Title Defense for Wildcats Starts this Week

by Ken Brown

HARDWICK – The Hazen Union boys’ basketball team captured their sixth Division III state championship (eighth overall) under head coach Aaron Hill last season and will begin their title defense this week at the seventh annual Dave Morse Classic (DMC).

Hill’s Wildcats won their first state title in five years last winter, navigating a gauntlet of divisional powers, including four-time defending state champion Williamstown and top-seeded Winooski. Both were grind-it-out defensive games, which was the calling card of Hill’s team last season. Hazen Union allowed a grand total of 154 points over four playoff games throughout their championship run last season.

That defense will take a slight hit with the graduation losses of Carter Hill, Aasha Gould, and Ryker Willett, but Hill returns four starters that include senior big man Tyler Rivard to anchor the paint. Rivard capped off a historic junior campaign with a performance for the ages in the title game at the Barre Auditorium. The Wildcats outlasted Winooski 37-34 that night and needed all of Rivard’s 21 points and 22 rebounds to do it. Rivard averaged 17 points on the season and shattered the single-season school rebounding record with over 15 boards per game. His efforts earned him First Team Capital League honors along with a Vermont Dream Dozen selection. The Wildcats went as Rivard went last winter and he is poised for another big year in his final season.

Lincoln Michaud also returns to join Rivard in the paint, where their muscle helped Hazen more than hold their own in their inaugural season in the physical Capital League. Jadon Baker also returns for his senior season, adding stability and an outside threat in the back court. Xavier Hill earned a Vermont Dream Dozen selection after a breakout sophomore campaign running the Wildcat offense. The smooth lefty adds an outside threat to Hazen Union’s offense and he should only be more of a handful for opposing defenses in year two. Coach Hill also reaped the rewards of a 19 win season with Capital League Coach of the Year Honors.

The DMC has always been a special tournament, showcasing the best of Vermont basketball, while honoring the late Hall of Fame legend Dave Morse and all that he gave to his community and the sport.

The Wildcats will begin their title defense this week at the DMC and coupled with a planned Banner Night and a homecoming for several former players and coaches, should prove to make the two-day tournament even more special. Hill and his Wildcat team will hang the school’s eighth championship banner on Friday night.

Preparations have been underway by Hill and supporters to also honor the players, coaches, managers, and contributors from the other seven teams that have won basketball titles that same evening during halftime of both games on Friday. Several alums from those teams have agreed to attend the ceremony from all around the country. There will also be a reception in the high school cafeteria that night after the DMC championship game and all former Wildcat players are invited back to the “Cat Den” the next morning for a pick-up basketball game.

“Dave meant so much to this program and community and we are very excited to bring back so many players and coaches from our championship teams during such a special tournament. It feels more like a family reunion than a basketball event. We have confirmation that players and coaches from as far away as Colorado, North Carolina, and Illinois are coming back for the event. The players from last year’s team are very excited to raise their own championship banner in front of so many past Hazen champions. We are hoping it will be a special night of celebration for our basketball program and our community,” said Hill.

Lamoille and Williamstown will tip-off the Dave Morse Classic at 5:30 p.m., on Wednesday, followed by Hazen Union and Randolph at 7 p.m. Consolation and championship games will be on Friday night at the same times.