Moments made spring sports memorable

EXCELLENT BRISTOL PHOTOGRAPHER Mark Bouvier, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for his many great photos he has let us use, caught several emotional home-plate celebrations following home runs this spring. Here the Mount Abe baseball team shouts it out with Adam Mansfield after he clubbed a towering shot against Spaulding in an early-season game. Photo by Mark Bouvier

ADDISON COUNTY — Certainly numbers help tell the story of the past high school spring season. Four local teams reached postseason finals, even if they didn’t win. Five more made semifinals. Two athletes won Division II track championships, and one of them joined three teammates to win a relay crown.

But as always there was so much more. I did one thing differently this spring, and it hammered home that it’s just as much about the journey as the destination.

After all, all these teams and athletes start the season knowing only one person or group per sport will walk away as champion. The vast majority are doing it because it is fun to play, to compete, to do something with their friends and maybe just to see what they are capable of.

What was different? Along the way intrepid photographer Steve James sent me photos of the events we attended together.

GOOD PHOTOS CATCH moments. In this game, in which host MUHS upset VUHS, the question Commodore runner Elijah Duprey and Tiger third baseman Tucker Morter were asking of the umpire on this close play is clear. The answer: safe.
Independent photo/Steve James

Knowing I would be writing a year-end column about the spring season, I started setting aside images that not only captured well important action in games but also showed moments of emotion or joy, or maybe revealed something about the nature of the game, the athletes, or (drum roll!) sport itself.

The captions of the photos reflect why they struck a chord. Thanks, Steve, for capturing the moments that really make a season.

As for history, it will record Middlebury Union High School senior Hannah Turner won the state title in the girls’ 400-meter run (for the second time!), while Mount Abraham sophomore Joe Darling claimed the boys’ long jump at the D-II championship track and field meet at Burlington High School.

TALKING WITH MUHS boys’ lacrosse coach Matt Rizzo this spring he made the point that sometimes an athlete just has to win one-on-one. This shot captures one of those battles, MAV senior attacker Halle Huizenga vs. Lamoille goalie Jacie Walker. Walker made this save, but Huizenga scored later in the Commodores’ win.
Independent photo/Steve James

Turner also joined junior Seina Dowgiewicz, freshman Beth McIntosh and senior Ella Landis in winning the girls’ four-by-800-meter relay race.

Also of note on the track: Eagle junior Gavin Bannister took second in both D-II hurdling events, and two 9th-grade runners, Tiger Jasmine Hurley and Estella Laird from the North Branch School, also claimed silver.

Four teams fell in finals. One was a Mount Abraham-Vergennes girls’ lacrosse team that was almost completely rebuilt from its D-II 2019 title squad. Only two players, seniors Ava “Txuxa” Doherty-Konczal and Elena Bronson, remained from that team after several seniors decided not to play this season. That left only four players from the 2021 squad, and one of those suffered a season-ending injury.

POTENTIALLY PIVOTAL PLAYS can be forgotten. Early during Oxbow’s eight-run inning that proved decisive vs. VUHS in the D-III final, catcher Kaitlyn Little took a throw from pitcher Savanah Blaise and made this diving tag on an Oxbow runner to keep the game tied. Little also reached base three times in the setback, scored and drove in a run.
Independent photo/Steve James

The Commodores excelled in just reaching the final and giving undefeated Hartford a battle in the championship.

Doherty-Konczal also along with her friend Molly Laurent played on the 2019 girls’ lax title team as well as four Eagle D-II field hockey championship squads.

I poked around the VPA champions’ lists. I don’t believe any four-year members of the Middlebury teams that won four straight D-I girls’ lacrosse titles between 1998 and 2001 or the Eagle field hockey teams that claimed four D-II crowns between 2002 and 2005 also won high school team titles in another sport.

TIGER SENIORS MADE the most of their girls’ lax senior game, but none of them did more than Sophie Larocque, who as this photo shows hit full speed from the opening draw and scored three early goals to spark an MUHS victory.
Independent photo/Steve James

Does anyone out there know who might have matched Txuxa and Molly’s haul of five team trophies? If so, share the info at [email protected].

The other MAV lax team — boys — also reached a final with two gritty comebacks on the road in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, but there was no stopping Montpelier in the D-III boys’ final. Like the MAV girls, the boys’ team has plenty of talented younger athletes. Both teams should be heard from in the future.

One suggestion, courtesy of my daughter Kiera: When it comes time to order new uniforms for the two blended teams, why not a name change to “Mavericks” to reflect the MAV designation?

Also making finals were the VUHS softball team and the MUHS girls’ tennis team.

EAGLE SENIOR CARTER Monks somehow managed to get down a game-winning squeeze bunt at MUHS. The pitch came in a foot over and behind his head, and Monks pretzeled his torso to get his bat on the ball and softly drop it in no man’s land between home plate and the mound. I’ve seen a lot of baseball, but never a bunt like that.
Independent photo/Steve James

This year’s VUHS softball team showed good spirit as well as talent and bid adieu to several multiple four-year starters, including Audrey Tembreull, Felicia Poirier and Sierra Bertrand.

The one final I missed was girls’ tennis, played in Montpelier while we were putting the paper together. The top-seeded Solons topped the Tigers for the second straight season. Of note: Senior No. 2 singles player Julia Bartlett won her individual match to finish an unbeaten spring.

Two boys’ lacrosse teams lost semifinals, MUHS and OV. Notably, during the regular season the Tigers defeated eventual champion Champlain Valley for the first time in years, and that proved to be the Redhawks’ only loss of the season. Overall, the Tigers are another young team with a promising outlook.

AS TIGER BOYS’ tennis coach Ken Schoen tells me when I hit with him, it’s important to stay calm and not get down on myself when I start spraying the ball all over the place. I should probably use unflappable Tiger girls’ No. 1 Scarlett Carrara as a role model. Steve captured the calm and poise with which the junior plays with this image.
Independent photo/Steve James

The Tiger boys’ tennis team lost just once before falling to then undefeated St. Johnsbury in a semifinal. Coach Ken Schoen’s team returns its entire starting lineup and reportedly will add a top young player next spring, so more good news likely to come from that group.

The Tiger softball team made it four MUHS teams at least reaching the semifinal round by winning big in a quarterfinal on the road. But undefeated eventual champion Lyndon ended their season in the next round.

Speaking of D-II, for the second straight year Enosburg ousted the Mount Abe softball team in a semifinal played on the Eagles’ own field. The Hornets plated seven runs in the seventh inning to prevail, 7-4, also winning the rubber match from the Eagles in the process for the second straight year. Senior Cami Willsey will be the hardest Eagle graduate to replace.

NOT MANY ATHLETES leave high school with five team titles. Ava Doherty-Konczal, better known as Txuxa, shown here blowing by a Hartford foe in the D-II girls’ lax final, is one, as is her friend Molly Laurent. The two of them each won four field hockey titles and one girls’ lax crown. By the way, Txuxa is pronounced “CHOO-cha.” Congrats to both.
Independent photo/Steve James

On the baseball scene it was, of course, Coach Jeff Stetson’s last season leading the Mount Abe program. The Eagles’ D-II postseason didn’t go well, but their 11-6 final record included a 9-1 Lake Division mark, good for a league title and recognition for Stetson as Lake Coach of the Year.

Senior Adam Mansfield hit tape-measure homers, and classmate Carter Monks helped stave off an MUHS upset bid with the most amazing RBI squeeze bunt I’ve ever seen.

For Tiger baseball, it was good to see them back at the varsity level. The young team showed spunk and promising talent when I saw them — the close loss vs. Mount Abe and an upset of VUHS. Things look to be on track.

The young Commodore nine also looks to be in decent shape moving forward. They won a few games, including a first-round playoff contest and the team has strong pitching on its side.

FORM IS IMPORTANT when competing in hurdles races, and Mount Abe junior Gavin Bannister showed impeccable technique in this spring home meet. The fact Bannister is a long-legged six-foot-five also helped him take second in both hurdling events at the D-II state meet.
Independent photo/Steve James

Tiger girls’ lacrosse finished on a bit of a roll. There always seems to be one team that postponements make hard to cover, and Steve and I didn’t see the Tigers until their senior game. They made the most of it, thanks in part due to strong games from athletes playing their final home games, Sophie Larocque, Ivy Doran, Alanna Trudeau and, returning from injury, Fairley Olson.

The larger point is all these teams made great memories, regardless of their records.

Just a few things I remember …

Cam Stone winning a couple lacrosse faceoffs vs. CVU and taking matters into his own hands, twice bursting past and through defenders to go in alone on goal, once being robbed by the goalie at the first-half horn and later scoring.

AREA SCHOOLS MADE deep playoff runs. Nine made playoff semifinals, and four advanced to finals. But despite all the success none claimed titles, and the post-games for local athletes were not joyful. This shot represented those scenes well, as Mount Abe boys’ lacrosse attackers Sawyer Shepard, left, and Henry Anderson shared a moment while Montpelier celebrated its win in the D-III final in the background.
Independent photo/Steve James

Sophie Larocque scoring three times in the first five minutes of her senior game.

Monks’s pretzel logic squeeze bunt.

The smile on Poirier’s face when she rounded the bases after hitting the second of two semifinal homers, and welcoming parties at home plate for both her and Mansfield.

What players might remember are team dinners, long bus rides, hanging with friends, the silly in-jokes, the occasional bit of drama, maybe a few things they learned along the way about being part of a group, that lousy road game played in cold and rain and the nicer weather everyone wished would last forever.

Spring sports and their moments spring eternal.

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