Steve Landon returns as Hartford girls basketball coach

Hartford boys basketball coach Steve Landon talks with his team during half-time of a game with Windsor at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., in January 2017. Hartford won. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hartford boys basketball coach Steve Landon talks with his team during half-time of a game with Windsor at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., in January 2017. Hartford won. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — James M. Patterson

Woodstock coach Steve Landon gives instructions to his team while they play defense against Hartford in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 4, 2022. Landon is a first-year coach with the team after coaching at Hartford for 24 years. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Woodstock coach Steve Landon gives instructions to his team while they play defense against Hartford in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 4, 2022. Landon is a first-year coach with the team after coaching at Hartford for 24 years. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news file — Geoff Hansen

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-16-2023 7:53 AM

A visible reminder of Steve Landon’s first stint coaching the Hartford High girls basketball team hangs on the wall at Hanley Gym.

In 2012, his sixth season with the Hurricanes, Landon led Hartford to its only state championship in program history. After that, he moved over to the boys’ team for seven years, and then spent two seasons each leading the girls’ and boys’ programs at Woodstock.

And now, the man who has spent a total of 24 years involved with Hurricane athletics is heading back to White River Junction to try to hang up another girls’ basketball banner.

“The kids and lots of the people, I’m not a stranger to most of them,” Landon said. “I’m getting an opportunity to coach siblings of kids that I’ve coached. I met with the team for the first time last week, we had a really good, positive sit-down in a classroom environment, so I’m looking forward to getting to work with the kids.”

Landon took over the Hartford girls in 2006 at a time when the program had not reached the semifinals in 12 years. His first five teams, never seeded higher than No. 8 in the Vermont Division I playoffs, won a total of two playoff games, but the Canes put everything together in 2012, earning the No. 2 seed after dropping to Division II. Hartford rode its defense in its playoff conquest, allowing no more than 36 points in its four postseason games and defeating Mount Abraham in the final.

While the banner has immortalized that title-winning team in Hurricanes lore, Landon wants the players who brought that championship to Hartford brought back into the fold as he and the Canes chase another crown. Landon has remained in touch with that group, texting them each year on the anniversary of the title game, and he is hopeful that several of them will be around to assist him at practices.

“Nobody is going to teach them more about what it takes to get to that finish line than the (2012 team),” Landon said. “I can say it all I want, but these kids lived it, so they’re going to be able to come into the gym and work with the kids, and that’s so important, for not only the past but moving forward into the future.”

Landon’s tenure with the Hartford boys featured no storybook ending — the Hurricanes won just one postseason game, which came in his first season. He told the Valley News in 2019 that his departure was a mutual decision between him and athletic director Jeff Moreno. The girls’ team was 75-56 under Landon, but the boys, who have not won a state title since 1929, were 48-99 with him at the helm.

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Even during his time at Woodstock, Landon maintained contact with the Hartford girls’ program. Ava Thorburn, a senior forward for the Hurricanes this past winter, had been a ball girl as a first grader when Hartford won its 2012 title, and Landon wrote her a letter that season and held onto it until Thorburn’s senior night game. He also reached out to his former players to see if they could make it back for that game to bring Thorburn’s journey with the program full circle.

“He came to her senior night and gave her that letter,” Moreno said. “It was a reminder of what a good human he is, how good he is at making connections and caring genuinely and deeply.”

The Canes made a run to the semifinals in the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, but their two playoff victories that year represented the only postseason triumphs over the last five years under Heidi Bushway. Each of their past two seasons have been ended in the first round by Mount Abraham, with two losses by a combined 55 points.

But Hartford’s top three scorers from 2022-23 will all be returning, including Charlotte Jasmin, who burst onto the scene with 17.4 points per game as a freshman. Jasmin, who began practicing with the Hurricanes’ program in fourth grade, scored more than 40% of her team’s points for the season and gives Landon a star to build around for the next three years.

“The people who are going to come up have to step up because we’re such a small team,” Jasmin said. “(Landon) said he doesn’t want a lot (of players) on his bench because he likes when it’s small, which is good. I agree with that. It’s going to be hard for the new people, but it’s going to be good.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.