School year had success, memories

On Monday morning Otter Valley baseball coach Tim Mitchell and I were trying to puzzle out why OV players are assigned to the Rutland American Legion baseball team and not to Addison County’s, especially given that Rutland is already drawing players from as far away as Manchester.
We decided that as long as athletes are playing somewhere at all we wouldn’t worry too much about it.
And that’s probably the best way to look at this past, or any other, high school year. As long as kids are engaged in sports, in most cases that’s a good thing.
Even the teams this past school year that didn’t achieve the success they had hoped for worked and laughed together and developed or nurtured friendships during long bus rides or early-morning practices. Many older athletes matured as leaders and helped their younger teammates improve. Many younger athletes learned about effort and teamwork. All probably walked away with memories or lessons that will linger for their lifetimes. Really, that’s enough.  
Still, some of those teams and individuals won titles or exceeded reasonable expectations through their collective efforts or singular will. Their achievements are worth recalling.
By season, this is a partial list:
The Tiger boys’ cross-country team won the program’s first crown, breezing to a win in the D-II race. Junior Stuart Guertin won the event, one of the five Cornwall residents who were the team’s top five runners. Meanwhile, the Tiger girls took second for Coach Emily Marquart.
Coach Dennis Smith’s MUHS football team made it to the D-II final undefeated, but ran into Rice’s aerial fireworks on the Castleton State College turf in calm air.
When junior linebacker Steel White went down late in the first half with a nasty ankle injury the odds were further stacked against the Tigers despite Marshall Hastings’ sensational game-tying catch.
Two more groups of Tigers made semifinals. It’s not unusual to see Coach Kelley Higgins’ field hockey team do so, but the No. 6 Tigers knocked off No. 3 Essex to get there in D-I.
The surprise was to see Coach Jen Clark’s girls’ soccer team win its first playoff game in two decades. The Tigers entered the D-II playoffs as the No. 11 seed and knocked off the No. 6 seed. An upset elsewhere gave them a home quarterfinal, and they held serve against Fair Haven, 1-0, behind Mattea Bagley’s early goal. 
Also of note was Coach Gary Hodder’s Otter Valley field hockey team, which helped by all-state middie Kristy Pinkham and junior goalie Chelsea Robbins made it all the way to the D-II final before falling to high-powered Harwood.
On the mats, OV senior George Mitchell won his third straight Vermont wrestling title, this one at 130 pounds, and smashed the school’s all-time career wins record. MUHS senior Kody Murray was third at 140, but also set the school record for wins with a victory at the state tournament. Also, OV senior Seth Harrington and VUHS senior Morgan Stinchfield took seconds at 125 and 171, respectively.
An MUHS team won a title this winter, but this group of Tigers required an asterisk. The boys’ hockey team is supported by a member-to-member program that allows athletes from VUHS and Mount Abraham to skate for MUHS. In the Tigers’ 2-1 overtime upset of No. 1 Stowe in the final, VUHS students Colin Babcock and Tim Shea scored the goals, while MUHS junior Nick Bruch held the fort in goal.
On the court, led by four-year starting guard Jenn Loyer, the Mount Abraham girls’ basketball reached the D-II final in Barre. Coach Connie LaRose’s team could not upset powerhouse Lamoille, but came within eight points of the 21-1 Lancers.
The MUHS girls’ hoop team overcame a rough start to its winter to reach Barre, too, before losing a semifinal to Lamoille. Senior Katie Ritter scored her 1,000th point along the way.
The OV girls — starting Pinkham and four freshmen — pulled off an early-season upset at MUHS in dramatic fashion, and played well enough to earn a home playoff game. But an inspired VUHS team led by Ali Provost stunned them in that game, giving the Commodores something positive after a tough season — and leaving the Otters knowing they have a bright future.
On the slopes, the Tiger girls’ Nordic team finished second in D-II, and back in the gym the MUHS boys’ hoop team bounced back from a one-win season to win 10 games, including a first-round playoff contest on the road.
Two senior track athletes won twice. Mount Abe’s Cassie Marion won the D-II girls’ long and triple jumps, while at the same meet Tiger Christine Artim won the girls’ 3,000 meters and joined senior Rosalie Wright-Lapin, junior Emma Ryan and sophomore Nicole Morris in claiming the four-by-800-meter relay.
Two more Tigers earned D-II titles. Senior Tenzin Chopel, three weeks after trying hurdling for the first time, won the boys’ 300-meter hurdles, and junior Emily Anderson added to her trophy case with a win at 800 meters.
None of the schools’ baseball or softball teams ended up with winning records, but every one of them except VUHS softball (which lost a heartbreaker) won a first-round playoff game.
Notably in D-II playoff action, Coach George Ringer’s VUHS baseball team won twice and earned a berth in the semifinals, Coach Doc Seubert’s No. 15 Tiger baseball team knocked off No. 2 Fair Haven in the first round, Coach Jeff Stetson’s Eagle No. 12 baseball team got a one-hitter from Tommy Nelson in upsetting No. 5 Mill River, and Coach Marie Eugair-Newell’s No. 9 Tigers defeated No. 8 Milton and then took eventual champion Springfield into extra innings before falling.
The Tiger girls’ tennis team enjoyed a nice spring under first-year coach Laura Rumbough and reached the D-I semifinals, while Coach Franz Kollas’ Tiger boys won nine times, triple their 2010 total.
Mount Abe golfer Jona Scott shot an 81, good for second place in the D-II championship golf tournament at Ralph Myhre golf tournament.
Finally, the Tiger girls’ lacrosse team lost, 12-10 to South Burlington, in the D-I final. Nothing will ever convince me the team would not have held the lead it had earned before all-state middie Liz Kelley was injured just before halftime.
It was some consolation that Kelley was later named an Academic All-American, and teammate Katie Ritter was named an All-American.
The best memories I have of that game are of the Tigers consoling Kelley after her injury, and also rushing as a group to greet and hug junior defender Maya Scaramucci, who had been ill but made a surprise appearance.
They were all winners.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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