Rice basketball hungry to return to court as reigning champions

Both boys and girls teams took home D1 crowns in 2022
Both boys and girls teams took home D1 crowns in 2022
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 9:29 PM EST
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - It has become a familiar feeling for one of the premier high school hoops programs in the state. The Rice boys basketball team once again cut down the nets as D1 state champs in 2022, taking home a third straight state title.

“We just have a whole bunch of dogs, guys that want to win, just that winning culture we bring at Rice,” said senior guard Sharif Sharif.

But for the first time in a decade, another group of Green Knights joined them on the mountaintop last March. For the Rice Girls, it was unfinished business after forfeiting the 2021 final due to Covid.

“It was just an amazing experience overall,” junior guard Elyse MacDonough said. “We work so hard throughout the whole year and to have it, not stolen, but taken from us a year before really put more motivation into us, and just made us want to get better.”

While it’s never a major shock when the Rice boys win, last year’s title was a bit surprising, after the Knights graduated as stellar class that included Michel Ndayishimiye the year before. Last year’s team also had zero seniors.

“This group just kind of kept coming together,” head coach Paul Pecor said. “You know, we started off a little bit slow in my eyes, but we kind of expected that, being a younger team, and then by the end of the year we really gelled well.”

“I feel like I’m taking on a big role compared to last year, my confidence has gone up,” junior forward Drew Bessette said. “I feel like all of ours has, but I feel like it’s all coming together.”

The girls are in a similar spot this year. The Knights graduated six players from last year’s champs, and will have to rely on a group of juniors as the veteran leaders this winter.

“Us juniors, because we have no seniors, are stepping up,” junior guard Kelli Cipelicki said. “We’re making sure the freshmen and sophomores are feeling comfortable around us. It’s like a family here and I have good hope for us.”

Both squads are excited to be back in the gym in preparation for this season and with all the talent each team brought back, the Knights are confident they have a shot to repeat the sweep this winter.

“We worked really hard. I know all the kids, you know, buy in and it was a special group last year,” girls head coach Aurie Thibault said. “I think we got a good group this year and I just really love this school and the passion that they have for basketball.”

“Our confidence is kind of through the roof now,” Sharif said. “You know, all the young guys have been there now. We’ve been there. So what, what’s going to stop us really?”