Sports

Spring Sports Report: Mt. Abe teams are seeking championships

EAGLE SENIOR CHANCE Denecker is not making a fashion statement: Strong gusts of wind kept blowing his hat off as he delivered pitches during a game at VUHS last May, and this was his answer to the problem. Independent photo/Steve James

BRISTOL — The spring of 2023 overall treated Mount Abraham Union High School athletes pretty well, even considering a few glitches. 

The Eagle softball team picked up its fifth Division II crown in six years, while the boys’ lacrosse team saw a furious comeback fall short in the D-III final. 

Despite an unfortunate DQ for the best D-II boys’ hurdler, the Eagle track and field team still managed a few podium places at the state meet. The only team that never really got on a roll was Eagle baseball, despite some good moments along the way.

This spring brings new faces and renewed optimism to most of the teams.

EAGLE SOFTBALL 2024

SOFTBALL

After Coach Don McCormick watched his softball team win the D-II championship last year, he then saw his top two pitchers, and his top three power hitters (two of them the same players, and one of that duo his daughter Eve), walk across the stage and receive diplomas. 

But the Mount Abe program has been reloading for years, and this season could be no exception.

“It’s a little bit of a different squad,” said Athletic Director Devin Wendel. “We’ll be younger in a few positions. But we’re still returning some key players, and I think that overall the culture of our program is so strong that it allows players to step up and shine.”

Among the key returners are senior Madelyn Hayden, a three-year starter either at second base or outfield; Joanna Toy, probably the team’s catcher this season; versatile senior Sarah Heath; and junior infielder Abigail Parker. 

Wendel expects several sophomores who played limited roles in 2023 to see more fulltime action this spring, in particular Gretchen Toy, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, and infielders Gen Forand and Morgan Larocque. 

The lineup in the field would most likely be influenced by what McCormick saw during a team trip last week to South Carolina, Wendel added, where he could “see them in an open field to determine what serves us best” rather than the school gym.

Overall, it’s safe to say the Eagles will be a solid squad once again, offensively and defensively.

“I think this team is going to have to play a little bit more small-ball to get the job done,” Wendel said. “Once we catch our groove I think we’re going to be just fine.”

EAGLE BOYS’ LACROSSE 2024

BOYS’ LACROSSE

Coach Ed Cook’s boys’ lacrosse squad has reached the D-III final each of the past two seasons, and has hopes of reaching the top of the mountain this season.

Two high-scoring attackers graduated, but most of the team’s core returns this spring, and Wendel noted at least some of the 13 freshmen who signed on can help right away. 

“When I look at just the lacrosse IQ, and the general baseline skills of these kids coming in … it’s huge,” he said. “To lose two and replace with 13, it’s big. And these kids, some of them are going to be players. Some of them are going to see reps at the varsity level, I’m sure.”

And the team is confident and motivated heading into the season. 

“The kids, being in the state championship two years in a row, having the feeling of getting that close, and especially last year, having that comeback and falling just short, I think this group is pretty darn hungry,” Wendel said. “And they have one goal in mind.”

A dozen seniors return to lead the way, including goalie Walker Forand; midfielders Jamison Couture, Sam Mangini and Finley Kaeck; defenders Jordan Schroeder, Connor Kelly and Olin Kidder; and attackers Andrew Nolan and Noah Ladeau.

“The leadership that is there, too, is going to be pretty spot on,” Wendel said.

Among the key juniors who return include faceoff specialist Lorenzo Atocha and midfielder Spencer Gebo.

Wendel also credits Cook for instilling a strong team atmosphere.

“He’s done a nice job,” Wendel said. “Ed’s now been at Mount Abe for long enough to build a lacrosse culture, too, and a positive and consistent one. And I think the kids have bought in, and they’re holding each other accountable.”

EAGLE TRACK AND FIELD 2024

TRACK AND FIELD

Returning scorers from the 2023 D-II state meet are few for Co-Coaches Katie Burdett’s and Brent Crum’s 2024 Eagle track and field team: Senior Joseph Darling returns after taking fourth in the discus and sixth in the long jump and junior Hazel Stoddard finished fourth in the high jump.

At this winter’s indoor track championship meet, Darling moved up to second in the long jump, and junior Ruby Connell was just out of the money at 50 and 300 meters.

Wendel said Darling will be looking to cap his career with more podium appearances.

“He hit some really nice marks in indoor, and obviously had some great success in outdoor last year,” he said.

Given their recent track records, Wendel also cited Stoddard and Connell.

“Hazel Stoddard and Ruby Connell are going to be kids to watch this spring,” he said, noting that Connell broke the Eagle 300-meter mark this winter.

Wendel and the coaches were pleased to see 10 ninth-graders sign up. Among them Truman Sawyer could make the earliest impact in the long jump and at the middle distances.

“He has a lot of potential,” he said, also citing his classmate Kassondra Garrow in the long jump and at 55 meter as “someone to watch.”

The coaches are also stressing “general strength and conditioning,” including weight training with the expectation that other athletes could emerge in the course of the season, Wendel said.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more explosiveness out of some of these kids this spring,” he said. “We definitely have some kids coming back that are going to be pretty successful, for sure.”

EAGLE BASEBALL 2024

BASEBALL

This past spring, despite a few bright spots, was a largely forgettable one for Coach Jason Barnard’s Mount Abe baseball program.

But there are a few reasons for optimism heading into this season, according to Wendel, including veteran pitching and an infusion of young talent, including two sophomores and three freshmen who made varsity.

“We’ve got some pitching coming back,” Wendel said. “This freshman class is one that we’ve been really excited coming up through.”

The team will look to its two seniors, Tanner Castillo and Jamison Huizenga to help Barnard steer the ship. 

“Tanner Castillo, Jamo (Huizenga), those two are going to be the leaders this year,” Wendel said.

Live-armed junior lefty Aricin Griffin is back to lead the pitching staff, and Castillo; freshman Abe Ready, juniors Gavin Conrad and Tyler White; and sophomore Brody Barnard are also candidates to take the mound. They will throw to a catching crew that includes Castillo, Ready and freshman Clark Crary, Wendel said.

Wendel said other positions were still being sorted out in the preseason, but that the team has the depth and talent to move pieces around.

“If someone is on the mound we still have a solid replacement behind them,” Wendel said.

Among the team’s better offensive players could be the seniors, junior Griffin, sophomore Evan Corrigan, and freshman Ready, Wendel said.

Barnard was emphasizing fundamentals and team chemistry in the runup to the season.

“He’s just trying to keep it simple. He wants pitchers to throw strikes. He wants his players to make the routine players, and he wants his players to be positive and encouraging,” Wendel said. “Those are the big things he’s focused on. He’s saying if we do those things, we’re going to be just fine.”

As always, the Eagles will play a schedule that will include Division I teams, but Wendel believes they will hold their own.

“We can hang with teams as long as everyone does their jobs individually,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Share this story:

More News
Sports

Eagles stave off Tiger baseball

In a Tuesday matchup with Division II postseason implications, the Mount Abraham baseball … (read more)

Sports

MUHS softball remains on a roll, topples Mt. Abe

The Middlebury Union High School softball team continued to roll on Tuesday, this time at … (read more)

Sports

Middlebury lacrosse cruises to third NCAA title

It would be fair to label this year’s NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse tournament the Mi … (read more)

Share this story: