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IMHO: A Winning Year in Upper Valley Sports, From A to Z

  • Hartford High School Principal Nelson Fogg talks about Luna Ricker during a retirement reception at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on June 4, 2018. Ricker has been at the school for 38 years. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Dartmouth College head ice hockey coach Eddie Jeremiah is shown in an image from the 1955 Aegis yearbook. Current Big Green coach Bob Gaudet broke Jeremiah's school record for coaching wins in 2018.

  • Sharon junior Fisher Kelley strings the piece of net he cut from the hoop through his state championship medallion after they defeated Danville to win the Division IV title in Barre, Vt., on March 19, 2018. Kelley and Sam Knoerlein scored a combined 42 points in Sharon's 60-56 win. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Oxbow pitcher Maddie Fornwalt reaches for the ball after knocking down a hit from a Lyndon batter at Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Lyndon won 16-4. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon's Kath Merchant competes in the weight throw at the Dartmouth Relays on Jan. 6, 2017 in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Top row, left to right: Windsor High girls basketball player Olivia Rockwood; Upper Valley Nighthawks pitcher and Hartford High graduate Jordy Allard; Woodstock high football players Micah Schlabach, left, and Ben Marsicovetere. Middle row, left to right: Dartmouth All-American Isiah Swann, left; Lebanon golfer Pat Pelletier. Bottom: The Hanover High girls hockey team. (Valley News file photographs; Valley News Illustration — Dave Bailey)

  • Micah Schlabach, left, congratulates Ben Marsicovetere for scoring on a long touchdown run in the second quarter of their Division III championship game against Poultney in Rutland, Vt., on Nov. 10, 2018. Woodstock won, 28-21. (Valley News - Rick Russell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former Hartford High School player Jordy Allard pitches at a game for the Upper Valley Nighthawks on June 10, 2018 in Hartford, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Windsor sophomore sensation Olivia Rockwood cuts a piece of the net with the rest of her teammates after they defeated Thetford 51-34 to win the Division III state championship in Barre, Vt., on March 10, 2018. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com

  • Hanover girls hockey player Maggie Lee, center, gives a high five to teammate Kelly Citera, right, when coming out of the locker room before their game with Berlin-Gorham in West Lebanon, N.H., on Feb. 1, 2018.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kiana Johnson, of Thetford, center, celebrates with teammates, from left, Madi Powers, Emi Vaughan, Namya Benjamin, and Ellen Veracka, after scoring the first goal of their VPA Division 3 Championship with Vergennes Union at Randolph Union High School in Randolph, Vt., Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. Thetford won 2-1. (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 Sports Editor
Monday, December 31, 2018

Do you read without turning the pages of a book? Shame on you if you do.

The holidays have come and gone without my wife gifting me a Kindle or any such electronic reading device. She’s a wise woman. She knows I’d gladly sustain a paper cut as the cost of holding a good book in my hands. I enjoy the tactile sensation of turning a page — or folding a newspaper to a convenient shape — and if I get dirty fingertips from the ink, so be it. That’s why there’s soap.

Besides, we have record books instead of record Nooks for a reason. As sports writers and consumers, we measure the accomplishments of the year against what has come before. When it’s all said and done, we record them on paper and file them away for fond recollection at another time.

I’ve been trying to maintain that habit in the form of an Upper Valley sports year in review since assuming this job three years ago. The time required to construct an alphabetized series of highlights reminds me of how much has occurred in the area since 2018 got started.

This is by no means an exhaustive list; I mean, c’mon, there’s only so much paper, and we have to get an English Premier League story in somewhere. (Wink, wink.) It is an attempt to represent the wide range of news that made the Valley News over the past calendar year, to both celebrate victories and recall losses.

And thus, we turn the page …

A: Vermont’s Act 46 school-consolidation law led to a significant reshuffling of the Upper Valley’s high school landscape, with Whitcomb and South Royalton merging to form the White River Valley School, while Chelsea and Rochester went dark and scattered athletes around to several locales. Before turning out the lights, however, Whitcomb-Rochester softball produced the ultimate walk-off, beating Proctor, 8-7, on June 9 for the VPA Division IV championship at Castleton University on Toni Turner’s bottom-of-the-seventh-inning RBI single in 21-year coach Ray Colton’s final game. South Royalton didn’t miss the limelight, either, winning a D-IV boys track title and making the D-IV baseball final.

B: The area added a new name to its NHL roster when Canaan’s Gavin Bayreuther was called up to the Dallas Stars on Nov. 15. After a fine rookie season in which the St. Lawrence University graduate helped the AHL’s Texas Stars to the Calder Cup Final, leading the team’s defensemen in scoring, Bayreuther posted two goals and three assists in 19 games with the big club before returning to the minors on Friday. Given Dallas entrusted him with more than 18 minutes of ice time per game, his future is certainly in Big D.

C: It’s taken a long time, but West Fairlee’s Tara Geraghty-Moats finally saw women’s FIS Continental Cup Nordic combined competition come to fruition this winter, and she has all but owned it. Geraghty-Moats won the first three events of the inaugural circuit and is 10 points off the series lead with five events scheduled in Europe in 2019. Next on Geraghty-Moats’ to-do list: Get women’s Nordic combined — the union of ski jumping and cross country skiing — onto the Olympic schedule. It’s currently the only Olympic snow sport event that doesn’t have a women’s competition.

D:Dartmouth football enjoyed a fine, and unexpected, season with a 9-1 overall mark and a 6-1 Ivy League. Picked sixth in the league’s preseason poll, the Big Green was in the championship conversation from the get-go. Cornerback Isiah Swann fronted the news, winning Ivy League defensive player of the year honors and landing on at least three national All-America first teams for leading the country in interceptions. Sophomore quarterback Derek Kyler finished second in the nation in completion percentage (.689) and capably swapped pass-run responsibilities with wildcat QB Jared Gerbino. A big line made the Big Green a running threat (11th-ranked rushing offense in FCS), and Dartmouth backed it up with the fourth-best defense (280.4 yards allowed per game) in the country. Only a 14-9 loss to undefeated Princeton in November kept the Big Green from wearing a crown at season’s end.

E: Field hockey equaled excellence in the Upper Valley in 2018. There were no losing records during the regular season among the eight area programs. Two teams, Lebanon and Woodstock, made the semifinals of their respective state tournaments. Hanover reached the final in NHIAA Division II, dropping a 1-0 decision to Derryfield. And Mascoma broke a 35-year D-III championship drought on Oct. 28 with a 1-0 blanking of Hopkinton to cap a run of seven straight shutouts to end the year.

F: Finally — after a long series of near-misses — some expected, some heart-breaking — Sharon Academy brought home the school’s first VPA state team championship when the Phoenix completed an undefeated campaign with the Division IV boys basketball title on March 19 at the Barre Auditorium. Featuring a veteran roster boosted by the transfer of former Hartford athlete Austin Gaudette, Sharon edged Danville, 60-56, to earn a first state banner for the TSA rafters.

G: Threats to two Upper Valley golf courses stepped up to the tee in 2018. Dartmouth, after announcing that shuttering Hanover Country Club and selling off its land would be considered to help close a $17 million budget gap, eventually backed off after a study committee recommended a new clubhouse and course rerouting options instead. In December, the Lebanon Planning Board effectively put down a threat to Carter Country Club from owner Doug Homan, who wanted to build homes and re-site the nine-hole layout. Another plan remains possible, but the ball is in Homan’s court for the time being.

H: Hoops success, as it often does, landed on Windsor High’s doorstep in deuces in March. The girls avenged a bitter VPA Division III defeat from 2017, topping Thetford on March 10 at the Aud. (More on that when you get to R.) One week later, the Yellowjacket boys repeated the feat, riding a career-high 36 points from Seth Balch for a D-III victory over Williamstown for longtime coach Harry Ladue’s fifth crown.

I: Hanover did a rare ice hockey double in March, the girls and boys teams winning NHIAA Division I state championships on the same day and at the same arena. Woodstock High’s boys went 22-0-1 to claim the VPA Division II crown, and all three accomplished their feats with high-end scorers leading the way. The likes of David Lehmann, Bri Laycock and Steven Townley have all moved on, leaving squads still capable of repeating at states but using more of a team-centered approach to get there.

J: It’s been a long time since Eddie Jeremiah patrolled a Dartmouth hockey rink, but he was back — if only in spirit — when current Big Green men’s hockey coach Bob Gaudet became the Big Green’s all-time winningest coach on Nov. 30 in a 3-2 win over Cornell at Thompson Arena. The victory was Gaudet’s 309th with his alma mater over 22 seasons, surpassing Jeremiah, who guided Dartmouth through its golden age in the 1940s and ’50s before landing in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973.

K: Hanover once again got its kicks on the soccer field. The defense-first Marauder girls claimed an NHIAA Division II state championship by allowing just 10 goals in 20 matches with 13 shutouts; the last six came consecutively, including four in a postseason in which Hanover twice claimed scoreless ties on penalties. On the boys’ side, junior Charlie Adams broke the school career scoring mark, landing on the United Soccer Coaches’ all-New England team and the first Allstate All-American team, which could result in further national recognition down the road. (Psst: Don’t look now, but he’s also leading the Upper Valley in boys basketball scoring. Dude has game.)

L: If you needed someone capable of lengthy throws, Lebanon High’s Kath Merchant was your athlete in 2018. On May 26, Merchant broke her own NHIAA Division II outdoor track and field record in the javelin with toss of 136 feet, 4 inches in the state meet at Kennett High. She finished with a double defense of that event and the shot put (38-11) at states, then won both events again a week later at the NHIAA Meet of Champions at Merrimack High.

M: Scoring 1,000 points in a basketball career is perhaps the most recognized milestone in Upper Valley high school sports, and it happened more than a few times in the calendar year: Rivendell’s Riley Thomson (Jan. 30); Oxbow’s Ben Emerson (Feb. 19), Thetford’s Dylan Thorburn (Feb. 28), Windsor’s Olivia Rockwood (Dec. 14), Thetford’s Jake Colby (Dec. 22) and, at the college level, Dartmouth’s Kate Letkewicz (Feb. 16) and Norwich University’s Shyann Josler (Feb. 6), who did the same thing in high school at TA. At least two other Upper Valley girls, Lebanon’s Rebecca Wright and Thetford’s Kiana Johnson, should eclipse the grand mark in the next few weeks.

N: As if to show its relevance at the state level, Hanover Country Club capably hosted the New Hampshire Golf Association Amateur Championship in July. An emergency fill-in when North Conway Country Club had to bow out, HCC ran the state am with nary a hitch. Lebanon High graduate Pat Pelletier won the individual qualifying medal and made his way to the match-play final before falling to Southern New Hampshire University golfer Matthew Paradis.

O: Oxbow softball retained its perch atop VPA Division III on June 9 in a 2-1 defeat of BFA-Fairfax at Castleton University for its second successive state title. The Olympians are about to make a contribution to the college game as well: Senior Madison Fornwalt signed a national letter of intent to play the sport at Merrimack College and will be one of the athletes to help the Andover, Mass., school debut the sport at the NCAA Division I level this spring.

P: Pat Pelletier deserves his own line after perhaps his finest summer on the links. The onetime Raider and University of Rhode Island golfer racked up a slew of successes: low amateur at June’s Vermont Open, low amateur at July’s New Hampshire Open and a nine-stroke win at August’s N.H. Stroke Play championship along with his state am honors. That brought Pelletier the NHGA’s Thomas J. Leonard Player of the Year Award at season’s end, making him the third Upper Valley golfer (Nick MacDonald and Austin Eaton III are the others) so recognized in the award’s 26-year history.

Q: The year signaled quittin’ time for a bunch of veteran administrators and coaches, among them Hanover athletic director Mike Jackson, longtime girls basketball coach Hank Tenney, 25-year Lebanon boys soccer coach Rob Johnstone, veteran Norwich Recreation Department director Jill Kearney Niles and iconic Hartford trainer Luna Ricker. But the biggest goodbye came from Woodsville athletic director and boys soccer coach Mike Ackerman, who closed a four-decade career back in June. If his Facebook posts are any guide, he’s happily enjoying life as a hunting, fishing, skiing, traveling, vacationing, cooking and grandparenting retiree.

R: Time to recognize that rare state championship rematch, particularly when it involves neighbors. The members of the Windsor High girls basketball team kept 2017’s loss to Thetford loss in the VPA Division III girls basketball final — in which they surrendered a 15-point fourth-quarter lead — fresh in their minds through last winter and gained their own title on March 10 in a 51-34 defeat of the Panthers at the Barre Auditorium. Windsor-Thetford has since developed into a fun rivalry, with the squads having already played a pair of tight contests this season. Re-rematch, anyone?

S: White River Junction’s Upper Valley Aquatic Center wouldn’t be the regional nexus of youth and masters swimming that it is today without the work of Dorsi Raynolds, the facility’s first full-time coach. A onetime competitor and college coach before arriving at UVAC, Raynolds died on April 16 at the age of 54 following a long bout with cancer. In another note from the pool, Hanover’s boys and girls — some of whom competed for Raynolds at UVAC — swept to the programs’ first NHIAA state swimming and diving championships at UNH in February.

T: As in girls basketball, Thetford girls soccer has made deep state tournament runs a recent habit. On Nov. 3, the Panthers’ Kiana Johnson and Namya Benjamin turned two Casey MacVeagh-served corner kicks into goals for a 2-1 defeat of Vergennes in the VPA D-III final in Randolph. TA has won the last two D-III championships, has made the state final three years running, has visited the title game four times in six years and has advanced to at least the semifinals in six of the past seven autumns.

U: Summer baseball continued to take root at the Maxfield Sports Complex, as the Upper Valley Nighthawks saw their average home attendance jump to nearly 500 per game even as the team missed the New England Collegiate Baseball League playoffs for the first time. Coach Jason Szafarski’s status for this summer is uncertain, however, after he recently left St. Michael’s College to become an assistant at Connecticut’s Trinity College.

V: Victory is a familiar sensation at Sunapee High, where the girls’ athletic teams have accumulated plenty of hardware in recent years. This time around, the Lakers’ boys soccer team made the news with the school’s first NHIAA Division IV state crown, won in dramatic fashion. Sunapee did it with defense, taking all four of its tournament games via shutout. Parker Reed’s dramatic free kick ousted Littleton in an overtime semifinal, and Michael Mullen’s 36th goal of the season two minutes from full time settled a 1-0 defeat of Newmarket in the final. Defender Matt Nangeroni and midfielder Gabe Spaulding later joined Mullen on the D-IV all-state first team.

W: All of the pieces fell in place for coach Ramsey Worrell and Woodstock High football during an undefeated championship season this past fall. The Wasps returned a veteran team while the bulk of their VPA Division III rivals were retrenching. Woodstock roared through its schedule rarely challenged and ultimately rounded off the perfect campaign with a 28-21 defeat of Poultney in Nov. 10’s state final in Rutland.

X: Until the next Upper Valley xylophone prodigy is revealed, this letter will be reserved for XC accomplishments. Behind the winning efforts of senior Owen Deffner, Thetford’s boys claimed their first VPA Division III state cross country championship since 2010 in October. Woodstock’s girls put two runners in the top eight and finished fourth as a team in D-II. In New Hampshire, Hanover boys were third in D-II and Lebanon’s girls a program-best fourth in D-III at the NHIAA state meet. At the college level, Dartmouth’s women took second at the Northeast regionals to advance to the NCAA championship as a team.

■Y: Windsor’s Yellowjacket boys concluded a school-year sweep in 2018. After closing 2017 with a football crown, many of the same athletes united to win boys basketball and baseball championships in 2018. Beyond that, Jacks named Balch — Seth at quarterback, Greg coaching — later led Vermont to a 24-13 win over New Hampshire for the Green Mountain State’s third straight Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl victory, something that hasn’t happened since 1975-77 and has only occurred three times in the game’s 65-year history.

Z: Now that they’ve reached the zenith of VPA girls tennis, the Woodstock Wasps apparently want to build a nest. The Wasps broke a 17-year state championship drought in 2017, then upped the ante with their second crown in a row on June 5 with a 5-2 win over previously undefeated Harwood. Woodstock ended the year with a perfect 17-0 mark.

There you have it. Another year has hit the books.

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