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The year in sports, part 2: Final six months of 2009 saw run to glory, drama

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Posted on December 30, 2009 |
By Andy Kirkaldy



web_sportsfieldhockey.jpg
THE OTTER VALLEY and Middlebury Union High School field hockey teams both performed well in 2009 and each had several players win post-season honors. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

Editor’s note: Part 1 of the Independent’s look back at the local sports scene in 2009 ran in the Dec. 24 issue.

ADDISON COUNTY — As the first six months of 2009 wrapped up, Otter Valley Union High School won the Division II softball crown, giving the area its first — and what would prove to be its only — high school sports team title of 2009. A number of athletes won individual championships in the year’s first half, including wrestlers from OV, Vergennes and Middlebury union high schools; two MUHS senior track stars; and a Mount Abraham junior golfer.

More excitement was on tap, beginning in:

JULY

Photos proved inconclusive on July 4 in Bristol, but the results stood in the 31st annual Great Outhouse Race: Snap’s Restaurant (with Kevin Berry and Chris Berry towing Vicky Lattrell in the standard rolling restroom) was declared the winner of the 14-team competition over No. 15 School House Maple, although onlookers debated the result. Hey, it was all for charity, anyway, and frosty beverages tasted good afterward regardless.

The annual duel between the local Champlain Valley Swim League rivals went to the Middlebury Panthers this year, 254.5-192.5, over the Vergennes Champs. Max Bicknell won three races for the Champs, while Panthers Annie Bolton, Grace Pyne, Parker Beatty, Cullen Hathaway and Max Moulton matched that total.

The Addison County American Legion baseball team enjoyed another fine season, finishing 14-4 in the Northern Division (17-6 overall), good for first place. Chad Estey, Greg Lutton, Kyle Kayhart, Cam Curler and Dean Butler were among the athletes who had fine seasons for AC. But the team failed to defend its state championship in the season-ending tourney in Barre, losing two close games.

The Mount Abe 11- and 12-year-old softball all-star team did win the state championship, the league’s first in the sport. The Eagles rallied for three runs in the final inning to edge Lyndon, 11-10, in the final.

After taking a year off from coaching MUHS football for health reasons, Peter Brakeley announced in July he would return to the sidelines, but as the Tiger program’s JV coach. He coaxed his former offensive coordinator, Carl Ciemniewski, out of retirement to join him.

In the CVSL league meet, Panther swimmer Gracie Weinberg won three races, and teammates Kess Moulton, Grace Pyne, Owen Maille and Max Moulton won one event apiece. For the Champs, Harlie Vincent picked up a win.

AUGUST

As August opened, the swimmers were back in the pool at the state championship meet in Hartford. Weinberg won four under-10 girls’ races for the Panthers, and the boys’ medley relay team of Chandler Devaney, Bobby Ritter, Cullen Hathaway and Nathan Lalonde also won a state title. Vincent and Zeke Palmer fared the best for the Champs.

We’re not sure if nobody wins or everybody wins at the annual No. 1 Auto Parts Demo Derby at Addison County Fair and Field Days, but one thing was once again for sure: No annual event in the county drew as many fans. The armwrestling competition on Friday night also again attracted a crowd.

Three Bristol residents and members of Middlebury Sodbusters Horseshoe Club fared well at the World Championship Tournament in Springfield, Ill. Brian Simmons took second in the men’s championship class; Brianna McCormick, 14, was third in the junior girls’ division; and Debra Brown finished ninth in the ladies’ championship class. The three soon afterward each won their divisions at the Vermont tournament.

Desabrais Glass won the Rural Softball League title, edging Champlain Precision, 8-6, in the final. The two teams had tied with Lanpher Construction for first place during the regular season, all with 22-4 records.

By then, all the high school athletes had reported for their fall seasons. Many at MUHS would be playing at a new level: Division II. The Tiger cross-country, Nordic skiing, football, girls’ soccer and girls’ hockey teams would join other Tiger teams that recently made the move to D-II from D-I: baseball, boys’ soccer, hockey and basketball. The only MUHS teams still in D-I are both lacrosse teams, softball and field hockey; wrestling has no divisions.

Declining enrollments was the biggest reason for the moves, which make sense because MUHS offers many sports and its size aligns closer to most D-II schools than large D-I schools.

The first action of the fall season came on Aug. 31, on OV’s newly refurbished Markowski Field, the last major piece of the big Fields of Otter Valley effort. Visiting Proctor thumped the OV boys’ soccer team, but the field, directly behind the school, looked great.

SEPTEMBER

Truthfully, not too many local high school teams set the world on fire in September. The best record came from the OV field hockey squad, which finished the month at 7-1-1, including a dramatic overtime win over D-I Mount Anthony in which Kristy Pinkham set up Shayna McDonough’s game-winner. But the usually powerful Mount Abe field hockey team was in rebuilding mode, and MUHS, while talented, kept losing one-goal games.

In soccer, only the Mount Abe boys would finish the season with a winning record, although the VUHS girls played well enough to host a playoff game.

In football, the Tigers finished their first month in two decades in D-II at 2-2, Eagles football was also rebuilding, and a snake-bit OV team was competitive, but also below .500. Meanwhile, seven VUHS players were driving to Winooski to play, and one, senior Gary Grant, would rush for more than 1,000 yards for the D-III Spartans.

Local cross-country runners did perform well. Tiger sophomore Emily Anderson kept winning against D-II competition, including a 52-second victory at a Sept. 22 home meet. Also running well for MUHS were sophomore twins Neil and Stuart Guertin, while Mount Abe’s Malcolm Plunkett and Alia Johnson consistently scored points, as did Chris Parfitt, Shep Carter and Ellen Watkins for VUHS.

OCTOBER

Things really heated up in October. The OV field hockey team surged to a 12-1-1 record, best in D-II, as Pinkham, McDonough and Emily Waldrip combined for more than 40 goals. The Otters earned the top seed in D-II, but were stunned in a quarterfinal by Woodstock, 2-1 in overtime, despite owning advantages of 20-5 in shots and 24-2 in penalty corners.

Three high school teams did win playoff games in October. MUHS field hockey finished at just 5-6-3 in the regular season and won a first-round playoff game, 2-0 over Brattleboro, to earn their third shot at undefeated Champlain Valley. The defending champion Redhawks, the only team to outshoot the Tigers all season, edged the Tigers, 1-0, in a hotly contested quarterfinal.

The two field hockey teams later would receive some consolation. Pinkham and the Tigers’ Shelby Laframboise and Kaitlyn Kirkaldy were all eventually named to the Burlington Free Press all-state team.

The Eagle boys’ soccer team earned its first postseason win in three years, 1-0, over Woodstock. Phil McCormick scored the only goal, and midfielder Ryan Siegle made a series of late defensive plays to seal the victory. Defending champion Milton ousted the Eagles in overtime in the next round despite a Siegle score.

The VUHS girls also won one playoff game, 4-0. Natalie McClay, Lexa Higbee, Gen Cohn and Rikki Cloutier scored, and Molly Brigan keyed the defense.

On the last day of October, Anderson claimed the D-II cross-country title with a 48-second victory margin. The Tiger boys debuted in D-II with a third-place finish as both Guertins ran well, but Shep Carter edged them out for the best individual finish by a local boy, taking eighth.

On the same day, the host Tiger eleven clinched a football playoff berth with a 20-14 overtime win over the hard-luck OV team. OV earlier in the season had lost a game by 7-6 to D-II finalist CVU on a missed extra point, and another by two points to D-II semifinalist Mount Mansfield on a game-ending play that became a YouTube sensation, but was probably a blown call that should have gone OV’s way. One Otter got more deserved recognition: senior linebacker Andrew Piper made the Free Press all-state team. Junior halfback Pete Bautista also ran for more than 1,000 yards.

NOVEMBER

The Tigers’ football season ended the following weekend. They earned the No. 4 seed with a 7-2 record, and fell to undefeated eventual champion Colchester, 12-7, despite a TD pass from Brendan Burrell to Devin Bradford. The Tigers compiled their fine season despite having only nine seniors and playing many sophomores.

The Panther football team finished 5-3 with a late surge. Junior quarterback Donald McKillop led the squad, breaking all the school’s single-season, single-game and career passing marks on the way.

The Panther field hockey team overcame a couple of tough early losses to finish near the top of NESCAC, and a couple of quality road wins allowed the young squad to reach the NCAA Division III tournament despite a loss in the league tourney. The Panthers won an NCAA game, but fell to NESCAC rival Trinity in the round of 16.

The Panther men’s soccer team also suffered a couple of early losses, but finished strong to reach the NESCAC final by posting three straight wins. But an overtime loss in the NESCAC final denied the Panthers an automatic NCAA berth, and those early setbacks cost them an at-large bid despite their late surge.

The Middlebury women’s soccer team played deep into November, reaching the NESCAC final and hosting and winning an NCAA regional before being ousted in the round of 16. Goalie Lauryn Torch and sweeper Anjuli Demers anchored the back, and Annie Rowell was the leading scorer for a 14-4-2 team that matched the program’s best NCAA effort.

The college’s women’s cross-country team again fared well. The runners didn’t repeat as NCAA champs, but won the NESCAC crown and the Eastern regional before finishing fourth in the nation.

Deer seasons opened in November. The numbers ended up down, especially as bad weather dogged rifle season. But a few hunters earned historic bragging rights, none more than two Shoreham residents in their hometown. Tommy Davis brought down a 236-pound, eight-point buck, the largest deer shot in Vermont in eight years and reported in Addison County in at least a decade, and Mike Mulligan killed a 223-pound, eight-pointer, the second-largest deer weighed in the county since 2001.

Five local high school seniors played in the annual North-South All-Star Football Game at Middlebury College’s Alumni Stadium. Two of them — OV’s Piper and the Tigers’ Ryan Foley — intercepted passes. Those might have been the only defensive plays made, however: The teams combined for 100 points in the South’s 61-39 win in what is believed to be the second-highest scoring high school all-star football game in history.

DECEMBER

As December closes a year it also ushers in a new season. Fans and the athletes themselves were just learning about what teams could accomplish.

In some cases, we still know little — tough to say what ski teams can do without snow.

On the high school level, expectations were highest for the VUHS boys’ hoop team. But a tough schedule and a series of injuries left the Commodores, sparked by seniors Connor Merrill and Logan Williams, not unreasonably hovering around .500 as 2010 neared. The Commodore girls, led by consistent scorer Ali Provost, looked improved despite a losing record, and pulled off a satisfying upset at Mount Abe. The Commodore wrestlers, meanwhile, looked like they were ready to challenge OV as the class of D-II.

The Mount Abe girls’ basketball team was inconsistent, not surprising given their youth, but junior guard Jen Loyer and senior forward Shanna Gebo led them to some good wins, including one at OV, as they stood near .500. The Mount Abe boys seemed to have a different high scorer every night, and also were near .500.

At OV, the girls’ hoop team also approached .500 after a slow start, while the boys were working to add in some offense to a strong defense. The OV wrestling team again looked strong, with George Mitchell appearing ready to add another state title to his résumé.

On the Tiger ice, the girls’ hockey team’s move to D-II resulted in more than twice as many wins in December than in all of last winter. The Tiger boys did not end the month above .500, but skated well and were competitive in every game.

In the gym, the boys’ hoop team was in full rebuilding mode, but the girls’ team was enjoying D-II, as veterans Katie Ritter, Kayla Whittemore and Nicole Brown led the Tigers to a winning record despite a number of injuries to the squad. Wrestlers also fared well, notably Bryan Ashley-Selleck and Kaden Odell.

As for Middlebury College, the women’s hockey team unsurprisingly went home for their holiday break with a 5-0 record. The Panthers will host a four-team tournament on Sunday and Monday with the other three teams that have won NCAA titles — Elmira, Plattsburgh and Amherst. More will be known after that test.

The men’s hockey team stands at 3-1-2 heading into their own home tourney on Saturday and Sunday. The Panthers are young and promising. Whether they win NESCAC and return to the NCAA tourney for the first time in three years may depend on how well their talent gels.

The women’s hoop team graduated its starting backcourt and stood at .500 at the end of the month, and the development of young players will tell its story.

And lastly, heading into a late Wednesday game at RPI, Coach Jeff Brown’s men’s basketball team stood at 7-0 and ranked at an unheard-of No. 7 in the d3hoops.com NCAA Division III poll. For the record, challenges lie in wait: NESCAC foes Williams (8-0) and Amherst (6-1) are lurking at Nos. 12 and 13, respectively.

But this is a new era: Nobody wants to see the Middlebury men show up at their gym anymore.

Following them and many of these other teams should prove to be a lot of fun in 2010.

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