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2017 brought drama, heartbreak and excitement through sports

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Posted on December 27, 2017 |
By Andy Kirkaldy



LaxGirls5844.jpg
THE MIDDLEBURY UNION High School girls’ lacrosse team celebrates winning the state Division I title in June. Middlebury beat Mt. Anthony, 10-8, in the championship game. Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

ADDISON COUNTY — As 2017 closes, the Independent takes a look back at the top local sports stories of the year.

JANUARY

In our first paper of the year we reported that the Mount Abraham and Middlebury union high school wrestling teams finished second and third at the Tigers’ 45th annual Hubie Wager Invitational Tournament. Three Eagles — sophomores Roman Mayer and Gary Conant and senior Ben Murray — and one Tiger — junior Dustin Davio — won titles.

Early in the month Tiger junior girls’ hoop standout Keagan Dunbar scored 18 in the first quarter on the way to a program-record 37 points in a win at Milton.

Vergennes senior Brandon Cousino earned the Outstanding Wrestler Award at Essex High School’s Michael Baker Classic. He topped previously undefeated Concord, N.H., 182-pounder George Tarwo, 4-3, with a late takedown, avenging his only loss of the season. Cousino earned his 100th career pin in the semifinal and improved his record to 155-27, setting a new school mark.

The Middlebury College men’s basketball team lost at Williams, 89-65, on Jan. 22. Late in the season the Panthers admitted Coach Jeff Brown spoke to them forcefully after the game. Notably, the team then won 14 straight.

The Tiger Nordic team gave a preview of things to come at a meet at Rikert Nordic Center. The Division II MUHS girls’ team placed all four scoring skiers in the top seven to defeat visiting D-I power Champlain Valley, 15-23, and Tiger senior Ursula Volk won the 5-kilometer classic-style race by more than a minute. CVU edged the Tiger boys, 18-21, but Tiger Sam Hodges posted an individual win.  

FEBRUARY

Early in February Mount Abe junior Lydia Pitts won three times and Middlebury senior Henry Ganey won once at the D-II indoor track and field championship meet at Norwich University. Pitts swept the girls’ 55-meter hurdles, long jump and triple jump for the second straight year, and Ganey won the boys’ 600-meter race.

Eagle 126-pound junior wrestler Ben Murray, who began his career at MUHS, reached the 100-win milestone on his home mat. Murray defeated Middlebury’s Justin Jackson, 11-2, for the landmark victory.

In a home basketball game vs. Mount Abe, Tiger Keagan Dunbar scored her 1,000th point during a 25-point night. But her friend, Eagle junior Emma Carter, had a bigger night, scoring 40 points in the Eagles’ 56-50 victory.

Commodore senior Adam Gill soon joined Dunbar in the 1,000-point club. In a home game vs. Missisquoi, Gill sank a free throw to reach 1,000 points during a 25-point effort.

Then Carter entered the 1,000-point club in late February, during a typical 28-point, 10-rebound night in a win over Missisquoi.

The Panther women’s hoop team clinched a winning NESCAC season, its first since 2001, and a home playoff game with a 65-59 victory over Trinity in their final regular season game. But Colby upset Middlebury in that playoff match.

Meanwhile the Panther men’s winning streak extended to NESCAC championship game, where they avenged their earlier defeat to Williams with an 84-62 victory. They weren’t done winning yet, but nor were they done with the Ephs.

Three area high school wrestlers, senior Brandon Cousino of VUHS at 182 pounds, senior Tyson Cram of Otter Valley at 145, and Eagle sophomore Roman Mayer at 120, earned championships at the state meet at VUHS. Tiger junior Dustin Davio was second at 138.

The Tiger Nordic teams swept the D-II titles in the two-part championship meet held at Craftsbury and Rikert. Tiger Ursula Volz won both individual events, and Sam Hodges claimed the classic crown. Malia Hodges and Amelia Ingersoll cracked the top 10 for the Tiger girls in both races, as did Hodges, Tom Hussey and Cade Christener for the boys.    THE MIDDLEBURY UNION High School boys’ and girls’ Nordic teams both won Division II state titles at the end of February.

Photo by Bruce Ingersoll

MARCH

The Tiger ice hockey teams had fine seasons, but came up short in the playoffs. No. 3 Rutland upset the host No. 2 girls’ hockey team, 1-0, in a D-I semifinal, despite a huge MUHS edge in play. Rutland went on to win the title. The Tiger boys, back in D-I, won one playoff game and then lost a one-goal semifinal.

Also winning playoff games were the OV boys’ and Eagle girls’ basketball teams.

For the second straight winter and ninth time since the NESCAC created its postseason tournaments in 2002, the Middlebury women’s hockey team earned the league’s playoff championship. The Tigers beat Amherst in the final, 4-1. Jessica Young picked up a goal and an assist in each tournament game.

But the NCAA tournament proved painful. The 19-7-2 Panthers led Norwich by 4-2 late in regulation, and but lost, 5-4, in double overtime.

The Panther men’s basketball team won three NCAA tournament games, all at home in a packed Pepin gymnasium. But Williams, on a remarkable run of its own, upset them one game short of the final four, 79-75, ending the Middlebury careers of former Missisquoi standout Matt St. Amour and of point guard Jake Brown, Coach Jeff Brown’s nephew.

Longtime MUHS football coach Peter Brakeley and former Mount Abraham baseball standout Tyler Pelland were among the 14 inductees into the Vermont Principals’ Association Hall of Fame announced in March, and OV running back Brent Nickerson was the only local football player named to the Vermont Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl squad.

SPRING

Although it was spring on the calendar, three Middlebury-area ice hockey players were still competing in April. Abby Gleason, Lexi Bartlett and Kate Donahue played on Vermont Shamrocks team that reached 2017 USA Hockey Tier II 16-and-under girls’ national championship game before losing, 3-1, in Troy, Mich. Gleason scored the Shamrock goal in the final.

In April the ties between Mount Abe and VUHS, which already shared a football team, grew closer: Both schools’ boys’ and girls’ lacrosse programs began cooperative play.

First-yearCoach Mike Becker’s Panther baseball team reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since 2006. Middlebury reached the NESCAC tournament final before falling.

The Middlebury College women’s lacrosse team excelled, but failed to repeat as NESCAC or NCAA champions. The 16-5 Panthers fell to The College of New Jersey in an NCAA quarterfinal.

Middlebury men’s tennis player Lubomir Cuba became the first Panther to win the NCAA Division III singles title, and also teamed up with William de Quant to win the program’s first doubles crown later. Both the men and women’s teams reached the NCAA final four before falling.

The first-year VUHS girls’ lacrosse team concluded its regular season with a big win on May 26 — the Commodores defeated visiting Harwood, 14-8, for the program’s first-ever varsity victory. The Commodores got five goals, an assist and eight ground balls from Ashley Turner.

JUNE

Lydia Pitts added to her trophy case by winning the girls’ 100-meter hurdles, long jump and triple jump at the D-II state championship meet at U-32. Also winning events were Eagle senior Finn Clements in the boys’ javelin, and Eagle junior Emma Radler in the girls’ pole vault.

In postseason action the Tiger and OV boys’ lacrosse teams won playoff games, as did OV softball, Eagle baseball and Tiger softball. The Eagle nine and both softball teams fell in quarterfinal heartbreakers.

Then the titles came. In Poultney the No. 1 Eagles (15-5) took a 3-0 lead over No. 2 Randolph in the D-II final and held on for a 4-2 win behind the pitching of Rachael McCormick and RBI hits from Katelynn Ouellette, Ruby Ball and Savannah Earley. The title was the program’s first.

Next up was the D-I girls’ lax collision at UVM between No. 1 Middlebury and No. 2 Mount Anthony, both 17-0.

The Tigers entered allowing only 5.4 goals per game, while the Patriots were averaging 17.0 goals per game. The Tigers won, 10-8, for the program’s first title since 2008. Satchel McLaughlin (four goals) and Andi Boe (three) led the attack, and the back line of goalie Raven Payne and defenders Riley Fenster, Keagan Dunbar, Abby Gleason and Lacey Greenamyre stood strong.

Then it was OV baseball’s turn at Centennial Field. The No. 3 Otters (14-6) completed their run through the Division II tournament when sophomore outfielder Nate Hudson lined a two-out, bases-loaded walkoff single in the bottom of the seventh to score senior Colby McKay, who led off the inning with a double, and deliver a 3-2 victory. OV senior ace Derek Aines tossed the complete-game win, his third of the playoffs.     THE OTTER VALLEY Union High School baseball team celebrates on the field immediately after winning the Division II state championship game in June.

Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

SUMMER

The Bristol Financial Services team of pullers Coleman Russell and Chris Wood and rider Sophie Wolak raced to victory in the annual Great Bristol Outhouse Race.  

A Babe Ruth all-star team including five Addison County residents — Barret Barrows, Neil Guy, Carter Monks, Cameron Sprigg and Tucker Stearns — won the Vermont Under-14 championship.

A former Middlebury College men’s basketball point guard became LeBron James’ boss — Koby Altman, a 2004 graduate was in July named the general manager of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.

A carp caught in April by a young Ferrisburgh resident was in July finally certified by the Department of Fish & Wildlife as a state record. Chase Stokes, then 10, caught the 33.25-pound carp in Otter Creek in Panton.   

The Addison County American Legion baseball team finished a 6-15 season in style at the Middlebury College field, knocking visiting Essex out of the playoffs with a 6-2 victory.

Vergennes and Middlebury youth swimmers capped an enjoyable summer by winning titles and setting records at the state meet. Vergennes swimmer Will Clark won four races and set a record in the 50-yard freestyle, and the Middlebury boys’ 14-and-under relay team of Fraser Milligan, Nathan Stone, Oliver Poduschnick and Will Carpenter set a state mark in winning their race.

SEPTEMBER

Brandon driver Vince Quenneville Jr. clinched the final Devil’s Bowl Speedway asphalt track championship when he finished second behind Fair Haven’s Billy Lussier in the evening’s main event, the 40-lap Sportsman Modified Feature.

Injuries made news in September. First the VUHS girls’ soccer team learned it would be without junior leading scorer Ciara McClay for the season due to a serious hip problem. Then Tiger senior all-star midfielder Andi Boe went down with a torn ACL, soon to be followed by Commodore sophomore all-star midfielder Emily Rooney.

Addison resident and Vergennes Union sophomore Michael Davis went to Glengary, W.Va., and earned $1,000 and the title of NRA Junior World Champion at the NRA World Shooting Championships — for the second straight year.

OCTOBER

While the Tiger cross-country teams kept winning meets, other teams jockeyed for playoff positioning in October.

In girls’ soccer Mount Abe closed the regular season with six straight wins to finish 10-4 and earn the No. 4 seed in D-II. But MUHS in D-I and OV and VUHS in D-III all opened on the road.

The Eagles won twice, once in dramatic fashion in overtime, but fell in the semifinal round. The shorthanded Commodores also were surprise winners, earning two upsets before losing to an undefeated squad in a semifinal.

In boys’ soccer MUHS (9-1-3 and No. 5 in D-I), Mount Abe (9-5 No. 5 in D-II), and VUHS (6-6-1 in D-III) all earned the right to host games, while OV, despite an 8-5-1 mark believed to be a program record for wins, had to open on the road. MUHS, Mount Abe and VUHS all won once, while OV fell short.

In D-II field hockey the No. 9 Tigers upset No. 8 U-32 on the road for their first win of the season before falling to No. 1 Bellow Falls. No. 6 Mount Abe ousted No. 3 OV, but then lost to No. 2 Spaulding in a semifinal.

In D-I football, the young Tigers earned the No. 5 seed with a 5-4 mark, but were ousted in the quarterfinals.

The Panther women’s soccer team upset top-ranked Williams, 1-0, to conclude its regular season. And then promptly lost to Hamilton in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs. But that win over Williams gave the Panthers an NCAA bid.    IN NOVEMBER THE Middlebury College field hockey team won the NCAA Division III championship and senior Lauren Schweppe, above, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.

Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

The men’s soccer team won its quarterfinal game and advanced to the league final four, as did the top-seeded field hockey team, which as it turned out was just getting warmed up.

As the month ended the MUHS girls’ cross-country team and Tiger Sam Hodges in the boys’ race each finished second at the state championship meet in Thetford as the semester ended with no titles for any local high schools.

The Tiger girls’ loss was a heartbreaker: They finished tied with U-32 with 64 points, and officials awarded first place to the Raiders based on the performance of the team’s sixth-place finishers. And the Tigers were without injured freshman Camille Malhotra, their top runner in many races this fall. Senior Caroline Kimble led the Tigers by taking fourth place.

NOVEMBER

Coach Katharine DeLorenzo, who had won her 250th collegiate game as a coach earlier this fall, watched her field hockey team storm through the postseason after winning the regular season NESCAC title.

Only one game in either the NESCAC or NCAA tournament was close: The second-ranked Panthers needed overtime to subdue Franklin & Marshall in the NCAA semifinal. Senior forward Annie Leonard swatted in the winning goal from midair. In the final Middlebury steamrolled No. 1 Messiah, 4-0. Leonard, defender Lauren Schweppe and wing Grace Jennings became all-Americans.

Coach David Saward’s men’s soccer team reached the NESCAC final, a performance good enough for his squad to get an NCAA berth in his last season. He leaves Middlebury on Dec. 31 after 33 years having earned the 2007 NCAA crown, several NESCAC and ECAC titles, and a 359-126-59 record. Assistant Alex Elias, an all-American central midfielder on the 2007 team, takes over in January.

Coach Peter Kim’s young women’s soccer team won one game in the NCAA tournament and shouldn’t be too harshly treated by graduation.

Coach Bob Ritter’s football squad excelled again, with a 6-2 campaign good for a second-place tie in NESCAC.

The month-long deer archery season ended on Nov. 5, and reporting stations had been busy already. By the time Youth Hunting Weekend had wrapped up, numbers of deer weighed in the county were running well ahead of the past year’s record pace.

Rifle season did not disappoint, and heading into December it looked all but certain 2017 would be the county’s most productive year for local hunters since 2005, when Vermont wildlife regulations changed to ban shooting spikehorn bucks during rifle season.

DECEMBER

December muzzleloader season numbers clinched it: 2017 became the best year for local deer hunters since the pivotal year of 2005. In all 1,189 hunters took deer to one of the county’s eight reporting stations in 2017, smashing the mark of 1,064 set just a year ago.

Hunters killed 261 deer in the opening archery season, the best total in at least five years; 110 during Youth Hunting Weekend, the second-best total in eight years; 554 in rifle season, a total exceeded only by 2016 among the past 13 years; and 264 during December’s muzzleloader/archery season (only a handful were bow kills), the best in at least the past six years.

Another mild winter contributed to good numbers of deer and plentiful feed, according to wildlife officials. Warmer than typical weather also probably encouraged more hunters to take to and stay in woods and fields.

Among high school teams off to promising starts through Dec. 26 were Tiger boys’ hockey (3-0-1), Eagle girls’ hoop (2-0) and OV boys’ basketball (2-1). The Tiger Nordic teams were also expected to be strong again.

At the end of first-semester play at the college the men’s hockey team was struggling to find its footing, and the women’s hockey squad stood at 4-3 against a tough schedule.

The women’s hoop team was off to its best start in years at 8-1. And despite the loss of two starting guards the Panther men were 6-0 and, thanks to last year’s Elite Eight appearance, ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division III. Tough tests awaited both, and more fun awaited fans and athletes alike as the calendar stands poised to flip.

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