Spring sports getting off to a soggy start

ADDISON COUNTY — Although Mother Nature may have the last laugh considering the uncooperative weather in the forecast and the iffy condition of playing surfaces, the local high school sports season is scheduled to open this week.
Eight teams have games or matches on their dockets, but it’s possible only up to half of them will see action: the Middlebury Union boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and tennis squads.
The two lacrosse teams were scheduled to play at Woodstock this week, but Woodstock officials allowed the games to be moved here when Middlebury College officials said they could be played on the school’s artificial turf fields.
Therefore, Coach Jono Chapin’s Tiger boys’ could be the first into action when they host their traditional rivals, at 11 a.m. on Saturday on the Panther men’s soccer field off South Street. Chapin’s Tigers are coming off a down season, but lost only a handful of starters and should bounce back behind a solid defense and growth from its talented younger players.
Kelley Higgins takes over the MUHS girls’ lacrosse team, which graduated a half-dozen senior starters from the group that reached the Division I title game a year ago. Higgins’ Tigers will almost certainly have the strongest midfield in Vermont, but must rebuild their defense and attack. They will entertain the Wasps at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The MUHS tennis teams probably have the next best chance of playing their scheduled matches this week, assuming any snow melts off the hard courts or they are able to obtain use of the college’s indoor facilities.
First-year Tiger girls’ tennis coach Laura Rumbough’s squad is a dozen strong despite the loss to graduation of its No. 1 player and another key contributor. The Tiger girls are set to host St. Albans at the Middlebury Recreation Park at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, and then travel to D-II power Stowe for a Saturday morning match.
Coach Franz Kollas’ Tiger boys are still young, but a year of seasoning should make them more competitive this spring. They will open, weather permitting, by hosting Spaulding at the rec park on Thursday at 3:30 p.m.
Otter Valley’s girls’ tennis team will not open until April 20, when Coach Jim Samler’s charges will host D-II powerhouse Burr & Burton. The Otters return most of their players this season — only three seniors graduated.
On paper, the OV softball and baseball teams will be the first out of the starting gates this week. Because the games are in fact played on diamonds that could be covered in snow and/or mud, whether those Otter units will play games on Monday and Thursday is questionable.
For the record, Coach Pattie Candon’s softball Otters are supposed to play at defending D-I champion Brattleboro on Monday and at Marble Valley League B Division rival Fair Haven on Thursday. OV earned the No. 2 seed in D-II in 2010, a year after winning the D-II title. A number of talented players return.
First-year coach Tim Mitchell’s baseball Otters have road games at Rutland and Fair Haven scheduled for Monday and Thursday, respectively. Mitchell will field a young squad, many of whom played on a championship Babe Ruth team this past summer.
Two boys’ lacrosse teams are on the docket for Friday. Coach Rory Cartwright’s Vergennes stickers are supposed to travel to Randolph, which has seen more snow than Champlain Valley. Their second game, at first-year coach Randy Stewart’s OV boys on April 13, is a better bet. That’s probably also safe to say for Stewart’s Otters, whose first scheduled game is at Brattleboro on Friday.
Both teams are coming off somewhat disappointing campaigns. The VUHS coaches see a renewed commitment to teamwork, however, and Stewart said he believes an emphasis on fundamentals will help move OV in the right direction.
The county’s final lacrosse team suits up for Mount Abe and will be entering its second varsity season under the direction of Coach Tim McGowan. McGowan said a positive attitude and continued commitment to the program should make for continued progress, but that he will need to address graduation losses on the defensive end. The Eagles are scheduled to open by hosting Montpelier on April 13 and will visit OV on April 15.
The rest of the area softball teams are set to open between April 13 and 21, while OV’s realistic start might be a 4:30 p.m. April 11 home date with Springfield.
Coach Marie Eugair’s Tiger softball team had another successful season in 2010, earning the No. 3 seed in D-II. Four seniors graduated, including the team’s ace pitcher, but plenty of horses return. A tough 4:30 p.m. home game vs. Rutland on April 13 is up first before a road game the next day at Burlington.
The VUHS program has made progress under Coach Mike Sullivan, winning two D-II playoff games two years ago and six regular season games in 2010. The Commodores, who open by hosting Peoples on April 14, will be relying on a number of veterans in the field and a trio of talented freshman pitchers.
Mount Abe has also fared well recently and earned the No. 4 seed in D-II a year ago. Two key defensive positions must be filled and the team’s top pitcher opens the season hurt, but Coach Gene Bell said he believes the Eagles have the depth to handle the question marks. The Eagles have a tough schedule early, opening on April 21 at St. Johnsbury, with road games to follow at Spaulding and Harwood before they host North Country at 4:30 p.m. on April 26.
Despite possibly losing its first week of play, OV’s baseball team may join its softball team as the first out of the chute: The Otters also host Springfield on April 11.
Coach Doc Seubert’s Tigers have the same schedule as the softball team: home vs. Rutland on April 13 and then on the road at Burlington the next day. The team will have some competition for starting jobs after the graduation of seven seniors.
Coach George Ringer’s VUHS nine is up next, with 4:30 p.m. home games vs. Winooski on April 19 and North Country on April 21. The Commodores also graduated a half-dozen players and are dealing with an injury on the pitching staff, but return a skilled infield and have a number of talented young players.
Coach Jeff Stetson’s Mount Abe Eagles won another D-II title last spring, this time in dramatic fashion. A new-look Eagle team with only four seniors starts a quest for a repeat with the same schedule as the Mount Abe softball team, with three road games before an April 26 home opener vs. North Country.
Two of the three local track teams — MUHS and Mount Abe — are set to open at Fair Haven on April 14. The Commodores are scheduled to open until April 27 at Harwood.
Coach Bill Edson’s Tigers graduated their top female sprinter and a couple of the girls’ team’s stronger distance runners, but returns most of the Tigers’ point-scorers from a year ago.
VUHS coach Jeff Kauffman saw his numbers increase for the second straight season, and is particularly optimistic about the chances of the Commodore boys, who boast across-the-board depth in the running events and a top senior jumper.
Eagle co-coaches Gabe Hamilton and Gary Russell also have good numbers and some strong returners. They are thrilled with the team’s attitude, while also waiting to see if some other veterans with hectic schedules will re-commit to the sport.
With snow and mud everywhere in late March and early April, golf probably seemed like a distant dream to local coaches Tom Ryan of OV, Frank Walch of Mount Abe and Chris Brady of VUHS.
Ryan graduated just one player off his roster, and the Otters are scheduled to open at Neshobe on April 20.
The Eagles and Commodores both open Metro Conference play in early May. Brady graduated half of the eight golfers on his 2010 roster, while Walch returns four of six, including a sophomore contender for D-II medalist honors.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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