Classic: Southern Vermont has unfinished business

More news about: Southern Vermont
Photo by Eric Kelley,

By Ryan Scott

OWINGS Mills, Md. – Two seasons ago, coach Dan Engelstad went to Southern Vermont with a purpose.

“We wanted to play fun basketball, to bring some excitement to the community. I had a particular style I wanted to play and do play that way, you can’t do it without extreme enthusiasm.” He had high expectations for a program with no real history of success, “We wanted to compete on the same level with Williams (its near neighbor to the south).

They beat Williams that year, then did it again a year later. That squad, loaded with players recruited from the greater Baltimore area, Engelstad’s old stomping grounds, looked poised to do real damage in the NCAA Tournament last year, winning 25 games. But they lost one game that really mattered, a two-point heartbreaker to Regis in the NECC tournament championship.

“We have to give credit to Regis; they played a great. I don’t think we had our best game that night. We didn’t get invited to the NCAA Tournament and our guys were crushed.”

“These guys showed me something. We didn’t lose many games last year, so I was curious to see how these guys would respond to a tough loss. Our reward for the season we had was to play in the ECAC in Bangor, Maine, a five and a half hour drive in front of 10 people. They rallied. They played hard together. They showed up. They didn’t worry about what had happened and this is most of our core who is back. They showed real ability to move on.”

The Mountaineers are moving on to a new season, losing only one core player, the team is more focused than ever to achieve what eluded them last season. Senior guard Antoine White noticed the determination in action, “Individually you could tell guys put in a lot of work over the summer. The big thing we’ve been preaching is “don’t skip any steps.”

Leading scorer, DeShawn Hamlet, attributes a lot of their motivation to Engelstad. “I never had a coach like that. He’s so enthusiastic, he has so much energy and he knows the game. Just being with him has taught me to be a better leader and a better player. Adds White, “Off the court he really cares about us. When you have a coach like that who wants to see you do well in all aspects of life, you want to go out and play well.”

The Hoopsville Classic presents this school of just 500 undergraduates with an opportunity to prove themselves outside of their conference and make a case for inclusion, should the unthinkable happen again.

SVC’s Shaka Smart inspired “wreckage” offense came out fast and strong against Salisbury, gaining an early 16-8 lead. The Sea Gulls used the under 16 timeout to take a breather and settle down. They drew the game level with six minutes to go in the first half and the battle was on. Things were back and forth throughout the second half with both teams trading possessions until the very end, when Salisbury emerged victorious, 60-59.

The game was not without some controversy. Late in the second half a scoring discrepancy arose. Officials took the Salisbury scorebook as official since the Sea Gulls were the designated home team. This took the Mountaineers’ lead from 55-51 to 54-52 at a critical juncture. After the game, Southern Vermont was still unsure what exactly happened. “We can’t do anything about it,” said Engelstad, “We could have played a lot better. We just have to move on.” Southern Vermont takes on St. Thomas tomorrow; Salisbury plays DeSales.

The disappointment of this first day at Hoopsville only adds to the Mountaineer drive to succeed. “It’s a hungry group,” says Engelstad, “We’ve got unfinished business. We can’t skip any steps.”

Recapping the rest of Hoopsville Classic Day 1

St. John Fisher came out intent to bully the Bulldogs of DeSales, but the referees were not having any of it. The Cardinals found themselves saddled with five quick fouls, including two for sophomore Tyler Farrell in just the first minutes. “We have to get better adjusting to officials,” says St. John Fisher coach, Rob Kornaker, “I like how it was officiated, hands-off, but our guys, even at the end of the game, we’re still slapping on defense. We have to be better at that.”

In this matchup of clashing styles, DeSales wasn’t able to capitalize on the foul shots they received, hitting just nine of 21 for the game. They also had no answer for junior center, Keegan Ryan, who went for 19 points and 15 rebounds in the win. Cody Deal, DeSales’ lone senior in the rotation, was held to four points after putting in 36 against Rosemont on Tuesday.

St. John Fisher had a comfortable lead for much of the second half, although it didn’t seem too comfortable to Kornaker, “We have a lot of young players. I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything, but it would be nice to have six seniors [like we did last year].” DeSales did pull to within eight near the end of the game, but it was not enough to close the gap. DeSales faces Salisbury tomorrow, while St. John Fisher gets Dickinson.

The third game of the night answered a few questions. Tournament hosts Stevenson, picked to finish first in the Commonwealth, had opened the season 0-2. Would they be able to rebound against preseason No. 19 Dickinson? Would the Red Devils be able to nab their first win of the season after losing a number of key players, including All-American Gerry Wixted?

Stevenson did not get the win, losing 77-67, but they continue to improve. The Mustangs were once again led by senior guard Christian Roberts, who scored 23 points and keeps the team together on the floor. Poor shooting and difficulty stopping Dickinson’s interior attack proved the difference today.

Dickinson is loaded with individual talent, four players scored 13 or more points and the bench is deep with talented role players, allowing them to succeed with a number of different lineups. The team seems to be evolving from a post-centric offense to a more dynamic attack, but there is still work to do for the Red Devils to figure out exactly who they are and how they need to play.

Stevenson plays Emory on Saturday night to close out the tournament. Dickinson meets St. John Fisher at 4 p.m.

The first night ended with two strong teams meeting head on. St. Thomas got out to a quick start, 12-0 in the first two minutes. Emory spent the rest of the half battling back, drawing even with 2:30 to go. St. Thomas took another sizable lead in the second half led by the sharp-shooting due of Cortez Tillman and Taylor Montero, who scored 26 and 20 respectively. Emory battled back again, getting within eight on the back of senior Will Trawick and his 27 points, including 10 of 11 from the free throw line.

Both teams boast deep line-ups with lots of experience. They played the most disciplined basketball of the day and proved worthy of the prime time slot.