VERGENNES – COVID-19 shortened the seasons for Vergennes Union High School teams in 2020, but that did not hurt their performance on the field.
Both football teams excelled and the boys’ cross country team finished in a respectable fifth place in Division II.
While these teams are looking for more or better, two more sports are joining VUHS ‘fall program. Golf has been revived, although there are more college golfers than high school golfers. Still, a couple will compete for the Commodore varsity team.
And bass fishing, a college sport endorsed by the Vermont Principals’ Association, has drawn a half-dozen high school students, with more in college wings.
A number of VUHS students also play on the Mount Abraham-VUHS cooperative football team, which is previewed in the Mount Abe essay.
The women’s football team of co-coaches Dwight Irish and Peter Maneen have proven to be among the most successful in VUHS over the past few years. Granted, they lost to three different enemies, but the Commodores have made three consecutive appearances in D-III Championship games.
Obtaining the Irish degree was a bit difficult for the 2021 edition of the Commodores.
“Time will tell, especially with this group. We have lost a few key people, ”said Irish.
But Irish and Maneen saw a lot to like, starting with talents who should help the Commodores dictate play down center – and score goals.
Seniors Felicia Poirier, who went from flanking to attacking, is back, as is Ali Croke as a dangerous attacking central midfielder. Second-year student Kaelin Sullivan will work with Croke there, while second-year student Madelyn Giroux will line up as a central midfielder with a more defensive focus.
These four will be essential for the Commodores as they seek to control the action, Irish said.
“I like our strength in the middle,” he said.
Joining Poirier in the attack will be second year Siobhan Potter. Juniors Reese Gernander and Emily Lowe will likely run in midfield, overlapping in attack, with seniors Mykenzie Duffy and Ila Collette and juniors Eliana Matson and Frances Eckels also in the mix there. Ninth grade student Jing Williams will spell Sullivan and Croke in the middle.
Posts were on the move during the preseason, Irish said, and another key will be “to settle on a rotation … to allow the children to settle into their roles”.
In defense, senior Ella Hameline is the only one to return. She will play in the middle, probably in tandem with her classmate Anna Carr. Irish said Williams and his sophomore Lea Krause could also play in central defense.
Second-year students Alaina LeBeau and Emerson Rice plan to start on the defensive flanks, with junior Samantha Hallock seeing time. Junior Carlyn Rapoport takes over in goal.
Irish said the rebuilt defense is quick and athletic, but will need to adapt at the college level.
“We have decent speed at the back. Hopefully they learn the small parts of the game pretty quickly, ”he said.
Irish also noted that his and Maneen teams are used to understanding things.
“I hope it fits together and the students in the upper class have years of breakthrough, and we are just going to improve collectively,” he said. “This is what has served us well in the past.
The Commodore boys won the No.1 seed in D-III in 2020. But they were upset in a tense semi-final by eventual champion Peoples and finished at 8-2-1, the highest grade in the program for many years.
Coach Kevin Hayes’ schedule has lost a half-dozen senior starters, but Hayes wasn’t singing the preseason blues: he said young players have matured to complement returning veterans.
“We have filled quite well. The program is doing pretty well, ”he said.
With plenty of midfield talent, Hayes also plans to move up to a 3-5-2 (three defenders, five midfielders, two forwards), using senior Jade Edwards, junior Jack Wyman and the second Oakley Francis in center midfielder, with senior Alisdair Chauvin spelling them out.
“We’re running a different system this year, with three guys in midfield (center), Oakley, Jade and Jack, and I think our strength will be there,” Hayes said, adding he was looking for a more patient offensive approach. . which will vary its tactics.
To help make this system work, Hayes will likely move senior Jonah Mahé to a more offensive position in the center-back, where he can use his speed to smother balls deep and counter-attacks and his football knowledge to anchor the rear line.
“The organization I see from Jonah right now looks very good. He can really get the ball out from the back, ”said Hayes, adding,“ He’s a great communicator. “
Senior transfer Michael Serpico looks like the likely start at right-back, with junior return Nate Muzzy on the left. Other nominees include Hayden Bowen senior and Gideon Palmer junior.
Defenders will line up in front of a new goalie Hayes calls poised and athletic: junior Abram Francis.
Flanking in midfield, Hayes planned to give the first blow to juniors Elijah Duprey and Parker Kayhart, juniors Henry Anderson, Eli Brace and perhaps Bowen spending time there as well.
Senior Ethan Gebo and junior Shamus Rooney, for whom Hayes has high expectations, are at least initially the better tandem up front, with senior Bradley Kutchukian and junior Xavier DeBlois in the mix as well. If Hayes thinks the offense needs a spark, he said he could also rearrange things and move Mahé to an attacking center midfielder or to the attacker.
Other positives that Hayes sees are the depth of the team and their attitude.
“They are a great bunch of guys,” he said. “They want to learn. “
Hayes said he was “quietly confident” about his team’s prospects.
“Every year I think we can do well,” he said. “Last year has been a great year, but again, let’s build on it. I know they’ve been hungry since last year to really take a step or two better. That’s the goal right now.
College substitute teacher and track coach Mary Neffinger succeeds longtime cross country coach Brad Castillo this fall. The former high school hurdler and discus thrower (and current endurance athlete) also plans to take the reins of the Commodore’s winter and spring track and field teams.
Neffinger’s first year of training at VUHS was the 2020-2021 season, but she has attended training seminars and will draw on her own knowledge of a variety of disciplines to move teams forward.
“I’m fairly new to this area,” she admitted. “But I’m really excited to develop the program.”
At the start of the preseason, cross country looked like it was facing a year of rebuilding. Five of the top seven runners who led VUHS to fifth place at the 2020 D-II State meet in Thetford have moved on, and no Commodore girl has raced there.
Elder Chris Therrien, who just completed a summer of basic training in the military, is back as a scoring runner. Sophomore Riley Gagnon raced for VUHS in Thetford last fall, and sophomore Calvin Gramling is coming back with decent results in 2020. sophomore Calder Rakowski and freshman Gray Fearon are the new arrivals on the boys’ side.
Neffinger saw a note of hope in the preseason when a trio of his riders performed well in the Vergennes Day 5 kilometer race.
“The three who made Vergennes Day, they all came in about 20 minutes to less than five seconds of each other, so they’ll be great training buddies. And I think they will be quite competitive, ”she said.
On the girls’ side, there are two high school riders who can compete in individual, Madeline DeGraaf senior and Torrey Hanna, ninth.
There are also about two dozen students in Grades 5-8 on the college team to give Neffinger hope for the future of his VUHS programs.
“Putting a strong team together, so that they can really grow together, is really what I hope to do,” she said. “I really like the idea of the high school kids mentoring the younger ones and all forming a big track family.”
Coach Jack McGuire oversees a bass fishing program with six college anglers joining the varsity team’s half-dozen for a sport the Vermont Principals’ Association has officially sanctioned.
McGuire, a Vergennes resident, describes himself as an avid recreational fisherman, but not a professional, who over time has become more involved in the sport statewide.
“Over the years it got bigger and bigger,” he said, adding: “People seem to think I’m a good fisherman.”
The VUHS program should be able to impose itself. The list includes a senior, Richard Cosgrove; juniors Kaitlyn Little and Jackson Coffey; and three freshmen, Brody McGuire, Felipe Sanchez and Zachary Norris.
McGuire hopes to train three days a week, weather permitting, including Saturdays.
The Commodores will travel to Lake Champlain for two tournaments based at the John Guilmette Fishing Access in South Hero, starting September 19. The championship will take place there on October 10.
A third tournament will feature anglers from Vermont against their New Hampshire counterparts.
McGuire said he looks forward to spending time on the water with the Commodore’s fishermen.
“I’m really excited to have this added as an option for a fall sport this year,” he said.
The other new option for VUHS student-athletes this fall started with a winter phone call from new Basin Harbor golf pro Alex Socinski, according to Maneen, also athletic director of the Northwestern School District of Addison.
Socinski, a Champlain Valley graduate who played golf there, remembered golfing at VUHS and asked Maneen if he could work to revive the sport, offering Basin Harbor as his home base.
“He reached out in the winter… to see if we would be interested,” said Maneen, adding that Socinski sees VUHS golf “as an opportunity to get more kids into the sport for life.”
Two freshmen from VUHS entered the college program, Reed Grant and Devon Greenough. Four middle school students also signed up and Maneen said they and the two freshmen attended sessions with Socinski at Basin Harbor this summer.
Grant and Greenough will compete as individuals this fall, and over the coming seasons the program should have enough competitors – four – to compete as a team.
Maneen is optimistic that golf will gain ground at VUHS.
“This is a great opportunity for kids who aren’t necessarily interested in soccer or cross country,” he said.