BARRE— One for the history books.
Second-seeded North Country dethroned top-seeded and two-time defending champions Fair Haven 49-38 in the Division II finals at Barre Auditorium on Saturday.
Making their championship debut, the Falcons claimed the first state title in the program’s 54-year history.
“We made history just by getting here, but we were not going to settle for getting here. We knew we had an opportunity in front of us,” said first-year head coach Sarah Roy, who dedicated the win to NCU alumni. “All the great teams that came before us, that never had the chance to play [for a championship], we carried them with us today.”
McKenna Marsh scored 14, Cora Nadeau added 13 and Riann Fortin chipped in 12 to lead the Falcons, who overcame a slow start.
Held scoreless for the opening six minutes, North Country maintained its composure. The team relied on lessons learned in tough losses to D-II Enosburg and D-I champions BFA-St. Albans.
“Going through those tough times during the season helped us be stronger, and be ready for the ebbs and flows of a game,” Roy said.
Trailing 5-0 with under two minutes to go in the first quarter, North Country found a spark.
The Falcons pulled even in a matter of seconds, on back-to-back and-one plays. Fortin scored first, and her free throw miss was rebounded by Marsh, who converted the putback and drained her free throw to make it 5-5.
Shortly afterwards, Nadeau made consecutive threes to open the second quarter as North Country closed the first half on a 19-7 run to take a 19-12 lead into halftime.
Noting it “felt like forever” for her team to score, Roy said the Falcons relied on their mental toughness and matter-of-fact approach to overcome their early struggles.
“When we’re in a little bit of an offensive [funk] we just need to get a basket and we’ll be OK. And if that means you get to the line, then you get to the line. But we do what we gotta do,” said Roy.
Playing without top post player Courtney Brewster, who tore her ACL in a quarterfinal win over U-32, Fair Haven relied heavily on star guard Ryleigh Coloutti.
Blanketed by North Country defenders Hailey Pothier and Julia Baker, she struggled to find her rhythm.
The Slaters’ all-time leading scorer, Coloutti was held to five points in the first half and finished with a game-high 17, four short of her season average.
It all went according to the Falcons’ game plan.
“We decided all along that somebody else can beat us, but Ryleigh’s not going to beat us,” Roy said.
With Barre Auditorium empty due to COVID-19 precautions, the Falcons’ bench handled the cheering after halftime.
Marsh (7) and Nadeau combined for 12 points in the third quarter as North Country outscored Fair Haven 16-11 to extend their lead to 35-23.
After Pothier left the game with an injury midway through the fourth quarter, Coloutti attempted to will Fair Haven back into the game, scoring nine points in the final frame.
However, the Falcons’ countered with a balanced attack, with six players scoring as they matched the Slaters shot for shot over the final eight minutes.
Then, it was time to celebrate a historic achievement.
“It’s crazy, I don’t know how to put it into words,” Marsh said. “Nobody else that has been through North Country has gotten to feel this feeling.”
After the trophy presentation, the team gathered around Roy’s mother, Louise.
It was a poignant moment. Louise, who has been to every tournament game at Barre Auditorium for approximately 35 years, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer earlier this season.
COVID protocols had prohibited her from attending this year’s games. That led to a letter-writing campaign. Eventually, it reached Gov. Phil Scott, who agreed to allow Louise into The Aud.
“So she’s here today and it couldn’t be more special for me to have her here,” said Roy, noting that her players were aware of the situation. “They never felt burdened by any of that responsibility of being the first [North Country girls] team to get here, being the first team to win it. Of playing for my mom, and each other, and all the [North Country players] who never got here. They took on all of that, as an honor and a privilege.”
NOTES: North Country graduates seven seniors: Adrianna Chaput, Bailey Arkley, Jazmine Judd, Baker, Fortin, Marsh, and Pothier. … Coach Roy’s daughter, Nicole, also won a state title on Saturday as an assistant coach for the Division III Lake Region girls. … NCU went 9-for-16 from the free-throw line. Fair Haven was 8-for-9.
FH (11-1): Lily Briggs 1-0-2, Ryleigh Coloutti 6-3-17; Emma Ezzo 1-0-2; Megan Ezzo 1-2-4; Zoey Cole 2-2-6; Emma Briggs 2-1-7. Totals: 13-8-38.
NC (10-2): McKenna Marsh 5-3-14; Julia Baker 1-0-2; Hailey Pothier 2-2-6; Hope Dobler 1-0-2; Riann Fortin 6-0-12; Cora Nadeau 3-4-13. Totals: 18-9-49.
FH 7 5 11 15 — 38
NC 7 12 16 14 — 49
3-Pointers: FH 4 (Coloutti 2, Briggs 2), NC 4 (Nadeau 3, Marsh 1). Team Fouls: FH 18, NC 13.