By Mal Boright
Footballs may or may not fill the air Friday, but distance runners’ feet will be pounding the ground Saturday as Champlain Valley Union High’s autumn sports season gets underway this weekend.
The football Redhawks open their eight-game regular season at Rutland High Friday night (7 p.m.). The cross country teams get moving Saturday morning (10 a.m.) with the annual relays at CVU.
All the sports have had success over the past decade. Here is how they stacked up last year:
Cross Country: Coach Scott Bliss’ girls captured their sixth straight state crown, making it 11 over the past 12 campaigns.
Girls soccer: Extended its Division 1 consecutive championships to four and enters the season with 44 straight victories.
Boys soccer: Lost to eventual champion South Burlington in a semifinal thriller on the Rebels’ turf.
Football: In an up-and-down season, gave Div. 1 runner-up St. Johnsbury Academy all it could handle in a late season road contest.
Girls’ volleyball: Won state championship.
Here is a look at each sport for 2015.
Bliss sees a girls team that needs time (it has it) to reach the Division 1 title goal that is always in the season game plan. But he also believes he has a challenger for the boys title.
“The boys are very strong this year,” Bliss said in a Sunday phone conversation. “We are returning six of our seven runners.”
The veterans are juniors Tyler Marshall (top runner in 2014), Calvin McClellan and Harkin Spillane, who missed much of last season with a foot injury. Joining them are seniors Tyler Wong, Elliott Eastman and sophomore Baxter Bishop.
The girls have four of their top seven runners back including top harrier junior Sophia Gorman, who took second place at the state meet. Junior Neara Heninger, sophomore Jennifer Ireland and Maeve Higgins join her from last year.
“We also have some decent young kids,” said Bliss.
He looks at the season “as a process” that reaches a completion with the late October state meet in Thetford.
“It’s still more than 60 days away,” he said. “Each week we take another step.”
Coach Kate McDonald’s Redhawks lost nine seniors to graduation, but thanks in part to a strong junior varsity team last year, the outlook is more promising than one might think.
“We will never know how we stack up until the first game,” she said. The season lid-lifter has Essex High meeting CVU in the Hinesburg hills Wednesday (Sept. 2) at 4 p.m.
Leading the sprinkling of veterans are three seniors—Kate Machavern (left wing from midfield), Emily Ray (midfield) and Stasha Rup (defense).
“I look to them to lead from their positions,” McDonald said.
Another senior, Tashia Pashby-Rockwood, will be in the goal after coming off a strong season.
Tryout numbers were down this year as 50 came out for the three teams compared with past hopefuls usually in the 60s. With so few schools—three, maybe—fielding jayvee B teams, that level may be scrubbed.
Also, jayvee coach Enid Wonnacott is taking a leave this fall and is replaced by one-time varsity coach (1990-2000) Sharon Ogden.
Coach Stan Williams is getting nine veterans back from 2014. While some key players have graduated, he says he has “a great returning group” to go with “some strong newcomers.”
Among the returnees is junior Sierra Morton, going into her third varsity season. Seniors Anne Keene and Megan Gannon are back along with tall midfielder Lia Gagliuso, who got clearance to play last week after being sidelined by shoulder injuries during last winter’s basketball campaign.
Senior Michaela Flore takes over in goal.
“All the returning veterans are going to play key roles,” said Williams adding that the team returned in “tremendous shape.”
He said a two-day trip to New Hampshire this past weekend went well. The Redhawks won their three scrimmage games and Williams saw “a lot of versatility” among his players.
Four returning starters and eight others with significant playing time in 2014 will be the boys soccer leaders as they work to meet the usual high expectations for this storied program.
“We lost 11 players, but the newcomers are strong and ready for starting roles,” said second-year coach Katie Mack, noting that last season’s junior varsity team was undefeated.
She called senior Cooper O’Connell a huge part of the squad, versatile for both midfield and back. Trey and Tawn Tomasi bring lightning speed to the outside attack, along with Joe Parento.
Mack believes the back line is in good shape while freshman Aiden Johnson and junior George Davis (up from jayvee team) compete for the goalkeeper’s slot.
Overall, the coach believes the team still has speed, a high soccer I.Q. and good technical skills.
A home scrimmage against visiting Fairfax, Va. was scheduled for Tuesday. The season opener is set for Thursday (Sept. 3) against Rice Memorial (5 p.m.) at the Essex High Tournament.
New head coach Mike Williams called his first days as the Head Redhawk “a great two weeks.”
“Offensively we are getting better. We are understanding what we need to do and we are working on the small stuff,” Williams said over the weekend. “We are becoming more physical and getting confident in what we do. We are not yet where we need to be.”
He said in a recent scrimmage against Mount Mansfield Union, the offense started well and the defense played well toward the end of the scrimmage.
To move the ball, Williams has two returning quarterbacks, Andrew Bortnick and Jake Evans.
“I have confidence in both,” Williams said.
Rich Lowrey heads a bevy of backs to tear up yards overland, while a solid group of pass receivers starts but does not end with Jack Dugan, Sam Mikell and Trevor Kingston.
As for Rutland High where the Redhawks open Friday, Williams says he hears the Red Raiders have good kids coming back.
Coach Gino Johnson says he has a “solid core of girls,” back from the 2014 title team, plus a strong group of incoming freshmen.
A junior varsity team is being added.
The non-league season opener is Sept. 4 at home against Burlington High.