Andy Kirkaldy: Many highlights in the past year
This past sports year proved to be memorable in a number of ways, and not just for championships, although athletes at Middlebury College and Vergennes, Mount Abraham and Middlebury union high schools did earn a few of those.
To review, chronologically, the titles:
• Mount Abe sophomore Lydia Pitts won three Division II indoor track events.
• VUHS junior Brandon Cousino and MUHS senior Nick Beauchamp earned Vermont wrestling crowns.
• The MUHS boys’ Nordic team cruised to a D-II championship.
• The Panther women’s hockey and men’s basketball team won NESCAC playoff titles, the skaters after earning the No. 1 seed and the hoop squad in an upset.
• The Panther women’s lacrosse team won the NESCAC playoff and NCAA D-III championships.
• Pitts won three more outdoor track golds; Tiger senior Hannah Buttolph won her second straight D-II high jump crown; Tiger senior David Dregallo won at 3,000 meters and Tiger junior Henry Ganey at 800 meters; and MUHS girls and boys’ relay teams each prevailed in two races.
• The Mount Abe baseball team stunned the field and earned D-II laurels after entering the tournament as a No. 8 seed with a 5-11 record.
I’m not going to pick No. 1 coaches, players, performances or moments of the year, but many deserve mention.
Kate (Perine) Livesay of Middlebury College women’s lacrosse, in her first year taking over from Missy Foote, one of the most decorated and successful coaches in the nation, guided her team to the league title by defeating Trinity in the final, avenging the Panthers’ regular season home loss.
In an NCAA semifinal the Panthers had to knock off an undefeated Cortland team that had smoked them a year ago in the NCAA tournament, and in the final had to defeat Trinity again. In each of those games, Middlebury started quickly. Livesay’s team was prepared, and that’s good coaching.
Longtime Mount Abe baseball Coach Jeff Stetson has been blessed with great talent and experience in winning a number of his titles, and this spring’s team eventually proved to have ability. But the Eagles started 0-6 and had to do some soul-searching after a 20-4 loss to MUHS. Then the Eagles stabilized before playing their best baseball in the playoffs. The athletes might deserve the lions’ share of the credit, but that’s good coaching.
Some of the most accomplished high school athletes of 2016 have already been mentioned. Pitts won six track events and is also an all-star soccer player. Cousino wrestled to an undefeated regular season at 182, including at tough out-of-state tournaments, before steamrolling his state meet competition.
To name just a few others, at Mount Abe, senior Nesta McIntosh wrapped up a four-year career on the girls’ soccer team as a two-time Independent Player of the Year. Senior Owein LaBarr excelled at soccer and lacrosse, and junior Emma Carter has led the girls’ basketball team in points per game for two years in a row.
At VUHS, graduate Tyler Crowningshield led the Commodore lacrosse and the Tiger hockey teams in scoring, senior Devon Kimball is a three-sport and American Legion baseball standout, and senior Megan Rooney made all-state as a soccer defender and placed at the state meet for the track team this past spring.
At Otter Valley, senior Allison Lowell finished her field hockey career with 54 goals and scored six times in one game to set a new school record; junior Gabby Paolino made her mark in softball, soccer and basketball; senior Tyson Cram won his 100th wrestling match, placing at the state meet, and excelled on the football field; and senior Greg Whitney reached the podium at the wrestling tournament, fared well for the OV and Legion baseball teams, and was a two-way all-star football lineman.
At MUHS, seniors Andrew Gleason and Lily Smith and juniors Andi Boe and Helen Anderson were all top three-sport standouts. Senior Payton Buxton established herself as one of the state’s top softball pitchers and is a four-year varsity hoop athlete, and junior Keagan Dunbar led all Vermont girls’ basketball players in scoring while playing tough defense for the lax team.
Some of those athletes provided the year’s top performances, while others were team efforts:
• Cousino completed his undefeated Vermont season by winning four matches by pin at the state meet to win the title at 182 pounds.
• Beauchamp won his first three 195-pound matches by pin and then won the crown with a 3-0 decision in the final.
• Panther senior and Cornwall native Katie Mandigo, a goalie, was named the MVP of the NCAA women’s lax Final Four after stopping 22 of the 40 shots she faced in two games, including some jaw-dropping saves at critical times.
• The Tiger boys’ Nordic skiers won every event in the two-day state meet and finished 92 points better than runner-up U-32; if it were the Olympics they’d have memes like swimmer Katie Ledecky’s. Their times would have won the D-I races. The scoring skiers were Nick Wilkerson, Sam Hodges, Thomas Hussey, Cade Christner and Harlow Punderson.
• The OV and MUHS football teams each came up big to post playoff wins on the road that avenged regular-season losses, the No. 3 Otters knocking off No. 2 Woodstock, 38-35, and the No. 5 Tigers upsetting No. 4 Essex, 17-14.
• The Panther men’s basketball team scored six straight points to erase a 76-75 deficit with 1:31 to go at top-seeded Amherst in the NESCAC final to win, 81-79. In that final stretch, Matt St. Amour, the pride of Missisquoi Valley, hit the go-ahead lay-up, pulled down two rebounds, and hit two free throws with 10 seconds left to push the lead to 81-76 and clinch the win.
Then there were some of 2016’s most fun and exciting moments, many involving role players who, to channel a certain NFL coach, just did their job — to great effect.
I’m sure there were many others deserving of mention. To my great regret, for example, I decided not to cover perennial soccer power Champlain Valley’s visit to the MUHS boys, a trip that produced possibly the year’s most memorable upset, a 1-0 Tiger victory. My bad, guys. I suspect junior goalie Santiago Fernandez did something noteworthy that afternoon.
Of what I did see, these five plays stuck out, with original descriptions from my stories in italics.
1. Defense matters. Back in February, the MUHS girls’ basketball team sealed its first winning season in six years by nipping a familiar foe:
The Tigers clinched that feat by edging visiting rival Mount Abraham, 39-37, in a Monday game not decided until senior MUHS forward Hannah Buttolph recorded her third block of the night.
That block came with seconds to go on hard-charging sophomore Eagle forward and leading scorer Emma Carter. Buttolph controlled the ball after tipping Carter’s layup attempt into the air to seal the victory.
“I saw her coming down, and I was just planted, and I hoped that I would go straight up, and I hoped it would stop her. I hoped it would be enough,” said Buttolph, who also contributed all six of her points in the late going. “Thankfully it was.”
2. More defense: This is not one single play, but a sampling of great work from Eagle junior third baseman Caleb Bonvouloir in his team’s 3-0 semifinal win at higher-ranked Harwood. Bonvouloir also singled in Eagle two runs and scored the other.
In the third, Bonvouloir charged a slow roller and made a strong throw, and then snagged a line drive on one hop that exploded at his feet before firing to first for the out. In the sixth he dove full out to his left to stop a one-hop liner from going into left field, jumped to his feet and tossed to (first baseman Coleman) Russell for the out.
3. There’s nothing like an overtime game-winner, especially from an Eagle defender who was moved into the attack and scored the only goal of the game against visiting rival Vergennes.
Ultimately, Coach Dustin Corrigan’s decision to move junior Lydia Pitts from defense to striker in overtime proved to be the difference.
VUHS goalie Anya Sonwaldt (13 saves) had no chance at Pitts’ game-winner at 3:45. Pitts took a feed from junior middie Casey Ober at the top of the box, touched the ball to her right, and then laced back it into the upper left-hand corner.
4. Let’s hear it for teamwork: This Tiger boys’ lax overtime game-winner began with a great defensive play and ended after three crisp passes — and never would have happened if not for a clutch regulation score.
The Tigers needed senior middie Ali Abdul Sater’s late goal to force overtime, and then a key defensive play to set up senior attacker Jack Hounchell’s game-winner 1:27 into the extra session as MUHS defeated the Cougars, 9-8.
The decisive play started when junior defender Brett Viens knocked the ball loose from a Cougar attacker, scooped it and fed junior middie Trey Kaufmann. Kaufmann carried down the right side, beat a defender and fed sophomore attacker Jack Donohue to the right of the goal.
Donohue drew the last defender and fed Hounchell at the far post. Hounchell threw one quick fake before depositing a low shot past Cougar goalie Will Macone for his second and more important goal of the game.
Hounchell insisted he had the easiest job in the Tigers’ winning coast-to-coast effort.
“That was nice. Trey Kaufmann, I was telling him to slow down because we didn’t have a break or anything. But he beat his guy, and my man slid to the guy he passed to, and I was wide open on the crease,” Hounchell said. “It wasn’t much of me doing anything. It was just catch and finish. It definitely was fun. It felt good to get the win for our team. It was definitely exciting.”
5. And in Vergennes in February, late drama: The visiting Tiger boys’ hoop team found itself down by one in the final seconds. Coach Kyle Lussier drew up a successful play for senior Ryan Miller, a capable shooter off the bench.
The Tigers inbounded to point guard Nick Holmes near midcourt, and he drove toward the left side of the lane and dished to Miller on the left flank. Miller was ready, telling himself, “Just have confidence. I’ve been hitting in practice.”
His high-arching shot caught some rim, but rattled in, leaving VUHS Coach Peter Quinn to call time with 3.2 seconds to go…
“It’s pretty crazy right now. It’s just kind of unreal,” Miller said. “It was the biggest shot I’ve hit in my career by far. It was an exciting moment, and something I’ll never forget.”