Sports Column: Teams that stood out over the decades
This past sports year saw several teams, at least one from each local high school, enjoy historic seasons.
In the fall, the Middlebury boys’ soccer team earned the top seed in Division I for the first time ever.
In the winter, the Vergennes boys’ basketball team went undefeated and won the D-II crown, a feat nearly matched by the 23-1 title-winning Mount Abraham girls.
And then the Otter Valley baseball team rolled to the D-II baseball title with a 19-1 record that included a dominant playoff run.
When the dust settled, I couldn’t help but wonder just how historic those performances were. It became apparent the time had come for a list.
Using the Vermont Principals’ Association and Addison Independent archives and going back to when I started covering sports for this paper, I reviewed local teams since 1997.
I came up with a group of honorable mentions and a top 15 teams using the following criteria:
•Quality of competition, including the team’s division and overall number of teams and athletes competing in a sport.
•Numbers of athletes on the teams who went on to play in college.
These are only teams I have covered. Hubie Wagner’s great MUHS football teams or the undefeated D-I champion 1983 Tiger boys’ hoop squad were not considered — and the latter may be the area’s greatest team ever.
Honorable mention, chronological:
•2004 Mount Abe football. Undefeated champions of D-IV in its final 8-man season.
•2005 OV football. Champions of D-IV in its first 11-man season with an 10-0 record.
•2006 OV wrestling. The Otters finished second to perennial champs Mt. Anthony and were the only team that normally competes in D-II to finish in the top eight. All 12 OV wrestlers made the podium.
•2008 Mount Abe baseball. No. 2 seed finished 15-5 on the way to the D-II title. Pitcher Greg Lutton played four years of D-I baseball.
•2010 MUHS boys’ cross-country. Won the D-II crown, and all of its top runners came from Cornwall.
•2011 MUHS field hockey. Won the D-I title with a 13-3-1 record and upset heavily favored South Burlington in the final.
•2012 MUHS boys’ soccer. Senior-laden team’s school-best 16-3 record included a 10-0 mark against D-II competition.
•2012 VUHS baseball. No. 2 Commodores won the D-II title and finished 15-5.
And, the top 15:
No. 15: 2002 MUHS football. At 8-3, became the first No. 4 seed ever to win the D-I title. Avenged a 20-6 regular-season loss in the title game with a 3-0 shutout of No. 3 Hartford in the final. The only points came on an Averill Wickland field goal, and he paved the way for a couple game-clinching Jon Sagendorf runs. A team that graduated 20 seniors from the year before also upset No. 1 Essex, 14-7, in the semis.
No. 14: 2008 MUHS girls’ lacrosse. No. 3 seed finished 15-4 and won the D-I title. Nine players from the squad have played in college, three in D-I, Laura Barber, Ashley Ross and Liz Kelley. Katie Ritter became the NESCAC Rookie of the Year, and Kaitlyn Kirkaldy was elected the Wellesley College captain.
No. 13: 2005 Mount Abe field hockey. No. 1 seed finished 14-1-2, won the D-II title, posted two playoff shutouts, and dealt D-I champion South Burlington its only loss of the year. Jen Stetson led the best team of the Eagle dynasty and then starred at St. Lawrence University.
No. 12: 2013 Mount Abe girls’ basketball. No. 1 seed compiled a 23-1 record and avenged its only loss on the way to the D-II title. Played historically good postseason defense, outscoring four foes by an average of 51.25-27.25. Junior Ashlie Fay and others appear to have a bright future at the next level. Not a strong year for D-II girls’ hoop overall.
No. 11: 2007 Mount Abe boys’ basketball: No. 1 seed went 23-1 and won the D-II title. Outscored four playoff foes by an average of 70.25-55.75, and faced challenges in the semifinal and final. Balanced team with great chemistry and five solid starters, but no college standouts.
No. 10: 2009 Otter Valley softball. 18-1 team won the D-II title, snapped Lyndon’s 76-game winning streak in the regular season, and edged the Vikings in the final behind hard-throwing pitcher Ashley Sanderson. Kristy Pinkham is playing in college.
No. 9: 2006 VUHS girls’ soccer. Undefeated, 20-0 D-II champs. Abby Benton scored 39 goals and went on to captain the Skidmore team. The defense surrendered only six goals all season. After a 3-0 first-round playoff win, survived one-goal games in the next three rounds on a tough road to the title.
No. 8: 2013 OV baseball. Went 15-1 to earn the No. 2 seed in D-II against what some considered a soft schedule, and then outscoring its playoff opposition by 33-3 while playing errorless ball. Disciplined team with two pitchers, Brett Patterson and Justin Owen, being recruited for college play.
No. 7: 2000 MUHS boys’ lacrosse. Young team that went 14-2 and won the D-I title, snapping Woodstock’s four-year stranglehold on the crown in the process. Veterans Andrew Daly and Jesse Roy went on to play in college — Daly for UVM in D-I; younger players like Sam Sheehan and Tully Mackey made an immediate impact.
No. 6: 2013 VUHS boys’ hoop. Undefeated D-II title team that did not always click on all cylinders in the postseason, but still outscored playoff foes by an average of 53.5-39.25. Balanced, unselfish team, and Shep Carter, Zach Ouellette and Stanley Salley should get a look at the next level.
No. 5: 2004 MUHS girls’ basketball. Earned the No. 2 seed in D-I with a 17-3 record, and then had a terrific playoff run, outscoring four foes by an average of 56.5-35.25. Demolished No. 3 Mount Anthony team in a semifinal before handling Essex in the final. Center Jill McDonald played D-I ball, and Mary Nienow and Jenna Lewis each scored 1,000 points in college.
No. 4: 2001 VUHS boys’ basketball. The 2013 team went undefeated, but this 23-1 group was ridiculously talented, faced tougher competition and was shorthanded in its only loss. Three fine senior starters — Ben Epstein, Liam Quinn and Logan Becher — were complemented by two younger players, Jesse Epstein, who finished as the school’s leading scorer and rebounder, and Eric Evarts, who scored 1,000 points. Won every playoff game by at least 15 points and outscored its postseason competition by an average of 72.0-42.5.
No. 3: 2002 Mount Abe baseball. After a 14-2 regular season in the Metro Conference against mostly D-I competition, this edition of Coach Jeff Stetson’s Eagle baseball dynasty treated its D-II playoff foes like punching bags, outscoring them by a collective 39-1. Red Sox draftee Tyler Pelland threw a three-hit shutout and struck out 19 in the final at Centennial Field; his career peaked in Triple A in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, and probably only a shoulder injury kept him from the majors. Teammate Eric Wedge tied a program record with a 32-hit season.
No. 2: 2000 MUHS girls’ lacrosse. The Tigers won every game by at least nine goals, outscored three playoff foes by a collective 51-18, and produced three D-I college players, America East Player of the Year Alyssa Trudel, Molly Sheehan and Kate Barcomb; a D-III final four MVP and multiple-season college champ, Becca Brakeley; a starter for another D-III champion, Allison Aldrich; and a D-III all-star goalie, Becca Splain.
No. 1: 1997 Mount Abe girls’ basketball. Went 23-1 on the way to the D-II crown, losing only by a point on the road when star center Rachel Bryan was ill. Steamrolled foes in the playoffs by an average 74.5-47.5 margin although Coach Connie LaRose often went to the bench after the Eagles racked up huge leads, such as 42-7 over U-32 early in the second quarter of the semifinal.
Bryan played D-I ball for Colorado and UVM, Casey Wedge scored 1,000 points in high school and in college, and Carolynne Erwin excelled as a two-way player at the next level. Point guard Koran Casey would have if not for a knee injury. Future 1,000-point high school scorer Kari Bouvier came off the bench for this team, still the most dominant I have ever seen.
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