Sports

Area athletes held their own during winter seasons

MUHS SENIOR MALIA Hodges placed well for the Tigers on both days of the Division II Nordic championship meet and skied on their second-place relay teams both days. The Tiger girls and boys’ teams both finished second.

ADDISON COUNTY — With the exception of a certain little track team that could, the local 2019-2020 high school sports season this winter did not end the season with teams holding trophies aloft, dreaming of banners to be hung on gym walls — when they re-open. 
But athletes competed well, made clutch plays, supported their teammates, worked hard — did all the things that still made for a memorable season.
Let’s look back over the season here and next week. About half the teams from the schools play basketball; we’ll hold them until next Thursday’s issue. Here the spotlight is on the highlights for the other half of the teams and their athletes, including the plays and moments I remember as well as their accomplishments.
The local hockey season started on Dec. 10 with a Middlebury Union High School home doubleheader. In the opener, 8th-grader Bella Gale debuted in style with two goals and an assist in the girls’ 5-1 win over Burr & Burton. Her first goal came 1:37 after the puck dropped, a wrist shot from between the circles she whipped into the net’s upper right corner. Now that’s a way to make a varsity debut, I thought. 
In the Tiger boys’ game that followed, a goalie from Ferrisburgh was on fire. Unfortunately, sophomore Carson Barnes suited up for visiting Rice when he made 34 saves and shut out MUHS. Barnes’ best save might have come during a second-period power play: He slid to his right to rob Tiger senior forward Devon Kearns at the left post after a cross-crease pass. Afterward, many Tigers showed sportsmanship and congratulated Barnes — after all, they had played youth hockey with him. 
On the ski trails the Tiger boys’ Nordic team showed they would be a force this winter in their season-opening meet at Rikert Nordic Center by sweeping four of the top six places in a 4-kilometer race on a mushy track. Jack Christner, Elvis McIntosh, Lucas Palcsik and Zach Wilkerson finished 1-2-4-6.
Dec. 28 brought the Tiger wrestling team’s annual Hubie Wagner tournament. Mount Abraham freshman Devan Hemingway at 126 pounds and Eagle junior Nate Lavoie at 160 won their weight classes, as did Vergennes junior Aidan Gebo at 132. A real highlight that day was seeing Eagle sophomore Maddie Donaldson pin a Fair Haven wrestler at 120 pounds for her first varsity victory, and then her emotional reaction afterward — a look of disbelief came before the big smile. 
The Tiger boys’ hockey team had an injury-plagued season, but remained competitive throughout. On Feb. 10 I watched the Tigers put forth arguably the best performance I’ve seen from the program in years in a 3-0 win over CVU. Yes, CVU was a two-win team, but that’s still a D-I team from a big school, and the Redhawks managed just six shots on goal. Discipline, creativity, teamwork, tenacity, clean play … it was all there. Just a great job by the guys and the coaches, and no need to single out anyone for what was a team-wide effort. The Tigers finished the season with a winning record against a tough schedule.
Later that week Tiger girls’ hockey team played, but with more drama. They struggled against visiting U-32 as Coach Matt Brush asked them to play a different formation, and they fell behind, 4-2, early in the third period. Izzy Pistilli’s strong solo rush made it 4-3 midway through the period. And with 23 seconds left this happened: Avery Gale burst across the blue line, treated three defenders like drill cones, and ripped a 10-foot wrist shot along the ice inside the left post to tie the game. The game finished at 4-4, and a young Tiger team finished the winter well above .500.
On Feb. 16 seven Vergennes runners — the school’s entire qualifying indoor track team — went to UVM to compete in the Division II championship meet. They won four events and finished third, but definitely won the points-per-capita count.
Junior Ben Huston and senior Julio Quiles led the team. Huston won at 1,000 meters and ran on the Commodores’ winning 4×400- and 4×800-meter relay teams, while Quiles claimed the 300, finished second at 55 meters, and ran on the 4×400 team.
Joining Huston and Quiles on the 4×400 team were Gabe Praamsma and Xander DeBlois. Jarret Muzzy and Erich Reitz ran with Praamsma and Huston in the 4×800 relay. 
Coach Brad Castillo’s Commodores’ performance represented the program’s best finish at a state meet since 2004, and the result came without competitors in the throwing, jumping or hurdling events. The Commodore track teams — along with Mount Abraham softball — might have lost the best shot at more banners with the likelihood of no spring sports season. 
Next up came the two days of the Division II Nordic skiing championship. Christner stood out for the Tiger boys, who finished a strong second to defending champion U-32. Christner won the classic race on Feb. 20, his fourth-place finish in Feb. 24’s freestyle race was the team’s best, and he anchored MUHS relay teams to victory on both days.
McIntosh, Zach Wilkerson and senior Will Carpenter skied with Christner on the successful classic relay team. On Feb. 24, Palcsik, Wilkerson and Carpenter joined Christner in winning the classic relay. 
The Tiger girls also finished second, with sophomore Phoebe Hussey finishing fifth both days and anchoring two second-place relay teams. Malia Hodges and Maddy Stowe skied on both relay teams, and Fairley Olson and Astrid Olsen each skied on one. 
Capping the winter, the VUHS wrestling team took fifth place and placed three wrestlers in the top three in their weight classes to submit the best performance among local teams at the state championship meet at Mount Anthony on Feb. 28 and 29. 
Host MAU (278 points) won, of course. VUHS was fifth with 116 points, with Mount Abraham (eighth with 82) and OV (ninth with 80) not far behind.
Commodore Gebo earned the best finish among local wrestlers by taking second at 126 pounds.
Five area wrestlers took thirds: Commodore Taylor Stearns at 132, Otter Levi Cram at 145, Eagle Lavoie at 160, Commodore Barret Barrows at 182, and Otter Sam Martin at 195.
Possibly because the young Commodores punched above their weight, the tournament’s coaches voted VUHS Coach Eugene Stearns the Vermont Coach of the Year.
Next week: The Independent hits the gym.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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