BRANDON — One new field and two new coaches were in place as the fall Otter Valley Union High School sports season kicked off last week.
That season opened Aug. 31 on Markowski Field when the OV boys’ soccer team hosted Proctor on the newly rebuilt surface directly behind the school.
Both soccer teams and the football team will play on the field, the last of four new surfaces to come on line courtesy of the $800,000, privately funded Fields of Otter Valley effort that began in 2005. The field is overlooked by 500 seats, a new scoreboard and an announcing tower; a concessions stand is on the way.
Meanwhile, Mark Quenneville now leads OV boys’ soccer, and Gary Hodder took over OV field hockey. Former boys’ soccer head Tim Stanley and field hockey coach Amity Robichaud stepped down for personal reasons after two and four years, respectively, at OV.
Quenneville, who has coached area youth and OV middle school soccer teams, takes over an OV BOYS’ SOCCER program that has taken its lumps in the tough Marble Valley League in recent years, and won six games total in the past two seasons.
But Quenneville said in the preseason that he liked what he saw of the Otters’ blend of overall quickness, size and toughness in the back, and assertive approach on the attack.
“We’re looking real good. We’ve got a lot of speed, a lot of power. We’re shooting a lot, which is a big thing,” he said.
The goaltending job was up for grabs in the preseason, but Quenneville was leaning toward a starting defense of seniors Brett Lertola, Mark McDuff and Zach Walsh, and junior Robert Kelley. Midfield mainstays will include senior Mac Lacy, juniors Bronson Harvey and Andrew Chestna, and sophomore Matt Dier.
Quenneville expects a number of athletes to get looks on the attack, including seniors Elisha Gale and Josh Gecha; juniors Adrian Brown, Alex Alger, Jeremiah Cole and Tyler Quenneville; and sophomore Chris Cimonette.
In all, Quenneville believes the results will be better this fall.
“We’ll win our fair share of games. We’re going to compete with everybody,” he said.
Likewise, Coach Dick Williams’ OV GIRLS’ SOCCER has found the going mostly tough in the MVL B Division, with a high-water mark of a .500 season a few years back. This fall, Williams was a little disappointed in the quantity of the turnout, but not the quality.
“I’ve got some good talent, and they’re all young,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be learning a lot, but at the same time I feel like there are some great possibilities for us.”
To improve 2008’s four-win season, Williams will move speedy senior midfielder Brittany Young to the attack, where juniors Ashlie Delphia and Stephanie Ketcham will join her. Sophomore Phoenix Kenney returns to anchor the midfield, where she will be joined by juniors Nina Gage and Jessica Greeno, sophomore Sarah Maseroni and freshman Lauren Nesshoever.
Junior Erin Trombley will be the goalie, and senior Michelle Lefebvre; juniors Danielle Anderson, Brittany Hance and Hannah White; and sophomores Carrie Turner and Alicia Jankosky will play defense.
Williams sees ball movement as a potential plus for the Otters this fall.
“Last year at the tail end of the season we really stressed and worked hard at being a good passing team. And this year coming back we haven’t lost all of that,” he said. “So the strength is the girls are working the ball real nicely, so hopefully that’s going to pay off.”
And he’s hoping for a step forward for the program this season.
“Our big goal would be to advance in playoffs this year, not just to make it there,” he said.
The third team to play on Markowski Field this fall will be Coach Dennis Perry’s OV FOOTBALL squad. The Otters are coming off a misleading 1-8 season in which they were competitive in most games, including, for example, a tough, 25-21 season-ending loss to D-II champion Spaulding.
Perry believes the Otters are capable of picking up where they left off.
“Even though we didn’t win a lot of games, we finished strong as far as competing,” Perry said. “What we said is we want to start where we finished. We don’t want to come out here and work up to that point and then go on from there. We want to start there. I think we’re really going to compete.”
In the early going in the preseason, OV’s more experienced defense was ahead of the offense. Perry said that’s not too bad a place to start, however.
“We’ve got some veteran kids back who’ve played a couple years. They’ve got a feel and confidence about playing defense,” he said. “If we can play good defense and then have a little bit of offense, then you can be successful.”
A lot of that experience is behind the line of defense. Projected starting linebackers include seniors Andrew Piper and Garrett Gregorek and junior Peter Bautista, and members of the secondary should include seniors Joey Massores, Casey Babcock, Jon Gearwar and Colby Frazier, and junior Eric Pillon and sophomore Nate Fitzgerald. On the line, senior Jessey Chapin and junior Lance Schu will play tackle, while junior Alex Smith and sophomore Keke Frye are the ends.
Offensively, Perry said the Otters are “a little green” on the line, but have skill in the backfield and at receiver.
Junior Zakk Williams, who has taken snaps in each of the past two seasons, starts out at quarterback, with Fitzgerald also available. Piper, Bautista, Frazier, Gearwar, Schu and Pillon will all lug the ball, and Babcock, Massores, Fitzgerald and Shaw are the wideouts. Frye and Chapin are the top tight ends.
Senior Evan Bathalon will be the center, with Gregorek and senior Dick Poro at tackle. Perry said Smith and senior Cory Thibodeau would definitely have opportunities to nail down the guard jobs.
As usual, Perry will maintain a balanced, flexible approach on the attack.
“If we feel we can throw the ball a little bit more one day, that’s what we’ll do. If we feel we can run the ball a little bit more one day, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
In all, Perry expects OV to be an improved squad.
“I think we can be a really competitive team this year, better than we were last year. Can we take that to another level, win more games? Well, that’s what we hope to do,” he said. “But I feel confident that we’re going to come out ... and compete better than we did last year.”
While Perry’s football team was the last to win a fall championship at OV, the most consistent program year in and year out has been OV FIELD HOCKEY, which last year earned the No. 4 seed in D-II and finished at .500.
This fall, former Mount St. Joseph varsity boys’ and OV middle school soccer coach Gary Hodder takes over the school’s field hockey team. That switch of sports for Hodder is not as much of a stretch as it might sound, however: He played field hockey at Lackham College in his native England.
In August, Hodder liked what he saw of his Otters, who rallied to tie D-I Middlebury in a preseason scrimmage, and he said they have shown good attitudes and work ethics.
“They’re a very talented group,” Hodder said. “They’re a close-knit group, and they work hard.”
Once they learn to blend their skills, he believes the Otters can do well this fall.
“Technically, they’re very good,” Hodder said. “We’ll get them working better as a team, I believe.”
Veterans include six seniors: forwards Emily Waldrip, Chelsea Greeno, Sarah Stanley and Shayna McDonough; defender Harley Fjeld; and defender/midfielder Tanya Averill. Several juniors also return, probably none more critical than tireless and talented center middie Kristy Pinkham. Her classmates include forward Brittany Hayes and two defenders with extensive varsity experience: Marina Vitagliano and Genna Smith.
Sophomore defender Julie Kimball rounds out the returnees, and Hodder expects sophomore midfielder Liza Hayes to see plenty of time as well.
Especially because he is unfamiliar with the Otters’ opponents, Hodder said his only expectations were that his team would play hard.
“As long as we’re competitive, tough to beat, that’s what we aim to be,” he said. “And then we’ll see how it goes from there. (I want to see) the girls have fun and learn, and then we’ll see. I’m not going to make any rash promises or anything at this stage.”
Finally, longtime OV CROSS-COUNTRY coach Jim Samler was feeling optimistic in August because of an influx of both young runners and older students that swelled the ranks of his team.
“Otter Valley has a good-size team this year, both boys and girls,” Samler said.
By the end of last season, sophomore Justin McKeighan was posting the top finishes for the OV boys, and he, junior George Mitchell and sophomore Bruce Poirier all return. Joining them will be seniors Andrew Fusco and Ben Leber, and freshmen Ryan Kelley, Morgan Whitney and Kenneth White, with Kelley looking the fastest among the younger set in the early going.
“The boys team looks solid,” Samler said.
On the girls’ side sophomore Clairissa Quigley had the top results for OV at the MVL and state meets in 2008, and she and a number of other veterans return: senior Shelby Benoit, junior Kristen Root and sophomores Shannon Brown, Marissa D’Avignon and Ariel Blackett. A strong contingent of senior newcomers includes Jill Mulcahy, Alicia Miles, Molly Hornbeck and Rebecca Pattis. Samler said he was happy with the efforts of both his girls’ team veterans and newcomers.
“They all look good,” he said.
In all, Samler was looking forward to this fall.
“If the runners work hard, stay healthy and can be positive,” he said, “Otter Valley cross-country can have a good season.”