County Courier

ST. ALBANS – The last time the BFA-St. Albans girls basketball team won a championship, the current players on the team hadn’t been born yet.

28 years after the Comets won back-to-back titles in the early 1990s, this 2021 squad brought the program back to the top of Division I girls basketball after being crowned champions over the weekend.

Following a decisive win against South Burlington last Tuesday, the Comets were slated to face off against Rice in the championship Saturday at Barre Auditorium. On Thursday it was announced that a player from Rice’s semifinal opponent, Burlington, had tested positive for COVID-19. Rice players were therefore deemed to be close contacts and thus wouldn’t be able to play on Saturday.

The Comets got together when they got the news on Thursday to write a letter to the Vermont Principals’ Association asking if they would push the game back to allow Rice a chance to play. Staying consistent to how they had been doing things all throughout the postseason up to that point, the VPA ruled on Friday that since Rice wasn’t going to be able to play on the day the game was scheduled, the Comets were named 2021 Division I girls basketball state champions.

“I was really disappointed that we didn’t get to play the game, because we knew that experience was going to be amazing,” said senior Caitlyn Dasaro. “We tried really hard to push the game back to next week and we were pretty bummed when that didn’t happen and didn’t get to play in the championship.”

To celebrate, the team had one last practice together on Saturday on what would have been the day of the championship game.

The players got a surprise after practice when the BFA coaching staff and administrators put together an escorted parade route from BFA around Taylor Park, which was filled with family and friends to celebrate the team’s title.

“It was very exciting going out around in the parade,” said senior Maren McGinn. “We really appreciate all the support from our families and the community, and it really made our day really special.”

After not having the experience of playing in the championship game, the players said the parade was when it started to sink in that they were the champions.

“Coming into today, we knew we were champions, but it hadn’t quite sunk in yet,” said Dasaro. “Seeing the community out there supporting us and seeing how happy they were for us, I think it made us realize that we didn’t just win by playing hard, but we also won by bringing a community together. And for us, I think that was the most special part and I think when it really sunk in for us that we are the champions.”

It was a special weekend for the team, especially for the five seniors in McGinn, Dasaro, Bethany Sanders, MacKenzie Moore and Iris Burns.

“Going through the parade and being here with the team taking pictures and cutting down the net was so exciting,” said Sanders. “Doing this with this group of seniors has been great. We always dreamt of this since fifth-grade mini-metro, and we made our dream come true.”

The fact that the seniors have been playing together for so long and capped off their senior year with a title made it even more exciting for them.

“It wasn’t how we planned to win, but I am so proud of how our entire team played throughout the entire season,” said Burns. “I’m sad that the season is over, but so happy that we had the opportunity to do what we did this year.”

In addition to the special connection with among the seniors, there were also two pairs of sisters on the squad this year in MacKenzie and Cadence Moore as well as Caitlyn and Ruby Dasaro.

“All of us seniors have been playing together for so long, so this is definitely an incredible feeling,” said MacKenzie Moore. “To do it with this group and also with my sister makes it all that much better and special.”

The parade on Saturday was something that was important to coaches Paul LaFountain and Dylan Baker to celebrate the players after they didn’t get the opportunity to play in that final championship game.

“We wanted to play in that final game and it stinks we couldn’t, but like (BFA Athletic Director) Dan (Marlow) always says you can only control what you can control, so we shifted our focus on how we are going to celebrate these girls,” said LaFountain during an interview with Northwest Vermont Sports Podcast on Friday. “These girls dedicated so much to bring a championship back to this school and we did everything we had to do to make it through this season, and these girls will always be champions.”

It was the team’s third title overall after it had won back-to-back 1992 and 1993. They continued to add to program that has had a lot of success throughout its history. Since the 1993 season, the Comets have now been to the semifinal round of the playoffs 13 times, which trails only three programs and not by much. They only trail Essex (16), CVU (15) and Rice (14) for trips to the semifinals during that stretch.

It was not a normal year by any stretch of the imagination for any team this winter season. After getting out to a delayed start due to the pandemic, teams were just happy to get back to practice and were finally able to start playing games again in the middle of February.

One thing the players said was the most different about this year was the fact that fans weren’t allowed into the gym.

The schedule for this abbreviated season wasn’t at all easy for the Comets. The team played five of its first six games on the road and played some of their tougher opponents during that stretch, including CVU and Essex.

Despite the tough schedule to start the year, the Comets finished the regular season with a 6-3 record, which earned them the No. 4 seed.

They continued to just keep getting better in the playoffs when they stormed past Rutland 45-30 in the quarterfinals and made quick work of South Burlington, 59-38, in the semifinals.

McGinn was a force throughout the playoffs, as she finished averaging a double-double in the two games with 21.5 points per game to go along with 10.5 rebounds. She tallied 27 points and 10 rebounds in the semifinal win over the Wolves.

Dasaro finished the postseason averaging 13 points, seven rebounds and two-and-a-half steals a game, as she continued to be the all-around dynamic playmaker she had been all season whether it was shooting, passing to teammates or her defense.

As they saw a number of teams fall out of the playoffs due to COVID-19 protocol, the Comets knew they had to stay diligent if they wanted to get to their ultimate goal.

“We all held each other accountable both on the court with basketball and off it to make sure no one got exposed,” said Sanders. “We knew we all had to be smart with everything we did and we were, and that’s why we are here today.”

All of their hard work heading up to this season as well as having to be extra cautious in everything they did throughout the campaign, it all paid off over the weekend. And they will forever be known as champions for it.

(Thoughts from County Courier writer Anthony Labor)

This BFA-St. Albans girls basketball team was by far one of my favorite teams to watch throughout this season. This was truly the epitome of a team and made it fun to come out and watch every night. Most teams have that one “star” player that is the focus of everything, but that wasn’t the case with this team. Now, that’s not to say this team didn’t have those quality of players, because they certainly did. What it says is this squad all had a team-first mentality and you never knew who was going to be the “star” of the game night in and night out, which in my opinion made it even more fun to watch. From the coaches down to every player, they all bought in to one common goal in bringing a championship back to St. Albans and they did just that. And on a light-hearted note, going to the games and seeing which bow tie assistant coach Dylan Baker was going to wear on any given night was just an added bonus.

Your 2021 Div. I State Champion BFA-St. Albans Comets:

Maren McGinn, senior: McGinn had an incredible run during the team’s two postseason games averaging a double-double and had a 27-point, 10 rebound game during her final high school game. Not a bad way to go out to lead your team to what was supposed to be a championship game and eventually a championship. It’s been incredible seeing McGinn continue to improve every year and she was dominant in the post this season and on the boards and was a lot of fun to watch her hone in her skills from the 3-point line. She finished the year averaging 14.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds.

Caitlyn Dasaro, senior: When you think of a do-it-all player, look no further than Dasaro. She provided so much energy on both sides of the ball for the team and could literally do it all. Whether the team needed a big basket, a big steal, a nice pass to a teammate or anything at all, she could always provide and her stats showed it. She finished the season scoring 14.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3.5 steals a game throughout the season. She also averaged double digit points in the postseason with 13 points per game to go along with seven rebounds per game.

MacKenzie Moore, senior: Moore was another foundational piece to the success of the team this season. She was a sharpshooter than was always a threat from 3-point land and also showed throughout the year that she wasn’t afraid to get in the trenches of the post as well. She finished the season averaging over six points, four rebounds and two assists a game. She played with a lot of intensity that helped bring a lot of energy to the floor night in and night out.

Bethany Sanders, senior: Sanders brought a lot of intensity on defense throughout the entire season and came up with a number of big shots, most notably in the game against Essex where she hit a couple nice baskets in the first half and came up with some nice assists. She also brought a positive energy to the team that helped lead the team throughout a weird season with everything going on in the world off the basketball court.

Iris Burns, senior: Burns was another foundational piece for the Comets this season, as provided solid minutes as a starter for the team. She was another sharpshooter for the team and always a threat to hit a 3. She finished the year hitting over 33 percent of her attempts from downtown and also finished averaging a steal a game.

Alexis “Pippa” Kittell, junior: Kittell was a walking highlight reel this season and seemed like she made at least one play a game where anyone who saw it could only say “Wow”. She did a little bit of everything on the season and had to be one of the most tenacious on-ball defenders in the state. She finished the season averaging over four points a game, while also averaging almost four rebounds. She also finished with 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals a game. She was the floor general for the team all season and always made great plays every night.

Loghan Hughes, junior: Hughes provided solid depth for the Comets throughout the season and was almost like a Swiss-Army knife in that she provided something in a lot of different departments for the team. She averaged 13 minutes a game and averaged just under two rebounds and assists a game, while almost averaging a steal a game. I thought she had one of her best games of the season in the semifinal game against South Burlington coming up with a  few clutch steals on defense and should play a big role in the team next season.

Cadence Moore, junior: Moore was another player that gave a lot of solid minutes coming off the bench throughout the entire season. All you would have to do is look to the playoff game against Rutland where she played essentially the entire fourth quarter, as she was part of a group that shut down the Ravens as the Comets pulled away for a double-digit victory. She is another returning player that will play a key role in the team next year, as she builds on what she did this season.

Lauren-Kate Garceau, sophomore: Garceau provided some solid minutes for the team as she jumped from JV to varsity throughout the season. She averaged 10 minutes a game for the Comets and averaged almost two rebounds a game. You could see her start to gain confidence in her shot as the season progressed, which she showed off when she hit a big 3-pointer toward the end of the first half of the semifinal against South Burlington to help the Comets jump out to a big lead. She will continue to play a big role for the next couple of years.

Ruby Dasaro, freshman: Dasaro played in seven games throughout the season and averaged two points and 1.5 rebounds a game with the varsity team. She showed in her time on the floor that she wasn’t afraid to get down in the post or step back and hit a 3-pointer. The confidence she played with as a freshman will provide good things going forward.

Hannah Branon, Allie Bushey, Ella Reynolds, sophomores: Branon, Bushey and Reynolds were call-ups for the last two regular season games and the two playoff games. All three saw some solid time during the game against Colchester and all played sound defensively. The three will all play big roles going forward for the Comets program.