Spring sports report: Middlebury Union High School
MIDDLEBURY — As was the case with all the county high schools, the spring of 2022 brought a fair measure of success to Middlebury Union High School.
One team a year ago made a state final for a second straight season; three made semifinals, one for a second time in a row; and a track athlete claimed a Vermont championship while several of her teammates fared well at the Division II meet.
One of those top teams’ coaches acknowledged a rebuilding phase this year, even if still expecting and enjoyable spring, but elsewhere optimistic outlooks mostly abound for both fun and success.
Arguably the most successful spring Tiger group a year ago was Coach Dan Comar’s girls’ tennis team. The program is coming off its second straight appearance in a D-II final, both close losses to Montpelier. The Tigers finished 14-4 in 2022.
But the squad is also coming off its second consecutive season of losing multiple top players from its ranks, and Comar described the season as “a learning curve” for him and his team.
Only four of nine starters return: senior Paige Hescock, the only one of the four who played singles in the postseason a year ago, and three doubles players, senior Maeve Roche and last year’s No. 1 doubles tandem of juniors Caroline Nicolai and Audrey Carpenter.
The good news is those four are serving as captains for the inexperienced team, and Comar said they were creating a welcoming climate to help newcomers learn the game and develop a healthy group outlook.
“They’re really good at keeping it light and including people,” he said.
Comar also, however, noted the competitive challenge the Tigers will face this year: Half of those 14 wins a year ago came by one-set margins, and more than half the players who earned those wins are gone.
“It’s a whole new team this year,” he said.
In the preseason, that meant he was trying to sort out a new ladder for the five singles and four doubles slots. Certainly, the four returners are in the running to play singles, Comar said, as are junior Dinara Meyers, a Mount Abraham student playing with the team, and sophomores Sophia Boise and Piper Farnsworth.
Junior Amelia Coburn looked like a good bet to earn a doubles slot, with the competition wide open for the final starting position among the rest of the team: juniors Elena Di Cesare Luceno and Paulina Leukel; sophomores Clara Chant, Subia Khan and Mirabelle Markowski; and freshmen Olivia Kearley, Maryam Khan and Anna Wolosinski.
“That’s really up in the air,” Comar said.
Along with developing players’ skills and appreciation for what can be a lifelong sport, Comar explained the team’s goals.
“It’s to make it a season that everyone enjoys, win some matches along the way, and then, by the end of the year, be a better team,” he said.
In the spring of 2022, Coach Ken Schoen’s boys’ tennis team also had a strong season: a 12-2 record and a second consecutive trip to the D-I semifinals.
Now Schoen expects similar, even possibly better, results.
“They’re the exact same team, with the addition of a junior who’s going to be first doubles and a couple freshmen that are awesome,” he said. “And every kid who was on the team last year is 200% better.”
In fact, Schoen said he has so many good players it was hard for him to predict who would end up playing where on the team’s singles and doubles ladder. Fortunately, there’s a system in place allowing players to challenge each other for the five singles spots and positions on the two doubles.
In the preseason, Schoen’s best guess was that senior Lewis Suchomel and sophomore Jackson Murray would hold off junior Kellan Bartlett, senior Aidan Chance and junior Brian Newton for the top two singles spots, and the latter trio would maintain a grip on the next three rungs despite potential challenges from junior Iver Anderson, sophomore Avery Hamilton and freshman Nathan Stefani.
“They’re inches apart from each other,” Schoen said.
At the very least, Schoen said Anderson, Hamilton and Stefani would be ready to fill a vacancy on the singles ladder if necessary, although that trio will probably start out on doubles teams.
But even there, Schoen expects challenges will emerge for playing time.
“I have three awesome doubles teams,” he said.
He listed a tentative pecking order the tandems of Anderson and junior Milo Rees, junior veterans Eddie Fallis and Eliot Heminway, and Hamilton and Stefani. Even the fourth doubles team of freshmen Spencer Copeland and Silas Taylor is talented, Schoen said.
“Any one of those teams will be competitive,” he said.
Three others on the team will spot in at times and develop their talents: senior Shannon Gillett and freshmen Kirin Biancosino and Yankee Rheaume.
Despite the obvious depth of talent and what he called strong group chemistry and sportsmanship, Schoen didn’t want to make many predictions about the season.
“This is a good team,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx it.”
Another Tiger team that has been a consistent contender is softball, which has reached the D-II semifinals in each of the past two seasons.
This spring, the program has a new leader, Timm Hanley. Hanley hasn’t coached softball previously, but has years of experience coaching girls’ youth hockey and playing and coaching baseball.
In the early going, Hanley said he’s emphasized intangibles as well as skills.
“That’s one of the things I’ve told them at multiple team meetings, that we will become a team and stay a team,” he said. “We’ll work together.”
He sees team speed as a positive, and plans to take advantage of that asset with a smallball offensive approach.
“Bunting. Get them on, move them over, get them in. We need to work on that to generate runs,” he said.
Another positive, Hanley said, is a core of veterans returning boosted by “talented freshmen.”
Like other baseball and softball coaches, Hanley had some trouble this spring predicting a lineup because uncooperative weather limited outdoor practices.
He was confident in saying sophomore Lexi Whitney will remain the top pitcher, with senior Abigail Stafford and sophomore Lexi Orleans also in the mound crew. Junior Siena Rubright will start behind the plate, with sophomore Ruby Hubbell backing her up.
Hanley is deciding between three good options at first base — juniors Isabella Wilbur and Addison Copeland and freshman Skyler Choiniere. One or more of that trio could also see time in the outfield. Junior Emma Deering will play second base, freshman Ireland Hanley takes over at shortstop, and sophomore Meredith Cameron returns at third base to complete what the coach called “a very good defensive infield.”
Coach Hanley foresaw sophomore Lily Dame taking over in center field, with senior Hannah Cormier and Stafford strong candidates for outfield jobs, but also Orleans, Wilbur, Copeland and Choiniere in the mix.
Hanley is aware of the team’s recent track record.
“It’s a tough act to follow, for sure,” he said. “But there’s no reason why we can’t do that again. There’s a lot of talent on the team.”
Coach Matt Rizzo’s boys’ lacrosse program also reached a semifinal in 2022 after winning its first playoff game in six years by defeating nemesis Essex.
Rizzo said the team then did not put its best foot forward in a semifinal loss to multi-year champion Champlain Valley — a team the Tigers had upset in the regular season. They finished with a respectable 9-7 record.
Almost all of the 2022 squad returns, and Rizzo and the Tigers are aiming higher this spring.
“Our goal every year is to win the state championship. That’s what we talked about at the first day of practice: That’s our North Star,” Rizzo said.
Among the returners are 13 seniors sprinkled throughout the lineup, and, Rizzo said, that group is setting the tone.
“For the first time in my five years of coaching we’ve got a real strong senior class,” he said. “We’ve got the leadership. We’ve got the experience, and we definitely have the talent.”
One senior returns for his second year in goal, Kegan Brown, after a strong debut there in 2022. Another senior, Fynn Whitlock, will help anchor the defense as a long-stick midfielder. Promising freshman Marshall Eddy is the team’s other long-stick middie.
The team’s low defenders are a little younger, but still boast some experience: Juniors Gavin McNulty and Noah Doherty-Konczal played major minutes a year ago, and sophomore George Devlin also saw time. Seniors Penn Riney and Devon Cyr and sophomore Cam Whitlock will also see action in the back.
Rizzo plans to deploy short-stick middies as defensive specialists, listing seniors Henry Hunsdorfer and Bronson Schoelzel and sophomore Luke Nuceder as solid defenders in that role.
On top of that, Rizzo said he can roll out two strong two-way lines of midfielders: senior Willem Berry, junior Jackson Gillett and sophomore Angus Blackwell probably teaming up on one, and senior Evan Krizo and juniors Gus Hodde and Brady McDonough on the other. Senior twins Cameron and Charlie Stone will share faceoff duties and can spot in at midfield, as could sophomore Landon Kean.
Senior Owen Lawton, approaching 100 career goals, and junior Toby Draper are the big guns on the attack, with junior Zach Jette the third starter there. Freshman Logan McNulty will spot in up front, as can Kean.
On top of the depth and talent, Rizzo praised the team’s work ethic, pointing to early practice times on the college field.
“I don’t know if anyone else in the state is practicing outside at 6 a.m. in the middle of March,” he said.
Rizzo summed up:
“We have all the tools this year,” he said. “Kegan is fantastic back there. Our defense is really solid. We have a couple of attackmen who can really score. We have two really solid lines at midfield. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be playing for the state title this year.”
First-year Coach Dena Greenman didn’t have the same level of success in 2022 with the MUHS girls’ lacrosse program, but her Tigers won six games and posted a big win in a first-round D-I playoff game.
She’s optimistic for this year for one of the same reasons as Rizzo: plenty of veterans returning, and one different one — those players have had a season to learn under Greenman and her assistants.
“We have nine returning seniors and two additional players (back),” Greenman said. “And because this is my second year coaching, last year we were establishing systems, and this year we are starting where we left off instead of starting from scratch.”
She also notes most of the team’s defenders return, as does the team’s starting goalie, sophomore Ava Schneider.
“Ava in goal is mentally tough,” Greenman said. “And our defense, five out of six have already all worked together.”
Those defenders are seniors Elizabeth Crawford, Hana Doria, Naomi Brightman, Abby Tufts and Becca Orten, plus junior Lily Finn.
There are fewer veterans at midfield, where seniors Lia Robinson and Dahlia Harrison-Irwin, sophomore Juliette Hunsdorfer, and freshmen Kenyon Connors, Erin Sears and Quinn Doria will rotate through the positions.
Greenman expects the younger players to join Robinson in particular to make an impact.
“To have such strong middie lines, I think we’re in good shape,” she said.
Up front, seniors Nora Wootten and Nyna Cole will start along with sophomores Ada Weaber and Ronan Young, with sophomore Pela Slater spotting in. Greenman noted Wootten, Cole and Weaber played effectively together in 2022.
“Three out of out four on our attack have worked together,” she said.
Greenman credits the team’s captains, Cole, Crawford and Wootten, with helping create a good team culture, and she expects as the team starts to “gel with the new players,” the Tigers will improve their teamwork and communication.
And she believes the Tigers should be able to compete with anyone on their schedule if they play with an assertive mindset.
“We’re skilled and have good athletes. We just have to make sure we’re aggressive,” she said. “We have to want it.”
A year ago, a young MUHS team one year removed from JV status won just twice. Coach Tim Paquette, entering his second year leading the varsity program, envisions a step forward this season for the Tigers.
“They’ve all got a lot of heart, and they’ve worked hard in the offseason,” Paquette said.
One of the things he said they worked and continue to focus on is fielding. Paquette believes the major problem a year ago is that errors snowballed — one miscue would lead to two or three more.
“We’ve been doing a lot of infield drills. And if they make an error doing the drills, I make them do it until they get it right,” he said.
Offensively, Paquette believes the Tigers will do well, including with increased power hitting.
“I think we’ve got some good bats this year. We’ve got a couple kids who might actually go around the bags,” he said.
Paquette is also confident in a pitching staff that will rely on senior Jack Wallace, sophomore Tucker Morter, juniors Tim Whitney and Carter Paquette, and senior Graham Mattrick, who returns with a live arm after a couple years away from the sport. Junior Cole Warren could also throw in relief. Carter Paquette will be the primary catcher, with Warren taking over when Paquette pitches.
In the infield, senior Landon Shubert and junior Ethan Sweet will compete for, or possibly platoon at, first base. Warren is the likely starter at second base. Whitney is the shortstop and Morter the third baseman. Backing up the infielders will be seniors Cole Ashelin, Nathan Bingham and Wallace, as well as juniors Dylan Stowe and Wyatt Stearns.
Sophomore center fielder and leadoff hitter Alex Sperry returns, and juniors Riley Disorda and Aiden LaDuke could start in left and right field, respectively, with other candidates including Stowe and junior Casey Calzini.
With a year of experience and a strong work ethic, Paquette foresaw the Tigers solving the problem that held them back in 2022 and making some noise this spring.
“If we cut down the errors that they had last year because the nerves got in the way most of the time, I believe the guys can be a championship quality baseball team,” he said.
TRACK & FIELD
Coach Chris Anderson’s Tiger track & field program boasted the only MUHS state champions of the spring of 2022: Now graduated Hannah Turner won the D-II girls’ 400-meter race, and also ran on two placing relay teams.
Her efforts helped the Tiger girls take fourth out of 15 teams, as did those of returners like sophomore sprinter Jazmyn Hurley and three returning middle-distance runners, senior Seina Dowgiewicz and sophomores Beth McIntosh and Sarah Benz.
Several runners who return on the boys’ side placed in middle-distance and distance races and relays, helping the Tiger boys take eighth at state.
Even with graduations on both sides, Anderson expects results to be as good or better this year, especially in light of strong results from the Tiger cross-country and Nordic skiing programs this academic year.
“Particularly on the middle distance and distance runners, a lot of them are back and have gotten better over the year,” he said.
A strong turnout of newcomers on both sides includes athletes who were already showing promise in the early going, Anderson added.
“We have 48 kids out, and half the team is either new to the team or freshmen, new to high school,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of teaching that needs to go on, bringing them up to speed and everything, but so far they’ve been doing really well, and it’s a good mix of both boys and girls.”
Hurley is probably the headliner on the girls’ side. She returns after taking second at 200 meters, third in the 400, and running on four-by-100-meter relay and 4×400 teams that placed. Benz joined her on the 4×400 team, and Dowgiewicz and McIntosh ran on the winning 4×800 unit.
Among those who Anderson also expects to contribute for the girls’ team are seniors Lily Lapiner in the middle distances and Cady Pitner in the sprints and sprint relays, freshman Mary Harrington in the middle-distance and distance races and relays, and freshman Solstice Binder in distances that could range from 100 to 400 meters, plus relays. Others could emerge, he said, noting he has only had a limited chance to evaluate the athletes.
On the boys’ side, a number of athletes return who ran on relay teams that placed a year ago: Senior Eliot Schneider and sophomore Haakon Olsen in the 4×100, Schneider and senior Ben Seaton in the 4×400, and senior Ronen Silberman, Olsen and sophomore Matthew Berg in the 4×800.
Individually, junior Baxter Harrington was fifth in the 1,500 last year, and Seaton took fourth in the 3,000.
Runners on both sides were also just off the podium in the middle-distance and distance events, and Anderson expects them to move up this year.
On the boys’ team, Anderson said sprinters Cole Schnoor and Matthew Brown, both senior newcomers, and sophomore Joshua Kafumbe should fare well individually and bolster the 4×100 relay team that lost two members.
He said senior Toby Wells-Spackman and freshmen Kaden Hammond and Matias Citarelli could emerge at the middle distances and in the 4×800.
Again, Anderson said, others could easily step forward.
“I’m encouraged by the numbers that are out, particularly by the new people,” he said. “It’s a really good group. They all support each other, encourage each other.
Since transitioning to a varsity sport at MUHS in 2019, Ultimate — the game in which players toss a disc that for legal reasons cannot be called by its name, but rhymes with Ms. B — has been known more for its camaraderie, sportsmanship and good vibes than for piling up victories.
That might not change this spring as the Tiger girls’ and boys’ teams, with rosters of nine and 12 athletes, respectively, compete with schools with rosters twice as large.
The coaches and players haven’t been deterred yet, however, and that won’t change this spring either, according to girls’ coach and program founder Michelle Steele and new boys’ coach Andy McIntosh, a 35-year veteran Ultimate player making his first foray into leading a high school team.
Ultimate teams have two basic, and fluid, positions among the seven players who take to the field at a time: handlers, who throw the disc and can’t run while holding it, and cutters, who try to get free from defenders to receive a pass, ideally in the end zone to score a point.
For Steele’s nine-strong girls’ team, seniors Vivian Ross, Maggie Conklin and sometimes Ari Graham-Gurland will serve as the primary handlers, although Steele said Graham-Gurland is also one of the group’s stronger cutters.
Senior Elise Heppell is another talented cutter, Steele said, and was the “team’s main defender last year,” leading the Tigers in creating defensive turnovers. “She’s a really fast cutter and is really aggressive getting to the disc,” Steele said.
Seniors Melody Berenbaum and Liliana Luksch, junior Mahina Elchibekova, and sophomore Jessie Bodette and Anika Heppell round out the roster.
Steele described the team’s biggest plus.
“We have such a positive, supportive group and team culture,” Steele said. “Last year, we only won one game, and I was amazed at how our players never got their heads down. They were always improving. Every game they got so much better, and they just stayed so focused on that they could improve.”
The team’s goals are tied more to those benefits than wins and losses.
“I don’t know if we’ll win more than one game this year,” she said. “We don’t have divisions. We’re playing really big schools, like CVU, which will have 25 girls on their sideline, or Burlington, which will have 20 girls on their sideline. We just don’t have the same depth of athleticism to play a 90-minute game. We’ll get tired. But I think our offense will come together and we’ll really build on what we did last year.”
With more male athletes, McIntosh was hopeful about the results on the field, although also more focused on the process than the results.
“We have some pretty experienced seniors and juniors,” he said.
The primary handlers will be junior Benedict Diehl-Noble, seniors Trevor Schnoor and Layne Chant, while freshman Callan McDowell could also perform in that role.
Speedy senior Carter Lee will be an important target and can also handle, and McIntosh said the team could also use Schnoor’s height to its advantage as a cutter.
The rest of the team includes senior Connor Bachand; juniors Asa Baker-Rouse and Max Carpenter; sophomores Axel de Boer, Ian Sinclair and Jackson Trump; and freshman Nick Carpenter.
McIntosh said having just five subs could be a good number: Everybody will see enough action to stay sharp, but not so much to wear themselves out.
“Having a core group can sometimes work to your advantage,” he said. “You’re staying in the game and staying loose.”
Like the girls’ side, McIntosh described a positive bunch.
“They are having fun, and they’re getting along,” he said. “I think everybody likes each other.”
McIntosh said he’s looking forward to the season.
“I’m pretty psyched right now. Even though they’re still learning the skills of the game, we have good athletes on the team. And that’s always a plus,” he said. “I hope to see some dramatic improvement in our team over the course of the season. Just as long as we’re improving, that’s what counts.”
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