Many ways teams enjoyed good winter

It’s always one of the busiest and most enjoyable weeks of the year, when high school and college sports playoffs coincide with Town Meeting Day, where, as always, things were pretty lively this year. At least I didn’t have to write about school unification.
As usual, the local schools produced their quota of title contenders, including the Vergennes boys’ and Mount Abraham girls’ basketball teams, and the Panther men’s hoop and women’s hockey teams, with the latter group already claiming the NESCAC crown on their way to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Of course, locals have already won state titles. The Tiger girls’ Nordic quartet of Britta Clark, Lydia Allen, Dominique Powers and Emma Ryan already produced a Division II team championship for Middlebury, while Mount Abe independent Alia Johnson finished a strong second overall in both the D-II classic and freestyle races. And VUHS senior Geoffrey Grant claimed the 170-pound crown at the state wrestling meet, and finished fourth at the challenging New England tournament, winning four matches.
Of course, when the dust settles in any season in any sport, only one team or individual wins its last game, race or match.
Despite what conventional wisdom holds to be true, more than one team in any given sport enjoys a successful season. Take the poor Buffalo Bills, for example, ridiculed for repeatedly losing the Super Bowl when there were more than a dozen other teams each season that would have loved to be in their shoes.
Three teams locally that didn’t come away with trophies got me thinking after the end of their season, albeit for different reasons.
One was the VUHS cheerleading team, fourth in Division I on Saturday in their own gym. Anyone who has watched the Commodore cheerleaders over the past couple decades knows of their consistent enthusiasm and execution and is aware they won several D-II titles a few years back.
Why haven’t they won more? Well, the Vermont Principals’ Association bumped them up to D-I. On Saturday, they finished only behind Essex, Rutland and BFA-St. Albans, three schools whose enrollments dwarf that of VUHS.
VUHS athletic director Peter Maneen said in an email the VPA — which considers cheerleading an official varsity sport — determines which division a cheer squad competes in by the number of members in a squad, not by the number of students in the school.
Of course, this policy contradicts the method the VPA uses to determine the division in which schools compete in soccer, basketball and baseball/softball. That is the VPA policy that recently forced MUHS up to D-I in those three sports.
Poultney, a smaller school than VUHS, and Mill River joined VUHS in D-I. Meanwhile, the Mount Anthony, Lyndon and Milton cheer squads, all from bigger schools than those three, competed in D-II on Saturday.
Doesn’t seem consistent to me, and for the record the VUHS cheerleaders had the best score of any team that normally competes in D-II or III. So, nice job, ladies.
Another season ended on Sunday, that of Coach Bill Beaney’s Panther men’s hockey team. The Panthers took a 4-3 loss at Amherst in the NESCAC final. I’ve talked to Beaney twice recently, once after the Panthers’ quarterfinal win at home over Wesleyan, and on Monday when I ran into him at the college field house.
Was he disappointed by Sunday’s result? Of course. One Amherst goal, he said, ricocheted off several skates and bounced right to an open Jeff. One potential Panther goal hit the back of the Jeff goalie’s skate and slid just wide. His team outshot Amherst, 36-22. Sometimes, shot totals can be misleading in assessing the flow of a game. This time was not one of those times, Beaney said: The Jeff goalie played out of his mind, including making an outrageous diving glove save in the waning moments.
And he was thrilled with his team’s effort the day before in a 6-3 semifinal win against Bowdoin, a group he said might have more talent than Amherst.
In the big picture, the Panthers were struggling in midseason, dipping below .500 at one point while Beaney questioned their practice work ethic. Then the team came together, worked hard, and finished with an 8-2 run, losing only two one-goal games to Amherst, including Sunday’s. 
No, Beaney wasn’t happy with the loss. But he was happy with his team.
Another local team finished at .500 after a midseason slump, and lost a first-round playoff game. But the MUHS boys’ basketball squad — which has but one senior in its regular rotation — also shrugged off a stretch of five straight losses to finish by winning four of five.
Those wins included dealing the VUHS boys one of their two losses, and a victory at an 11-9 BFA-St. Albans team that earned the No. 6 seed in D-I. That victory came in the Tigers’ final regular season game and clinched their .500 season.
After the Tigers came up short in their playoff game at No. 8 Colchester, I saw junior point guard Mitchell Clarke at the Tiger boys’ hockey team’s playoff game. I apologized for missing the Tigers’ big victory against VUHS (I was sick), and said I was sorry it didn’t go better at Colchester.
“That’s all right,” Mitchell said. “It was a good season.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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