AUSTIN DANFORTH and ADAM SAMROV
Banner Sports Staff
It's the end of the week and, coincidentally, the end of another entertaining year of sports in Bannerland.
When it came time to review 2011, top to bottom, this month, we quickly remembered the sheer volume of memorable stories that had found their way to print on these very pages. There were (many) championships and milestones; great games, great goals and remarkable comebacks; in one case, even, an historic, broken gender barrier.
With those themes in mind, we offer you our ranking of the top 10 local sports stories of the past year.
1. Rachel Hale's historic wrestling championship
In its vaunted history, the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling program has churned out dozens of individual Vermont state champions -- 159 to be exact.
Among them, though, Rachel Hale is truly one of a kind.
On Feb. 26, the freshman etched her name into the record books as Vermont's first female state champion in the sport for which there is no girls-only competition in the Green Mountain State. Amidst an electric atmosphere on her home mat in Kates Gym, Hale fended off St. Johnsbury's Cody Jolley for the crown at 103 pounds, becoming only the third girl in the U.S. to accomplish such a feat.
It was the first of two landmarks that night for Mount Anthony, which also extended its national record with a 23rd consecutive state championship.
Fifteen minutes after Rachel Hale made history, her brother Zak won at 119, making them the first brother-sister championship duo in Vermont and only the second in the country.
Recognizing the magnitude of the moment -- which came several days after an Iowa boy defaulted in a state championship match rather than wrestle a girl -- the New York Times even sent a writer to chronicle what unfolded.
News flash: The Times isn't a regular member of the press corps at the Vermont high school wrestling tournament.
And now Rachel Hale, the top-ranked girls high school wrestler in the nation at 103, can shoot for more history. With another title this year, she could be the nation's first girl to repeat against the boys.
2. Devin Komline repeats as Vermont Amateur champion
It wasn't so much that Dorset's Devin Komline won his second straight Vermont Amateur golf championship.
It was how he won.
The Burr and Burton Academy grad left no doubt with a 12-under par total and an eight-stroke victory Neshobe Golf Club. Other golfers had better rounds, but no one had more of them.
Komline was the only player under par in every round. He torched the Brandon track for 23 birdies and an eagle in 72 holes -- that's one red number every three holes. During Thursday's 36-hole finale, he posted an eye-popping 14 birdies; he birdied the same five holes both times he looked at them.
When it came to dominating individual performances in 2011, you'd be hard-pressed to nail down one to beat out Komline, now a senior on the Augusta State team that has won the last two NCAA championships.
Look out for a three-peat when the Am sets up shop at Green Mountain National in Killington in 2012.
3. BBA boys soccer shoots back to the top
In 2010, the perennially powerful Burr and Burton boys soccer team hit a down year. Normally the class of the south, the Bulldogs were whipped to a 2-11-1 record, missing the playoffs for the first time in decades.
Not mincing words: 2011 was much, much different.
With a core of determined veterans and several talented newcomers, BBA shot from, essentially, worst to first, claiming the Division-II championship in November and the area's No. 3 sports story of the year.
During the Bulldogs' 15-2-1 campaign, they yielded a staggering nine goals -- the fewest in the state, across all divisions. They were dynamic in attack behind newcomers Rafael Atanazio, an international student from Brazil, and Greg Goldstone, a transfer from nearby Cambridge, which had dropped boys soccer this year.
The BBA boys' ninth state championship was their first since 2003.
4. BBA girls tennis perfection
The fourth championship in five years for the Burr and Burton girls tennis team -- the most recent of the current three-peat -- was one for the ages.
Ending the year on high with a 5-1 win against Montpelier in the Division-II title match on June 9, the Bulldogs completed a nearly flawless season at 16-0. But it was the stunning fashion in which they achieved perfection, winning 106 of 111 individual matches over the course of the season, that earned them the No. 4 spot on our year-end list.
In a season that better resembled a demolition tour, senior-laden BBA also beat D-I champion South Burlington in a regular-season showdown. Three singles players -- seniors Kerry Howard, Clare Kelley and freshman Maddy Pagnucco -- finished unbeaten.
They were, in a word, untouchable.
5. Hoosick Falls girls soccer claims N.Y. Class-C crown
The Panthers' anticlimactic finish, a 0-0 draw with Friends Academy in the Class-C state final, masked their primacy on the pitch last fall. It was a season impressive enough to land at No. 5 in our review of 2011.
Supremely balanced, and with talent at every position on the field, Hoosick Falls finished the year 20-1-2, outscoring opponents 108-15 in the process. And, yes, that's not a typo. Coach Tom Husser's team had an otherworldly +93 goal differential.
A freak 1-0 loss -- the Panthers outshot Hoosic Valley 28-2 but fell to a first-half penalty kick -- was Hoosick Falls' only blemish as it landed four all-state selections, including Co-Player of the Year Alice Hayden (a defender), and Co-Coach of the Year honors for Husser.
6. MAU wins first baseball championship in 15 years
Mount Anthony Union High School had an über-potent lineup with power throughout and two of the top starting pitchers in the state with Tony Baldic and Tyler Kunzmann. The Patriots rode the two juniors' arms all the way to the state title, their first since 1996.
After starting the season with seven straight wins, MAU lost four of five when a rash of injuries hampered the pitching staff. But the Patriots responded by reeling off seven straight wins, culminating in the state final.
As the No. 7 seed, Patriots faced off against No. 4 Rice, another team with a lengthy title drought, but Baldic and then Kunzmann held down the fort to allow the Patriots offense to come back. Nick Lloyd clocked a three-run homer over the left field fence to take a 7-5 lead, the go-ahead blow in an 11-5 victory.
7. Section II football juggernauts
The runs put together by the Hoosick Falls and Cambridge football teams in 2011 were something to behold. Both teams averaged nearly 50 points a game during the season, mauling the Section-II Class C and Class D fields, respectively.
The Indians led the section in scoring with 582 points. The Panthers were the only other team in the section to put up more than 500, lighting up opponents for 541 -- 100 more than third-place Shenendehowa. The defenses were just as dominant. Hoosick Falls outscored its opponents 541-122; Cambridge outscored its by more than 400, too.
In an 11-1 campaign, Cambridge didn't score less than 42 points until the state semifinal against Chester, a 38-22 defeat. The Panthers also finished 11-1, losing to Dobbs Ferry in a low-scoring semifinal.
And the individual numbers are just as staggering. Cambridge running back Skyler Saunders led Section II with 206 points and 33 touchdowns, while Hoosick Falls' Tanner Williams ended the year with 30 touchdowns and 184 points, good enough for third.
8. Post 13's storybook rally
Bennington Post 13 slugger Will Cole accomplished something on July 27 that most people can only dream about: A do-or-die, walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The setting was the rain-delayed first game of the Vermont American Legion baseball championship series at Castleton State College. Trailing the Colchester Cannons 8-1 through six innings, Post 13 clawed its way back to 9-6 with three outs left.
From there, with the bases loaded on a 2-1 count, Cole drove the ball over the right field fence.
Post 13 ultimately fell, 13-9, in Game 2 later that day, to finish the year 19-2, but not without one unforgettable rally.
9. The meteoric rise of SVC women's volleyball
One-and-20. It's amazing to see how far the Southern Vermont College women's volleyball team has come in two short years. After a season winning just one game, coach Josh Stokes came in and hit the recruiting trail hard, bringing in talent from all over the country, including some of the best from the Golden State of California.
That hard work finally paid off in a big way in 2011, as the Mountaineers set a ton of school records and even a couple of NCAA ones along the way to a 31-3 record and an NCAA national tournament appearance.
They finished undefeated in conference at 8-0, and, at one point reeled 48 straight set wins, one of the highest totals in Division-III history.
We also saw our share of milestones in 2011.
On the hardwood, Mount Anthony Union High School girls basketball coach Leo Reynolds won his 300th game on Dec. 22 and Jim Corey won his 200th game at Arlington Memorial High School. Burr and Burton Academy's Jenna Hoffman scored her 1,000th point, ending her career at 1,053 -- second highest in school history. Arlington's Haley Van Orman also cracked the 1,000-point marker.
On the gridiron, the BBA football team reached its first state championship game, falling to Fair Haven, 57-34, in the highest-scoring final in Vermont history.
At Hoosick Falls, standout softball pitcher Rachel Quackenbush, a junior, recorded her 1,000th strikeout against Catholic Central in April and could crack the state's all-time top-10 list this year.