Hartford girls lacrosse completes program turnaround with D-II title

  • Hartford goalie Sarah Howe, middle, photographs herself and her teammates with the VPA Division II championship trophy after winning their final game with Vergennes 10-7 in South Burlington, Vt., on Monday, June 13, 2022. The win caps off an undefeated season for the Hurricanes. (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 photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Hartford's Caroline Hamilton, middle, runs into pressure from Ava Konczal, left, and Safovra Camara, right, during their VPA Division II championship in South Burlington, Vt., on Monday, June 13, 2022. Hamilton scored three goals in the Hurricanes 10-7 victory. (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 — James M. Patterson

  • Beth Dobrich secures her braid during half time of the VPA Division II championship in South Burlington, Vt., on Monday, June 13, 2022. Hartford won the game with Vergennes 10-7. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford attacker Chloe Jensen charges up the field against Vergennes during the Hurricanes 10-7 win in the VPA Division II championship in South Burlington, Vt., on Monday, June 13, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hartford girls lacrosse Head Coach Heather Hartford gets dowsed in ice water by Abby Vanderpot, left, Caroline Hamilton, middle, and Jenna Jasmin after their 10-7 win over Vergennes in the VPA Division II championship in South Burlington, Vt., on Monday, June 13, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2022 9:40:58 PM
Modified: 6/13/2022 9:38:41 PM

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. — The spell is complete. The magic has fully taken hold. The transformation of the Hartford High girls lacrosse team is total.

With a 10-7 victory over Vergennes-Mount Abraham on Monday evening at South Burlington High, the Hurricanes (16-0) climbed the final rung from the Vermont Division II basement to its penthouse. Caroline Hamilton, one of the team’s 16 seniors, produced a hat trick and added an assist and freshman Madison Barwood scored twice as Hartford hung on despite scoring only one of the second half’s four goals.

“We had a fast, early start but they slowed down our momentum later on,” said Hurricanes coach Heather Hartford. “They brought a high-pressure defense and we got rattled.”

Hartford the team opened the scoring after only 11 seconds and scored on its first four shots for a 4-2 lead four minutes into the game. The Hurricanes were up, 9-4, at halftime and nothing suggested a VMA comeback.

The second-seeded Commodores (15-3) pulled within 10-7 with 4 minutes, 32 seconds to play. VMA had the momentum but couldn’t beat goaltender Sarah Howe, who made two of her eight saves during that critical stretch.

Howe, a senior who courageously went public with her mental-health issues as a sophomore, had never played the position before last season, when she didn’t see much time in goal. However, she won the job outright this spring and progressed to the point that her performance was a clear factor in the title-game victory.

“Most people know the adversity she’s faced,” Hartford said. “She’s really worked at lacrosse and she’s got that toughness you have to have at that position. She was a key component today.”

Said Hamilton: “She’s grown so much in the mental aspect of the game and it showed in her physical play. She became a great leader on our team, especially when people’s heads went down.”

Hartford’s previous coach, Jen Wheatley, took over in 2015, inheriting a program that had gone 8-78 the previous six seasons, including a winless campaign in 2014. A 2006 Hartford graduate who helped the Hurricanes reach the state semifinals as a senior, Wheatley nonetheless took the helm of a team that had never posted a winning record.

Hartford was 8-41 during three seasons under Wheatley, a former middle school coach, who through determination and force of personality, began to change the program’s hopeless culture. The Hurricanes were 6-11 in 2017, their best record in more than a decade. The eighth-seeded team defeated Woodstock in the playoffs’ opening round, its first postseason victory since 2008.

It seemed a stroke of bad luck when Wheatley had to resign for health reasons, but in stepped Heather Hartford. A Springfield, Vt., native who played three sports, including lacrosse, at Colby-Sawyer College, she was now a divorced mother with an empty nest who was looking to retire in her hometown.

Hartford had a connection with her eponymous school after coaching some of its middle-school students who traveled to play for a club lacrosse organization she oversaw in Georgetown, Mass. That’s how she heard of the Hurricanes’ coaching opening and how the program’s trajectory moved from a slow climb to a rocket launch.

“It didn’t take much arm-twisting for her to take the job,” recalled Hartford athletic director Jeff Moreno. “She taught the game very quickly and we were competitive immediately. I told her that if she won a state title, we’d put her name on the school building and all our jerseys.”

Hartford the team, 15-99 during its previous nine seasons, reached the Division II semifinals in 2018, 2019 and 2021, the 2020 season being scrapped because of COVID-19. Last season ended in dramatic and heartrending fashion when the top-seeded Hurricanes attempted to hold the ball with a lead during the final minutes against St. Johnsbury, only to lose with seconds remaining.

“That’s a loss I’ll carry the rest of my life,” said Hartford on Monday, moments before being soaked by a bucket of ice-cold water. “We couldn’t get over the hump even though we were so close and this year we finally did it. The chemistry on offense and defense was amazing.”

Said Hamilton: “I haven’t stopped thinking about that (semifinal) since it happened. Every practice, I remembered how, at the very end, I turned around and saw (then-senior) Zoe Pfeiffer standing there, totally defeated. I couldn’t get it out of my head.”

Hamilton and classmate Elliot Rupp were a strong tandem in midfield all season. Hamilton skews towards the hard-nosed, barreling through ground-ball pickups and winning draw controls.

Rupp, a Windsor High student who’s off to play NCAA Division III soccer at Moravian College, in Bethlehem, Pa., is a more graceful and fluid athlete. Together they were unstoppable, one picking up for the other if she had an off day, working picks and passes and back-side cuts that opponents couldn’t contain.

“The music those two make when they’re cutting and sensing where the other one’s going is pretty to watch,” Hartford said. “You can see and feel Caroline’s intensity, while Elliot has that cleaner flow. They complement each other so well.”

The difference-maker was their boss, however. Hartford brings that ever-so-rare combination of knowledge, teaching ability and the slightest bit of swagger. Her players know they’ll rarely, if ever be out-coached and always expertly prepared.

“She is so intense and has a recipe for everything and wants us to remember what she calls the triple c: confidence, composure and control,” Hamilton said. “She’s so disciplined and every practice is structured and we work so hard. But it’s obvious she cares about us as people.”

Those people may now and forever revel in state-championship glory.

Notes: Cadwell returned during the season’s third week after suffering a knee injury during soccer in the fall. The sophomore has already scored more than 100 points in her high school lacrosse career… Hamilton, who said she’s played lacrosse with some of her classmates since elementary school, plans to play field hockey at St. Lawrence University and possibly walk on to the Saints lacrosse team next winter… Hartford beat visiting VMA, 16-3, on May 12… Wheatley roamed the sidelines after the victory, her face streaked with tears… The Hurricanes improved to 1-4 in state title games this school year for the “stick sports” of field hockey, boys and girls ice hockey and boys and girls lacrosse… Senior twins Sarah and Sophie Howe won a state title in softball as White River Valley High freshmen… Madison Barwood appeared in state title games in field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse this season.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.




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