Resiliency, Hope, Breakthroughs, and Countless Thank Yous in 2021

by Ken Brown
photo by Vanessa Fournier | Hazen varsity coach Aaron Hill (center) talks to his team during a recent home game time out. Seated (from left): Carter Hill, Gabe Michaud, Xavier Hill, Tyler Rivard, Lincoln Michaud, Jadon Baker. Standing (from left): Ryan Morrison, Fenton Meyer, Ryker Willett, Aasha Gould (in back) Khamden Luangrath, team manager Zeke Wohlberg, assistant Coach Travis Hill and J.V. coach Mike Baker.

NORTHEAST KINGDOM – High school winter sports endured a COVID-shortened season in 2021, making scheduling almost impossible from week to week, ending programs’ seasons prematurely, and robbing many student athletes of what might have been. The spring and fall seasons served as a coming out party for several local programs as they finally broke through after years of struggling. 2021 will mostly go down as a year of gratitude and many thank yous for the resiliency and extraordinary efforts made by student-athletes, parents, coaches, officials, and athletic directors from around the state to give these high school sports seasons a chance of even happening.

COVID didn’t rob head coach Aaron Hill and his Hazen Union boys’ basketball team a chance at a third straight Division III Final Four appearance last season. An improbable falling-out-of-bounds buzzer-beater by Enosburg’s Devyn Gleason that did. The abbreviated season had already denied senior sharpshooter Isiah Baker from becoming Hazen’s all-time leading scorer and Gleason’s miraculous heave also ended a possible storybook ending for one of the best outside shooters in Vermont high school history. Baker finished his career as the second all-time leading scorer in school history behind Tim Shedd and was also a three-time Vermont Dream Team selection. 

Head coach Chris Hudson returned his Twinfield-Cabot boys’ basketball team back to the Division IV Final Four, but an injury to leading scorer Gavin Fowler ultimately derailed their title chances. An abbreviated schedule also robbed Fowler of having his name up in the rafters as a 1,000-point career scorer; a late-season leg injury forced the two-time VT Dream Dozen selection to watch from the sidelines during the postseason. 

Craftsbury Academy athletic director Gabriela Silva, with help from a few local student-athletes, recruited enough girls for the Lady Chargers to field a varsity girls’ basketball team for the first time since their Division IV Final Four appearance since 2017. There is a rekindled interest in Craftsbury athletics at the Common and Silva is putting in overtime to resurrect their varsity programs. 

In just his second season as skipper, Spencer Howard’s Hazen Union baseball team had the town of Hardwick dreaming of their first Division III state championship in decades. Howard’s Wildcats won 12 games this past spring, including their first home playoff win and first trip to the Division III Final Four since 2007. Sophomore hurler Lyle Rooney had an outstanding rookie season at the varsity level for Hazen, winning eight games that included a no-hitter against Danville in early May, earning him Co-Player of the Year honors in the Mountain League. Tyler Rivard was a wrecking ball in the middle of the Wildcat lineup and lone senior Ethan Shopland capped off his career with a stellar season as both players earned First Team selections. 

Craftsbury Academy’s (CA) Camille Bolduc put a bow on an incredible track and field career this past spring, winning three more individual state titles for the Chargers. Bolduc finished her career with five state titles and led CA to a school best third place overall finish in the Division IV girls’ state championships. Head coach Jeff Tucker also watched his CA boys’ team capture their best overall finish in the Division IV state championships behind a pair of star sophomores in Cormac Leahy and Charlie Krebs. Krebs won the 1500m state title by four tenths of a second and Leahy blitzed the 3000m field by almost eight seconds as the dynamic duo claimed their first of what could be many state titles for the Chargers. 

Hazen Union graduate Macy Molleur found the back of the net one more time over the summer for Team Vermont as she helped lead them to a 3-2 victory over New Hampshire in the 46th annual Lions Twin State Soccer Cup at Hanover High School. Molleur scored 16 goals for the Lady Cats in her senior campaign, finishing with 40 in her career. 

Twinfield-Cabot’s girls’ and boys’ soccer teams were the story this past fall as both programs announced their arrival back on the scene as Division IV contenders. Head coach Peter Stratman led his Trojans to their first Final Four appearance in 21 years after an impressive eleven-win season in the newly revampled Mountain League. Stratman’s squad had their second consecutive season with playoff success after going through an eleven-year drought before he took over the reigns three years ago. Sophomore Meles Gouge had a breakout season, leading the Trojans in scoring with 20 goals, earning him First Team Mountain League and VT All-State honors. After ten years of struggling to field teams and win matches, head coach Seth Willmott saw his five-year rebuild come to fruition this past fall as his Lady Trojans earned their first playoff victory since 2011. Willmott’s squad won an impressive nine games in the Mountain League and nearly pulled the upset over fourth-seeded Mount St. Joseph academy in the Division IV quarterfinals. Eva Hebert, Annie Dunlop, Holly Dunlop, and Ayden Corbette led Twinfield-Cabot to a Mountain League-high four First Team selections. Annie Dunlop led the Lady Trojans in scoring with 11 goals and was runner-up for Player of the Year honors. Hebert was Wilmott’s senior captain and capped off a stellar career with 10 goals, including two game-winners on the season. 

Senior Craftsbury Academy goalkeeper Jas Zendik joined Gouge as a Vermont All-State selection for his stellar play in net. It was a rebuilding year for the Chargers, but Zendik’s extraordinary talent between the pipes did not go overlooked as he posted a pair of shutouts and kept CA in several matches with countless acrobatic saves. 

It was a year of transition for the Hazen Union boys’ soccer team as they moved to the vaunted Capital Division and hired the first female coach to lead a boys’ varsity program in school history. Head coach Allison Paradee had a lot of challenges in front of her and her squad this past season, but led the Wildcats to an impressive seven-win season, including a first round win over Leland & Gray in the Division III playoffs. Senior midfielder Reed Kehler led the Wildcats down the stretch with four goals, including a hat-trick in their playoff win. His stellar season was rewarded with a First Team Capital Division selection, along with being named to the Vermont All-State team. 

As a sense of normalcy returns much slower than we all hoped for, local athletes doing extraordinary things in high school arenas remain a constant. The level of play and accomplishments we’ve witnessed throughout this pandemic cannot be applauded enough. The players, parents, coaches, officials, athletic directors, and everyone helping behind the scenes deserve a season-long standing ovation from all of us as fans return to gymnasiums this winter. Have a safe and Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!