1 Athlete, 2 Schools, 3 Sports

Versatile Hartford High Junior Always On the Go

Hartford High’s Mariah Palmer (4) has been a versatile performer. (Valley News - Libby March)

Hartford High’s Mariah Palmer (4) has been a versatile performer. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — As a Hartland resident, Mariah Palmer finds herself in the middle of everything. Yesterday, she found herself in the middle of a quandary.

The schedule said she would be playing a Hartford High girls lacrosse game at Dothan Brook School after her classes ended. But when the scene took a turn for winter, with a mix of sleet and frozen crud that put off the Hurricanes’ date with Burr & Burton, Palmer’s thoughts adjusted appropriately.

“I would have really enjoyed being skiing,” the 16-year-old junior joked. “The snow’s really tempting.”

Isn’t it?

Palmer isn’t unique in that she’s a three-sport athlete. It’s how she has to go about doing it, particularly at a school with no ski team.

The past two winters, Palmer has trekked to the Suicide Six ski area in Pomfret to train with the Woodstock Union High program. She also traveled with the Wasps and competed with them, albeit as an independent whose times didn’t score points toward Woodstock’s team tallies.

It’s really what Palmer has done all her life, just clothed in different colors. She picked up skiing at age 3 — her mother, Amy, worked at the small hill at the time — and did her youth racing on the Su Six team. She’s competed with or against many of her Woodstock peers for years.

She has entertained ski academy thoughts and could easily have gone to Woodstock High, too, but opted for Hartford’s more generous academic offerings and strong science program instead. The result has been a different sort of athletic experience.

“You always talk about giving 100 percent of the time, (but) she’s one you don’t have to remind to push harder, to do more,” said first-year Hartford girls lacrosse coach Katherine MacPherson, the latest to enjoy and employ Palmer’s benefits. “We call her ‘Wheels’ on the team. You see those long legs going for it, and she’s so fast.”

The fast matters in everything Palmer does.

The recently concluded winter season saw Palmer win her first Vermont high school ski races. She broke through with a slalom victory on her home Su Six course — the mountain is actually closer to her home than her school is — on Jan. 8, adding a giant slalom win at Okemo on Jan. 29 and a slalom victory in the Southern Vermont District meet at Bromley on Feb. 4. Her six podium finishes were among the best in the southern half of the state.

Her state championship didn’t go quite as planned. She finished 19th in the GS after a “small mistake,” according to Woodstock coach Bill McCollom, who oversees her high school season. But Palmer bounced back to take 12th in the slalom to qualify for last month’s Eastern High School Championships at New Hampshire’s Cannon Mountain. She raced to results in the top half of the field in both disciplines there.

“It was a really good experience; I enjoyed it,” said Palmer, who also made Easterns as a sophomore, but missed the meet because of a schedule conflict. “It’s definitely something I’d like to do again. It’s just really fun meeting girls that I’ve competed against and be on the same team with them and go for the same goal.”

Gravity gives Palmer speed on the mountain. Her legs take over on the grass.

Hartford girls soccer coaches Joe Denny and Jeff Acker briefly tried putting Palmer at central midfield last fall, but they learned quickly that took away her defining attribute. On the flanks, Palmer can stretch defenses with her speed, which has allowed her to be part of the Hurricanes’ varsity since she was a freshman.

“I can just go up the wing, fly up the wing, use my speed to my advantage,” she said.

MacPherson, as an assistant coach, got an inkling of Palmer’s quickness last spring, and she’s making good use of it as the head coach this year. Had yesterday’s match come off, MacPherson would have inserted Palmer at center, a position that carries both defensive and offensive responsibilities — not to mention access to run the entire field.

“In the game of lacrosse, who wins the draw is usually who gets the next goal,” MacPherson said. “With Mariah, she’s always so fast that I’ve had her go forward. …

“The other thing about Mariah is she’s always willing” to work, MacPherson added. “I see her before and after practice and she’s throwing the ball around, go-go-go.”

Palmer isn’t likely to change in the coming year.

Enamored with soccer, she’s been chosen to captain next year’s Hurricanes, a squad that reached the state finals in 2011 and the semis last autumn. An equestrian in the summer, Palmer volunteers as a fence judge for the Green Mountain Horse Association, where she also participates in junior clinics. MacPherson said she’s bumped into Palmer at the local indoor rock climbing gym.

Getting to the skiing will be a little more challenging next winter for Palmer, when Hartford High moves the end of its school day back a half-hour, to 2:45 p.m.

“I’ll have to figure out my schedule in order to make it work,” she said. “It’ll be a lot harder to get to Woodstock. But I’m looking to have hopefully an online class or a block off. Being a senior, I can do that. I’m hoping to have that fourth block (off) so I could get out earlier and ski more.”

She laughs as she says this. It’s not as if spring has completely arrived.

“Luckily, I’m going to Jay Peak in the near future,” Palmer admitted. “I’ll get some skiing in before the season’s done.”

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