Images helped capture memorable spring

EAGLE FRESHMAN CAM Castillo launched a ball about 30 feet over the left-field fence with this swing, and it was his first varsity homer in a game that came as Mount Abe baseball team was beginning to catch fire in the middle of the season. He and his teammates were pumped. I’m not sure who tracked down the ball for him, but Cam was pleased to show it off in the dugout for Steve afterward, as well he should have been. Independent photo/Steve James

ADDISON COUNTY — Early this spring it looked like Mother Nature would end up as the big winner. More games were canceled than played, and local ADs were scrambling to find buses and officials for rescheduled makeups.

The weather finally settled down to being typically problematic, rather than disastrous. And a good thing, too, because the season proved to be a remarkable three months for local athletes.

Chronologically, here’s a quick look at championships claimed this spring, at least one by athletes from each Addison County school:

• Coach Kate Livesay’s Middlebury women’s lacrosse went 23-0 and won the NESCAC and NCAA Division III titles. Their closest NCAA game was a six-goal semifinal victory. Depending on how you look at the COVID years off it was the either the program’s third or fourth straight national title. Their victory in the NCAA final was the program’s 51st win in a row. 

SOME OF THE best shots Steve gets of softball games come from behind the center field fence, where he can get crisp images with the telephoto lens. Much of the appeal of sport is the tension of anticipation, and this image has it. Tiger catcher Sienna Rubright is preparing to frame the pitch if the batter doesn’t swing. The batter is flexing her muscles getting ready to let the bat fly. The umpire is zeroing in on the flight of the ball, set to make a call if necessary. It’s all there.
Independent photo/Steve James

• Coach Mike Leonard’s Middlebury College baseball team won the NESCAC playoff championship as the top seed, and then went on to take two games at a double-elimination NCAA regional at Misericordia University before being ousted in the final. The Panthers finished 32-13, with the number of wins setting a new program highwater mark.

VUHS SENIOR JAMO Couture had a fun three seasons: 1,000 yards rushing for MAV football, a state wrestling championship at 215 pounds, and an MAV boys’ lax title as a short-stick defensive middie. He played well defensively, but had the most impact — figuratively and literally — carrying the ball up the field. Let’s just say Couture didn’t shy away from opponents who tried to body-check him, and few tried to get in his way more than once. Some drew offensive fouls from Couture for charging; again, few tried that more than once. This photo captures one opponent’s open-field futility.
Independent photo/Steve James

• For the Vergennes Union High School track & field team in D-III, senior Calder Rakowski won the boys’ 800-meter race, repeating his victory from a year ago. He also teamed up with classmates Riley Gagnon and Calvin Gramling and junior Grey Fearon as the Commodores also repeated their 2023 winning performance in the four-by-800-meter relay.

• For the MUHS track team, junior Jazmyn Hurley blew away her D-II competition at 100, 200 and 400 meters, all by wide margins. Hurley was the only runner in any division to win three races. Mount Abraham senior Siena Stanley claimed the only other D-II victory for a local D-II athlete with a win at 3,000 meters.

MUHS SOPHOMORE JAZMYN Hurley breezes to victory in the Essex New England Qualifying Meet, a week before she won three races at the D-II championships. This image captures nicely her composure and relaxed form, which contrast with her competitors, all of whom in comparison appear to be working much harder as they near the finish line.
Photo courtesy of Joe McVeigh

• Coach Ken Schoen’s Tiger boys’ tennis team claimed the program’s first D-I title. The Tigers defeated CVU, 4-3, in a tense match clinched by senior No. 4 singles player Iver Anderson’s big tiebreaker victory. 

EAGLE SENIOR CONNOR Kelly blossomed into a lockdown defender this season, arguably the best on the MAV boys’ lacrosse team, combining size, stick skills, speed and the necessary tenacity to be a thorn in any attacker’s side. Here after forcing a Green Mountain turnover in the D-III final at Norwich University Kelly starts to leave a couple Gumbies in his wake as he heads upfield.
Image by Mark Bouvier Photography

Also winning final’s matches were junior No.1 Jackson Murray, freshman No. 5 Nate Cook Yoder, and No. 1 doubles team of seniors Eddie Fallis and Milo Rees, who finished the year undefeated in dual matches. Junior No. 2 Kellan Bartlett, freshman No. 3 Charles Young, and the No. 2 doubles team of seniors Baxter Harrington and Noah Doherty Konczal played creditably, and all, as always, the team exhibited fine sportsmanship.

• After knocking on the D-III door for the past two years, Coach Ed Cook’s Mount Abraham/VUHS cooperative boys’ lacrosse team kicked it down with a solid 9-6 victory over top-seeded Green Mountain Valley in this year’s title game. Of note was terrific defense led by seniors Connor Kelly and Jordan Schroeder; tie-breaking goals by attacker Noah Ladeau, one set up brilliantly by classmate Andrew Nolan; 14 saves by senior goalie Walker Forand; and forays from the back by senior middie Jamo Couture, who also fired up the MAV crowd by waving his arms and inviting applause. Many more contributed to a team effort.

• Finally there was Coach Tim Paquette’s resilient MUHS baseball team, which bounced back from a 1-7 start to finish 12-8, with the last victory over another tenacious bunch, Mount Abraham (13-7), in the D-II final. Both came from relatively low seeds (MUHS No. 8 and Mount Abe No. 6) to meet for the championship. That game, unfortunately for the Eagles, ultimately hinged on the failure of a baserunner to run to first base in the bottom of the seventh inning after working an apparently game-winning, bases-loaded walk. That play allowing the game to go to the eighth still tied. The Tigers then outscored the Eagles, 3-2, in the dramatic extra inning for the crown. 

Really, one could argue both teams deserved trophies. With the Eagles graduating just two seniors, they are likely to get more chances. Don’t hang your heads, guys, just keep plugging.

Along the way there were many other moments for teams and athletes that didn’t capture titles. Eagle track star Joseph Darling didn’t come away with gold, but capped a great career with two more D-II medals. Junior teammates Hazel Stoddard  and Ruby Connell also medaled in two events. 

The Eagle and Tiger softball teams met in the D-II final a year ago, but were ousted in the quarterfinal round this year in close games. Coach Don McCormick’s Eagles were young and show promise for the future. They also flashed some leather. At one game a fan called sophomore shortstop Gen Forand “ESPN Gen” for her highlight reel plays, and junior Abba Parker was a vacuum at third. They’ll miss veterans Jo Toy, Madelyn Hayden and Sarah Heath going forward, but most return.

TWO THINGS ARE great about this shot. One is simply the composition — the diagonal bat, just over Tiger pitcher Emma Deering’s head, the equilateral triangle formed by the ball, Emma’s glove and her right hand, and the gentle blur of everything except the pitcher that puts the subject in sharp relief. The other is a fact of athletics: One must exert oneself tremendously to do something like throw a softball accurately at 50 mph or so, but at the same time keep muscles and mind relaxed enough to do so optimally. Simply put, an athlete can’t tighten up. This particular image captures an athlete accomplishing that feat.
Independent photo/Steve James

Coach Timm Hanley’s Tigers lost a one-run quarterfinal in one of the best-played softball games I’ve seen. A more fun game for MUHS came at Mount Abe in the regular season, in which both junior Lexi Whitney and freshman Sarah Bevere blasted their first high school homers. They got the balls as souvenirs. MUHS graduated the starting battery of pitcher Emma Deering and Sienna Rubright, but otherwise the roster should be intact. 

MUHS FRESHMAN SARAH Bevere got all of the ball with this swing, launching a towering homer to left field. Later in the game, her junior teammate Lexi Whitney lined a shot over the right-field fence for her first varsity homer, making the game especially memorable for the teammates. They were carrying around their home-run balls at the Eagle-Tiger baseball game afterward and posing for pictures together with them, a nice moment. And a nice photo by Steve, who caught the launch perfectly.
Independent photo/Steve James

Other quick notes. The Tiger girls’ tennis team improved from two to nine wins this spring, but loses four ladder players, including senior No. 1 Audrey Carpenter, whose presence at No. 1 singles made everyone else’s job easier. The MUHS girls’ lacrosse team faded to under .500, but graduates only three seniors. The MAV girls’ lax team had a strong record, but struggled to score at the end of the season, and several key players graduated.

IT’S NO SECRET that Tiger senior attacker Toby Draper was tough to stop. After all, he racked up more than 200 points, including goals (six in the D-I final this spring) and assists, during his four-year MUHS varsity career. But without this photographic evidence from our man Steve we wouldn’t have known Toby could literally fly by opponents.
Independent photo/Steve James

Another lacrosse team came oh-so-close to a title. It’s hard to imagine a tougher setback than losing, 13-12, 30 seconds into sudden death overtime in a D-I final after coming back from deficits of 6-0 in the second quarter, 10-4 in the third quarter, and 12-10 with three minutes to go, but that’s what happened to Coach Matt Rizzo’s outstanding Tiger boys team against CVU in heartbreaking fashion.

Sometimes the difference between victory and success is almost too small to be measured, but Rizzo said he believed the Tigers’ biggest problem in an even matchup — the teams have now split their last four meetings — was falling behind early. 

It should be mentioned again that Tiger senior attacker Toby Draper, who in midseason surpassed 200 points for his career, scored six goals and assisted another in that fateful final. He and another four seniors will graduate, but the cupboard won’t be bare — for example, the goalie was a freshman, two starting defenders were sophomores, and the third was a junior. 

And somehow every year younger players emerge, and they probably will for the Tiger and MAV lacrosse teams. 

That’s just one of many reasons to enjoy sports.  

Note: Most of the accompanying photos were taken by our photographer, Steve James. A few were shot by Mark Bouvier, who more than capably fills in when Steve has a scheduling conflict. One was taken by local enthusiast Joe McVeigh, who does good work and volunteers his images. One was taken by an emergency fill-in reporter who, in this case, got lucky. They are chosen because of their quality, with a nod to meaningful subject matter. 

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