Sports

From fishing to football, fall offered drama, fun

POSSIBLY MY FAVORITE shot of the fall. MUHS senior striker Ronen Silberman appears to be suspended in air after heading the ball at goal during the Tigers’ big win over OV in a D-II quarterfinal. Everyone looking on, including OV goalie Isaiah Wood, can only wonder if the ball will find the net. For the record, it didn’t, but Silberman still scored twice in the game. Independent file photo/Steve James

ADDISON COUNTY — Our high school sports coverage this season began and ended with games between the same two football teams, but the games could hardly have been more different, even if the outcomes matched. 

Back on Sept. 3, Champlain Valley came to Doc Collins Field and steamrolled Middlebury, 56-19. The Tigers got thumped at St. Johnsbury a week later, and after MUHS picked up a couple of wins against second-tier teams, visiting defending champion Essex ran over them in Middlebury.

At 2-3 nobody would have picked them to meet CVU in the D-I final, but the Tigers, a young team, steadily improved on both sides of the ball. The offensive line opened holes. The defensive line pressured quarterbacks. The backs ran hard, and turnovers dwindled. Defensive backs picked off passes. 

THE IMPROVEMENT OF the Tiger offensive line was a major factor in the turnabout of the team’s season. This photo honors the group: It’s Sawyer Cadoret effectively clearing the path for Cam Stone in the D-I final in Rutland. Good work, guys.
Independent file photo/Steve James

And there the 7-3 Tigers were in the Nov. 12 final in Rutland for a rematch with the 9-1 Redhawks. They took a first-half lead, but a couple MUHS miscues helped CVU go up, 24-13, midway through the fourth quarter. The Tigers then mounted a 98-yard march to make it 24-19, held on defense and drove again, getting a first-and-goal from the eight with enough time for two plays. But two passes fell incomplete, and a magical season came to an end. 

There were nothing but winners on the field that evening. The D-I coaches chose Tiger Coach Dennis Smith as the league’s coach of the year. My guess is it was unanimous. Fourteen Tigers received postseason recognition.

In between those two bookends, local high school sports teams this fall offered plenty of excitement, including two championship teams, four semifinalists, and two top-three cross-country squads. 

BAXTER HARRINGTON, SHOWN at a Mount Abe meet, was one of a competitive Tiger cross-country team’s top runners. Maybe it’s because he actually enjoys the sport — look at the smile. Cross-country can also be picturesque. This is the green tunnel at the north end of the Eagle course, where the runners emerge from the woods onto the playing fields near the baseball diamond.
Independent file photo/Steve James

The titles came early. On Oct. 8, the first-year MUHS varsity bass-fishing team came back from South Hero with the state championship trophy. 

The Tiger duo of Riley Disorda and Dylan Stowe brought in 15.77 pounds of fish, edging second-place Mount Abraham’s 15.44 pounds, with the six biggest bass scoring. Owen Jenkins, Jordan Schroeder, Riley Coffey took turns as two anglers on  the Eagle boat. 

The Tiger boat’s last stop made the difference: Stowe hooked a 3-pound smallmouth bass, and then Disorda reeled in one close to 4 pounds. 

WE ARE LUCKY to have cross-country lover Joe McVeigh shoot most away meets for us, including the championship meet this year, as always hosted by Thetford Academy on its beautiful rolling, wooded course. Here top Tiger runners Mary Harrington and Beth McIntosh zip through the trees to help their team finish second in D-II.
Photo by Joe McVeigh

Five days later, the Otter Valley boys’ golf team picked up the second local crown of the fall. Sparked by medalist sophomore Lucas Politano, the Otters at the Orleans Country Club claimed their second consecutive D-II title, edging second-place Hartford, 349-351. The Otters’ 2021 championship had been the program’s first in 38 years. 

Politano shot a 77, his senior brother Thomas Politano came in at 84, and senior Matt Bryant (93) and freshman Jackson Howe (95) rounded out the scorers.

Out on the trails, Tiger cross-country teams won the NVAC and Mount Abraham meets, but couldn’t quite climb the D-II mountain. The young MUHS girls finished a respectable second in the state to repeat champion U-32. Four out of five top runners were underclassmen, including top two Beth McIntosh and Mary Harrington.

The Tiger boys were closer points-wise to champion U-32, but settled for third. Senior Ben Seaton and junior Baxter Harrington led the way for the MUHS boys in most meets.

The Eagle runners had their moments. Sophomore Kayla Friend led the Mount Abe girls consistently, as did senior Norman Benoit on the boys’ side. The young Commodore boys overtook the Eagles this fall, with sophomore Grey Fearon the top runner. The VUHS girls lacked the numbers to score; sophomore Torrey Hanna usually led the way. 

Then there were the oh-so-close crews — the Vergennes and MUHS boys’ soccer teams. VUHS earned the top seed in D-III and had just one loss, to the Tigers, during their regular season. But visiting No. 5 Woodstock scored twice in the final five minutes in the Commodores’ semi, and their dreams were dashed. Midfielders Jack Wyman and Shamus Rooney, striker Elijah Duprey and center back Oakley Francis were among the Commodores who excelled.

The Tigers lost to only two D-I teams as they earned the No. 2 seed in D-II, but were upset at home by No. 3 Harwood in a hard-fought semi. They trailed when they lost a player to a red card, but still rallied to tie the game before falling, 3-2, in overtime. Talent will return next fall, but many seniors will be missed, including Owen Lawton, Ollie Anderson, Trey Bosworth, Zach Whitaker, Henry Hunsdorfer, Toby Wells-Spackman, Eliot Schneider and Ronen Silberman.

Two Eagle teams also made semifinals, girls’ soccer and the cooperative Mount Abe-VUHS football team. The girls’ soccer team did so as a low seed for the second straight season. The Eagles upset No. 3 Harwood, 2-1, in a quarterfinal on an OT goal by Safi Camara after Maia Jensen equalized late in regulation. In the opening round, Jensen also scored in OT as the Eagles won at No. 6 Missisquoi, 2-1. But Milton ended the girls’ season in the semifinal round, 2-1. Jensen was one of a few seniors on a young squad.

POWERHOUSE SENIOR CENTER middie Madi Gile was one of several bright spots for an Eagle field hockey team that came up short in its quest for a fifth straight D-II title. Gile has played on a championship basketball squad for Coach Connie LaRose as well as helping spark the three field hockey title teams.
Independent file photo/Steve James

MAV football rallied from 2-4 to win three straight games, the first two wins to clinch the No. 5 seed in D-III, the program’s first playoff berth in years. The Eagles then stunned host No. 4 Rice in a quarterfinal when Lucas Allen returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the final minute for a 43-40 win — that was probably the play of the fall. Champion Windsor rolled over MAV in a semi. Key players for the Eagles included back Jamison Couture, lineman Caleb Russell, quarterback Zeke Dubois, and receiver/defensive back/placekicker/punter Ian Funke.

Results for other teams were mixed. OV field hockey had a nice season, but bowed out quickly in the postseason in a D-II playoff field that arguably was deeper and more challenging than D-I’s this fall. Otter senior forwards Ryleigh LaPorte and Mckenzie McKay and senior midfielder Sydney Gallo excelled. 

The Eagle field hockey team’s four-year D-II championship streak came to an end as the program, while competitive, couldn’t overcome heavy graduation losses. Seniors Madi Gile, Payton Vincent, Olivia Campbell and Natalie Adams distinguished themselves. 

SENIOR FORWARD OLIVIA Campbell had a nice season for the Mount Abe field hockey team, usually relying on stick skills, quickness and savvy. Here she decided the best percentage move on this play against visiting Middlebury was just to let the shot continue toward the cage and Tiger goalie Michaela Charbonneau, and Campbell did so with acrobatic grace.
Independent file photo/Steve James

The Tiger field hockey team won one regular season game and added a road playoff victory. Arguably their best player was junior goalie Jolee Henderson. The team was young, and development of those younger players could put the Tigers back on the path to success.

Among the other soccer teams, OV had the most to be happy about. The boys and girls each improved by several wins to reach .500, and the OV boys had a big upset at Mount Abe in the D-II playoffs before falling to the Tigers. Girls’ Coach Tammi Blanchard was voted the SVL B Division Coach of the Year. 

THE NO. 2 TIGER boys’ soccer team fell behind by 2-0 to No. 3 Harwood early in their home semi, and then, down a man, rallied to tie the game on goals by Ollie Choudhury and this one by Iver Anderson to force overtime, only to lose there on a miraculous long-range Highlander strike.
Independent file photo/Steve James

The Tiger girls were up and down, and the young Commodore girls mostly down. One of the best of the Commodore girls’ efforts came at MUHS, but senior Tiger all-star Lia Robinson nailed a late game-winner to thwart their upset bid. The Eagle boys had good moments vs. a tough schedule and should have more in the future with a strong core of younger players. 

Along the way this fall there were memorable games and moments in those games — see the MUHS football final above, and the Tiger boys’ soccer team’s gallant, if eventually unsuccessful, rally in the semifinal; and Robinson’s late strike against the VUHS girls.

VUHS MIDFIELD ETHAN Croke had just scored a key goal in the Commodores’ 4-0 quarterfinal victory — it made the score 2-0 in the final seconds of the first half — when Steve got this shot. Croke didn’t score many goals, and that combined with the fact this was an important one contributed to his pure happiness afterward. Teammate Elijah Duprey is first to congratulate him.
Independent file photo/Steve James

In an early 3-3 tie the Eagle and Commodore boys traded brilliant first-half goals. Eagle Jack Graziadei headed home a Jack Breault serve set up by a clever Judah Jackson through ball, but the Commodores responded soon after when Duprey nodded home a well-placed 40-yard Francis free kick. 

Another brilliant goal came from the Tigers’ Zach Wilkerson in double overtime and dealt VUHS its only regular-season loss. Wing Eddie Fallis beat two Commodores into the box on the left side, and Wilkerson, another Tiger and a Commodore all collided going after Fallis’s feed. Wilkerson got his foot on the ball to one-time it into the net’s left side from close range.

ONE NEVER KNOWS what play will prove to be critical during the course of a game, especially in an often low-scoring sport like soccer. Here, in a game between the region’s two best teams, two of the best players in the county go head-to-head: VUHS leading scorer Elijah Duprey and MUHS goalie Owen Lawton. Lawton ranged to deny Duprey’s breakaway bid; ultimately the contest ended in a 0-0 tie.
Independent file photo/Steve James

In late September, the Tiger football team thumped visiting Rutland in part thanks to a highlight-reel touchdown as time expired in the first half. Jackson Gillett got his hands on a long pass from Jacob Kemp on about the 2-yard line, but couldn’t bring down the contested catch. But the ball bounced to diving Cole Schnoor in the end zone for the score.

At VUHS in early October, Maia Jensen scored twice in two minutes late in the first half to propel the Eagle girls’ soccer team past the Commodores. 

THE TIGER FOOTBALL team had a tremendous season. Only one program can hoist a trophy at the end, and it wasn’t MUHS. But only one team bounced back from an 0-2 start with hard work, discipline and just plain moxie to come just one play short in the D-I final. I don’t know exactly what Coach Dennis Smith said to his players in this emotional postgame huddle; I don’t eavesdrop. But my guess it was something along those lines.
Independent file photo/Steve James

VUHS boys’ goalie Abram Francis made 13 saves, including a couple acrobatic beauties, in a 0-0 tie vs. MUHS in mid-October as the Commodores survived playing a man down for half an hour to scrape out a result. Brother Oakley also had a big game, and Tiger goalie Owen Lawton’s early save on a Duprey breakaway proved to be critical.

In the game in which the MAV football team clinched its .500 regular season, the Eagles opened by recovering back-to-back onsides kicks from Funke. The Eagles rolled to a 40-0 halftime lead on the way to a win over Oxbow. Funke, Couture and Dubois all had big games in what was a huge day for the program. 

THE MT. ABE-VUHS football team took a step forward this fall, reaching the playoffs with a .500 record and then winning a quarterfinal on the road. One reason was junior receiver/punter/placekicker/defensive back Ian Funke, seen here leaving several Otters in his wake on a 72-yard catch-and-run TD. Funke in that game totaled three touchdowns, eight catches, and 207 yards; punted well; kicked an extra point and blocked an extra point. We’re pretty sure after the game he escorted elderly fans to their cars in the OV parking lot.
Independent file photo/Steve James

There were some exciting teams at Middlebury College, too. On Nov. 7, Panther football team sent off Coach Bob Ritter, stepping down after 22 successful year, in style at his final home game, cruising to a 48-34 victory over Hamilton. Quarterback Cole Kennon completed 29 of 42 passed for six touchdowns and 431 yards. Ritter’s final team finished 7-2 and in a second-place tie in the league. Not too shabby. 

 And speaking of not too shabby, Coach Katharine DeLorenzo’s Panther field hockey team rolled to its fifth straight NESCAC and NCAA Division III titles. The team’s only close postseason game came in the NCAA final vs. Johns Hopkins, which presented a well-executed and conservative defensive game plan to push the Panthers into overtime.

FEW PHOTOS BETTER capture the emotion of soccer than this one. Tiger forward Max Carpenter beams with joy after scoring a critical goal against Vergennes as teammates Esra Anzali (No. 7) and Cady Pitner congratulate her. Meanwhile, the Commodores are dejected in what proved to be a one-goal setback. The Fucile Field slope always provides a great backdrop, and the red leaves echoing Carpenter’s hair color add a nice bonus. I’m not sure Steve planned that, though.
Independent file photo/Steve James

 There, the last of seven straight Middlebury shots, this one by Amy Griffin, deflected in off a defender to end the game. Bad news for the rest of the D-III programs: Only three seniors will graduate, although one of them will be goalie Grace Harlan, who teamed up with a tough defense to not allow a single goal in the NCAA tournament. 

Finally, I have to point out there’s an officiating shortage at the high school level at the same time I see and hear more and more questioning of their calls — not all of those complaints using appropriate language.

For sure, officiating quality can vary. For that matter, as can the quality of coaching, playing and writing by those covering events. Last I checked none of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. 

AT 215 POUNDS or so, senior Cam Stone was not only the biggest Tiger back (and a heck of a defensive lineman), but arguably the fastest. He broke several long touchdown runs this fall, including this one that left Rutland defensive backs in his wake.
Independent file photo/Steve James

But coaches, players and journalists are not, at least typically, being yelled at and questioned by partisans for many decisions while on the job. 

It would be useful for the sake of all concerned if the temperature of those interactions could at times be lowered by a few degrees, and if the adults in the room set the tone. 

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