BARRE — A year and a pandemic since losing the state championship by a single point, the Montpelier boys basketball team completed the task Sunday by defeating top-seeded North Country Union, 65-57, to claim their first Division II title since 2005.
Though the celebration was somewhat muted by the empty stands at the usually raucous Barre Auditorium, the result was nonetheless sweet following the bitter disappointment of last year’s loss to Fair Haven last March, about two weeks B.C. (Before COVID). That emotional letdown inspired a dedication by the returning senior players to work even harder this season, Solon Coach Nick Foster said.
“To have a senior group like this is special.” Foster said. “They’ve been thinking about that day since last year and it’s the attention to detail these guys have and the work ethic every single day, not just this year but all four years for our seniors.”
It was a milestone game for one of those seniors, Leo Riby-Williams, who capped a standout career by scoring 18 points in surpassing the 1,000-point mark. For the record, it came on a mid-range jumper near the end of the third quarter,
Both teams were undefeated at 11-0 during the pandemic-shortened season but North Country drew the top seed due to its slightly stronger schedule. On the court there was very little difference between them as the score remained close throughout.
Montpelier led by three at the half (32-29) and by four after three quarters (51-47). Unlike the Fair Haven loss, in which Montpelier did the chasing, it was the Falcons who were forced to play catch-up in the fourth.
Leo Riby-Williams scored six points in the fourth and dominated the glass as the Solons tightened on defense, building a 10-point lead and outscoring North Country 14-10 down the stretch.
Junior Rashid Nikiema added 16 points and Tyler Ricker scored 14 for MHS. Austin Giroux was immense for the Falcons, scoring 18 points in the second half to finish with a game-high 22. Cayde Micknak added 13.
While it was the Solons’ first boys basketball title in 20 years, it was the second state crown for Montpelier this academic year. The Solons also claimed the Division II state soccer championship in the fall.