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Game on! Area high school teams ready for action

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THE MIDDLEBURY UNION High School track team, seen here practicing last Friday, gears up for the spring sports season, which was scheduled to begin on Monday with home baseball and boys’ lacrosse games at Otter Valley Union High School. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — This week marks the official start of spring high school sports as teams from Otter Valley, Middlebury and Vergennes will swing into action.

By the end of next week, most of the 21 varsity teams from those three schools and Mount Abraham Union will have taken to the field or diamond, although golf  and track squads will still be waiting their turns.

That total is down one from last spring: OV’s girls’ lacrosse team dropped back to the JV level after older athletes decided not to participate this spring and the number of participants dropped. That team, as well as the VUHS softball and MUHS boys’ tennis squads also have new coaches (see related story.)

Two programs enter the spring seeking to defend state titles: Mount Abe baseball and MUHS girls’ lacrosse. If either repeats, it would mean the first team title for a local school this academic year: OV, MUHS and VUHS wrestlers claimed individual crowns, but team championships have thus far been elusive.

OV OPENERS

Otter Valley teams are the first to see action. Coach Pattie Candon’s softball team (15-2 a year ago) visits Burr & Burton on Monday. Ace righty Ashley Sanderson and Co. will open at home against Fair Haven on April 21 at 4:30 p.m.

Coach Jim Hill’s OV boys’ lacrosse team is coming off a five-win season, and weather permitting will host D-II rival Colchester on Monday at 4 p.m. and Brattleboro on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

Coach John Riter’s OV baseball team is a season removed from its run to the D-II semifinals. The Otters will open this Monday, when they host Proctor at 4:30 p.m. if the weather cooperates. Next up is a Thursday date at Fair Haven.

Coach Jim Samler returns a number of athletes to his girls’ tennis team, which hosts Burr & Burton on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. before taking a couple weeks off.

Likewise, Coach Tom Ryan is looking at the return of most of his top golfers, and he believes a couple freshmen could help when the season starts, on April 20 at Rutland and on April 21 at Neshobe Country Club.

TIGERS’ TIMES

Next out of the chute will be the MUHS tennis teams. Coach Sarah Harrison Lynn’s girls will host St. Johnsbury on 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, while new coach Franz Collas’ boys will head for St. J. at the same time. Both squads had fine individual performances last year, but are looking to bounce back from losing campaigns. Both are also off until April 27 after their openers.

Longtime MUHS boys’ lacrosse coach Jono Chapin’s squad will debut at home on April 13, when at 4 p.m. the Tigers host Champlain Valley, the team that ousted them from the playoffs a year ago. MUHS also hosts Mount Mansfield on Thursday at 4 p.m. and Mount Anthony on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Coach Harriette Brainard’s MUHS girls’ lacrosse team, like the Tiger boys’ program seeking an eighth state title, opens on the road on April 13 at Rutland, a team that also figures to contend for the championship. The Tigers then play at Champlain Valley on April 15 before they open at home vs. Mount Mansfield at 4:30 p.m. on April 17 in a rematch of the 2008 title game.

Both the Tiger baseball and softball teams open at home at 4:30 p.m. on April 14 vs. Rutland. Middlebury Union Middle School teacher Randy Barnes begins the season filling in for longtime baseball coach Doc Seubert, who is on leave to deal with a family medical issue. Barnes inherits a team that earned a D-I home playoff game in 2008. Meanwhile, Coach Marie Eugair’s softball team returns many key players after finishing strong a year ago.

Coach Bill Edson’s MUHS track squad boasts strong numbers, several athletes who qualified for the state meet a year ago, and a few newcomers who should make an impact. The Tigers on April 17 host both Mount Abe and VUHS at the Middlebury College track.

As always, the last MUHS spring athletes to tee off will be Coach Rick St. Peter’s golfers. His crew will head to Rocky Ridge on May 4, and then host on May 6.

COMMODORES CUED UP

Coach Rory Cartwright’s VUHS boys’ varsity lacrosse team is the first Commodore squad set for action. The second-year program will make its 2009 debut at home on Thursday at 4 p.m., when the Commodores host D-II foe Colchester. VUHS, which won seven times in its varsity debut a year ago, is then off until a game at Harwood on April 18.

New VUHS softball coach Mike Sullivan’s unit is up next: The Commodores will open at Lake Placid on April 14 and play at Winooski on April 16 before hosting Colchester on April 21. VUHS will be looking to snap a streak of losing seasons.

Coach George Ringer’s VUHS team is a year removed from the school’s first baseball championship, but will be looking for its fourth straight winning season beginning on April 21, when Colchester visits.

Second-year coach Jeff Kauffman’s runners, jumpers and throwers will open at MUHS on the 17th. Several male and female middle distance runners should again do well this year for the VUHS track team, individually and running relays.

VUHS athletic director Peter Maneen said last week he and Coach Chris Brady are assessing the ability of the golf team before committing to a schedule; they do not want to set the bar too high on tough courses for a team that will feature only one returning player and few golfers with any experience.

EAGLES EN ROUTE

The first teams from Mount Abe will run from their dugouts — well, CVU’s — on April 14. Both Coach Jeff Stetson’s defending D-II champion baseball team and Coach Gene Bell’s softball squad face the Redhawks on the road that day.

Stetson’s crew, which will be seeking its third crown in four years, will head down to Florida over spring break, and then return to face VUHS on the road on April 25.

Bell’s squad, which has been competitive in D-II in the past few years, will settle for cooler climate practice time until a road date with the Commodores on the 25th.

Coach Gabe Hamilton is back to lead the boys’ half of the Eagle track team, which opens at MUHS on the 17th, and program assistant Gary Russell will replace longtime girls’ team head Vicki Bronson. Both will field athletes who qualified for the D-II meet a year ago.

Coach Frank Walch’s golf team went boldly last spring where no Eagles had gone for two decades, at least not as a team — the D-II tournament at Middlebury’s Ralph Myhre Golf Course. With ace Greg Scott and two other veterans back, Walch said his team is aiming for a repeat performance.

OK, let the games begin.

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