Fall Sports Report 2022: Vergennes Union High School
VERGENNES — This fall at Vergennes Union High School the boys’ soccer team is looking to prolong a series of strong seasons, the girls’ soccer team is hoping to bounce back after a rare down campaign, a former coach returns to lead cross country, and at least one of the newer varsity sports appears to be gaining traction.
Coach Kevin Hayes’s team has been in the title hunt for at least the past two seasons, with one-goal losses in the Division III boys’ soccer semifinal round in both 2020 and 2021.
Hayes believes a team with nine seniors, most of them expected to play key roles this fall, has the potential to be right back in the mix.
“The outlook is positive,” Hayes said. “The core is good. The midfield is strong.”
Four of those seniors will start in that midfield. Jack Wyman as an attacking central midfielder and Parker Kayhart will line up in the middle with a defensive orientation. Classmates Shamus Rooney and Gideon Palmer will look to supply some oomph to the offense from the flanks, while junior Ryder Messinger is also likely to join them in the starting lineup in the middle.
Seniors Henry Anderson and Connor Kelly and sophomores Ethan Croke, Spencer Grimm and Gabriel Scribner will all be in the midfield mix.
Hayes was planning to give seniors Elijah Duprey and Xavier DeBlois the starting nods at forward, with senior Abram Francis, Kelly and Scribner available to rotate in.
Between that group and the attacking middies Hayes expects production.
“We’ll create some opportunities,” he said.
The back line, hit hardest by graduation, will be rebuilt. Junior Oakley Francis saw time at center back a year ago, and now takes over full time. Senior Eli Brace and sophomore Spencer Gebo will flank him most of the time.
But Hayes could at times go with a four-back alignment, either by moving a center middie back or giving more time to the other defenders, junior Sawyer Leonard and freshman Ryker Mosehauer. Junior newcomer Devin Brisson takes over in goal.
How a defense with three new starters and a new goalie fare will be critical, but Hayes said he is confident they will grow into their roles.
Because the Commodores have a tough regular season against Division I teams in the Lake Division they will have to bring their A game every day to compete, Hayes said, while also earning enough wins to get a favorable D-II seed would be helpful.
“We’re looking to make a run again, like the last couple years,” he said. “We’ve had 10-, 11-win seasons, so that’s pretty good. We’re trying to maintain that and get a better playoff spot than we did last year.”
In 2021, a first-round playoff loss as a low seed snapped the VUHS girls’ soccer program of four straight seasons making the D-III finals. With the team’s usual tough schedule, Co-coaches Pete Maneen and Dwight Irish aren’t saying the Commodores will bounce back to those heights even with an infusion of talented youngsters, but they are looking for better.
“We’re going to get some nice solid young players,” Irish said. “Our starting 11 is going to be pretty respectable. Right from there I think we’re going to compete better, and I think that might translate into more wins.”
It’s not that the team doesn’t have upperclassmen — there are seven seniors on the roster. But three have not played soccer in high school, and the coaches projected only three others will start — defensive central midfielder/defender and unofficial team leader Reese Gernander, outside midfielder Bee Eckels, and outside back Sam Hallock.
Meanwhile, all four freshman are likely to start: striker/outside middie Ava Francis, center back Amelia Giroux, goalie Quincy Sabick and center middie Ashtin Stearns.
Irish said the group is talented, but there could be some growing pains as they adapt to varsity play in the Lake Division.
“They are young, so they’re probably going to have some bumps and ups and downs along the way,” Irish said.
Amelia Giroux will have support at central defense, where she will pair either with her older sister, junior Madelyn Giroux, or Gernander. The coaches said sophomore Jing Williams is likely to get the nod at the other flank on defense opposite Hallock. Seniors Siobhan Potter and Natalie Bergeron will spell the outside backs.
Junior Kaelin Sullivan returns as an offensive central midfielder to help control the middle of the field; she is coming off a strong sophomore season. Along with either Gernander or Giroux and the two freshmen, junior Emily Lowe will rotate through at central midfield.
Along with Sullivan and Francis at flank midfield, seniors Carlyn Rapoport, Olivia Correia and Claire Hatch, plus sophomore Tryphene Miguel, are in the mix. Junior Alaina LeBeau and Miguel join Francis at striker.
Irish said chemistry also looked like a plus in early going, with the seniors making newcomers feel welcome. He believes regardless of wins and losses the season should be positive, but the harmony could also help tilt the Commodores’ record in a favorable direction.
“I feel like the team dynamic this year is really good. The girls are really getting along,” Irish said. “It feels like a real team, and a lot of the time that translates into something good on the field.”
After a year off due to work conflicts, former VUHS cross-country and track coach Brad Castillo is back to take over the reins of the cross-country program. He inherits a program that once again has low numbers. As of the opening of school there were five boys, the bare minimum to compete at the D-III state meet, and only three girls.
“It’s a small team, which is nothing new to us,” he said.
But two more girls would at least allow that side of the team to score at all its meets, and also given the small margin of error on the boys’ side Castillo was hoping for more recruits.
He does see potential in the individuals. The team’s only senior is Jasmine Little, a varsity basketball and softball player new to cross country who has ample athletic ability; Castillo believes she could thrive in cross country. He also believes junior Zoe Reid St. John will progress due to a strong work ethic. Sophomore Torrey Hanna is the team veteran, and he said she could “break through” this fall.
He sees juniors Calder Rakowski and Calvin Gramling as most likely to be the boys’ top runners, with sophomore Grey Fearon and freshmen Carter McGuire and Chance Koenig showing promise.
The group made a good impression on Castillo in the early going.
“They’re excited to be here,” he said. “They’re attentive. They’re smart. They’re a great group of kids. They appear to want to learn how to do it. Most of them run all year … They’re ready and they’ve showed up every day ready to work.”
A D-III championship might be unrealistic, at least this fall, Castillo said. but working to improve and looking for personal bests are reasonable and laudable goals.
“My goal is to make sure they go to every meet with their own motivation to improve in some way,” Castillo said. “We’re going to see how we can improve individually within each person. A lot of them have expressed some goals about running certain times.”
Only two golfers signed up to play this year for VUHS. Sophomore Devon Pierce returns after playing on the team in 2021, and senior Nathan Muzzy joins him.
They will work on their goal games under the tutelage of Basin Harbor professional Jason Hughes and look to compete as individuals in Metro Conference events.
They will have some company: VUHS 8th-grader Benjamin Hale and Mount Abraham senior Brenden Oxford will join them in learning the fine points of the sport from Hughes on the Basin Harbor course.
Meanwhile, the sport of bass fishing, which the VPA in recent years approved as a varsity activity, grew at VUHS in its second fall. As of the opening of school on Aug. 31, Coach Jack McGuire’s varsity team boasted five members: junior Lizi Bennett, sophomores Zachary Norris, Brody McGuire and Felipe Sanchez; and freshman Harmony Stearns .
And nine middle schoolers signed up, even though they will not be allowed to compete in the sport’s two VPA-sanctioned events, both at the John Guilmette Access Area in South Hero: the VPA Classic High School Tournament on Sept. 17, and the championship tournament on Oct. 8.
McGuire said he planned to reach out to coaches at other local high schools to set up scrimmages to give all his anglers a chance to compete.
But he said getting out on the water and learning to enjoy a lifetime activity was more important than winning.
“My goal is more participation than ‘Vergennes wins the state championship,’” said McGuire, who is thrilled to see the program growing.
He is also grateful for his half-dozen assistant coaches, who provide the team’s boats and fuel as well as guidance to the anglers. He said without them and their vessels and support the team could not thrive.
“It’s a tricky thing, the logistics. There’s the space on the boats,” McGuire said. “Ideally, three people on boat is what you want to do. You have a coach, an angler on the front and an angler on the back of the boat. And then you need access to boats.”
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