The high school athletics calendar will wrap up in a few weeks and Vermont athletic directors are on the final mile of their marathon.
Another unpredictable spring season was defined by endless rescheduling, and this week it’s all about the mad dash to the finish. A handful of teams didn’t play their home openers until last week because fields took so long to dry out, and both Spaulding baseball and softball competed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
This week, squads across Central Vermont are slated to play on back-to-back days, putting a premium on rest and recovery. The U-32 girls lacrosse team travels to Milton on Tuesday, visits Hartford on Wednesday night and will host Stowe on Thursday. It’s par for the course this time of year, and members of the Vermont Principals’ Association are looking like geniuses after moving golf from a spring to a fall sport.
With five days left in the regular season, here are some top picks for area fans:
Lake Region at Montpelier, 4:30 p.m.
This battle has big playoff implications as both teams attempt to secure a home playoff game for the upcoming Division II playoffs. The Solons have only won three post-season games in the past 19 years, while the Rangers are defending champs. But Montpelier (7-4) has quietly emerged as a dark horse title contender this season, thanks mostly to strong pitching and defense. The Solons started the week ranked seventh in D-II following victories over Peoples, U-32, Northfield, Williamstown, Hazen and Randolph.
The top of Montpelier’s batting order has been solid, with Nathan LaRosa, Nicholas Beavin, Avery Paull, Micah Bloomberg and Aidan Murphy leading the way. Sophomore Marshall Donohue struck out nine batters during his first varsity start last week, and Isaak Donohue is another clutch contributor. Teammate Oliver Plavin made an acrobatic catch in the seventh inning last week to lock up a 9-8 payback win over Randolph. The Lake Region bats came alive during Saturday’s 13-2 payback victory over Harwood.
U-32 at Oxbow, 4:30 p.m.
The D-II Raiders and D-III Olympians are both eyeing a No. 4 seed for playoffs.
U-32 (6-4) has been hot lately, sweeping Randolph in addition to beating Peoples and Lake Region. The Raiders are ranked fourth in D-II, trailing Otter Valley (12-1), Fair Haven (10-3) and Enosburg (10-1) by considerable margins. First-year coach Geoff Green and his players will be happy to stay where they are as they attempt to hold off Harwood (6-3), Lamoille (7-5) and Montpelier (6-4). U-32 made its only title appearance in 2017, suffering a 3-2 loss against Otter Valley. This year, Owen Kellington and Carter Pelzel lead U-32 on the mound and at the plate.
Oxbow (9-4) has not advanced past the quarterfinals since 2011 and is attempting to end a 15-year title drought. Last season, the Olympians opened the playoffs with a 30-7 victory over Richford, and much of that power has been on display this year. Cody Grant and Orin Mahikoa are strong hitters and pitchers for Oxbow, which is on a mission to overtake Thetford (7-3) for the No. 4 seed.
Stowe at U-32, 4:30 p.m.
This will mark the third game in three days for the Raiders (6-2), and they’ll have a quick turnaround after a long bus ride back from Wednesday night's game at Hartford (8-4). The tall order should be manageable because coach Emilie Connor and the defending champs emphasize fitness throughout the season. Stowe is also known for its athleticism, and the Raiders (4-5) entered the week riding a three-game winning streak.
Vergennes (11-0) and GMVS (7-1) sit atop the D-II rankings, but U-32 is in position to challenge the Gumbies for the No. 2 spot. St. Johnsbury is deceivingly tough at 5-5, so the semifinal round of playoffs is likely to tense.
U-32 features collection of Washington and Orange County All-Stars this year. It was a sad day when the Chelsea Public School closed its doors last spring, but the Raiders have benefited from picking up some former Red Devils. U-32 starters Kaylee Thayer and Kathryn Jones are Randolph students who competed for Chelsea in the past. Montpelier’s Cypress Levitt and Melanie Winters are also on the team, joining forces with some of their soccer rivals from the East Montpelier school.
St. Johnsbury at Spaulding, 5 p.m.
The Crimson Tide (10-1) will be the favorites here after coasting to a 16-4 victory over the Hilltoppers three weeks ago. Cam Gosselin won 19 of 22 face-offs in that game and the Tide enjoyed an 11-2 halftime lead. Aiden Blouin (five goals, three assists) and Travis Roy (four goals, three assists) led Spaulding’s attack. Since then, the Hilltoppers (3-8) suffered a close loss against Stowe and rolled to victories over Mount Abraham and U-32.
A strong infusion of hockey talent has been a key ingredient for the Tide, who are guaranteed to host a quarterfinal for the first time in a decade. First-year coach Ian Thomas was not involved with the program during some of the down years, but he knows how important this run has been for the entire community. The Tide made their only title appearance in 1993 and have not advanced to the semifinals since 2002.
Spaulding has not won a title in any sport since 2010, but this year's team has demonstrated the late-game composure to potentially end that streak. The Tide secured 9-7 wins over Harwood and Rutland, and on Monday Aiden Blouin’s double-overtime goal sealed an 8-7 victory over Stowe.
TRACK AND FIELD
Essex Invitational, 9 a.m.
This will feature the top athletes from all four divisions and serves as a qualifier for New England Championships. This year, it will also offer athletes from Bellows Falls and U-32 a chance to size each other up before the D-II state meet. The Bellows Falls boys are the six-time defending D-III champs, and this year the Terriers are in D-II. The U-32 boys are the six-time defending D-II champs, so one dynasty is certain to end.
Distance specialists have carried the Raiders in the past, and nothing has changed this year. Star runners Andrew Crompton and Trevor Patterson join two sets of brothers: Waylon and Jed Kurts and Patrick and Leo Cioffi. U-32 isn’t as deep in other events, but sprinter Zai Gluck and the 4x100 team are legitimate podium contenders. Eric Scharf (discus) and Martin McMahon (high jump, triple jump) can also pile up some points for the Raiders, but Bellows Falls will be tough to beat.
Shot put and discus master Reno Tuttle leads the Terriers along with Gabe Hakimoglu (sprints, high jump) and John Donovan (javelin, long jump). The Bellows Falls 4x100 relay team is also a title favorite.
Last year, U-32 made a last-minute decision run the 4x800-meter relay with three members of its "B" team, plus Patterson, and the gamble paid off with a victory. The Raiders could use a similar strategy this season so their fastest runners save energy for other races.
On the girls’ side, Caroline Kirby (400), May Lamb (800, 1,500) and Julia Oliver (100 hurdles) are top threats for U-32. Additional athletes to watch are Randolph’s Isaac Kaplan (3,000) and Natalie Strand (400), Harwood’s Haley Boyden (1,500) and Brendan Magill (3,000) and Oxbow’s Jarret Rock (100, long jump).