Teams dream big as high school games begin

ADDISON COUNTY — The area high school sports season gets under way with games this Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then early next week, with two teams seeking to repeat as champions — Middlebury Union football and Mount Abraham Union girls’ soccer.
Other fall teams will be looking to build on strong 2014 campaigns, including Otter Valley football and field hockey and Tiger girls’ soccer.
Still others will be looking to bounce back after off years, such as the Vergennes girls’ and Mount Abe boys’ soccer squads.
Some have new coaches: OV and MUHS boys’ soccer and the Mount Abe/VUHS collective football team.
All have something in common: By Sept. 4, they will have seen action.
The MUHS FOOTBALL team made and deserved many of the fall 2014 headlines, winning its second straight Division I title and stretching its winning streak to 22 games.
Graduation hit the Tigers hard, with 17 team members receiving diplomas in June, including six who played for Vermont in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl earlier this month. But the year before also saw plenty of graduation losses, and Coach Dennis Smith’s Tigers did not miss a beat.
With the same offensive and defensive game plans in place, according to Smith, the Tigers open at home on Friday at 7 p.m. vs. Mount Anthony, and will host again on Friday, Sept. 4, when BFA-St. Albans visits at 7 p.m.
Coach Jim Hill’s OV FOOTBALL team made the D-III final a year ago before being upset by BFA-Fairfax, possibly because of a key pregame injury to now graduated three-year starting quarterback John Winslow. Graduation hit the Otters hard, but they return Carson Leary to key the attack.
Still in D-III, the Otters also open with two home games: Mount St. Joseph visits this Saturday at 1 p.m., and then Fairfax arrives on Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. for a title-game rematch.
Up in Bristol, longtime assistant Lee Hodsden finished up last fall as the interim EAGLE FOOTBALL head coach, and this past winter successfully applied to have the interim tag removed from his title.
Also over the winter, the Eagles, a playoff team in each of the past few years in D-III, were bumped up to D-II. They will rely on a big offensive line, and will be thrown into the D-II fire right away: They open at Burlington — one of the state’s largest schools and a program that was bumped down from D-I this winter — on Friday at 7 p.m. Then on the following Friday the Eagles will visit perennial D-II power Bellows Falls at 7 p.m.
In 2014, the three area field hockey programs each won at least one playoff game. Coach Megan Sears’ MUHS FIELD HOCKEY team enjoyed its best season since its title run in 2011, winning eight times and defeating rival South Burlington in a quarterfinal before falling to undefeated champion Essex. Nine members of that team return this fall, and the Tigers are optimistic.
They open with three tough games on the road: at Mount Mansfield on Sept. 2, at Hartford on Sept. 4, and at D-II champion Rice on Sept. 9.
Coach Stacey Edmunds-Brickell’s OV FIELD HOCKEY team won 11 times and earned the No. 2 seed in D-II in 2014. The Otters also reached a semifinal before losing an overtime heartbreaker. Four starters graduated, but many key veterans return for a program that consistently posts winning records against a schedule that includes D-I opposition — seven games this fall. One of those D-I foes, Mount Anthony, will visit to kick off OV’s schedule this Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Of course, Coach Mary Stetson’s MOUNT ABE FIELD HOCKEY team always sees more than its share of D-I competition in the Metro Conference: 13 of 14 of the Eagles game will be vs. D-I teams before the Eagles hit the D-II tournament. Graduation claimed five Eagle starters, but a strong midfield returns intact from last fall’s seven-win team, and Stetson said the Eagles are deep. They open at Mt. Mansfield on Sept 4 and at Essex on Sept. 8.
2014 was a banner year for a couple girls’ soccer teams in the area — literally, that was the case for MOUNT ABE GIRLS’ SOCCER. Coach Dustin Corrigan’s charges rode strong defense and goaltending and opportunistic scoring to the program’s first D-II crown. With a dozen contributors back in the fold, the Eagles are well positioned for another run.
They will be tested early: undefeated two-time D-I champion Champlain Valley visits at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday to kick off the Eagles’ season, and U-32, the No. 4 seed in D-I a year ago and a D-II newcomer this fall, will show up in Bristol at 10 a.m. on Sept. 5.
Coach Wendy Leeds’ MUHS GIRLS’ SOCCER TEAM enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, winning a program-best 10 games and earning the No. 2 seed in D-II. Even with the graduation of a half-dozen regulars, more success should be on the way: As well as the addition of talent to the roster, 13 athletes who played key roles a year ago return.
The Tigers now must compete in the D-I postseason, but their regular-season schedule remains unchanged. They will open at Rutland on Wednesday, and then host Fair Haven on Sept. 5 at 10 a.m.
Co-Coaches Dwight Irish and Peter Maneen saw their young VUHS GIRLS’ SOCCER team win just three times in 2014, but point out there are reasons for optimism: Many games were close, most key players return, and skilled newcomers are joining the fold. The Commodores open at Green Mountain Valley on Tuesday before hosting Montpelier on Saturday at 10 a.m.
First-year OV GIRLS’ SOCCER Coach Rick Hedding saw his team come up short in the win column last fall, but his young team included just one senior. Reasonable expectations for the rebuilding program might be for some better results this season. The Otters, who will compete in the D-III postseason, will try to get off to a good start with a pair of home games, vs. Twin Valley at 4:30 p.m. on Friday and vs. Arlington at the same time on Wednesday.
A year removed from his program’s second title, Coach Mike Corey saw his 2014 MOUNT ABE BOYS’ SOCCER team hit hard both by graduation and defections to a club soccer program; a five-win season was the result. But most of the athletes from a year ago are back, and Corey expects the Eagles to return to a better level of play. They open with two home games, both at 4:30 p.m.: GMVS on Tuesday, and Mill River on Sept. 3.
Coach Kevin Hayes had high hopes for his VUHS BOYS’ SOCCER squad a year ago, but a series of close losses took some of the wind out of the Commodores’ sails. Still, they won a playoff game and gave eventual champion Rice a quarterfinal battle. But a dozen players graduated: The Commodores are rebuilding. Still, Hayes likes the team’s spirit and potential. Their season begins on Saturday with a visit to GMVS, and VUHS will host Montpelier on Sept. 4 at 4:30 p.m.
New coaches are the story elsewhere. Reeves Livesay was the pick to take over the MUHS BOYS’ SOCCER program. He inherits a young team that won twice a year ago, but returns most of its key contributors. The Tigers have a large roster that added many young players as they look to build. They open with a pair of tough home games, both at 4:30 p.m.: Rutland on Tuesday and Colchester on Sept. 4.
Former OV girls’ soccer coach Dick Williams took over the OV BOYS’ SOCCER team. Like the Tigers, the Otters won twice in 2014, but were young and return the bulk of their roster as they look to take a step forward. The Otters open with a pair of 4:30 p.m. home games, vs. Woodstock on Tuesday and Twin Valley on Sept. 3.
The MUHS, Mount Abe and VUHS cross-country teams will all open at the same three events: the Champlain Valley Relays this Saturday, the South Burlington Class Races on Wednesday, and the first big meet of the fall, the Essex Invitational on Sept. 5.
Coach Aaron de Toledo has strong numbers out for his MUHS CROSS-COUNTRY program, and plenty of reason to be hopeful. Six of his seven top male runners at last year’s D-II state meet return, and six of the seven top female runners.
MOUNT ABE CROSS-COUNTRY Co-Coaches Brent Crum and Vicki Wright also have decent numbers, and five out of their top seven runners on each of the boys and girls’ sides, and they are optimistic about some of their younger athletes.
VUHS CROSS-COUNTRY COACH Brad Castillo had enough girls to field a competing team a year ago, but not enough boys. He was hoping recruiting would go well. OV CROSS-COUNTRY did not compete as a team on either side in 2014, and likewise Coach Kell Giffin was hoping for a good turnout. The Otters are set to open at Rutland on Sept. 1 and to host a meet on Sept. 8.

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