Wednesday January 2, 2013

By ADAM SAMROV and AUSTIN DANFORTH

Banner Sports Staff

If you opt to measure a year by its most unforgettable moments, the highlights that keep coming up in conversation or in moments of reflection, then the past sports year in Bannerland is certainly right up there.

Seemingly an annual rite of passage, after reflecting on what we saw in 2012, we offer the following collection of the top 10 stories that we won't soon forget as we begin to chronicle what 2013 has in store.

No. 1 -- Hoosick Falls wins its way to "Titletown" status

It started with a win. Well, three wins. It caught fire with a headline on these pages declaring, quite fairly, that Hoosick Falls Central School was "Titletown" for the moment, the only school with three Section II championship teams during the fall season.

Then it all started to get a little crazy.

More wins were followed by signs (hundreds of them) and t-shirts (hundreds more). The epidemic -- "Titletown" fever -- had engulfed Hoosick Falls.

When the fall season had finally ended for the Class C school tucked against the Vermont border, the trophy haul stood at three sectional and regional championships, three state semifinalists and two state titles.

The Panthers' boys soccer team earned its first Final Four trip with a remarkable string of one-goal playoff wins and the girls soccer team won its second straight New York crown (third overall) by outscoring opponents 30-1 in the postseason. The football team secured the school's first boys state championship in any sport, ending the second-longest winning streak in state history

On their own merit, each team's accomplishments would have cracked our top 10 stories for 2012. Together, entwined by the viral success of single "Titletown" headline that took on a life of its own, they were a lock for the top story of the year.

And as if the success was not crazy enough, the field hockey team came within a wrenching, penalty-stroke loss to Greenwich -- an eventual state semifinalist -- from making it four sectional titles in one season for Hoosick Falls. One lucky bounce in that fateful shootout and ... who knows?

Hoosick Falls, with less than 100 students per grade, became only the third of New York's 769 public high schools to have participants in the state semifinals for boys soccer, girls soccer and football since 2006. The other two were A and AA schools.

The civic and school pride was unmistakable and staggering for three weeks in November.

Blue and white, large and small, hand-crafted signs lined the roads leading in and out of town supporting the school's athletes on their quests for glory. No telephone pole, yard or bridge appeared off limits.

-- A.D.

No. 2 -- BBA boys soccer soars to perfect season

It was a state final matchup for the ages: Top-seeded Burr and Burton Academy, the defending Division II champion, and No. 2 Montpelier -- the first time two 17-0-0 boys soccer teams had ever met in Vermont.

In record, score and perhaps skill, the pair were deadlocked, 1-1, for close to 70 minutes on a frigid afternoon in Randolph.

Then the Bulldogs showed their trump card, an air of invincibility that manifested itself in a defense that had not given up a lead in two years and an offense that never failed to find a winner.

And, almost on cue, sophomore Reid Conde curled a gorgeous finish around the goalie to the far post (his team-leading 17th) for the go-ahead goal. The defense snuffed out every Solon chance that followed and the Bulldogs were left to celebrate the final piece of the third perfect season in program history.

The back-to-back champs yielded only 8 goals over the course of the season, one better than the 2011 title team that started the current 22-game winning streak. 

Regardless of division or deficit, the Bulldogs made clear they had the resolve -- even more than their skill or strength -- to tack up their 10th state crown.

-- A.D.

No. 3 -- Brandmeyer races to historic state title

In one whirlwind season, Mount Anthony senior Marc Brandmeyer established himself as not only the top cross country runner in school history but the state's top harrier in 2012.

Some 23 seconds ahead of second place at the Division I championships, Brandmeyer became the first Patriot to win an individual state crown. The win was his ninth in 12 races -- he took second in the other three -- before finishing sixth at the New England championships in November.

His state-title time of 16 minutes 37.9 seconds was the fastest recorded since 2004 and one of if not the best all-time (the Thetford course was lengthened since 2004).

Brandmeyer did not just win, either. In only his third year of cross country running, he smashed several other course records during the regular season -- some by more than 30 seconds -- while routinely winning with his runner-up nowhere in sight.

Even midway through the season, almost a month before Brandmeyer blazed past Vermont's top runners to cement his season of dominance, MAU assistant coach Bruce Smith had one line to sum up the standout:

"There hasn't been anyone like him at Mount Anthony."

-- A.D.

No. 4 -- Webb cements dominance

Jesse Webb, a junior wrestler at Mount Anthony Union High School, may have had one of the best years on our list. He reached 100 wins back in February, finishing a sophomore season where he was 54-4. He won his second straight state championship at 285 pounds at St. Johnsbury Academy, then placed fifth at New Englands.

But his massive 2012 campaign was just starting to roll.

In early April, Webb won his second straight age-group national championship, taking the title at the sophomore nationals in Virginia. Then in September, he became the first Vermonter in history to win the extremely prestigious Super 32 in North Carolina, beating Pennsylvania's Luke Fleck in the final.

Webb has started his junior season at the same high level, starting the season unbeaten in December. At more than 120 career wins, the MAU record of 219 looks to be in serious jeopardy.

-- A.S.

No. 5 -- Queens on the ice

After picking up just nine wins during two years in the Metro Division, the Burr and Burton Academy girls hockey team entered the 2011-12 season humbled, loaded with freshmen and questions for a return to the Lake ranks.

It was, surely, not the assortment of tea leaves one would translate into a sure-fire championship. Oops.

Twenty-one wins later, including the final 16 in a row, the Bulldogs hoisted the state championship trophy after a resounding 4-1 win against Stowe. Rookie Abby Marmer led the way on the big rink at the University of Vermont, scoring two goals and assisting a third to wrap up her season as the state's player of the year and BBA's top scorer with 23 goals and 10 helpers.

However, to get that far the Bulldogs had to weather perhaps the game of the year in Bannerland, a 3-2 triple-overtime classic against Rutland. Worthy of a top-10 spot on its own, that semifinal included a disallowed overtime winner, a saved penalty shot, two goalline saves by one defender and 54 saves from the Raiders goalkeeper.

-- A.D.

No. 6 -- Cambridge sports saved

Budget woes left the Cambridge Central School district and its athletes unsure if 2012 would be a year of games or disappointment. The spending plan proposed by the school board in May cut half of the school's 12 sports to help erase a $1.5 million deficit.

However the Cambridge Tribesman booster club went to action, looking to raise money to save the school's athletics. State senator Betty Little chipped in with grant money from the state as well.

But in the end, the budget passed by a 3-to-2 margin and kept athletics alive at Cambridge for another year.

-- A.S.

No. 7 -- Post 13's wild walk-off

For the second summer in a row, Bennington Post 13 found itself locked in an epic July duel with the Colchester Cannons in the American Legion baseball state tournament. Surely, though, all of Post 13's magic had been used up on the last year's ninth-inning, walk-off grand slam, right?

Wrong?

Once again, the Southerners answered the bell with heart-pumping drama, overcoming deficits of seven and four runs, eventually taking a 14-13 lead with an inning to go. Colchester fired back with two scores in the top of the ninth to take a one-run edge to the bottom half.

But Tyler Kunzmann, already 0-for-5 on the game, carried Bennington the final leg of the comeback, cracking a two-run walk-off homer -- the game's fourth -- to send his team to the state final with a 16-15 victory.

The two teams combined for 31 runs on 30 hits, 14 walks and six lead changes on a dizzying, warm summer day in Castleton.

"You can't teach it, home runs and comebacks like that. It's right here," said Post 13 coach Walt Parmenter after the game, patting his chest above his heart.

-- A.D.

No. 8 -- MAU wrestling streak hits 24

Winning Vermont state championships may be old hat by now for the Mount Anthony Union High School wrestling team, but how they dominated the competition in February could be the most impressive championship yet in the current 24-year run.

The Patriots tied the mark set by the 2001-02 team with 10 individual champions and set a new national record for 170 state champions in the history of the program. They also scored 324 points as a team, the second-highest in the 43-year history of the Vermont wrestling championships.

Champions included Rachel Hale, the first female in the country to win two boys state championships (let alone back-to-back), and Chris Schramm, Zak Hale and Spencer Foucher, all of whom won their third consecutive state titles. The other MAU champs were Troy Gassaway, Kyle Fletcher, Tyler White, Brandon Marcoux-Schaefer, Cameron Foucher and Jesse Webb.

Thirteen of 14 varsity wrestlers qualified for New Englands, where the Patriots snagged a third-place finish.

-- A.S.

No. 9 -- Stalcup, Redding amass video game-like numbers for Bulldogs

Paired together for their senior season, quarterback Jake Stalcup and receiver Chris Redding proved to be a match made in high-powered offense heaven.

BBA averaged more than 43 points per game during the regular season, with Stalcup completing 63 percent of his passes for a school record 2,640 yards and a school record-tying 31 touchdowns.

Making defenses pay on the other end of many of those passes, Redding, who transferred from Mount Anthony, caught 71 passes for 1,160 yards and 15 touchdowns. He scored touchdowns five different ways -- rushing, passing, throwing, returning kicks and an interception --and had 30 scores overall, posing one of the most potent open-field threats in the state.

The two are likely shoo-ins for the Vermont squad in the 60th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl in August, where they would play for their BBA head coach, Jason Thomas.

-- A.S.

No. 10 -- Quackenbush finishes No. 2 all-time in strikeouts

Hoosick Falls ace pitcher Rachel Quackenbush rounded out her standout six-year career for the Panther softball team in May, reaching second place on the all-time New York state strikeout list

Quackenbush racked up 1,502 strikeouts. She tied the previous second-place mark against Cambridge and passed the 1,500-strikeout milestone in the playoffs against Greenwich in June.

-- A.S.

HONORABLE MENTION

Panthers repeat top honors

For the second straight year, the Hoosick Falls girls soccer team had the state's player and coach of the year in Class C. It was a repeat honor for coach Tom Husser, who earned his 200th victory last fall, while Grace Delurey was named the New York's top player in Class C, following the footsteps of classmate Alice Hayden.

One throw for the win

With one throw -- her last, no less -- Mount Anthony shot putter Baheeyah Madany beat her previous personal best by more than a foot to win the Vermont state championship in June. The senior had never broken the 33-foot mark but uncorked a throw of 33 feet, 5 inches to earn the first individual title for a MAU female track athlete since 2007.

MAU girls soccer resurgent

The Patriots had not won more than nine games in a season since 2001 and had not hosted a playoff game in just as long. They hadn't won a playoff game since 2007. But with first-year coach Mark Boudreau and an experienced senior class MAU managed to match that trifecta, stringing together eight consecutive wins early in the season.

Burns, Weierbach place in N.Y.

Wrestlers Brad Burns and Luis Weierbach reached never-before-seen heights Hoosick Falls with place-finishes at the New York state wrestling tournament in February. After winning Section II, Division II titles at the Glens Falls Civic Center, Weierbach reached the semifinals and finished fifth. After losing his first match in the state tournament, Burns wrestled back to finish sixth.

1,000-point scorers

Cambridge's Molly Lauver and Mount Anthony's Abby Iannotti reached the 1,000-point milestone on the hardwood in 2012, doing so three days apart. Lauver, a five-year starter for the Indians, hit the milestone point on a 3-pointer and finished with more than 1,200 points. Iannotti scored her 1,000th point as the last basket of a 21-point first half effort. She ended her Patriot career with 1,195 points.

Pierce takes championship

Amassing 12 top-5 finishes and two wins in 17 starts, Bennington's Chad Pierce locked up the Sportsman Division championship at Lebanon Valley Speedway in the final race of the season after holding the series points lead for more than three months.

SVC women's soccer steps up

Led by second-year coach Michael Zauzig and conference rookie of the year Kaitlyn Forant, the Mountaineers set a program record for wins in a season (11) and finished with their first winning record (11-5-2) since 1999.

Hale joins the 200 club

Mount Anthony wrestler Zak Hale became only the third Vermont wrestler to reach the 200-win plateau, doing so in February. After the 200th win, he was congratulated by the Vermont's all-time winningest grappler, MAU coach Rob LaBrake. Hale finished with 215 career wins, second all-time.