Spring Sports Report: Vergennes Union High School
VERGENNES — Girls’ teams made most of the headlines at Vergennes Union High School in the spring of 2022, when both the softball and Commodore-Mount Abraham cooperative girls’ lacrosse team reached finals.
Those two teams have continued reasons for optimism this time around, but according to the coaches of the VUHS baseball and track & field programs their groups also can make sound arguments for their programs to take steps forward over the next couple of months.
Here’s a closer look at reasons for the optimism.
A year ago first-year Coach Andy O’Brien’s inexperienced baseball team won five times, including a first-round Division III playoff road victory over a higher seed and four games against a tough schedule.
Why could the Commodores be better this season?
“We are heavily senior-laden. We return all of our starters,” O’Brien said. “Last year we had three kids with varsity experience. Now we’ve got 10 kids with varsity experience.”
O’Brien also sees pitching as a plus. Junior Tyler Kimball, who tossed a complete-game win in the playoffs, is the No. 1, with seniors Nathan Muzzy and Peyton Paquette following him in the rotation. Versatile senior Elijah Duprey can also throw, as can junior Eyon Tembreull.
Duprey will probably do most of the catching, with senior Parker Kayhart ready to fill in there.
Around the infield, O’Brien foresees senior Xavier DeBlois as the regular first baseman, with sophomores Gabriel Scribner and Reese Paquette both seeing time at second base. Senior Zeke Dubois, Duprey and Scribner can all play shortstop, while Tembreull is lined up as the regular third baseman. Freshman Aiden Fuller can back up the infield.
The outfield is crowded. Duprey, Kayhart and Dubois can all play there, and Kimball is likely to start there when he’s not on the mound. Senior Jacob Aunchman, juniors Ben Hargett and Jackson Becher, both Paquettes, Muzzy, Fuller and freshman Carter Mcguire could also roam the outfield grass.
O’Brien expects the Commodores to play good defense.
“We’re going to be really strong,” he said. “The kids have grown mentally.”
Offensively, the Commodores will build on the smallball approach that proved effective in 2022, especially later in the season.
“We’ve got a lot of singles hitters, kids who can drive the ball,” O’Brien said. “But we ran the basepaths really well last year. We bunted really well.”
It all adds up to O’Brien saying he felt at least “cautiously” optimistic.
“I have my goal. The kids have theirs. I’d love to be playing in Centennial in our last game,” he said. “We’ll see if that comes to fruition. But as of right now, the first three weeks, things are clicking pretty well.”
Coach Marikate Kelley’s VUHS-Mt. Abe girls’ lax team took a close loss to an undefeated, senior-laden Hartford team in the D-II final a year ago. Her Commodores did graduate two key midfielders and an attacker, but still could be poised for another competitive campaign.
“We’ve got a good group of kids who’ve played before, and some young kids coming in,” Kelley said. “The culture on the team is really good. They’re all positive.”
For all that, Kelley said question marks remain, mainly where everyone will play to maximize their talents to best help the team.
“I’m seeing some really good things with kids I have coming back, and I’m seeing some freshmen who are new players who are good athletes and picking things up quick,” she said. “But putting it all together is going to take some time.”
One thing is set: Junior Carley Cook returns in goal. Several veterans also return on defense: senior Natalie Adams, junior Anna Stillwell, and sophomore Safi Camara. But Stilwell could also move up to attack, and Camara to midfield. Sophomore Kennedy Denecker is likely to start in the back, senior Liana Gay could defend or attack, and freshman Maris Laperle could defend or play midfield.
There is a common thread in the group whoever lines up, Kelley said.
“We’ve got good athletes on defense,” she said.
Junior Annie Dufault returns at midfield, and as a draw specialist. Junior Nell Harvey will also start at midfield, and other candidates include junior Siena Stanley, freshman June Yates-Rusch, Camara and Laperle.
Senior Reese Gernander is the team’s leading returning scorer and will start at attack, where she will be joined by senior Cassandra Guillemette, moving up from midfield as she returns from a knee injury. Other candidates include senior Carlyn Rapoport, sophomore Ruby Hellier, Gay, Stilwell and Yates-Rusch.
Kelley said how well everybody learns new positions and blends as a group while assuming those roles will determine how quickly the team gels.
“We’re still figuring out where people are going to play,” she said. “But I expect as we figure that out, with their work ethic we’ll continue to improve over the course of the season and just get better and better.”
Coach Travis Scribner’s Commodore softball team in 2022 won 10 games against a tough schedule, including enough playoff contests to reach the D-III final.
Scribner acknowledged graduation losses from that squad, namely the team’s starting catcher, first and second basemen, and shortstop. But he thinks his team will be OK.
“We lost four starters from last year,” he said. “But we have some capable replacements.”
The team returns its ace pitcher, sophomore standout Savanah Blaise, and Scribner will look to spell her with senior Madison Laberge and sophomores Katie Laberge and Rory Couture. “We need to rely on more than just Savanah,” he said.
Senior Samantha Hallock moves in from center field to take over behind the plate.
In the infield the Laberges will probably both see time at first base, and either senior Madison Perkins or 8th-grader Ryenn Wisell will play second. Couture will take over at short, and Lake Division All-Star Jasmine Little returns at third base.
Scribner was not set on the outfield in the preseason. Wisell is a candidate there, with seniors Mckenzie Bell and Lacey Lazarski, sophomore Riz Mullin, and 8th-grader Jayden Ploof in the mix.
Scribner said he expects Little, the team’s leader in stolen bases a year ago, and Blaise to spark the attack from the top of the order, with Hallock, Couture and Katie Laberge also likely to hit among the top five spots in the batting order.
Speed will be a Commodore calling card, he said, especially after much of the team’s power hitting graduated.
“We definitely lost a lot of that part of the game, but we increased our speed. We definitely have a lot of fast girls on the team,” Scribner said. “We can capitalize on that.”
In all, the coach is optimistic about the team finishing over .500 and making noise in the postseason.
“I think we’re going to do really well this year, and once we get to the tournament, we’re going to make another deep tournament run,” Scribner said.
TRACK & FIELD
The spring of 2022 was nothing special for the VUHS track & field team. The Commodores sent a half-dozen male runners to the D-III meet, where the Commodores picked up a single point by finishing sixth in the 4-by-800-meter relay.
But things for Coach Brad Castillo’s squad got more interesting in this past winter’s indoor track season.
Commodore junior Calvin Gramling won the boys’ 1,000-meter race, classmate Calder Rakowski finished third in the boys’ 600, and those two joined junior Riley Gagnon and sophomore Grey Fearon on two third-place VUHS relay teams to help the Commodore boys finish fourth among 19 scoring teams in D-II.
All four will compete this spring, which will conclude with the Commodores attending the D-III championship meet. Castillo said the same quartet could compete in the 4×800, with junior Ryder Messinger possibly subbing in for Fearon in the 4×400.
“I definitely have high hopes for the boys coming back from the wintertime,” Castillo said.
Castillo expects Gramling to excel at 1,500 meters and Rakowski to compete successfully at 800 meters as well as both to run on the two relay teams along with Gagnon, Fearon and Messinger.
Gagnon and Messinger will focus on the 200 and 400, and Fearon on the 3,000.
Assistant Charlie Kornman will work with throwers and jumpers, and senior Gideon Palmer, junior Neil Brons and freshman Peter Maneen will jump under his tutelage. Sophomore Brody McGuire will try out the throws, Castillo said, while freshman Chance Koenig will run at 200, 400 and 800 meters.
Castillo was also happy to have six girls qualify for the state D-II indoor meet this winter after having none do so for the 2022 outdoor D-II meet. Sophomore Jing Williams took sixth at 600 meters, and she teamed up with sophomores Torrey Hanna and Mia Kutchukian and freshman Quincy Sabick to place fourth in the 4×400.
“They all ran very good times at states. Jing was probably our standout individually on the girls’ side,” Castillo said.
Among the nine girls on the team — a good number for the program — Castillo said Williams should lead the way at 400 and 800 meters and, hopefully, in a 4×400 relay. Hanna will long jump and is a candidate for both the 4×400 and 4×100 relays.
Senior newcomer Finnley Jacobson could throw, jump or sprint, and there are a cadre of younger sprinters who will most likely focus on the 100 and 200 and could run on a 4×100 team: sophomores Kutchukian (another 4×400 candidate), Mary Cosgrove and Sophia Johnson; and freshmen Sabick, Faith McAllister and Gina LeBeau. Sabick and possibly McAllister could run on the 4×400 team, according to Castillo.
In all, the coach was happy with both the team’s talent and turnout.
“The ones that are here from the indoor season are ready. And the ones that have showed up are just as talented and are eager to make a difference,” Castillo said. “I can’t complain. It’s not bad for us. It feels good.”
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