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Panthers Carry On: Thetford Dedicates Track and Field Season to Fallen Teammate

  • Thetford senior Ian Weider hits the dirt while competing in the long jump during yesterday’s meet at Windsor High School. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Thetford senior Ian Weider hits the dirt while competing in the long jump during yesterday’s meet at Windsor High School. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover freshman Olivia Hinch leaps over the bar while competing in high jump yesterday in Windsor. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Hanover freshman Olivia Hinch leaps over the bar while competing in high jump yesterday in Windsor. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Windsor senior Luke TanCreti grits his teeth while sprinting through a race yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Windsor senior Luke TanCreti grits his teeth while sprinting through a race yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford senior Ian Weider hits the dirt while competing in the long jump during yesterday’s meet at Windsor High School. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Hanover freshman Olivia Hinch leaps over the bar while competing in high jump yesterday in Windsor. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Windsor senior Luke TanCreti grits his teeth while sprinting through a race yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

Windsor — The Thetford Academy boys track and field team lost a number of key contributors from last year’s Vermont Division III state championship team, including hurdles champion Gabe Freund and others to graduation. No loss was felt more potently than that of former teammate Connor Cook, a would-be junior who died last summer. While working on a farm in his home village of Post Mills, Cook was struck by lightning and died four days later.

The Thetford athletic community has paid tribute to Cook with a variety of ceremonies — he was also a soccer and basketball player — and the gestures continue with the Panthers’ track team this spring.

Thetford had team hooded sweatshirts created — helpful in the chill at Windsor High yesterday — with Cook’s initials on the sleeve, and put together a book of signed photographs featuring Connor and his sister, Kylie, and gave it to Cook’s parents, Clyde and Marilyn.

“If you want to talk about who the team lost, that was the worst loss ever,” said Thetford coach Emily Silver, a teacher at TA. “His parents have been very supportive of Thetford athletics, coming to all of the soccer and basketball games. And they’re leading an to get a (Thetford track team) record board put up at the school, because right now we just have paper taped to the wall.”

Cook saved his best-ever meet for last year’s state championships at Green Mountain Union High School, where he recorded personal bests in both the pole vault (10 feet even) and javelin (122-04) and ran the second leg in the Panthers’ 4x100-meter relay team. The performance was good for five points as Thetford edged Bellows Falls for the team title.

“He just had a great day,” said senior sprinter/jumper Ian Weider at yesterday’s Windsor Invitational. “Those points were huge for us. You could even say we might not have won the title if it wasn’t for him, because what he did for the team was more than just what he did on the track. He worked harder than anyone, and this year we’re all trying to emulate the way he competed.”

Cook helped keep the Panthers’ mood loose with a sense of humor he sometimes slyly used to his own advantage. Teammates say one of his favorite methods of chicanery at practice was to intentionally conserve energy until the end of the day, then blow past teammates during day-end sprints.

“He’d wait until all the coaches were looking and then speed past everyone,” sprinter/jumper Dominic Chatot said with a smile. “He just loved doing stuff like that, but he was very dedicated.”

Winners of the last three D-III boys crowns, the Panthers weren’t the only reigning state champ on hand in Windsor yesterday. Three-time D-III girls champion Woodstock brought a light field because of several athletes being away during school vacation week, including distance specialist Carmen Bango. Only a freshman, Bango championed her division’s cross country race last fall, then won the Nordic skiing individual title over the winter.

She figures to factor in to a Wasps team that returns plenty of punch from last year’s run, including senior Elizabeth Bassette and her sophomore sister, Kathryn. Both sprinters and jumpers, the Bassettes accounted for 70 of Woodstock’s 152 points as last year’s state meet. Woodstock also brings back senior distance runners Denali Balser and Christy Harris, among other contributors.

“We had some key girls who graduated, but we’re definitely excited about this year,” said Elizabeth Bassette, who’s recovering from shin splints. “We lost (sprinters) Stephanie Ambrose and Alex Beda, but we have girls like (freshman sprinter) Elly Gordon and Carmen coming in.”

Woodstock’s boys, which placed third at last year’s states, lost a lot of their production to graduation, but still have strong numbers and a talented roster.

“Our girls are going to be right up there again, and I expect the boys to be, too,” said Woodstock coach Tracy Rose, herself an avid runner and wearing a medical boot yesterday thanks to plantar fasciitis. “It’s still a little early in the season to tell.”

Host Windsor, the defending Division II boys champion, brings back triple- and long-jump champion Luke TanCreti, who was also runner-up in discus a year ago. He’ll lead a roster that also includes fellow senior Leo Patenaude (third in pole vault, fourth in high jump).

The Yellowjackets carry 45 total athletes this season, an exciting prospect for Windsor coach Amber Morse.

“That’s the largest by far in my five years here,” Morse said. “It gives us something to look forward to every meet.”

Numbers are also up at tiny Sharon Academy, which has 13 athletes, including 10 girls. Eli Ruben, Claire Crowley, Grace Pfeil and Gretta Stack said they “talked each other into coming out,” for the team this year and are glad they did.

“It’ll be nice to be able to field relay teams for the girls this year,” said fifth-year Sharon coach Kevin Gish, whose son, Chris, is a freshman distance runner.

South Royalton’s boys, who were second at the D-III meet last year, bring back distance runner Michael Dunkle (second in both 1,500 and 3,000) and pole vaulters Dylan Orechovesky, James Puopolo and Jason Williams.

Hurdles and pole vault specialist Eliza Phillip returns to the South Royalton girls.

Lebanon, which did not win a boys or girls New Hampshire Division II championship last season for the first time since 2003, placed fourth on the girls side last season and hopes to contend for a top-3 spot this year with the return of defending hurdles champion Kelly Ludew, jumper Heather King and javelin ace Moriah Morton, whose heave of 125-01 last year was a D-II record.

Hanover’s boys and girls were both 10th last year. Sprinters Aidan Bardos, Melanie Subbiah and Lindsey White will look to improve for the Hanover boys this season while distance runners Noah Williams, George Voigt and Ben Chaimberg look to do so for the boys.

Raider assistant coach Kevin Lozeau enjoys the format of the Windsor Invitational, which brings together many of the teams in the Connecticut Valley Conference and elsewhere for an early-season gala.

“It’s gets us all out while it’s still early in the season, to go against each other and start building some confidence,” Lozeau said.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.

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Area schools competed in the Windsor Invitational track and field meet in Windsor, Vt., on April 20, 2013. Valley News — Libby March …