CRAFTSBURY–The moment I walked into the brand new World War II Memorial Gymnasium at Craftsbury Academy, the electricity was palpable.
Principal Merri Greenia was greeting fans at the door, dispensing tickets and programs with an extra twinkle in her eye.
And who could blame her.
After months of hard work, and weeks of anticipation, this was the big night, the night the entire community had waited for; The first home games of the 2012-2013 Craftsbury Academy basketball season.
And what a night it was.
The lofted stands, as well as the stage, were packed with not only members of the community, but a fair amount of Richford fans who were their to cheer on their teams, as well as revel in the glory of the evening.
After the girls took the floor for warm-ups, got ready, and met with the officials, Greenia took the house mic and officially welcomed everybody to the new building.
The ovation was exceptional.
In between the two games, Greenia spoke about what an important achievement the facility was for both the school and the community.
"It has made such an enhancement in the life of the Craftsbury school. To see the kids in here in gym class and recess, then practices and games, is just wonderful, and I think 'how many towns the size of Craftsbury could have taken this on.
"The town, as we know, came together to build the floor, and there's been some just wonderful community spirit, from the beginning of getting the bond vote through, right up until the end."
New Athletic Director Rob Cioffi was not familiar with the old building, but definitely appreciates the new facility he is fortunate to work out of.
"This is my first year here, and I have only seen pictures of the old gym, but this building is setting the stage for a new era of Crafstbury athletics.
"We have a lot more space, so more spectators can fit in here We can drop a curtain and have two practices going on, and I think it is going to be beneficial for all athletic teams coming in here and getting some workouts in, and that is what it is meant to be used for."
Said head coach Rich Thomas on the new Charger Dome, "This is a large financial and emotional commitment for this town, and I think everybody who was here tonight understands how exciting a facility this is, and it was packed."
So with the crowd in a fever pitch, the two girl’s teams lined up at center for the first tip-off in of a new era in Craftsbury basketball.
And it went to the Chargers.
But the first basket of the night would go to the Rockets, as Melissa Hango laid one in 48 seconds into the game.
The Chargers then kept the Rockets at bay for over five minutes, but the problem was, they couldn't score either.
They took a few trips to the line, but nothing would fall.
Finally, with 2:12 left in the quarter, Meghan Pennock put one up that dropped in, and the crowd erupted once more at the sight of the first Craftsbury basket scored in their new home.
After that monkey was off the girl’s shoulders, they regained their composure and finished up the first ahead of Richford 7-3.
If the first quarter was a slow moving, low scoring affair, the second was just the opposite.
Janet Bohannon got her shot rolling, both from the field and the line scoring ten points, including a 4/4 performance from the charity stripe.
Pennock contributed four points, while Sarah Dunbar had two.
For the Rockets, Elle Purrier was finally able to shake loose from Craftsbury's Thaila Thomas' smothering coverage, dropping in seven.
Morgan McAllister had four, and Hannah Gleason had one, and at the break, the Lady Chargers were in good shape, leading their division three rivals 23-15.
But this is where things started to go south for the home town team.
After scoring sixteen in the previous quarter, the girls could only muster seven in the third, while Richford started to find their stroke, led by Purrier's and Erika Snider's four points apiece.
Nobody had more than two for Craftsbury, but there was still some hope as they clung to a 30-26 lead.
While Richford was heating up en-route to their biggest quarter of the game, things got down right chilly for the blue and white.
The Rockets closed the gap to two on Johanna Sherver's bucket, but Bohannon made both shots on a 1-1 to restore the lead to four.
McAllister then went 1-2 from the line, and Sherver nailed a three and we were knotted at 32.
From there, Richford's big girls took over, as Sarah Doe and Gabby Coons combined for eleven points to seal the big comeback 42-36 win for the 1-0 Rockets.
Said coach Thomas on what happened to his now 1-1 girls after the second quarter, "Down the stretch we got away from our offensive elements and had some defensive breakdowns. We have some young kids in positions trying to match up to (Richford's) size
"Our shooters were a little off, but this early in the season, what I am looking for is effort and being in the right spot at the right time.
"Overall, that is a team that probably should have blown us out of the gym, and this team stayed together and to their principals as much as they could."
Purrier led Richford with 11 points, while Bohannon had a game-high 19 for Crafstbury.
The girls will now move on and face UCA today at 5:30 for the second time in three games.
Before the boy's game got underway, senior Frank Spiese unveiled the 2011-2012 League Championship banner to yet another thunderous round of applause.
"To me that was a metaphor of closing last year down, but connecting ourselves to the past," said Thomas.
The boys looked much better then they did on Saturday when they faced UCA.
There was a spring in their step, a bounce to their game, and... once again Richford scored the first points of the contest.
But this time things would be different.
Not willing to take any more of this “Richford winning in our barn nonsense,” Frank took control, and quickly tied the game up.
That sparked a mini-run of six points with buckets from Alex Vetere and Kyle Adams.
The Falcons hit for three to halt the run.
Logan Masse then put up four, followed by two more from Spiese and Adams and another Masse basket off of a Adams rebound, and after one the Academy had doubled up Richford 14-7.
The second quarter was a wild affair, as each team put up 19 points to move the score to 33-26.
Craftsbury was led by Adams' eight point offering, while Richford's Bret McAllister, who had six, led the visitors.
The Rockets had the edge in scoring in the third, as Joe Lamoureux scored five of the team's eleven points.
The Chargers could muster only eight points, paced by a pair of Vetere three's.
The problem for Craftsbury was that the boys kept trying to force the same play over and over again, much to Thomas' chagrin.
"We moved away from our offensive philosophy and started playing 1-on-1, sort of a street ball style, and it just wasn't very productive."
With the lead down to just four points (41-37), the fourth quarter was set to be a nail biter.
And it was.
With 6:47 left to play, Jamie St. Pierre's basket and one tied the game at 41-41.
Back and forth the two teams went and with under a minute to play, it 45 all.
:43:8 was all that remained for time in regulation when Vetere made an impossible lay-up and the following foul shot to give Craftsbury the three point cushion.
"It wasn't really the shot, it was more about how are team played," Vetere said. "We came together in the final minute and stayed strong until the end."
"Coaches always say they 'love easy,' they love the easy shot. Alex, he kind of thrives on easy, but he can also make those shots," said Thomas. "He creates, and he created that for himself. That was will-power right there and the game ball goes to him tonight."
Then as expected, the Chargers went into super-clean defense mode, while Richford fouled anything they could.
Vetere added two more free throws, Richford one, and after the horn sounded, the night's final ovation showered the players as the evening came to a close.
Said Vetere on the importance of getting the win in the building's opener, "It's great and it is a huge boost, and it brought our community together again."
Although her team lost, Pennock too reflected on the building's significance.
"I love this gym, and it makes playing basketball twenty times better. I think it makes us a lot better because we get to work in a much bigger space."
Vetere led all scorers with 17 points, while Brady Hemond had 11 for 0-1 Richford.
Now 1-1 the boys will face UCA later tonight after the girl's game.
Tip-off is slated for 7:00.
As the building began to empty, the feeling that something special had happened on a rainy night in December couldn't be overlooked, a feeling that everybody who was at the gym to witness the new era of Charger athletics will not soon forget.