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IMHO: An Amazing Year in Upper Valley Sports, From A to Z

  • Lebanon girls hockey coach Katie Bradford holds a phone for Lebanon hockey players to cheer and say hello to teammate Julie Barber in Lebanon, N.H. on Dec. 13, 2016. Barber watched the game on her phone from the hospital where she is recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with cancer. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Windsor High baseball team celebrates its Vermont Division III championship after a 10-3 win over Randolph at Centennial Field in Burlington, Vt., on Saturday, June 11, 2016. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Stevens' football team, including Zach O'Brien, right, hold their Division III state championship trophy aloft after defeating InterLakes-Moultonborough 46-20 in Durham, N.H., on November 19, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Deb Beach has been at Lebanon for 34 years. Valley News - Tris Wykes

  • Chicago Cubs' Kyle Hendricks holds the Commissioners Trophy during a celebration honoring the World Series champions at Grant Park in Chicago, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

  • Ben Lovejoy, of Enfield, makes his way back inside Baker Tower after having his photo taken with his wife Avery in Hanover, N.H. Monday, August 1, 2016. Both Dartmouth graduates, the couple brought the trophy to some of their favorite spots around campus. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Walker Grisanti, right, is greeted at home plate by Brian Lau, left, and Austin Embler, middle, after bringing Lau in on a home run against the Winnipesaukee Muskrats at the Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford, Vt., Wednesday, August 3, 2016. The home run gave the Nighthawks a three run lead that that expanded to 6 - 1 by the end of the fourth inning. The Nighthawks won 6 - 4. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • United States's Mikaela Shiffrin celebrates after winning an alpine ski, women's World Cup Giant Slalom, in Semmering, Austria, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Giovanni Auletta)

  • Sunapee players react to their win against Littleton for the Divisioin IV state championship. undefeated On March 4, 2016 in Holderness, N.H. (Valley News- Jennifer Hauck)

    Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover High co-captain Glen Enneper, center, address his teammates before Saturday’s NHIAA Division II quarterfinal defeat of visiting Lebanon. Enneper has missed the season because of an injury. Connor Stafford (14), Schuyler Cyrus (55) and Mike Staiger (58) listen in.

  • Hannah Cox, 17, of Hartland, swims the butterfly during a workout with the Upper Valley Aquatic Center team in Hartford, Vt. Wednesday, July 29, 2015. Cox is preparing for the U.S. Nationals swim meet in San Antonio, Texas in August. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Copyright © Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Monday, January 02, 2017

Goodbye, 2016. Beat it. Kiss off. Take a hike. Don’t let the door hit you in the derriere.

It’s going to be hard to top (bottom?) the recently deceased year for sheer wretchedness. Toxic politics, new levels of outrageous evil committed by terrorists and the deaths of far too many beloved artistic and athletic figures all combined to make the year one of the most dreadful ever.

On top of all that, the Dallas Cowboys became good again. So wrong.

In the silver lining department, it should be noted that America recovered from Herbert Hoover; it’ll survive Donald Trump. (Probably.) For each Debbie Reynolds, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali or John Glenn lost, a Jennifer Lawrence or Eddie Vedder or LeBron James tried to fill the void.

As forgettable and regrettable as 2016 was, sport brought solace and satisfaction. As the election descended into the dumpster, the Chicago Cubs — bearing an Upper Valley connection in a significant slot — erased a 108-year World Series curse. As Arnold Palmer passed away, American golf returned to Ryder Cup relevancy. Try as he did with spurious investigations and the denial of scientific evidence, NFL commissioner/emperor Roger Goodell couldn’t and didn’t put down the New England Patriots. (Is it just me, or are you also relishing what Tom Brady might say should King Roger be required to hand him the Vince Lombardi Trophy next month?)

The Upper Valley mirrored the larger world in some sporting regards. We, too, lost a cherished figure. We, too, saw performances that gave us cause to celebrate. We, too, saw long championship droughts erased.

So as we’ve done here for-darned-near-ever, let’s take a few minutes to remember some of the things that made our athletic year special, in alphabetical order:

A: Although it didn’t win a state title, Hanover football was on the ascendancy in 2016. Low numbers at the youth level had put the program’s future in doubt; instead of worrying, the Marauders stunned NHIAA Division II with a 9-2 season, the third seed in the eight-team state tournament and a run to the semifinals. Second-year head coach Sam Cavallaro also welcomed back his predecessor, Mike Ivanoski, who served as defensive coordinator.

B: Placards and purple T-shirts bearing the phrase Barber Strong popped up all over the region in the past month as the story of Lebanon High hockey player Julie Barber made the rounds in November. A junior, Barber lost use of her legs as a result of surgery for a tumor on her spinal cord. Her upbeat approach, as well as the hockey community’s rapid response to the Barber family, has been a joy to witness. Here’s to recovery and a return to the ice.

C: We’re used to our Olympians around here — see skiers Hannah Kearney or Julia Krass — but they don’t usually come out of a pool. That may change someday if Hartland’s Hannah Cox continues to improve. The Kimball Union Academy graduate made the finals of the 400-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Nebraska on June 27, placing eighth after entering the meet as the event’s 13th seed. A member of the U.S. junior national team this season, the 18-year-old is busy swimming for the University of Arizona.

D: Two significant Upper Valley high school championship droughts ended in 2016. Windsor baseball beat Randolph, 10-3, in the Vermont Division III finals at Centennial Field on June 11 for the program’s first state crown in 41 years. Not to be outdone, Stevens football ended a 48-year run without state honors — and a 27-year absence of any team championship at the Claremont school — with a 46-20 decimation of InterLakes-Moultonborough at UNH on Nov. 19.

E: As happened in the wider world, the Upper Valley lost one of its significant community contributors with the death of Leon Royce in January at the age of 91. “The Eagle,” as he was known, spent 30 years coaching Windsor High baseball, winning two state titles, four runner-up plaques and nearly 65 percent of his games. Even after retiring to Florida, Royce remained a visitor to Windsor athletic events. Last spring’s Yellowjacket baseball players wore an eagle on their shirts in remembrance.

F: The stopwatch says it — the Oxbow cross country girls are fast. Led by a fourth-place finish from junior Izzy Giesing, the Olympians claimed the Vermont Division III championship on Nov. 5 at Thetford Academy. Adding an eighth-place result from Leanne Burgess, a 10th for Hannah Giesing and a 15th for Emily Carson, Oxbow’s 28 points nipped runner-up Rice by four.

G: No golfer ever wants to lose a round to an incorrectly signed scorecard, but that’s how Newport’s Cameron Gebo ended his junior season in 2015 at the NHIAA Division IV individual finals against then-teammate Dawson Campbell. Rather than let the error haunt him, Gebo led the Tigers to their third straight team title in October, then won the individual crown that cruelly eluded him last year to cap a stellar high school links career in appropriate fashion.

H: The Chicago Cubs might not have captured the World Series as well the nation’s attention — at least that beyond Cleveland city limits — without the aid of Dartmouth graduate Kyle Hendricks. Just five years since his last Big Green pitch, Hendricks revived memories of another control-centric Cubbie pitcher (Greg Maddux) with a season that included the majors’ best earned-run average (2.13) in the regular season and a 1.42 ERA in five postseason starts. He finished third in NL Cy Young voting and deserved better. Mr. Hendricks: Your alma mater awaits a visit from the World Series trophy; it’s getting to be a habit around here. (More on that later.)

I: Dartmouth women’s hockey gained some international cred with the hiring of Laura Schuler as head coach in April. While she works at rebuilding the Big Green, Schuler will periodically head out in her role as head coach of the Canadian national women’s hockey program. She’s the frontrunner to lead Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

J: Once a knight of the keyboard, Rob Johnstone gave up journalism some 30 years ago to get into high school soccer coaching. It’s proven to be a smart move: The 50-year-old capped this fall’s 17-1-1 Lebanon boys soccer campaign with induction into the New Hampshire soccer coaches hall of fame to go with National Soccer Coaches Association of America state and regional coach of the year honors. Johnstone, who is 268-130-37 over 24 seasons, is eligible for the NSCAA’s national large school coach of the year award, which will be revealed next month.

K: Dartmouth men’s soccer has been getting its kicks lately without allowing much past its defense. Coach Chad Riley’s Big Green gave up just 13 goals in 19 matches in 2015 to reach the NCAA second round. Dartmouth proved nearly as stingy in 2016, conceding just 15 times in 19 starts to make another second-round run. With a 38-21-13 record over four years, three straight Ivy League titles and a defense ranked in the nation’s top 20, it’s only matter of time before some bigger fish snatches Riley away.

L: This time last year, we were recognizing longtime Lebanon field hockey coach Deb Beach for another state crown. This time, it’s for the legacy she’s left after retiring from the program she led for 34 years. During that time, Beach amassed a 326-144-68 record (according to Valley News archives) and led the Raiders to four state championships, all in the last 10 years. The coach to come has some big shoes to fill.

M: The high school basketball season brought a new varsity entry in December, the Knights of Mount Royal Academy. The Sunapee private school will compete in NHIAA Division IV, and both the girls and boys have already recorded inaugural victories.

N: In this instance, it stands for nada. In one of the stranger days of the Upper Valley high school calendar, five teams — Lebanon boys soccer, Woodstock field hockey, Stevens boys soccer, Thetford girls soccer and Sharon girls soccer — all lost state finals in shutout defeats on Nov. 5. The Raiders’ loss was particularly emotional, coming in a penalty-kick tiebreaker after a scoreless draw. Hey, it happens.

O: From the heights of its first Ivy League football championship in 20 years in 2015, Dartmouth dropped to a basement nadir in 2016. The Big Green, however, had a noteworthy presence in senior linebacker Folarin Orimolade, who won the league’s Bushnell Cup as defensive player of the year, landed on several national All-America teams and raised the prospect of a professional future. Hide your quarterbacks now.

P: Whether it’s in New Hampshire or Vermont, sportswriter Poody Walsh impresses. A contributor to the Valley News and the former longtime sports editor at Claremont’s Eagle Times, Walsh entered the NHIAA hall of fame this year (joined by longtime Hanover High athletic director Mike Jackson) one year after similar recognition from the Vermont Principals Association. He hasn’t promised a run for similar honors in Florida … yet.

Q: Quality came in quantity with Lebanon boys tennis last spring. A year after a near-miss title run, second-year coach Mike Haxton and his deep roster ran the table on a 17-0 season, beating Oyster River, 6-3, in the NHIAA Division II final on May 31. The championship was both a first for the Raiders and a first for Haxton, who was a runner-up 11 times in Rhode Island before 2015’s second-to-Portsmouth finish. Nearly all of the Raiders will be back in April for a title defense.

R: Swimming will find no more enthusiastic a supporter than Dorsi Raynolds, yet the only head coach the Upper Valley Aquatic Club has ever had spent the last year defeating two forms of cancer. Through it all, she guided one swimmer (Cox) through the Olympic Trials and countless others to repeated success as the regional level.

S: With the assistance of Dartmouth grad and Orford native Ben Lovejoy, the Stanley Cup paid the Upper Valley a daylong visit on Aug. 1. Lovejoy, part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ championship team in June, brought the chalice on an area tour, visiting a kids’ camp, a police station, his offseason personal trainer, his former fraternity, the Baker Library tower and, finally, Thompson Arena for a four-hour meet-and-greet with more than 2,700 fans. And he did it willingly, gladly and thankfully. A class act.

T: Matt Trombly had a challenge on his hands when he became Hartford High football coach — not so much in rebuilding a program as in succeeding a legend in longtime coach Mike Stone. It took three seasons, but Trombly and the Hurricanes returned to the top of Vermont Division I with a 24-14 win over St. Johnsbury on Nov. 12. Hartford went a perfect 10-0 against league foes for the 13th VPA state football crown in school history and the first since a four-titles-in-five-years run that ended in 2012. Trombly’s Vermont Interscholastic Football League peers named him D-I coach of the year for his work.

U: The Upper Valley Nighthawks brought a welcome addition to the area’s summer entertainment options. The first-year New England Collegiate Baseball League entry had its midseason struggles, but a final-week surge begat last-day qualification for the playoffs with a 21-25 record. Later in the week, in front of the biggest crowd of the season, Vanderbilt’s Walker Grisanti launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning for a wild 9-8 win over Sanford on Aug. 5 at the Maxfield Sports Complex that stretched their best-of-three series — and summer — one last day in exquisite fashion.

V: Victory followed the Sunapee High girls athletic program pretty much everywhere it went in 2016. The Lakers ran to their second straight undefeated NHIAA Division IV girls basketball crown on March 4 with a thrilling 66-62 defeat of Littleton. Softball followed on June 11, a 2-1 squeaker over Gorham. Girls soccer completed the trifecta on Nov. 6 with a 6-0 title-game blanking of Colebrook. The combined records of the three championship squads? A tidy 62-0-1.

W: Windsor football ran the table for a Vermont Division III state championship in 2016, and it wasn’t close. Quarterback Seth Balch threw for nearly 900 yards and 18 touchdowns, Hartford transfer Hunter Judd rushed for 800-plus yards and 10 scores, and the Jacks finished an 11-0 season by routing Otter Valley, 42-6, in the D-III final at Rutland High School on Nov. 12. Windsor’s Greg Balch was chosen the VIFL’s D-III coach of the year.

X: It usually means XC around here, and it does again. The Dartmouth men’s cross country team set an Ivy League record with its 19th invitation to the NCAA championships on Nov. 14, a reward for a third-place finish at Northeast regional three days earlier. Boasting an all-senior core, the Big Green placed 25th at nationals after starting the season ranked just seventh in its region.

Y: When Springfield nipped Woodstock, 1-0, for the Vermont Division II field hockey championship on Nov. 5 at UVM, the Cosmos did so with Yellowjackets in key positions. Sophomores Meranda Keough and Grace Aldrich, freshman Angelina Bigwood and senior Ashleay Wilcox — without a field hockey team at Windsor High for a second autumn due to low numbers — played roles in Springfield’s run to the title. Bigwood scored the goal in the championship victory.

Z: This list can’t end without recognizing a former Lyme resident with more zip in her step than ever. The return of FIS World Cup ski racing to Killington for the first time since 1978 brought Mikaela Shiffrin back to one of the mountains of her youth. She made the most of her return with a slalom victory on Nov. 27 that is now part of a 15-race win streak in that discipline. Note to world: She’s figuring out the giant slalom (two wins last week). And she’s not 22 yet.

I hope 2017 has more of the same in store. So long as it doesn’t involve the White House or Twitter.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.