Sports

Spring Sports Report: Commodores look to build on past success

SPEEDY VUHS SENIOR Jasmine Little took advantage of a relay throw that got a few feet away from the White River pitcher and third baseman to bolt home past them both to score the Commodores’ first run in their home playoff victory. Coach Travis Scribner called Little, the shortstop, the team’s “best all-around player.” Independent file photo/Steve James

VERGENNES — The spring of 2023 had to be rated a success for the Vergennes sports teams. 

The Commodore track and field squad earned two individual victories and one silver medal — and many athletes return. 

Meanwhile, the Commodore baseball and softball squads and the cooperative girls’ lacrosse team VUHS shares with Mount Abraham all reached semifinals. New faces might have to emerge if those groups are to repeat those performances, but spring always brings optimism, in most cases likely justified. 

VUHS Varsity Track 2024

Track and Field

It’s been a productive couple of championship meets in the past year for Coach Brad Castillo’s Commodore track and field program. In the spring of 2023 Calder Rakowski won the boys’ 800-meter race and also ran on the Commodores’ winning four-by-800-meter relay team along with Calvin Gramling, Riley Gagnon and Grey Fearon. Fearon also took second at 1,500 meters for the other top boys’ result; he was also third at 800 meters. All four return this spring. 

A thrower who picked up silver outdoors for the VUHS girls graduated, but Jing Williams is back after taking fifth at 1,500 meters. And she, Quincy Sabick and Gina LeBeau all return after finishing just seconds out of the money in the 4×400 relay.

This winter in the D-II indoor title meet, Fearon won at 1,000 meters, and the four-by-800-meter relay team of Fearon, Gagnon, Gramling and Rakowski prevailed, and taking second were Rakowski in the 600 and the 4X400 team of Rakowski, Fearon, Chance Koenig, and Ryder Messinger. Koenig also returns.

VUHS Athletic Director Peter Maneen said he and Castillo are looking for more good results from that group, including possibly a Division-III record in the boys’ 4×800.

“We’re expecting some good things there,” Maneen said. 

The optimism surrounding the program is not limited to the boys’ side: 16 girls signed up, including five freshmen as well as strong athletes from the upper grades. In particular it shouldn’t be difficult to add a runner to the girls’ 4×400 team to contend again, Maneen said.

“Our track numbers in general have improved,” he said. “We have a number of new kids in the program that show a lot of potential.”

VUHS Varsity Girls Lacrosse 2024

Girls’ lacrosse 

Coach Marikate Kelley’s VUHS-Mount Abraham cooperative girls’ lacrosse team has reached at least the D-II semifinals every season since its undefeated championship season in 2019. That record includes in 2022 coming up just short in a final.

Key this year for the team will be replacing offense lost to graduation, Maneen said. 

“The biggest thing for girls’ lacrosse will be who is going to be the consistent scorer,” he said. “There are a number of returning defenders, and in the midfield.”

The team also returns a veteran goalie, senior Carley Cook. Defenders in front of her could include seniors Nell Harvey and Julia Sonneborn, also potentially midfielders; juniors Safoura Camara, Ellie Hellier and Kennedy Denecker (the latter two are also potentially midfielders); and sophomores Scout Jacobson and Eleanor Wilkinson-Sachs.

Senior Annie Dufault will help anchor the midfield and could provide an offensive spark. Other midfielders include senior Siena Stanley and sophomore June Yates-Rusch.

Senior Anna Stillwell could be a key cog and leader on the attack, where also junior Esme Visco-Lyons and sophomore Maris LaPerle could line up. 

Four ninth-graders will also be seeking roles, probably at midfield or attack, Maneen said: Thompson Davis, Meredith Dufault, Zoey Johnston and Adrienne Smits.

How quickly some or all of the younger athletes acclimate to varsity play will help determine how the Commodores fare, Maneen said.

“The question is which of those players are going to step forward and become more consistent and comfortable at the varsity level and speed of play,” Maneen said.

A tough early schedule should help prepare the Commodores for D-II competition, including the postseason, Maneen added.

“Continuing on their recent success is I don’t think unreasonable,” he said. “I think the goal is to be in the top four when the playoffs come around and making another run.”

VUHS Varsity Baseball 2024

Baseball

Coach Andy O’Brien’s baseball team won twice in the D-III playoffs a year ago, the second victory being on the road against the top seed. Several players earned diplomas after that playoff performance, but a number of players are back, critically pitchers and a catcher.

“We lost some pretty important players from that program, but we have some pretty key returning players. We have some pretty good pitching depth,” Maneen said. “So we’re looking for some pretty good things out of the baseball program.”

The pitching rotation will include seniors Tyler Kimball and Eyon “Tiki” Tembreull, and juniors Gabe Scribner and Reese Paquette. 

Those players will also almost certainly occupy key defensive positions when not on the mound. Paquette will be the primary catcher, with the backup spot up for grabs in the early going. Kimball is the center fielder, Tembreull the shortstop, and Scribner the third baseman. 

Other positions were subject to competition in the preseason, with seniors Jackson Becher and Benjamin Hargett, three sophomores and seven freshmen seeking playing time. 

Maneen said some of those younger players will have to make solid contributions and the seniors will have to show the way if the Commodore nine is to contend again. 

He added the younger players have devoted themselves to the sport.

“There’s a number of younger players, but it’s big baseball crew. They’ve played a lot of baseball over the years,” Maneen said. “So it will a fun year. There will be some young kids in the mix with some veteran leadership. They should be competitive.”

VUHS Varsity Softball 2024

Softball

The VUHS softball program will have a new coach, Peter Monty, who was until this spring the Essex JV program head. 

Monte will be looking to preserve the momentum the program has gained over the past few years: The Commodores reached the D-III final in 2022 and lost a close semifinal a year ago. 

But Maneen acknowledged some rebuilding might be in order, with just 11 high school students in the program, including five freshmen and no seniors, to tide things over until 17 middle school participants move up the ladder.

“Softball graduated a number of older players last year. They’re very young this year,” Maneen said.

The good news is two-year starting junior pitcher Savanah Blaise, also a top-of-the-order hitter, is back. 

“Savanah is a good place to start from,” Maneen said.

Two other key junior starters return, outfielder Katie LaBerge and infielder Rory Couture, and junior Rizz Mullin has also seen time over the past couple seasons.

Rounding out the roster are junior Rory Hendee, essentially new to the sport; sophomore Phoebe Raphael; the five freshmen; and likely one 8th-grade callup. Of the freshman, one has experience — Ryenn Wisell, who played varsity a year ago as an 8th-grader and, according to Maneen, was a .300 hitter.

Maneen said how quickly the younger players, some of them short on softball experience, adapt to the varsity game could determine the Commodores’ fate. But wins and losses might not be the most important piece of the agenda for this season, he added.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how these players take to the game,” Maneen said. “The goal is development over the course of the season. We obviously want to be competitive, but we want to see these kids learn and enjoy the game and continue to take steps forward as players.”

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