MONTPELIER — Over a decade of baby steps led to one gigantic leap for the sport of Ultimate on Thursday.
The Montpelier boys became the first team in the nation to capture a varsity Ultimate state championship, securing a 14-9 victory over Burlington. The No. 1 Solons (14-0) erased an early deficit against the No. 6 Seahorses (10-4), using precise passes and steady buildup to wear down the visitors.
“We just tried to work as hard as we could,” MHS handler Hayden Ellms said. “Usually we would like to throw it deep a bit more. But they’ve started to figure us out a bit over the years, and they shut it down more. So shorter throws are better for us now.”
Ellms dished out six assists and added two points, while fellow handler Anders Shenholm contributed two points and three assists. Gavin Corbett-Valade (three points, one assist), Kaleth Torrens-Martin (three points) and Max Hughes (one point, one assist) also had big days for the Solons.
“This is a big deal,” Shenholm said. “My freshman year I thought it was expected, and we got shocked. And it’s been building, building, building. We lost in the final my sophomore year. We lost in semis last year. And I think we were really ready for it this year.”
Nick Boisvert (three points) and Bishop Asaro (two points) led the way for BHS. Teammate Declan Kervick (three assists) gave the Solons headaches at the start, firing long-range flicks toward the end zone to help build a 3-2 lead. Kofi Young (one point, two assists) was a non-stop threat for the Seahorses, with Ryan Murray adding two assists.
“Burlington has a lot of athletes, and a couple guys who can throw really well,” Shenholm said “And that’s often how we get beat — just over the top because we’re a short team. But our offense is good at making short passes and good cuts. And everyone knows what they’re doing.”
In the first half, Asaro and Young both used their height advantage to reel in ambitious passes by Kervick. That quickly put MHS in the unfamiliar situation of having to play from behind. The Solons never panicked, rattling off five straight points in a 15-minute span to pull ahead 7-3.
“At 6-3 I felt pretty good about the game — mostly because we had woken up and we were playing the way that we felt we should,” Torrens-Martin said. “There were rough patches in there because it was hot and there was a little bit of wind. But we really found our game midway through.”
The Seahorses ended their scoring drought when Kervick connected to Young, but MHS answered to close out the half. An acrobatic catch along the sideline by Hughes kept the play alive and Torrens-Martin made a catch on the left side of the end zone for an 8-4 advantage.
“We try to emphasize moving it up slowly and just taking it one short pass at a time,” Torrens-Martin said. “We want 100% looks every time if we can.”
At the start of the second half, Hughes was closely guarded by Young but freed up just enough room to score on a close-range throw from Ellms. Following a big defensive stop by Hughes, Shenholm found Torrens-Martin in the left side of the end zone for a 10-4 lead with 31:45 on the clock.
Back-to-back scoring plays by BHS closed the gap to 10-6 with 17:10 remaining. Two minutes later, Ellms patiently held the disc near the 10-yard line and set up Corbett-Valade in the left corner for an 11-6 edge. Ellms connected to Shenholm on their team’s next offensive possession for 12-6 lead.
The Seahorses scored twice in a 60-second stretch to keep things interesting, slicing the gap to 12-8. But time was not Burlington’s friend, and a stray dog on the field during the final minutes helped keep the mood light as MHS sealed the deal. It marked the first team title for Montpelier in any sport since 2015.
“Ultimate is the best of both competitiveness and good spirits,” Torrens-Martin said. “It’s a really competitive, hard-fought game. But people aren’t chipping at each other the same way they are in other sports.”
Torrens-Martin played the entire game with his dominant right hand wrapped up after sustaining an injury against Essex in the semifinals. The senior opted to play primarily with his left hand and was surprisingly effective with catches, throws and defensive blocks.
“... I practiced a bit with my left hand (Wednesday), but it wasn’t great. I just had to play as best I could. I was trying to make good in-cuts, play good defense and get off short passes — just dumping it to Anders or Hayden coming from behind,” Torrens-Martin said.
The Solons savored their victory as the MHS girls team was warming up for their own crack at a state title. It was a lot to take in for the packed crowd as the awards ceremony began, but the importance of winning the country’s first Ultimate crown was not lost on the Solons.
“What’s nice is our school has treated it as a varsity sport for three or four years now,” Ellms said. “But, as a whole, it feels cool to win that. And other schools and other states recognize that.”