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IMHO: A letter (or 26) for the year departed

  • Newport (N.H.) Golf Club member Idabelle Mills, of Newport, looks out at the course from the club house before the auction for the property Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Boston College's Taylor Soule, front, moves by Notre Dame's Jessica Shepard during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

  • Jamie Denver, of Shawmut Design and Construction, takes video of himself as Ben Lovejoy, of Enfield, climbs the stairs in Baker Tower in Hanover Monday, August 1, 2016. The tower is under construction but Lovejoy, a 2006 Dartmouth College graduate and a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins cup-winning team, was granted access to have his picture taken with the cup on a balcony overlooking campus. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Masaki Aerts, right, cradles Saturday’s winning catch at Harvard Stadium in the crook of his left elbow, giving Dartmouth a 9-6 victory on the final play of the Ivy League game. (Tris Wykes - Valley News) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • White River Valley's Fiona Vaillancourt, left, and Paige Ballentine hoist the hardware after the Wildcats defeated BFA-Fairfax 7-3 to win the Division III state championship in Castleton, Vt., on June 8, 2019. It is the first championship for the first-year team from the merged Bethel and Royalton school districts. (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 is chased by Thetford's Grace Davis after a Rockwood's steal during their game in Windsor, Vt., on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. Windsor won 53-50. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • First-place finisher Tara Geraghty-Moats, center, of the United States, shares the podium with second-place finisher Norway's Gyda Westvold Hansen, left, and third-place finisher Russia's Stefaniya Nadymova, right, after the women's 5km cross country race at the Nordic Combined Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019, at Soldier Hollow Nordic Center, in Midway, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

  • The Upper Valley Nighthawks' Cole Frederick, left, talks to first-base coach Brandon Eady during a New England Collegiate Baseball League game at the Maxfield Sports Complex in White River Junction, Vt., last summer. Frederick was the NECBL's top batter last season, posting a league-best .395 average. (Valley News — Tris Wykes) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Greg Fennell. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 1/4/2020 10:27:53 PM
Modified: 1/7/2020 8:33:50 PM

We who occupy the darkest corner of the Valley News office — the one where the lights are turned on only when they absolutely must be — realize working sports means rarely having to leave the sandbox.

Any given year is marked by games, games and more games. With more than a dozen high schools and an Ivy League athletic program to monitor, not to mention a slew of other sports, the highlights gradually build as the calendar’s pages turn. Championships and near-misses come from expected and unexpected sources; moments of brilliance, individual and collective, accumulate to fill the narrative.

Stories aren’t always defined by the spaces in between the stripes, of course. Real life intervenes, reminding us that even though we sometimes get to cast aside our anxieties when the whistle blows, reality is waiting once the final buzzer sounds.

As the year and decade close, it’s time for our annual attempt at an alphabetical accounting of some of the top moments and stories that made our pages in 2019. It’s by no means exhaustive, but I hope it at least provides a momentary pause to remember another year of many highs and occasional lows.

A: As 100th birthday presents go, it stunk. Newport Golf Club, born in 1919 and overburdened by debt for the second time in less than two decades, was sold to a Kentucky bank for $800,000 at a public auction on April 30. First Southern National, which earlier in the year had filed a lawsuit against Newport owners Nick, John and Joe Catsam to recoup its mortgage, later hired Nick Catsam to oversee work that led to the course’s better-late-than-never opening in June. Although Newport remains up for sale, all parties indicate the course will reopen for the 2020 season. Let’s hope so; it’s a civic gem.

B: The Upper Valley sends scores of athletes on to college programs, but only rarely do they land in NCAA Division I situations. West Lebanon’s Taylor Soule may top all of them. The Kimball Union Academy graduate enjoyed a solid freshman year with the Boston College women’s basketball team, starting 20 of 29 contests and averaging nearly 8 points a game. She’s continued the upward trend as a sophomore, scoring at a 13 ppg clip with 11 starts in 12 games for the Eagles heading into the new year.

C: Cancer claims lives every day, a fact the Upper Valley coaching community unfortunately realized twice in recent months. Longtime Lebanon High baseball coach Doug Ashey, 68, died on Oct. 29 only a month or so after his diagnosis; he spent 18 years capably guiding the Raiders on the diamond. Dartmouth College also sustained a loss when Sandra Ford-Centonze died from the disease on Dec. 14; Ford-Centonze, who was in her 28th year as a Big Green women’s track and field coach, was just 59 years old.

D: This letter belongs to Dartmouth football and the defense that helped the Big Green return to the Ivy League summit in November. The guys responsible for stopping the other guys ranked near the top nationally in a number of defensive metrics, resulting in a 9-1 overall slate, a 6-1 league mark and the program’s 19th Ivy championship, a record. Reflective of the team’s defensive excellence, linebacker Jack Traynor won the Bushnell Cup as the league’s top defender, cornerback Isiah Swann landed on four different All-America teams and Buddy Teevens won Ivy coach of the year honors as he became the program’s winningest bench boss.

E: Dartmouth men’s hockey saw the end of an era when former Big Green standouts Ben Lovejoy and Lee Stempniak retired from the NHL. Lovejoy, the Canaan native, played parts of 11 seasons and won a Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2016. Stempniak spent 14 years in the league with 10 different teams and is now the most prolific Dartmouth graduate in terms of NHL games (911), goals (203), assists (266) and points (469). Lovejoy and Stempniak were the last two active players from a Big Green program that, between 2005 and 2007, produced nine NHLers and a slew of others who played in the minors or in Europe. Dartmouth won’t see a similar run anytime soon.

F: For top-to-bottom excellence, Upper Valley sports offered high school field hockey in 2019. All eight area programs posted winning records last fall. Hanover and Windsor won state championships; a third team, Mascoma, reached its title game. The Marauders boasted a second-team All-American in goalie Ella Edmonds and three athletes (Edmonds, Macy Curtis, Kate Blaisdell) who will play D-I college field hockey either this fall or in 2021.

G: Only time will tell what the arrival of state-supported sports gambling will mean to the Upper Valley. I doubt claims of sports betting being a meaningful aid to education funding will amount to much; the $7.5 million that New Hampshire says will go to helping schools is a drop in the bucket of state education budgets measuring in the billions. Say this, however: Gov. Chris Sununu’s $82 wager on the program’s opening day predicting the Patriots to win the Super Bowl added a new definition to the phrase “sucker bet.”

H: The following nugget about Dan O’Rourke ran in an At The Hospitals column in the Valley News on Dec. 1, announcing his promotion at WRJ’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center: “In his spare time, O’Rourke coaches the girls varsity basketball team at Hanover High School.” Um, yeah. A cardiologist by trade, O’Rourke amassed his fourth NHIAA D-II state girls hoop crown in 18 years on the bench, guiding the Marauders to a 52-41 win over Kennett on March 8 in Manchester to close a 22-2 season.

I: With Kieth Matte taking a one-year sabbatical, Lebanon High brought back a familiar face, Dave Faucher, as interim boys basketball coach. A former assistant and head coach at Dartmouth, Faucher guided the Raiders to a 15-8 record and left the team in fine shape for Matte’s return this season.

J: With a roster short on length and rebounding last winter, Hanover High boys basketball coach Tim Winslow came up with an inspired strategy: Jack the 3-pointer, early and often. During a 10-11 season, the Marauders put up some interesting numbers: Of their 374 field goals, 184 of them were threes (49.1%). Three players (Nolan Gantrish, Charlie Adams, Hank Pikus) each nailed at least 40. Of the 12 players who saw varsity time, eight had at least one trifecta. By comparison, Hanover hit 122 free throws on the campaign. Run and gun lives!

K: Coach Paul Silva always finds a way to keep his Stevens High football teams in NHIAA contention, but the job is made much easier when the likes of senior Keeghan McAllister fill the roster. McAllister ran for 1,462 yards last fall — his third straight 1,000-yard campaign — to help the Cards reach the NHIAA D-III semifinals. He’ll graduate with more than 4,000 total offensive yards to his credit, certainly one of the most impressive careers in the Stevens program’s long history.

L: With each victory the Lebanon High football team recorded last fall, the question grew: Could they do it again? In the end, the Raiders couldn’t repeat their state championship season of 2010, falling in the D-III final to Trinity at UNH’s rainy, raw Wildcat Stadium on Nov. 24, 28-21. Still, Lebanon posted D-III’s best regular season record behind a prolific offense that included a calm quarterback in Jon Willeman (1,215 passing yards, 21 touchdowns) and a versatile back in Wade Rainey (21 TDs, 179 total points). The large throng that followed Lebanon to UNH for the title game also impressed in both size and rooting capacity.

M: Colorado lured Lebanon golfer Pat Pelletier in August, when he headed to Denver to play the U.S. Mid-Amateur for the first time. The invitation came about because of Pelletier’s successes since regaining amateur status, including two straight New Hampshire Stroke Play titles and finishes of eighth in the New England Amateur at the Quechee Club, fourth at the Vermont Am and a tie for second among amateurs at the Vermont Open. That, along with other results over two years, produced enough World Amateur Golf Rankings points to net Pelletier’s championship invite. (Another golfing M: Hanover’s Meredith Morhun won the school’s first NHIAA championship-flight girls golf crown in October.)

N: Tara Geraghty-Moats continues to be a leading light in women’s Nordic combined competition. The West Fairlee native won last year’s FIS Continental Cup circuit championship, showing her cross country chops as well as her ski jumping abilities. FIS is scheduled to make the sport a World Cup-level tour next year; the Olympics will hopefully be not too far behind. Geraghty-Moats deserves credit for her skills as well as her drive.

O: The area will add another NCAA D-I women’s basketball player when Windsor’s Olivia Rockwood heads to Maine in the fall. Between now and then, however, the high-scoring Rockwood — she entered this winter about 500 points short of 2,000 for her career — will attempt to confound defenses and team up with the athletic Yellowjackets as they pursue another VPA D-III girls hoop crown.

P: Penalty kicks? Please! Hanover High’s girls and boys soccer teams climbed to the summits of their NHIAA divisions in the most agonizing manner, with PK shootouts in their state finals on back-to-back days. Both teams played scoreless draws in their title games — the boys against Bedford on Nov. 9, the girls against Bow about 24 hours later — necessitating the spot-kick solution. The boys won, 3-2, for their third shootout decision in four NHIAA D-I tournament matches. The girls prevailed, 4-2, to complete an undefeated D-II state championship defense.

Q: Here’s one way to define quality — succeeding in two distinctly different forms. Woodstock High boys hockey won its second straight VPA Division II state championship in March in a 3-1 defeat of Colchester at UVM’s Gutterson Field House. The Wasps claimed D-II honors in 2018 on the back of a dynamic scorer (Steven Townley, who has since committed to Dartmouth). Without a high-end forward, Woodstock repeated by riding a stifling defense that recorded nine shutouts and surrendered a paltry 23 goals during a 16-2-3 campaign.

R: Skate, win, repeat: Hanover High girls hockey continued its reign over the NHIAA with a 4-1 win over Exeter in the D-I state final in Manchester on March 9. The Marauders won every state crown handed out in the past decade, all by at least two goals. It did so in a single-division league that’s showing signs of needing to split, but until it does, expect more Marauder domination on the ice.

S: More than 25 years after Bobby Clark coached his last Dartmouth game, his Upper Valley college soccer connections endure. Clark’s youngest son, Washington coach Jamie Clark, and one of the elder Clark’s last Big Green goalkeepers, Georgetown coach Brian Wiese, collided in the NCAA men’s soccer quarterfinals on Dec. 7, with Wiese’s Hoyas claiming a 2-1 victory in Washington. Wiese would guide Georgetown to its first national championship eight days later, claiming a wild 3-3 draw with Virginia in a — what else? — seven-round PK shootout.

T: If it’s March, it must be time for the Thetford Academy girls basketball team to schedule its annual trip to Barre Auditorium. Coach Eric Wards’ Panthers have become a clock-setting machine, with eight consecutive trips to the VPA Division III semifinals and a six-year run of finals appearances. TA won its third championship in that stretch on March 9 with a 42-36 defeat of Oxbow. Thetford’s boys made it a double a week later with a 73-64 title-game defeat of Williamstown in their D-III final.

U: Although the Upper Valley Nighthawks narrowly missed the New England Collegiate Baseball League playoffs for the second straight summer (and lost their nonprofit status for the time being to boot), the fourth-year franchise did net its first two major postseason honors. Wichita State’s Aaron Haase won the Joe Nathan Top Reliever award for his NECBL-leading nine saves, and infielder Cole Frederick was the league batting champion with a .396 average, the best by a league leader in seven seasons.

V: As if double victories on the hardwood wasn’t enough, Thetford swept the Vermont D-III boys and girls track championships at Windsor’s Murphy-Morse Complex on June 1. A late kick from freshman anchor Madi Powers in the girls 4x400 relay netted the Panther girls a one-point win over Woodstock in the team standings. Thetford enjoyed a more comfortable 55-point decision in the boys meet behind event victories from Knute Linehan (high jump) and Tad Darrah (800-meter run).

W: While the White River Valley School District came from a controversial political initiative that ended the histories of two rival high schools (South Royalton and Whitcomb), it did produce a noteworthy first athletic season. The Wildcats’ baseball and softball programs won VPA Division III state championships within five hours of each other, baseball beating Vergennes in Burlington and softball besting BFA-Fairfax in Castleton. The new school nodded to the past by adopting SoRo gold and Whitcomb green for its colors.

X: An xample (see what I did there?) of the importance of youth sports: The Woodstock High girls hockey program’s run to the VPA D-II championship game in March wouldn’t have happened if Wasps coach Ian Coates hadn’t revived girls-only youth hockey in the town seven years ago. The young girls of then populated last winter’s Woodstock roster. Even though the Wasps came up short in a 3-1 finals loss to Missisquoi, their progress should serve as reminder to all about the importance of giving kids an early start in any sport in order to enjoy success down the road.

Y: Dartmouth football did its part to highlight the college game’s 150th anniversary season with a 27-10 win over Princeton at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 9. The Big Green jumped to a 17-0 lead, led by at least 10 points the rest of the way and produced a dominant victory to avenge a narrow loss to the Tigers in 2018 that ultimately denied Dartmouth a share of the Ivy championship.

Z: How many Hanover High boys soccer scoring records exist without Charlie Adams’ name atop them? Zero. The striker’s 20-goal, 23-assist campaign last fall completed a revision of the Marauders’ annals. Adams broke Eric Jayne’s goals mark, Ben Mackinnon’s assists standard and Jayne’s points record in a career that ended with 64 goals, 54 assists and 118 points. Adams is off to Brown University this fall.

And we’re off to record another year of Upper Valley sports accomplishments.

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




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