High school sports season arrives

ADDISON COUNTY — Barring the lingering aftereffects of Tropical Storm Irene disrupting plans, the high school sports season will get under way this weekend.
But postponements remained possible as this edition of the Independent went to press: Dozens of roads around Vermont were still impassable as of Tuesday, and several communities were still isolated after Sunday’s flooding.
This week, local athletic directors and coaches, Vermont Principals’ Association officials, cross-country course managers, and, in some cases, students trying to reach practices were all facing challenges with travel and wet fields and conditions.
Assuming all goes well and as scheduled, the first local team to see action will be Mount Abraham Union football. Coach Ernie Senecal’s Eagles are in their second season enjoying reinforcements from Vergennes, thanks to the schools’ cooperative agreement; about a third of the program’s 46 athletes hail from VUHS.
The Eagles, coming off a one-win campaign, are set to visit Division III foe Montpelier on Friday at 7 p.m. Senecal said the Eagles, who have found the going tough since switching to the 11-man game, will be moving away from the spread offense of recent years to a more basic running game, one that served their JV team well at times last fall.
On Saturday, both the Middlebury and Otter Valley elevens are scheduled to play. Coach Dennis Smith’s Tigers will make their return to D-I after a couple of competitive years in D-II, and at 1 p.m. are set to visit Mount Mansfield, another team making the jump from D-II to the new, larger D-I field. To no one’s surprise, Smith said the Tigers will not be changing their scheme; fans can expect to see three backs behind the quarterback and lots of handoffs.
The Otters have a new look, as defensive coordinator Jim Hill got the nod to replace Dennis Perry at the helm. OV has been mostly competitive overall, but has not reached the D-II playoffs. Perennial contender Springfield will challenge the Otters on Saturday at 1 p.m. if the Cosmos can navigate their way to Brandon — Irene hit the Springfield area hard.
Assuming trails are not too muddy or littered with downed branches, the MUHS, VUHS and Mount Abe cross-country teams are all scheduled to open on Saturday morning at the Champlain Valley Union Relays.
The three teams are also set to compete at South Burlington on Tuesday, and at the first major early-season meet the following Saturday, the Essex Invitational.
The Commodores have a new coach: Eric Carter is stepping up from the middle school program, and is busy recruiting to boost low numbers. Coaches Vicki Bronson and Brent Crum return for the Eagles, who have had a strong turnout in recent seasons.
Coach Emily Marquart returns for a third year leading the Tigers, who for the first time ever can call themselves defending champions: The MUHS boys won the D-II title a year ago, and the girls were second. Unlike other Tiger teams, the runners will remain in D-II this fall, and with many runners returning they are expected to form a strong unit once again.
Coach Jim Samler’s Otters hit the trail at Arlington on Tuesday. Samler has enough boys to field a team, several with experience, but only one female runner.
New coach Muffie Harvey’s OV boys and Coach Kevin Hayes’ VUHS boys are the next teams out of the chute: Both debut on Tuesday.
Harvey moved up from assisting the OV program and is emphasizing fitness and a positive attitude to a group that includes a number of returners. Her Otters open at Springfield on Tuesday afternoon.
Hayes fields a team with 12 juniors, many of whom have seen varsity action for two or three years already. He expects that experience to begin to pay off this year. The Commodores open on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. by hosting Rice, always a challenge.
And then VUHS will join Coach Mike Corey’s Eagle boys in Middlebury at the annual Carrara tournament hosted by Coach Doc Seubert’s Tigers, with games on Thursday, Sept. 8, and the following Saturday.
The Eagles and the Commodores will square off in one 4:30 p.m. semifinal on Thursday, and MUHS and Milton meet in the other. The consolation is set for 10 a.m. on Saturday, with the final to follow.
Corey’s Eagles are coming off a rare losing season, but graduated only five seniors. Seubert’s Tigers will have to compete in the D-I playoffs, but return many of the athletes that helped the team to a .500 season a year ago.
All the area field hockey teams swing their sticks into action next Wednesday. Coach Gary Hodder’s Otters, coming off their appearance in the 2010 D-II title game but having lost a few key players, open by hosting Burr & Burton at 4 p.m. Two days later OV hosts county rival Rutland.
Coach Mary Stetson’s Eagles open at 4 p.m. on Wednesday by hosting Metro Conference rival Essex. Mount Abe has experienced a couple of losing campaigns, but was competitive in most games last year and nearly defeated D-II champion Harwood in the playoffs.
Coach Kelley Higgins’ Tigers are coming off yet another competitive D-I season; in 2010 they reached the semifinal round. MUHS has a tough opener at D-I defending champion South Burlington on Wednesday, and then hosts the Eagles at 4 p.m. on Friday.
Finally, three of the area’s girls’ soccer teams also start kicking on Wednesday. Second-year coach David Brown’s Otters have the only home game, a 4:30 match with a new foe, Leland & Gray. OV returns its young forwards and several key midfielders and defenders.
The Tigers have a new coach, Wendy Leeds, who moves up from the JV team to take over the varsity reins. Most of the players who helped MUHS make its surprise run to the D-II semifinals a year ago return, but the Tigers must head to the D-I playoffs this time around. They will open with a game at Lake Division foe Lamoille on Wednesday.
VUHS co-coaches Dwight Irish and Peter Maneen return a high-scoring duo up front and a number of contributors elsewhere on the field. The Commodores open at Colchester on Wednesday, and then travel to meet Coach Dustin Corrigan’s Eagles in Mount Abe’s debut game on next Friday at 4:30 p.m. Only a quarter of Corrigan’s roster graduated, and the Eagles are optimistic they can take a step forward this season.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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