Andy Kirkaldy: Thoughts from the spring title season notebook

As photographer Trent Campbell and I drove back from Burlington after two exciting and successful finals on Monday the 12th we wondered if there had ever been as successful a season — as measured just by collective team championships in the scoreboard sports — as this spring for our four local high schools. 
That Monday we had watched the Otter Valley baseball and Middlebury girls’ lacrosse team win close, well-played title games. Three days before we had returned from another tense championship game in which the Mount Abraham softball team claimed that program’s first-ever crown.
Had there ever been a single season in which the local schools had collectively hoisted three trophies? 
Trent and I speculated that there must have been, and we were correct. But it turns out it’s pretty rare — back in 2002 it happened twice. That fall the Vergennes girls’ soccer, Middlebury football and Mount Abe field hockey teams all came home with hardware, and that spring the Tiger boys’ lacrosse and golf  teams and Eagle baseball squad celebrated titles. 
That speculation in Trent’s Honda led to another question: Which school had won the most titles? Now, let me make clear that there are many measures of success. Any team that plays close to the best of its ability and demonstrates camaraderie and sportsmanship and is well coached is a winner in my book.
But it is fun to look at the championship history. Arbitrarily, we picked the start of the new millennium to start answering the question. In the car that Monday, I correctly pegged the number of Mount Abe’s titles since 2000 at 21: six in field hockey and six in baseball (the Stetson family shares top coaching honors, for sure); two each in eight-man football, boys’ soccer and girls’ basketball; and one each in girls’ soccer, softball and boys’ basketball.
MUHS was harder to remember, but a trip to the Vermont Principals’ Association archives gave us a narrow winner: 22 championships for the Tigers. Six came in girls’ lacrosse, four in boys’ lax, three in football, two each in boys’ and girls’ Nordic skiing, and one each field hockey, boys’ cross-country, girls’ basketball, girls’ hockey and boys’ golf.
Again, looking just at non-judged sports, VUHS comes in at nine: three in girls’ soccer and two each in boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball and baseball. Otter Valley is breathing down the Commodores’ neck with seven, two each in softball, baseball and football, and one in field hockey.
The local teams have won at least one championship in every year since 2000, with the sole exception of 2011. The annual high of six combined titles came in 2002 and 2013, and the four schools have combined for five four times, in 2001, 2006, 2014 and now 2017.
Of course, all that doesn’t even count individual championships, to name just a few off the top of my head, from Eagle track stars like Cassie Marion and Lydia Pitts, the great VUHS boys’ sprint relay teams, the boys’ and girls’ Tiger relay teams at many distances, Tiger cross-country runner Amanda Bodette and high jumper Hannah Buttolph, and championship wrestlers like George Mitchell, Ethan Raymond and Brandon Cousino. It’s been a lot of fun. 
Some other thoughts from this spring’s championship notebook:
• Girls’ lacrosse rules continue to need tweaking. The second half of the June 12 final began with a Mount Anthony player serving the last half-minute of a yellow card. Shortly after the action began, Mount Anthony was called for offsides in its defensive zone. Action halted while the officials on the field sorted things out before play could resume. Meanwhile, the final 20 seconds of the penalty ticked off, negating the Tigers’ one-player advantage.
So the offsides foul benefitted the team it was called on, not the attacking team. Please fix this.
• In the Sometimes the Good Guys Win Department, that MAU player was assessed that yellow card for whacking a Tiger with her stick after falling over after a collision. She complained endlessly about the call, and even the MAU coach finally told her team at halftime to stop whining about it. (“We’re not going to talk about that anymore,” were her exact words.)
Near the end of the game Tiger freshman Kate Donahue was hit by a stick in the face so hard it drew blood, and she had to leave the field. Her mom and assistant coach just told her the refs didn’t see it, just forget about it. The Tigers hardly said a word, went about their business, and closed out the win. The contrast could not have been more dramatic. Congratulations to the Tigers for many reasons.
• We have been privileged to watch Payton Buxton and Rachael McCormick play softball for the last few years, and can see them play for Bates College and Castleton University, respectively, in the future. Their pitching and hitting skills are most obvious, but what might go unnoticed is that they are the two best fielding pitchers I have ever watched on a regular basis. They could play anywhere on the diamond and excel. McCormick put on a clinic in the D-II final.
• In the coincidence department, the Burr & Burton baseball team won the Division I baseball championship this spring. In 2013 OV defeated BBA for the D-II title. In 2010 Mount Abe defeated BBA for the D-II crown. The Bulldogs did defeat the Otters early this season, though, but not as badly as they thumped Essex in the D-I final.
• And one more final coincidence, although given the talent involved it’s not a complete surprise. Senior Derek Aines tossed a complete-game five-hit victory for the Otters in the June 12 D-II final. 
In 2014, big sister Taylor, then a senior, hurled a complete-game two-hitter as her OV softball team won the D-II title. 
I asked Derek if he had taken away Taylor’s bragging rights. He smiled: Yes, he said, he knew they were both winning pitchers in championship games in their final appearances in OV uniforms. 
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