Athletes ready to enjoy spring sports

RILEY KEITH WINDS up on the Otter Valley softball mound in a recent practice. Otter softball looks to have a deep pitching rotation this year.

ADDISON COUNTY — Whether hope springs eternal is exactly the point for high school athletes this season.
Their greatest wish has probably already been granted: They are playing this spring after having no season at all a year ago and then pandemic-shortened campaigns this past fall and winter.
And not only that, sunny weather and temperatures in the 60s and 70s greeted them in their first week of practice, which began on April 5.
Competitions for all four local high schools start on Saturday, with Mount Abe hosting softball and boys’ lacrosse action, Middlebury hosting girls’ lacrosse, and teams from Vergennes and Otter Valley kicking off with away games.
For sure, masks are still required, except for track & field runners, while competing. And state officials still frown on team dinners and other team-bonding events and insist on physical distancing. And track & field schedules remain to be sorted out due to with COVID-19 restrictions.
But certainly these frustrations will seem minor when it comes time for umpires to crouch behind the plate, lacrosse players to line up for the draw, tennis players to choose sides of the court, starters’ pistols to sound, and disks to fly.
That’s when the athletes start having fun. As well as fitness and the lessons of teamwork and discipline, that is why they do it, right?
Still, scores get kept, and heights and distances measured.
Notably, two teams enter the season as defending champions: The Mount Abraham Union softball team won its third straight Division II title in 2019, and two years ago the Vergennes-Mount Abe collaborative girls’ lacrosse team went undefeated on the way to its first D-II crown. Key players return to both.
And the VUHS track team brings back three runners who helped win three D-III relay golds in 2019.
All teams will look different, of course. After all, no juniors and seniors who played in 2019 return this year. So what might happen this spring?

First, surprising news at the area’s biggest high school came from the baseball program, which will compete at only the JV level. In terms of raw numbers, MUHS could have fielded a team: 18 athletes showed up. But school Activities Director Sean Farrell pointed out those 18 included five sophomores, 12 freshmen and one upperclassman, a junior.
Farrell and the coaching staff — including new varsity head coach Tim Paquette, a former college and Vergennes standout — thought it best to look toward the future of the program and the athletes and stick with JV competition. 
Farrell also noted that former coach Charlie Messenger stepped down because he moved, while MUHS softball Coach Polly Rheaume also regretfully stepped away due to work conflicts. Bob Cameron, who has middle-school and youth softball coaching experience, was hired to take that program over.
Almost all players who made the Tiger softball program competitive in 2018 and 2019 graduated, and Cameron will be looking to develop a team with two seniors, Olivia Audet, a 2019 veteran, and Jordan Bessette. They will be looking to supply leadership to nine juniors who were freshmen the last time Tiger softball players took the field.
Coach Matt Rizzo’s Tiger boys’ lacrosse team also contains a large junior class and a few seniors: attacker Bode Rubright, midfielder Mason Kaufmann and goalie Jack Rizzo, who helped the Tigers reach the D-I semifinal round two years ago.
Among the many talented juniors is defender Matthew Kiernan, who saw time as freshman.
The Tigers should be solid in the back, always a good place to start when putting together a strong team.
Coach Brandi Whittemore’s 2019 girls’ lacrosse team was in rebuilding mode after a senior-dominated 2018 team won its second straight D-I title. That’s not a bad thing for 2021, because many key players two years ago were freshmen and sophomores and are still with the program.
Four are seniors: goalie Lydia Deppman, defender/midfielder Kaitlyn McNamara, and attackers/midfielders Cam Jaring and Clara Wolff. Multi-sport athletes like Ivy Doran, Sophie Larocque and Fairley Olson are among seven juniors, and younger grades include starters in other varsity sports. It adds up to what should be a competitive season for the squad.
Turnout for Coach Jill Dunn’s girls’ tennis program was encouraging, with 18 athletes signing up. The Tiger girls have demonstrated enthusiasm, even if they have not enjoyed the same level of success on the court as the boys’ program.
That could change this year, as five seniors return: Elizabeth Bright, Lois Alberts, Emma Franklin, Bridget Graham and Gwen Twombley, plus three juniors with experience from 2019. Another eight freshmen and sophomores will look to crack the top nine on the playing ladder.
Another new coach takes over, at least as an interim, for the boys’ tennis program. Ken Schoen, who has helped the Tiger boys to winning seasons in recent years, bowed out due to his workplace COVID requirements. Taking over is MUHS teacher Dan Komar, who Farrell said has tennis coaching experience.
Five experienced players return: seniors Abel Anderson, Andy Giorgio, Karic Riche, Aiden Cole and Oliver Poduschnik. Seven freshmen, some of whom already have a strong tennis background, signed on. A continuation of the program’s winning streak would be no shocker, and certainly the team’s future looks bright.
Meanwhile, Ultimate, the newest varsity sport at MUHS, has doubled in size. Maybe not exactly in numbers, but there are now Tiger boys’ and girls’ teams rather than one coed team. And another new coach: Daniel Raabe joins the program to coach the girls’ team, while program founder Michelle Steele will stick with the boys’ squad.
Almost all the athletes, especially on the girls’ side, are new faces in the program. Jack Christner and Tim Hunsdorfer return on the boys’ team to toss the flying disks around, which can’t be referred to here as they typically are conversationally for trademark reasons. Games are played on the Ultimate Field, which football players used in the fall.
Another new coach at MUHS this spring takes over the school’s track and field program: He is MUHS teacher Ben Weir.
Given that the Middlebury College track is off limits this spring, Farrell said Weir is an ideal coach for the team because he previously led the track and field program at Randolph — a school without a track.
Few athletes returned from the 2019 team. Among those who do include Hannah Turner, Astrid Olson, Viviana Hammond and Sofia Stefani on the girls’ side, and Nicholas Suchomel among the boys.

Those Tiger track athletes, at least early on, might compete a lot in Bristol. Mount Abe has a track, and there is chatter about schools with facilities hosting regional meets until COVID protocols loosen, possibly in May.
If Eagle track & field Co-Coaches Eva Friend and Nate Reynolds’ team does square off  with the Tigers it should be a good matchup. Like the Tigers, the Eagles are a young group with few returners. But turnout and enthusiasm was strong.
Coach Ed Cook of the Mount Abe-VUHS cooperative boys’ lacrosse team has five returners, four of whom were starters in 2019, that give the 2021 team a good place to start and be competitive this spring.
They are two defenders, junior Carmelo Miceli and senior Quincy Cook; senior midfielder Griffin Paradee; senior attacker Liam Oxford; and senior goalie Aidan Danyow, who saw action between the pipes two years ago.
Coach Jeff Stetson and his 2019 senior-laden baseball team were justifiably eyeing a run at a D-II title. That didn’t pan out for the obvious reason, but at least that group was able to play together over the summer and win a state senior Babe Ruth championship.
Not all graduated, however: Seniors Ryan Whitcomb, Colby Lathrop and Will Vichi gained valuable varsity experience in 2019, and Stetson believes there is plenty of depth and talent among the one more senior, six juniors and three sophomores on this season’s roster.
Then there is the springtime D-II dynasty that the Eagle softball team has become, with four straight trips to the final and wins in the past three.
How about four? There won’t be veterans at all the positions, but there is at the most important: Senior pitcher Cami Willsey saw action two years ago, and she will share time on the mound will two talented sophomores. The Eagles are young, and veteran Cami Masse, who can play almost anywhere on the diamond, and second baseman Karissa Livingston are the only other seniors.
And who is going to bet against Coach Donnie McCormick’s softball crew?

Spring of 2019 saw plenty of success for OV teams, none more so than for the baseball squad. The Otters earned the No. 1 seed in D-II before falling to Fair Haven in a close final.
Only one player, senior catcher Alex Polli, returns from that squad, but there are 37 players in the program, including another four seniors — Lane Eddy, Lucias Sheldrick, Dylan Gaboriault and Parker Todd — and six juniors, many of them varsity athletes in other sports.
Coach Mike Howe will emphasize fundamentals, and word is also there are decent pitchers among those who signed up, and that the Otters should be competitive.
Right behind the baseball team in 2019 was the OV softball team, which earned D-II’s No. 2 seed and lost to Mount Abe in the D-II final.
The program lost many key players to graduation, but strong turnout should boost the Coach Kelly Trayah’s Otters, as well as overall quickness and athleticism.
There are three seniors this year with 2019 experience: shortstop Mia Politano, first baseman Jadynn Pope and catcher Josie Cone. MacKenzie McKay could lead a deep pitching rotation that will also feature Miyiah Hall and Ryleigh LaPorte as OV looks to contend again.
AD Steve Keith said low numbers did not allow OV to field a girls’ tennis team this spring, but there were plenty of athletes to populate the OV boys’ lacrosse team, another group that enjoyed 2019.
The Otters two years ago enjoyed a winning record that included a playoff victory before a 3-2 setback in the D-II quarterfinal round to eventual champion Stowe.
Coach Jesse Milliman resigned due for work and family reasons, Keith said. But he is confident that OV teacher Matt Clark, a former college player and assistant coach, can keep the momentum going with 30 athletes signing up and an emphasis on skill development.
Keith said he is optimistic: “We look forward with excitement for Coach Clark to maintain the level of success the Otter Valley boys’ lacrosse program.” 

As well as OV teams did in 2019, the Commodores upped the ante.
The VUHS baseball team carved its way through the D-III tournament before falling to top seed White River Valley in the final. The Vergennes team, like every other team, saw key players pick up diplomas after that season.
But its top three pitchers were all sophomores then: Jarret Muzzy, Tucker Stearns and Barret Barrows, and all are back. Also returning are seniors Jake Russell, pegged to catch, and infielder Xavier DeBlois to help key what could be another deep postseason run for Coach Dwight Burkett’s crew.
Similarly, the VUHS track & field team also returns three runners who were sophomores then and ran on a trio of state championship relay teams: Ben Huston, Gabe Praamsma and DeBlois.
Many girls’ soccer players also joined the track group this year and should give that half of the squad a chance to represent VUHS on the D-III medal stand.
Unlike most teams this spring, VUHS Softball Coach Travis Scribner could start an entire team of returning players from his 2019 squad. That young Commodore group showed promise that season and took D-II finalist Otter Valley into extra innings in the first round of the playoffs before falling.
Third baseman Ema Gernander, catcher Karrie Ayer and outfielder Jordan Kimball are the senior veterans, while juniors like pitcher Sierra Bertrand, shortstop Audrey Tembreull, first baseman Felicia Poirier, outfielders Audrey Scribner and Jordan Norris and utility players Ella Hameline and Anna Carr all played key roles two years ago. Five newcomers join the returners.
It’s worth noting this spring Commodore softball will compete not in in D-II, but in D-III — where already this academic year two VUHS girls’ teams have reached championship games.
Finally, Coach Marikate Kelly’s Commodore girls’ lax team, which combines VUHS and Mount Abe players, has a tough act to follow — itself. It’s hard to improve on a perfect season, but hopes are high simply because of how young the squad was when it ran the D-II table two years ago.
Among key senior returners are midfielder Hannah Kelly, attackers Sophie Davis and Marley Keith, defender Savannah Scrodin, and goalie Ashley Tierney, while Sydney Weber started as a 2018 freshman but was abroad in 2019. Key juniors who played in 2019 include middie Txuxa Konczal, attacker Ryley Olsen, and defenders Molly Laurent and Elena Bronson.
Plenty of others looked ready to contribute even during drills in an early-season practice.
And in a response to an email that sought IDs for players in preseason photos, Coach Kelly used four words that spoke for all involved in spring sports this year:
“Excited to start playing.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated after its intial posting to add paragraphs on the Vergennes Union High School softball team. We regret leaving them out of the original post.

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