There is just something about the Barre Memorial Auditorium that brings out the best in the Mount Abraham girls basketball team.
After opening up a 19-4 lead midway through the second quarter, the Eagles watched No. 2 Fair Haven mount a comeback in the Division II state championship game, slowly chipping away at the Mount Abraham lead.
“It was so frightening,” Mount Abraham captain Isabel Brennan said. “They were pulling closer and they were making more baskets, and we were hanging our heads a little bit.
“We all said we need to pick it up, and we pulled up the intensity. I think it made us realize that just because we won last year doesn’t mean we have the right to be champions this year.”
With the Slaters rolling and the Aud rocking with cheers, the pressure of the Division II title game could have buckled a weaker team.
Instead Mount Abraham responded, ratcheting up the defensive pressure and relying on its balanced group to beat Fair Haven 43-30 and win the Division II state championship for the second year in a row.
“We love it (at the Aud),” Mount Abraham senior captain Ashlie Fay said. “Division I plays at UVM, but we would rather play here. It’s the atmosphere. You feel close to the fans, and it echoes like crazy.”
It was Fay’s work in the first half — she scored seven of her nine points before halftime — that helped the Eagles build their early lead.
“(Fay) leads us in so many things; she’s just a tough player to deal with,” Mount Abraham coach Connie LaRose said. “She’s tough to defend.”
But Fair Haven refused to throw in the towel, and Elizabeh Fyles slowly began to chip away at the lead.
After the Slaters went down 19-4 midway through the second quarter, Fyles reeled off eight points to close the gap to 22-12 by halftime.
“I got a little scared, but I knew our team could pull it out,” Fay said.
Coming out of the locker room, Fair Haven continued to chip away, closing the gap to nine points, then seven, then five.
But entering the fourth quarter with a 29-22 lead, the Eagles used a suffocating full-court press to allow only eight points over the final eight minutes.
“We didn’t get as much out of it as we sometimes do,” said LaRose of the team’s press. “We still rattled them a little bit, and it tires the other team.”
Fyles did her best to keep Fair Haven in the game, scoring 10 points in the second half — but Mount Abraham kept the rest of the Slaters from helping their senior captain.
“We pride ourselves on our defense,” LaRose said. “We say it all the time, we said it at the first practice: let our defense create our offense. It has served us well through a lot of seasons.”
With the defense fully in control, Sam Driscoll and Meg Livingston hit key baskets in the fourth quarter to help Mount Abraham pull away and cement the team’s second straight D-II title.
“It’s amazing. It feels really good,” Fay said of the team’s title. “We had a team goal to leave it all out on the court, to just bring it, and we did.”
After the game, Brennan revealed that the team had found inspiration in the second half from former teammate Olivia Mae Scott, who would have been a member of the squad this season, but passed away tragically in the fall.
“We all wrote ‘Liv’ on the inside of our wrists and during halftime and we huddled and we pointed to our wrists and said, ‘Alright guys, let’s do this for her,” Brennan said. “We knew we could do it.”
Brennan led the way for Mount Abraham (18-4) with 10 points and seven boards. Livingston had 14 points to lead the Eagles’ scorers, and Driscoll finished with 10 points.
Fyles had a game-high 18 points for Fair Haven (17-6) and Lindsey Marcy added six points.
It was the third title overall for Mount Abraham.