Fall Sports Report 2021: MUHS
MIDDLEBURY — The news at Middlebury Union High School this fall is that three teams have new coaches — although none of them are really new faces — and that golf is returning as a varsity sport.
MUHS math teacher Reeves Livesay has moved from coaching the boys’ soccer team to the girls’ team, replacing Wendy Leeds. Chris George is the new boys’ soccer coach, and a number of his players know George from his role as the Addison United Club program head for the past two years.
And MUHS alum Brandi Whittemore Correia, already the Tiger girls’ lacrosse coach, takes over the field hockey program. She replaces another former Tiger player, Chelsey Giuliani, who stepped down.
Golf, once a successful sport at MUHS returns after many years, with enough students signed up to form scoring boys’ and girls’ teams.
All fall programs except golf are coming off COVID-shortened — and in the case of football, drastically altered — seasons. Some are looking to continue winning ways, and others are looking to get back on track.
Because of COVID protocols last fall, a Tiger football team that prefers to run the ball (no secret there) had to, like all the teams, play 7v7 and throw the ball on every down. Oh, and no blocking or tackling.
Not exactly Coach Dennis Smith’s cup of tea, although the Tigers still managed a .500 season after its undefeated regular campaign in 2019.
Yes, Smith is happy to see the return of full-contact, ground-and-pound football to Doc Collins Field, and believes the Tigers have the personnel to make his run-option offense succeed.
“We’re still an option team. That’s still my bread and butter, and we’ll build off that,” Smith said.
Senior Ryan Thomas-Danyow returns at quarterback.
“We pick a quarterback because he is tough and can run the ball. He can throw it if we need it,” Smith said.
He will hand off to running backs who include seniors Brian Whitley and Nick Austin-Neil and junior Cole Schnoor, and senior fullback Nikolai Luksch.
They will run behind the line of senior center Cooper Laroche, senior guard Sam Warren, sophomore guard Tim Whitney, senior tackle Matt Kiernan and junior tackle Dalton Rheaume (at 240 the only starting lineman listed at more than 195 pounds). Juniors Kagen Besser-Jones and Sawyer Cadoret will probably be the first to rotate into the O line.
Smith praised the speed, athleticism and grit of both his backs and linemen.
“We have speed to break the long ones, and we have kids who are tough enough to get four or five yards every play,” he said. “And I’ve got linemen.”
Juniors Penn Riney and Willem Berry are the tight ends, and senior Jordan Martin and sophomore Brady McDonough are the split ends.
Defensively the Tigers could use their quickness and athleticism to try to be more disruptive than in the past.
“We’ve got great speed defensively, even at the defensive line positions,” Smith said. “We may do a little more attacking.”
On the defensive front either Whitney or Rheaume will line up as the nose guard, flanked by juniors Charlie and Cameron Stone as the defensive tackles, with Cadoret spelling them. Riney and Warren will start at defensive end, with Berry in the mix.
Austin-Neil and Ryan-Thomas are starting linebackers, with Kiernan ready to step in. Whitley, Luksch, junior Fynn Whitlock and sophomore Jackson Gillett will open in the secondary, with Schnoor the top reserve.
As always, Smith will aim for his team to peak in November.
“Goal one, make the playoffs and see where we can go from there,” he said. “But I’m pretty excited.”
Livesay takes over a program that enjoyed several strong seasons under Leeds and has maintained its spirit while not winning as often more recently. In 2020 the Tigers won once and tied twice, but saw several close results and tied D-III finalist Vergennes.
Livesay expects six seniors, most of whom have played multiple seasons, to help the Tigers improve this fall.
“We have a really good group of returning players that have played a lot of time together and they’re bringing a great attitude into the season,” he said.
Although Livesay in the preseason said his lineup decisions were up in the air, it looked like three of those seniors would anchor the team in the back. One was a sure thing, barring injury: Julia Bartlett will be the goalie. In case of emergency, sophomore Amelia Quesnel will play there.
Livesay was leaning toward deploying versatile seniors Ivy Doran and Zoe Noble as center backs, although Doran in particular could help the Tigers at midfield. Quesnel or ninth-graders Elsa Burrows and Ada Weaber could step into central defense, he said.
On the flanks Burrows, junior India Choudhury, sophomore Harper Werme and ninth-graders Meredith Horne and Kassidy Brown are all candidates.
Livesay envisions central midfield as a team strength, with senior Hannah Turner and juniors Lia Robinson and Genevieve Dora the projected starters, and junior Becca Orton and Horne offering depth.
On the flanks — they are hybrids of wings and midfielders in Livesay’s system — senior Sophie Larocque, juniors Elisabeth Crawford and Lily Lapiner, and ninth-grader Lily Dame are ready to run.
Junior Cady Pitner looks like the top choice at striker, with junior Abigail Stafford, Robinson, Turner, and Lapiner also possibilities up top.
Livesay believes if all goes well the Tigers could gel in October.
“The team definitely feels that if we work hard this season we can become very competitive come playoff time,” Livesay said.
For George, the task is maintaining momentum for a program that has won 42 games in the past four seasons and reached the D-II final in 2019.
He believes the 2021 Tigers will be up to the task and talks about a deep playoff run.
George said the team’s strengths starting with leadership from four captains — senior center back Eddie Hodde and three central midfielders, seniors Henry Carpenter and Greg Wilhelm and junior Oliver Anderson — and their related ability to control the center of the field.
“I think we’ve got a real strong leadership group,” he said. “Those guys all bring a ton of experience and … all play right in the middle of the field. So we’re going to be strong up the middle.”
The Tigers should also be able to find the back of the net, George said.
“We’re going to be able to score goals,” he said, eyeing “breakout years” from his two strikers, sophomore Eddie Fallis and junior Ben Seaton.
George is also confident in the rest of his starters. On defense three-year veteran junior goalie Owen Lawton returns, and he and Hodde are joined for sure by juniors Toby Wells-Spackman and Henry Hunsdorfer.
Either Hodde or Wells-Spackman will start in the middle, and the other on one flank, with either senior Noah Berg or junior Trey Bosworth on the other flank. Junior Graham Mattrick will also play defense.
On the attack, Seaton will line up on the right side, and junior Zach Wilkinson and Fallis will share striker and left wing.
The remaining players will see action: juniors Eliot Schneider (also the emergency goalie) and Ronen Silberman up front and freshman Ollie Choudhury and sophomore Gus Hodde at central midfield and defense.
George believes the Tigers’ depth will pay off late in games and in the season.
“We have full confidence in all 18 guys. Having a long bench like that really pays dividends,” he said.
He also said the Tigers will reach their goals more easily if they establish a possession style, which they are capable of doing.
“We need to control the ball. I think that’s a thing we can do,” George said. “Just controlling the ball and the middle of the field is really the key to our success.”
In the Tigers’ winless 2020 season they gave their finest effort in an overtime loss at Otter Valley in a first-round D-II game. Typically, they have been competitive in the D-II playoffs in the past few years, but not before taking their lumps in the Metro Conference.
To move the program forward, Correia, who played on the last Tiger field hockey championship team, is asking her players to have faith in themselves and their teammates. Early on, she said they were listening.
“They’re creating an atmosphere where they believe in each other, and they want to be a better athlete than they were yesterday in practice,” Correia said.
Talented veteran seniors also return, including three-year starting goalie Cassie Bettis, central midfielder Viviana Hammond, middie/defender Kenene Otis, and forward Talia Cotroneo, back after missing 2020 with knee woes. Correia said they are providing leadership as well as skill.
“They’re all leaders in their own way. That’s helping everything connect,” Correia said. “They’re also the people who are holding people accountable.”
Bettis will start in goal, with two backups, sophomore Jolee Heffernan and ninth-grader Michaela Charbonneau.
Much of the rest of the lineup before the opening of the season was in flux. Senior Alex Bonavita could start at center back, with a number of candidates on the outside, including senior Hannah Cameron, juniors Addie Riche and Erin Mulcahy, first-year Lila Cook-Yoder and Otis. Exchange students Stella Scalia, a junior, and Dianna Herasim, could also play in the back or in the attack.
Otis or Cook-Yoder could also flank Hammond at midfield, with Cameron, senior Kailyn LaDuke and junior Hana Doria also in the mix there.
Cotroneo will start up front, either in the middle or on a wing, with senior Patience Hanley and juniors Scarlet Carrara and Kelsey Altemose also seeking starting roles. LaDuke, Cameron and Doria are also available up front, as are ninth-graders McKenna Raymond and Pelagia Slater.
As for goals this season, Correia would like to see the Tigers gain enough confidence to hold their own in the tough Metro conference, which she thinks would prepare them for the D-II postseason.
“A win is playing to everyone’s best potential, but also competing with those top-level Metro teams,” she said. “I like playing Metro, because when it comes to playoffs it’s to our advantage.”
The Tiger cross-country teams are each coming off fourth-place finishes in D-II a year ago and are looking to do at least that well this year, according to Coach Chris Anderson.
The program is buoyed by strong turnout — of the first day of school 46 runners signed on — and a new assistant coach, Micaela Young, a former Division III college runner who Anderson said is working well with the student-athletes.
The girls’ and boys’ teams also each have runners back from the groups who ran at the Thetford state meet in 2020 and have freshmen who should make an impact.
“We have a large number of kids out this year, which is good, a lot of new faces as well as a lot of people that are returning,” Anderson said.
The girls’ team tilts more toward the veteran end. Back from the team that ran at Thetford a year ago are three scorers, senior Ella Landis and juniors Seina Dowgiewicz and Ari Graham-Gurland. Junior Mary Conklin and senior Megan Balparda also made the varsity squad that ran the championship race.
Senior Fairley Olson also returns to the team after missing the 2020 season, and Anderson expects ninth-graders Ava Schneider and Beth McIntosh to push for varsity slots.
The list of returners on the boys’ side is thinner, as two of the top seven graduated, and two more transferred elsewhere. Still, sophomore Baxter Harrington and senior Nat McVeigh are returning scorers from the state meet, having finishing second and fourth, respectively, among the Tiger contingent. Junior Aidan Chance also served as an alternate at Thetford.
Anderson listed a number of freshman newcomers who excelled at the middle school level: Matthew Berg, Callan Boulanger, Baker Nelson, Haakon Olsen and Ethan Spritzer. Senior Ben Munkres also shows promise, he said.
“It’s early in the season, but they’re looking good,” Anderson said.
Looking at the big picture, Anderson said he was pleased.
“I think we’ve got some kids who as the season progresses are going to improve quite a bit and contribute to the team,” he said. “I think we certainly should be able to do as well as last year, if not contend with U-32 and Harwood.”
Golf is the new kid on the block at MUHS, with school math teacher Joe Crodelle working with the activities department to resurrect the program.
Crodelle, 31, said has been playing golf for 15 years and was happy to sign up to lead the team when he learned it needed a coach.
“I sort of jumped on it to fill a void and help the school out. And also to be a coach is something I always wanted to do,” Crodelle said.
Five boys and two girls showed up for the first day of practice at Ralph Myhre Golf Course, which will also host two home meets for the Tiger boys.
Three Tigers have several years of experience each, seniors Owen Hamilton and Annie Andrus and junior Colin MacGuffie. Joining them as newcomers to the sport on the boys’ side are junior Shannon Gillett, sophomore Jonas McDermott and freshman Ben Fuller, and senior Olivia McCray on the girls’ side.
“We are green. It’s a green team,” Crodelle said.
It’s also a bit short on numbers: Four golfers are required to score at meets for boys’ teams, and two for girls’ teams. Especially with both girls’ graduating, Crodelle and the golfers will be recruiting.
“We’re going to spreading the word with the underclassmen,” he said. “Hopefully there are some younger students who are golfers for the girls’ team to exist next year.”
Crodelle said those who have signed on are enjoying themselves, as would others if they joined.
“They all seem to love it. They have a relaxed, fun attitude. They all just met each other, but they seem to be a friendly group,” he said.
As well as having fun, Crodelle does have other goals for this fall, including establishing the program and seeing his experienced golfers possibly qualify for the state tournament as individuals.
“We obviously want to show improvement throughout the year,” he said. “And hopefully the seniors can end on a high note.”