The year in sports: Thrill rides and heartbreak1/8/09

Jan. 8, 2009

By Greg Duggan

Observer staff

In the world of local sports, 2008 brought surprise title runs and difficult losses. Unheralded teams emerged with championship hardware, while other teams that had dominated their sport for years stumbled. But as the saying goes, that’s why they play the games.

The champs

➢    Champlain Valley Union High girls tennis player Cassie Smith took home the school’s first title of 2008, winning the Vermont girls individual crown on June 1.

The triumph gave Smith, a senior, an undefeated season, but she had to work to earn the honor. A semifinal match against Millie Heckler of Stowe High lasted three hours, and did not end until Heckler bowed out due to exhaustion. One hour later, Smith returned to the court to face Amber Schneider of Rice Memorial High, winning the title in straight sets, 7-5 and 7-2.

Smith had played for the title the previous year, but fell in the championship match.

➢    Williston’s boys of summer took baseball fans on a thrill ride to Connecticut last year, competing in the New England Regional Little League Tournament after winning the Vermont title.


    File photo by Jeff Schneiderman
Hayden Smith celebrates on the way to second base after hitting a home run against Rhode Island in the New England Regional Little League Tournament.

The town’s 11- and 12-year-old Little League All-Star team used strong pitching, slick defense and timely hitting to capture the District I title and then the state championship before advancing to the semifinals of the regional tournament, the winner of which goes on to the Little League World Series.

The team had a hankering for stylish comebacks, often climbing out of deficits to win games with late-inning heroics. But the magic finally came to end on Aug. 7, when Williston lost 12-0 to Connecticut’s Shelton National, which advanced to the Little League World Series.

Back in Williston, residents celebrated the All-Stars with police escorts and barbecues.

➢    To take home the Division 1 field hockey championship, CVU’s squad had to do what no other team had done all season: beat Hartford High. But the Redhawks pulled off the feat, notching a 3-0 win in the Oct. 25 title match.


    File photo by Karen Pike
Champlain Valley Union High’s Katie Longshore (10), Lucy Barrett (2) and Emmaleigh Loyer (right) celebrate the field hockey team’s second goal of the first half during Saturday’s Division 1 championship game against Hartford in October. Longshore scored the goal, and CVU went on to win the game, held at University of Vermont, by a 3-0 score.

The victory earned CVU its first Division 1 field hockey hardware in school history. The only other title had come in 1998, when the school played in Division 2.

The Redhawks opened the game against Hartford playing hesitantly, but when Emmaleigh Loyer scored a little more than 12 minutes into the first half, the team turned up the heat for a dominating performance throughout the rest of the game.

The near misses

➢    Call it a chance to gain some experience.

The CVU boys hockey team may have lost 4-2 to Essex High in the Metro Division championship, but with only five seniors graduating from the team, the boys are poised to make another run in 2009. In fact, last year’s team had 11 freshmen and sophomores on the 23-man roster.

It took a double overtime, 5-4 win against Rutland High in the semifinals for the Redhawks to advance to the Feb. 21 championship game, the third matchup of the season between CVU and Essex. During the regular season, the teams tied 1-1 and Essex won 3-2.


    File photo by Karen Pike
Champlain Valley Union High’s Nick Hart (12) blocks a shot from Mount Mansfield Union’s Ian Shaw (10) while goalie Eric Palmer makes the save during a playoff game.


The Redhawks put up a fight through all three periods of the championship, but Essex’s fourth goal with just over four minutes remaining sealed the 4-2 win.

One of the most surprising facets of the game? Not a single penalty was called on either team.

➢    In the end, the defending champions of the girls basketball Division 1 title proved too much for CVU’s hoops squad. But the Redhawks’ hoopsters could take pride in their hard-fought matchup against Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High — it was CVU’s first appearance in the Vermont Division 1 title game since 1997.

The Redhawks earned the title trip by knocking off previously unbeaten Bellows Free Academy of St. Albans in the semifinals, 53-45, on March 4. About 1,500 fans turned out for the March 7 title game — nearly two-thirds apparently rooting for CVU — but the fifth-seeded Redhawks could not pull out a second upset.

The girls from CVU went down by 14 points early in the game’s third quarter. They twice climbed back to within a point, but the Patriots fended off the charges to emerge with a 56-48 victory.

➢    If the CVU boys lacrosse team can find a way to defeat their counterparts from Essex High, they may finally get that elusive Division 1 title.

The 2008 championship game marked the second time in a row Essex beat the Redhawks for the state title. It was CVU’s third loss of the year at the hands of the Hornets.

The Redhawks played the Hornets to a 4-4 tie at halftime of the June 16 championship, but Essex used a steady offense and tight defense to pull ahead in the second half. When the clock had run out, Essex had accumulated a 7-4 advantage on the scoreboard.

Dynasties fall

➢    The CVU’s boys soccer team lost its seemingly permanent grasp on the Division 1 state title this fall, when it lost its first playoff game in seven years. The Redhawks were bounced from the quarterfinals on Oct. 24 with a 2-0 loss to South Burlington High.

After losing 13 graduates from the 2007 team, CVU played the season with one of its youngest teams in years.

The game was a revenge of sorts for the Rebels, who suffered playoff losses to the Redhawks the previous three years — twice in the title game and once in the semifinals.

Despite graduating nine seniors, CVU will look to bounce back this fall by filling openings with players from the junior varsity’s undefeated 2008 squad.

➢    For five straight years the CVU girls cross country runners had owned the Division 1 state championship. But on a fall day at Thetford Academy, their reign came to an end. On Oct. 25, Essex High’s team beat CVU for the first time of the season at the state championship meet, ending the Redhawks’ bid for a sixth straight title.

Observer correspondent Mal Boright contributed to this story.