From the way-back machine: New Connecticut River Classic tourney brings old CVL back to mind

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-30-2022 8:43 PM

There was a time when interstate high school matchups were commonplace in the Upper Valley. The Connecticut Valley League, which featured schools from both sides of the river, pitted the likes of Hanover, Lebanon and Stevens against Hartford, Windsor and other local Vermont institutions.

Changes to the scheduling procedures of the two states’ sports governing bodies brought about the CVL’s demise long ago, but longtime area coaches, administrators and fans recall it fondly. So this week, Windsor and Stevens brought back a small taste of the CVL by hosting the inaugural Connecticut River Classic basketball tournament, bringing together schools from both states.

Windsor’s first-year boys head coach, Larry Dougher, began his coaching career at Stevens, and he had some flexibility with the Yellowjackets’ schedule this year. Dougher reached out to Stevens athletic director Doug Beaupre about starting the interstate tournament, and Beaupre helped get other schools on board.

“When you went to a CVL game, because it was a 15-minute drive, you’d have the place absolutely packed,” Beaupre said. “Now, the other night, we played Gilford, and we had a large number of fans, but they didn’t bring that many. Even when teams were struggling (in the CVL), it would still have that local rivalry that was so much fun to witness. Hopefully, this can bring some of that back.”

Windsor hosted the boys’ tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday, with a field of Stevens, Rivendell and Fall Mountain. Beaupre was hoping for the same field on the girls’ side, played at Stevens, but Rivendell was unsure if its girls’ team would have enough available players, so Hinsdale, a third New Hampshire school, was added to replace the Raptors.

Beaupre had also wanted enough teams for a three-day tournament, but that was a tough sell for the Vermont schools because the Vermont Principals Association counts tournament games toward teams’ overall records, while the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association does not. That leaves New Hampshire schools with much more flexibility to play in tournaments during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

“We hope to have the Rivendell girls next year,” Dougher said. “It’s two great gyms, a lot of history with the programs, so it wasn’t that hard. Fall Mountain, Windsor and Stevens jumped on it pretty quick, and then it was just about finding another dance partner.”

Both hosts emerged victorious. The Windsor boys routed Fall Mountain, 73-39, in Tuesday’s semifinal, then cruised to a 61-41 win over Rivendell in an all-Vermont championship game. The Raptors defeated Stevens, 53-35, in their semifinal, but the Cardinals came back Wednesday to earn a 51-42 victory over Fall Mountain in the consolation game.

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Rivendell’s zone defense proved impenetrable against Stevens — the Raptors held a 30-6 lead at halftime and coasted from there, led by 14 points from Jacoby Patterson and 12 from Josiah Welch, who were both named to the all-tournament team. The Cardinals got 12 from Devin Genes in the consolation game, and he and Lucas Belisle represented Stevens on the all-CRC squad.

But the boys’ tournament belonged to Windsor senior Maison Fortin, who put up 38 points on Fall Mountain and 31 against Rivendell en route to MVP honors. Junior Corey Lockwood and senior Rodger Petermann joined Fortin as the Yellowjackets’ all-tournament team representatives.

“I’ve only played (back-to-back days) once, and that was last year,” Fortin said. “It was a fun tournament. There wasn’t any chaos; we all were out there having fun playing basketball.”

The game of the tournament, though, took place at Stevens on Wednesday afternoon, with the Cardinals outlasting Windsor in overtime, 45-41, for the girls’ title.

Both teams won their semifinals with ease, and Stevens jumped out to an 11-point lead after the first quarter against the Yellowjackets. The defending VPA Division III champions came roaring back in the third to take a one-point lead to the final eight minutes of regulation, and after the Cardinals appeared to take control late, Yellowjackets sophomore Audrey Rupp’s 3-pointer sent things to overtime.

Stevens junior Kiley Bundy was 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the extra session, finishing with 13 points in the Cardinals’ victory. The other four Stevens starters — Bella Bovell, Stella Lavertue, Sara Faro and Tara Sullivan — all had at least seven points. Rupp, Sydney Perry and Sophia Rockwood accounted for all of Windsor’s scoring.

Asked whether the tournament was worth taking a chunk out of her winter break, Lavertue, the girls’ MVP, responded, “definitely.” Bundy and Sullivan joined Lavertue on the all-tournament team, along with Rupp and Perry for the Yellowjackets.

“I really appreciate the ADs who got this together,” Cardinals coach Steve Condon said. “Windsor’s crowd is always in it. It makes for a fun game, almost a playoff atmosphere. It was a fun opportunity to get to play against that group.”

The Stevens and Windsor boys will play each other twice in January, but the girls’ teams are not scheduled to meet again. Those Cardinals-Yellowjackets boys’ games are the only remaining New Hampshire vs. Vermont contests for any Upper Valley basketball team this winter.

The venues will flip for the second annual Connecticut River Classic next December, with Stevens hosting the boys and the girls heading to Windsor.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this, but we thought it would be fun,” Beaupre said. “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the old CVL, but having this allows us to relive the past a little bit.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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