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IMHO: A Letter-by-Letter Look at Upper Valley Sports in 2017

  • Sunapee's Maddie Austin is congratulated by teammates Erin Moynihan, left, and Jackie Balch at the end of the game after reaching 100 points -- a combination of goals and assists -- in her high school career during Sunapee's game with Moultonborough in Sunapee, N.H., on Sept. 25, 2017. Sunapee won, 4-0. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth men's soccer coach Bobby Clark speaks to his team at halftime during their game with the University of New Hampshire in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 7, 1992. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, center, is smashed between New Jersey Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy (12) and goalie Cory Schneider (35) during overtime of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Newark, N.J. The Oilers won 2-1 in overtime. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Nighthawks pitcher Joe DeRosa checks the sign before going into his windup in the fourth inning of their game with the Mountaineers in Hartford, Vt., on June 16, 2017. The Nighthawks won, 3-0. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Cross-country runner Malcolm Silver-Van Meter of Thetford Academy wins his race at the VPA Vermont State Championship in Thetford, Vt., on Oct. 28, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford senior Regan Covey holds the game ball while a team picture is taken after the Panthers' 53-52 Division III state championship win over Windsor in Barre, Vt., on March 18, 2017. Covey sank the game-winning layup with seconds remaining in regulation. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • South Royalton's Connor Lambert reacts to winning the pole vault event at the VPA Division IV state track meet in Chester, Vt., on June 2, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth quarterback Jared Gerbino celebrates after scoring a touchdown with teammate Jack Anderson during their game with Princeton in Hanover, N.H., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. Dartmouth won 54 - 44. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mascoma Regional High School’s Alyssa Hammond (4) hugs Kayla Hammond (14) as the rest of the team celebrates on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, after winning a NHIAA Division III field hockey semifinal game against Monadnock Regional High School at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. Mascoma won, 3-1. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Canada head coach Laura Schuler instructs her team during the third period of a women's hockey game against the United States Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

  • Lebanon boys basketball head coach Kieth Matte embraces Joshua Graham (10) after the Raiders defeated Coe-Brown at the NHIAA Division II Final on Saturday, March 18, 2017, at the University of New Hampshire's Lundholm Gym in Durham, N.H. Lebanon beat Coe-Brown, 59-42. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Before they take to the floor to start the second half of their NHIAA Division II state championship game, Lebanon head coach Tim Kehoe speaks with, clockwise from left, Joslin Wainwright, Maddie Hastings, Josephine Brown, Anna Woike and Rebecca Wright in Manchester, N.H., on March 10, 2017. Lebanon won, 44-35. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor High School's Linda Ricard takes a shot on goalkeeper Madi Leduc on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017, during a Windsor field hockey practice at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The Lebanon boys tennis team poses for a photograph for family and friends after winning the NHIAA D-II tennis championship in Bedford, N.H., on May 30, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After the awards presentation, team pictures and media interviews were finished, Windsor senior Seth Balch hugs his father, head coach Greg Balch, and shares a moment after the team's 13-7 overtime win against Woodstock in Rutland, Vt., on Nov. 11, 2017. The team won back-to-back state titles. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sunapee celebrates after winning the Division IV softball championship against Derryfield by jumping on Meggy Frederick (33) on Saturday, June 10, 2017, at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H. Sunapee won, 1-0. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Hanover High hockey players, from left, Eliza Laycock, Delia Nahabedian, Kelly Brigham and Matti Hartman congratulate current players Cici Barton, left, and Maddie Lyons as they leave the ice with their NHIAA Division I girls hockey championship hardware in Manchester, N.H., on March 11, 2017. Hanover defeated Exeter, 3-1, for their eighth straight title and the ninth in the past decade. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor's Olivia Rockwood lays up a shot over the defense of Winooski's Lydia Nattress in the third quarter of their Division III semifinal game in Barre, Vt., on March 16, 2017. Windsor won, 61-47. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow football line coach Eric Johnson runs drills with his players on Aug. 16, 2017, in Bradford, Vt. Officials have decided to drop the varsity program this fall due to lower participation. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Sports Editor
Sunday, December 31, 2017

As a devotee of 1980s-era new wave music, I’ve been hearing David Byrne’s repetitive “same as it ever was” from the Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime rattling around my cranium lately.

Both water and time have an inevitable, repetitive way of wearing down anything and everything. It must be the same feeling some teams around the Twin States have when competing against the likes of Hanover High girls hockey, Sunapee High girls basketball or Windsor High football.

All three programs continued runs of excellence in 2017, a year in which Upper Valley sports had a number of interesting developments. Long-departed friends retired. Championships came in surprising fashions; underdogs reared their heads in unsuspecting moments. The year also promised big things for the near future, with younger athletes offering high-level performances well before when they might be expected.

We’ve been using this space for years to reflect on the sports calendar just expired. The 26 letters of the alphabet can’t possibly account for all of the last 365 days’ worth of accomplishments, but they can at least provide a decent cross-section, as we once again attempt to account.

One letter at a time, here are some of the stories that stood out in 2017:

A: New Hampshire high school girls soccer teams paid for letting Sunapee’s Maddie Austin get the ball at her feet this fall. Austin powered the Lakers’ championship run by scoring 46 goals in 19 total matches, netting at least one goal in every contest but one. That included 10 hat tricks, topped by a five-goal game against Pittsfield on Sept. 21. Austin then accounted for eight of her team’s state tournament goals during its three-shutout postseason run.

B: It’s been nearly 25 years since he left, but a significant portion of the Dartmouth soccer population remains fond of former coach Bobby Clark, who retired from college coaching in November after 17 years at Notre Dame. Hanover was Clark’s first stop, where he guided the Big Green to two NCAA quarterfinal appearances between 1985 and 1993 and left his mark on Upper Valley futbol with his support of what is now the Lightning Soccer Club. All three of his children remain tied to the game, either through coaching or philanthropy.

C: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has become a common term around the NFL, with a significant number of former players suffering from the degenerative disease as a result of repeated blows to the head. Recognizing this, as well as the fact that the hockey community may also be affected by the disease in the future, former Dartmouth College defenseman Ben Lovejoy announced in early December that, upon his death, he would donate his brain to CTE research. The New Jersey Devils blueliner is the first active NHL player to make such a commitment.

D: In just their second New England Collegiate Baseball League season, the Upper Valley Nighthawks won a division championship in 2017 with a 29-15 record. The Hawks dominated the Northern Division all summer, jumping in front with a nine-game winning streak early in the season for a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Upper Valley pitchers tossed 10 shutouts along the way, earning a share of a new NECBL record with the Mystic Schooners. Hartford High grad and Southern New Hampshire freshman Jordy Allard joins the Hawks in June.

E: Vermont’s list of elite runners welcomed Malcolm Silver-Van Meter to its ranks when the Thetford senior won the VPA Division III boys cross country title on his home course on Oct. 28. In addition to topping D-III, his time of 17 minutes, 43.5 seconds was well within the top 20 for all divisions. At the college level, Dartmouth women’s cross country set an Ivy League record by making the NCAA championships for the 12th time.

F: In a season full of tight games, Dartmouth football looked no more comfortable than when it settled into Fenway Park on Nov. 10 and drubbed Brown, 33-10, before 12,297 freeze-dried fans. Hunter Hagdorn gathered two TD passes, the Big Green amassed 436 yards of offense while holding Brown to just 28 yards on the ground, and Dartmouth extended its sterling record against all foes (6-1) and the Bears in particular (3-0) at Boston’s lyric bandbox.

G: With six minutes left in March’s VPA Division III girls basketball final, Windsor High fans had good reason for hope, thanks to a 15-point lead over Thetford with six minutes left. What happened next made it the Upper Valley high school game of the year: The Panthers cut the gap in half within two minutes, threw on a press to throw off the Yellowjackets and rode 12 fourth-quarter points — and 23 for the game — from Regan Covey for an improbable 53-52 win at Barre Auditorium.

H: In August, Dartmouth confirmed that its administration would consider all options to move $17 million from administration to academic programs, including closing Hanover Country Club and selling the land upon which the 118-year-old golf club exists. As if to prove its continued and enduring worth to the community, HCC — home of the 20-time NHIAA champion Hanover High golf team — agreed in mid-December to host next summer’s New Hampshire Amateur championship for the first time since 1986, helping the New Hampshire Golf Association out of a bind when North Conway Country Club begged off because of October storm damage. Dartmouth pooh-bahs, you’re on the tee; keep the ball in the fairway for a change, if you don’t mind.

I: The Vermont Principals Association doesn’t hand out awards for individual track and field excellence, but maybe it should. Woodstock’s Anna Dieffenbach, Oxbow’s Izzy Giesing and Thetford’s Meaggie Balch were 1-2-3 in individual points at the VPA D-III state meet in June; the Wasps’ Bill Wood was third among the boys. South Royalton’s Connor Lambert edged Rivendell’s Owen Pelletier at the D-IV boys meet, while Whitcomb’s Alexandra Timmins tied for second among the girls.

J: No one could touch Newport’s John Thibault from the standpoint of football dominance this fall. The sophomore running back produced 31 total touchdowns, well past his closest rivals. Only two players scored half of the 210 points Thibault produced for the Tigers. His 1,348 rushing yards outpaced his nearest pursuer by more than 200 yards, and only one Upper Valley rusher carried the ball more than Thibault’s 182 attempts.

K: For as good as Kimball Union Academy’s boys hockey team routinely is, the Wildcats hadn’t won a New England Elite 8 prep school championship in 35 years until doing so last winter. After dispatching Thayer and Dexter with back-to-back 2-1 wins, the Wildcats dismantled Rivers, 6-2, in the March 5 title game at Saint Anselm College, getting goals from six different players and solid goaltending from Sean Dynan for the program’s first New England championship since 1982.

L: There’s Big Green football, and there’s big Big Green football. Coach Buddy Teevens worked backup quarterback Jared Gerbino into his offense as a run-first complement to thrower Jack Heneghan, and Gerbino came up … well, large. A 6-foot-4, 230-pounder out of (appropriately enough) Rush, N.Y., Gerbino provided the final-play, 1-yard keeper that beat Penn on national television in September and topped that by rumbling 32 times for 203 yards and four touchdowns in November’s 54-44 shootout defeat of Princeton. Rumble onward, big guy.

M: Mascoma High field hockey made a serious underdog run in last fall’s NHIAA Division III tournament. Coach Jenn Hammond’s squad went 8-6-0 to draw the 10th seed in the 14-team tourney, bouncing No. 7 Stevens, No. 2 Pelham and No. 3 Monadnock before a 2-0 defeat to top-ranked Newfound in the final. Hanover also came within a win of a D-II field hockey championship, stopped by Windham in the title game.

N: Dartmouth football fans needed a supply of nitroglycerin handy to get through many of the Big Green’s games this fall. Among the squad’s heart-stopping wins: an overtime decision against Holy Cross, a last play victory at Penn, a last-minute defeat of Yale, a final-minute interception to hold off Sacred Heart and a back-and-forth pointsfest with Princeton in which Dartmouth scored two touchdowns in the last second of clock time to win. If you didn’t have a pulse before September, you do now.

O: Olympic women’s hockey will again have a Dartmouth flair. Laura Schuler, on a one-year sabbatical from the Big Green, will coach the four-time defending gold medalists from Canada in PyeongChang this February. On Dec. 22, she included Dartmouth graduate Laura Stacey on the Canadian roster. Stacey’s latest honor follows her rookie-of-the-year campaign in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last season.

P: Lebanon High did something very rare in NHIAA sports last winter: win a pair of state basketball championships. Tim Kehoe earned his 500th victory as a high school coach en route to guiding the Raider girls to a title, while Kieth Matte notched win No. 300 as the boys returned to the Division II summit. Lebanon became the 11th school since NHIAA sponsorship of girls hoop began in 1970 to complete the girls-boys hoop double, the first in D-II (formerly Class I) since Con-Val in 1994 and the second ever in the Upper Valley to go with Mascoma’s 1989 victories.

Q: The Upper Valley sports quote of the year, courtesy of Thetford girls basketball coach Eric Ward: “Never leave Barre Auditorium early.”

R: After two years without enough athletes to field a squad, Windsor field hockey enjoyed a noteworthy revival in 2017. New coach Jody Wood guided the Yellowjackets to an 8-3-1 record and a surprising VPA Division III tournament top seed before an overtime loss to Stowe in the semifinals on Nov. 1 at Middlebury College.

S: Twin State high school basketball lost one of its larger characters on July 31 when Robert “Stretch” Gillam died at the age of 82. Gillam accumulated more than 600 victories during a career that stretched parts of seven decades, with stops at KUA, Hartford, Oxbow, Green Mountain Union High in Chester, Vt., and South Royalton, landing in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Gillam was also active in the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl football game for many years.

T: Tennis continued to own a prime spot in Lebanon High sports fortunes in 2017. The Raider boys made it two straight undefeated NHIAA Division II championships with a 7-2 defeat of Portsmouth on May 30. Meanwhile, Lebanon brought back girls varsity tennis after a short hiatus due to low numbers. Although the Raiders were winless in 13 matches, they will get their entire roster back — boosted by a year of experience — once the snow melts in April.

U: If one is good, two must be better. Powered by a 1,000-yard passer in Seth Balch, a multi-faceted attack and a defense that allowed the third-fewest points in the state regardless of division, Windsor football ran off its second straight undefeated football campaign. Rival Woodstock twice forced the Jacks to overtime, and both times Windsor came out on top, including a 13-7 state title decision on Nov.11. The Jacks have won their last 20 games.

V: With back-to-back victories, the Vermont Shrine team is making the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl interesting again. The Green Mountaineers’ 19-0 win over New Hampshire at Castleton University on Aug. 5 marked the state’s first consecutive decisions since a three-fer in 1975-77. This summer’s squad will be overseen by Windsor’s Greg Balch.

W: All the Sunapee High girls athletic teams do is win. The Lakers’ ongoing dynasty stretched into 2017 with three more state championships in basketball, softball and soccer. Dating back to the 2014-15 winter campaign, the Lakers have gone nine consecutive seasons (fall, winter, spring) with at least one team title between the hardwood, diamond, pitch and volleyball court. Basketball extended its unbeaten run to 75 games over three-plus years before it came to an end earlier this month.

X: In Roman numerals, X equals 10, which would also match the number of state championships owned by the Hanover High girls hockey team since the start of NHIAA sanctioning in 2007-08 should the Marauders win their ninth crown in a row come March. Last year’s squad mowed down the opposition in both customary (a 20-2-1 overall record) and uncustomary forms, the latter being a rare in-state regular season loss to Exeter for which Hanover atoned in a 3-1 defeat of the Blue Hawks in the final.

Y: This is for youth served, as freshmen made significant contributions on a number of athletic fronts. Among them: Windsor’s Olivia Rockwood led Upper Valley girls basketball in scoring last winter; Hanover frosh Natalie Morhun won the NHIAA medal division (nine-hole) girls golf crown; another Marauder freshman, Sabin Mitchell, won a girls ski jumping title; Lebanon’s Sally Rainey earned first-team all-state recognition for her soccer goalkeeping; and South Royalton’s VPA D-IV state boys track and field championship on June 2 included freshman Eric Taylor’s win in the 200-meter dash. The future is bright.

Z: Oxbow High football played zero games as a varsity squad in 2017. School officials decided a couple of days into preseason workouts to drop to a junior varsity schedule when too few players turned out. It’s yet another disappointing sign of shrinking school populations, although the administration has expressed hope of returning to varsity play next fall.

Such situations may seem inevitable, like the passing of time or water. They needn’t be. It would be much more pleasurable to remark on growth instead of decline 12 months from now.

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