By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — The Vergennes Union High School boys’ lacrosse team achieved a key preseason goal on Friday, and made history for the two-year-old varsity program.
In a game moved to Middlebury College’s turf field because of wet grounds at VUHS, the Commodores defeated St. Johnsbury, 10-6, to improve to 8-7 and post the program’s first winning varsity season.
The Commodores did that despite having only 15 players on their roster, graduating 10 seniors, and fighting through a rash of injuries, including the early-season loss of starting goalie Seth Stone.
Coach Rory Cartwright said he is thrilled with what the Commodores have accomplished.
“We’ve been a team. That’s something we focused on right from the start. We knew we were going to be small. We knew we didn’t have deep reserves and everybody had to cover each other’s back,” Cartwright said. “It was tough when we had that little midseason slump when we had all the injuries. I think I practiced twice with a full squad all season, literally. So it was hard ... But to their credit, these guys bounced back. They never gave up.”
Senior middie Joe Russett, who led VUHS with four goals against the 4-10 Hilltoppers, said hard work helped the Commodores persevere.
“We had a small team, (so we did) a lot of preseason running. That helped out a lot, getting in good condition,” Russett said. “That, and getting basic skills down.”
And when the injuries struck, the Commodores united, he said, rather than frayed.
“I thought we pulled together pretty well, especially toward the end there,” Russett said.
Cartwright also praised senior Tim Glassberg, a starting attacker who volunteered to step into the goal after Stone injured his hand. Glassberg, who racked up 17 saves against St. J, caught on quickly and without complaint.
“He did it willingly ... and he’s been integral to being where we are today. I’ve just got to admire the guy,” Cartwright said.
Early on in Friday’s game, Glassberg didn’t have much to do as VUHS took a 3-0 lead in the first 6:10. Senior attacker Silas Larson curled from behind the net to make it 1-0, and Russett struck twice, including a feed from senior middie Bobby Worley.
But then the Hilltoppers scored three times in 2:10 to make it 3-3 at 8:35. Glassberg preserved the tie with a kick save on Rich Plonski with VUHS a man down, and just after the penalty expired Russett scooped a ground ball and went coast-to-coast to make it 4-3 at 0:15.
In the second period the Commodores padded their lead while playing a man down when speedy junior middie Gary Grant (two goals, two assists) picked up a ground ball and scored at 0:52.
Plonski cut the lead to one with a man-up goal, but VUHS sophomore middie Morgan Stinchfield bounced in a man-up goal at 6:08 to make it 6-4. That score held until the half, thanks in part to a fine defensive play by Worley with VUHS a man down in the final minute.
VUHS dominated the third period, outshooting St. J by 18-7, but each team scored once. Grant set up junior attacker Brian Kilbride for VUHS, and Plonski tallied for St. J.
Stinchfield tallied at 0:25 of the fourth, and at 2:49 Grant picked off an errant clear at midfield at full speed, blew past the defense and scored to make it 9-5.
Plonski scored at 6:48, but soon afterward Larson and Russett ran a textbook fast break, with Larson dishing to his left and Russett finishing the insurance goal past St. J netminder Nathan Smith (24 saves).
Russett said VUHS had the answers when St. J came back and tied the game.
“We kept strong. We kept it up with good passing and good teamwork, actually, connecting good passes and making fast-break goals and clearing well,” he said.
Cartwright said his defense of Chuck Stinchfield, Zach Castillo and Trevor Sampson played well, and praised the work of long-stick middie Justin Lalumiere in helping VUHS clear the defensive zone.
VUHS will probably host a Division II first-round game this week, possibly against Otter Valley. The Commodores would love to put together a playoff run, but Cartwright said he is proud of their spring no matter what happens next.
“Whether we do or not, this is absolutely a successful season,” Cartwright said. “We were planning to finish over .500, it looked like it was slipping away for a while, they brought it back, and they came down here today to make sure it was going to happen, and they did.”