Fall Sports Report 2021: Mount Abraham Union High School
VERGENNES — Some change comes to Mount Abraham Union High School athletics this fall, with new coaches taking over two programs.
Other things stay the same, as Coach Mary Stetson returns to lead a field hockey program that has won 10 Division II championships this millennium.
Meanwhile Eagle soccer programs, traditionally strong, dipped a bit in COVID 2020 and will look to bounce back, one under a new, but familiar, coach.
The Eagle-Commodore cooperative football team will look to build on positive momentum from its 2020 7v7 campaign.
And a new coach with a strong running and track & field background takes over a cross-country program with decent numbers.
Coach Stetson said the numbers are not huge on her field hockey team, but at the same time she also has many returners. And, she added, those veterans are spread around the field on defense, midfield and offense.
“Although the size of the squad is not large, they bring a wide range of experience,” Stetson said.
In goal senior title-game hero Maddie Donaldson is back, with sophomore Greta Jennison in reserve.
Two starters also return among the three defenders, senior Natalie Chase and junior Payton Vincent. And the third defensive starter, junior Natalie Adams, saw plenty of time in 2020.
Stetson praised a group of two-way midfielders she called “very versatile” and talented.
“The group has a lot of experience and is capable of playing any of the midfield positions,” she said. “They pack a good scoring punch and create numerous opportunities.”
Seniors Molly Laurent, Abby Reen and Carly Rougier, and junior Madi Gile are all multi-year starters. Sophomore Morgan Barnard will rotate into the midfield and will also spell the forwards.
Up front Stetson praised the forwards’ “speed and stick skills.”
High-scoring senior Txuxa Konczal returns, and junior Olivia Campbell and sophomore Sarah Heath both played well in 2020. Junior Vivian Sigfried and Barnard round out the front line.
Rather than talk about wins and losses, Stetson described the Eagles’ goal as, “continue to grow and challenge one another so that we are playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”
Former Eagle soccer player Rider MacCrellish takes over the reins of the boys’ team. He cut his coaching teeth while leading Mount Abraham middle school and JV teams that included many of his current players.
MacCrellish lists their familiarity with one another as a team positive.
“This team has been playing together for a long time, which is kind of our greatest strength,” he said.
Their knowledge of one another will help them play together well in MacCrellish’s preferred possession style.
“We’ve focused a lot on playing the ball on the ground, playing quickly, moving well off the ball. And they all do that really well,” he said.
The Eagles have a veteran team to plug into a formation that will deploy four defenders behind two holding midfielders, an offensive central midfielder between two attacking wing midfielders, and a striker.
Add to the list senior goalie Creed Stillwell. In front of him, center backs Neil Guy, a co-captain, and Henry Cogswell are also seniors, as is right back Ethan Thompson. Left back Gavin Bannister is a junior. Backing up on defense is junior Logan Ladeau.
The holding midfielders are senior co-captain Carter Monks and sophomore Judah Jackson, the team’s only underclassman. Junior Samuel Tropp will spell the starters there.
Starting at attacking midfield will be senior Eli Burgess in the middle and senior Tanner Harris and junior Sawyer Shepard on the flanks. Juniors Chance Denecker and Noah Kirshenbaum will rotate through there. Junior Jake Lucarelli is the striker.
Making sure everyone fully understands their roles, especially in the back, will be critical, MacCrellish said: “We definitely need to focus on defense, finding our defensive shape, and holding that defensive shape and communicating.”
And if everything is ironed out?
“We always set high aspirations,” he said. “We want to come out here and do the best we possibly can every season, and that means winning games. And these guys are a highly competitive group and really are geared toward those goals. And I think we’re just excited to see where we can get to.”
Coach Dustin Corrigan’s Mount Abe girls’ soccer team went from D-I contender to one win in 2020, in part because a dozen seniors who had lifted the program graduated.
The Eagles are probably still rebuilding this year, but Corrigan believes versatility, young talent, and steady leadership and contributions from the team’s four seniors should mean steady improvement during the season.
“We’ve got some good young players, and right now everyone is excited and optimistic,” he said.
Versatility and fluid lineups will be team hallmarks of the team: Corrigan said almost all of the athletes could play multiple positions.
“We do have a lot of versatile players, so we’re able to move people around,” he said.
One near certainty is that sophomore Jo Toy will be the goalie, with senior Sophie Venman ready to step in goal if she is not out on the field.
Among the seniors, Venman could play at central defense or in the midfield, Elena Bronson could line up at center or flank defense, Illia Denison will start at striker or midfield, and Halle Huizenga will see time on the attack.
There are three juniors: Corrigan said Lucy Parker will see plenty of action off the bench in several roles, Maia Jensen will play wing or striker and could start, and Dakota Larocque will back up the forwards and midfielders.
The sophomore class is the team’s largest. Natalie Atkins will start, the only question being where, according to Corrigan. Patty McNerney will probably also start at a flank back; Piper Guilmette, Annie Dufault and Nell Harvey are likely to start at midfield; and Ellie Thomas will rotate into the midfield.
That leaves three ninth-graders who will see time, Brailey Livingston at flank defense, Safi Camara at left wing, and Louisa Painter at midfield or striker.
Corrigan said the team’s depth should allow it to be aggressive offensively, especially by pressuring other opponents when they are trying to move the ball out of their own end.
“I think we’ve improved a lot in our ability to attack,” he said. “We’ve got some new young players who’ve had an impact in that area.”
Settling on the right lineup on defense and then having them learn to play together will help the Eagles, Corrigan said.
“We’ve got to sort some things out defensively to keep games close, to give ourselves a chance to win games,” he said.
The Eagles have a challenging schedule, and younger players will have to adapt to the faster and more physical play, Corrigan said, while all his team will have to up their play as the season progresses “even though we may not be getting the greatest results.”
He thinks both those goals are realistic.
“With the schedule we have if we go .500 we would probably be the team to beat in Division II,” he said. “But really even if we only won three, four games and make it to the D-II playoffs, we’re going to be better prepared than anyone else. There’s opportunity there.”
The Mount Abe-Vergennes collective football team finished strong in 2020’s 7v7 touch football season, which saw no blocking, no tackling and no running plays.
Ten seniors, including eight starters, are back, and Coach Jeff Stein called them the Eagles’ “core nucleus.”
“They’re true examples of what the expectations are for this program. They communicate well with each other, they’ve come together as a group, and that’s just feeding down the pipe for us,” Stein said.
One of those seniors is quarterback Adam Mansfield, whose had a few big games over the past couple seasons throwing the ball. Backup Caleb Russell, a junior, also threw well in 2020.
Stein said Mansfield brings a strong arm, size and running ability as well as experience.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid,” Stein added. “He’s got a good arm.”
Juniors Lucas Allen, Lucas Grover and Devan Hemingway are the running backs. All are in newcomers in some ways at the varsity level given the 2020 rules, but Stein said he is confident in the group’s talent.
Receiver should be a team strength, led by senior four-year starter Carmelo Miceli. Seniors Beau Carpenter, Collin Dupoise and Tristan Parker will also start, and senior Riley Wells and juniors Ben Brown and Spencer White will rotate in.
“We feel our receiving corps this year is pretty skilled and talented,” Stein said. “Obviously Melo is that lead guy.”
Making everything work will be an offensive line featuring junior Taylor Tanner at center, senior Ryan Stoddard and sophomore Jamison Couture at guard, and senior Billy Lyons and junior Noah Gargano at tackle. Senior Hunter Gordon and sophomores Wyatt Allenson and Ryan Jennings back them up.
“We’ve really harped on our (O line) guys being aggressive, and establishing our blocking schemes and techniques,” Stein said.
On the defensive front, Stein said Russell, Gorton, Tanner, Gargano and Stoddard will get the nod, with Allenson and Jennings ready to spell them.
“The D line is really solid,” Stein said. “We’re going to have a little more size than we’ve had in the past.”
Carpenter and Couture are the linebackers. Stein said both should be effective against the run, while he might ask Carpenter to step back into coverage more often.
Rotating in as safeties will be Dupoise, Parker, Mansfield, while Allen and Grover are the corners, with Brown, Grover, Miceli and Wells in the secondary mix as well.
“They’re a smart group of kids, and they’re able to run the schemes and coverages that we’ve designed,” Stein said.
Stein was feeling hopeful as the season opener neared.
“We like to think that with the roster we have this year we’re going to be in games. Of course, we’d like to win every one of them,” he said. “We also know that there teams out there that are just as talented or more talented. So we’re going to do our best against those guys, and we’ll see what kind of team we’ve got.”
The other new head coach at Mount Abe is Eva Friend, who has coached cross country at the middle school level there and also assisted the high school track program.
Friend, a running enthusiast and USA Track & Field and Cross Country Certified Coach, said she will also lead the track program and plans to stick with both jobs for a while.
“I love running,” Friend said. “And it’s good to get these young athletes running.”
The Eagles have finished back in the D-II pack in recent years, but do return five of the seven boys and three for the four girls who ran for the team at the 2020 championship meet in Thetford. Friend also said she expects a number of other runners to emerge.
Numbers are strong enough to field scoring varsity boys’ and girls’ teams this fall, Friend said, plus a JV boys’ team. In 2020 the Eagle girls typically lacked enough runners to score at larger meets.
Back on the boys’ side after running in Thetford in 2020 are seniors Noah Engvall, George Collette and Hugh Ball, and juniors Gus Hill and Sean Davison. Engvall led the way. Friend pointed to juniors Bill Iliff and Norman Benoit and sophomores Abel Atocha and Joseph Darling as among other early contenders for varsity slots.
On the girls’ side returning Thetford runners are senior top finisher Abigail Johnson and juniors Ruby Jean Hall and Maisy Hill. Friend said ninth-grader Kayla Friend was most likely to join the varsity squad among the other girls on the team.
Coach Friend was happy with all her runners, though.
“The vibe is really good this year. Everybody is super excited to be out here, especially after last year, it was different due to COVID. But I think this year everybody is excited to get out here and run,” Friend said.
And she believes the program will make progress.
“Everybody did a lot of good summer training, and they’re all well-conditioned this year, so I have real high hopes for this team,” Friend said.