to know: Mount St. Joseph’s Monica Schemelzenbach reached 1,000 career points last week, just the second player in program history to hit the milestone, according to the Rutland Herald. More honors might be coming for top-seeded MSJ (19-1), the favorite to repeat. No. 2 West Rutland (17-3) and No. 3 Proctor (16-4) join MSJ as the division’s top class. The Phantoms dealt MSJ its only loss and the two programs have met in the last two finals, each winning one. Expect MSJ, Proctor and West Rutland to make up three-fourths of D-IV’s Barre contingent for the third straight year.
No. 8 Blue Mountain over No. 9 Mid Vermont Christian
No. 4 Chelsea over No. 13 Websterville Baptist
No. 5 Whitchester over No. 12 South Royalton
No. 2 West Rutland over No. 15 Black River
No. 10 Cabot over No. 7 Danville (10-10)
No. 3 Proctor over No. 14 Twinfield
No. 6 Craftsbury over No. 11 Arlington
No. 1 Mount St. Joseph over Blue Mountain
Chelsea over Whitchester
West Rutland over Cabot
Proctor over Craftsbury
MSJ over Chelsea
Proctor over West Rutland
• Championship: MSJ 41, Proctor 39 –– The MVL rivals lock horns again in the final at Barre Aud, and the Mounties strike with a layup in the last minute of regulation for the decisive points for the repeat crown.
This story was originally published on Feb. 22, 2016. Contact Alex Abrami at or . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aabrami5
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