2015 a year of championships and changes
The year 2015 was so full of amazing games, teams and championship runs that the Banner Sports department had no chance of coming up with a top 10. So, in Spinal Tap fashion, this list goes to 11.
This isn't so much a top 10, but more over an overall list. I'm sure I've missed something or put one too high or too low, if you think that's the case, send me an e-mail.
No. 1: Mount Anthony softball wins its second championship in a row
It was 25 years between championships for the Mount Anthony softball team when it won for the first time since 1988 a year ago. In 2015, the Patriots only had to wait 364 days for another crown.
Saving her best for last, senior Baylee Ports pitched a three-hit shutout and struck out seven and the MAU defense was perfect in a 1-0 victory over BFA St. Albans that kept the trophy in Bennington for the second straight year.
"I'm so proud of our kids, I told them they had to leave it all on the field against a good team and they did that," said MAU coach Katie Contrada on June 15. "Defense wins championships and we played fantastic defense. Baylee had complete control on the mound and [catcher] Julie [Elwell] deserves all the credit for calling that game. It was a team effort, we worked as one and we were successful."
The Patriots finished the season at 19-1, winning their second title in a row, the fourth school to repeat as champions since 1974. They've also stamped a legacy that will last much longer than anyone will be at Mount Anthony.
"I can't even explain it, it's so awesome, just to get here and play all the available games," Ports said. "This group of girls came together and we showed that we can still play. It's awesome to be able to see the program go up every year, to be a part of it. There's a really bright future at MAU, setting the standard higher every year, and knowing there will be girls to fill the spots and keep going with the drive to make MAU softball a stronger program."
No. 2 MAU wrestling wins 27th straight title and third New England title in a row
The Mount Anthony wrestling program continued its incomparable run in 2015, winning another state championship and the program's third straight New England title and ninth overall.
At states, Mount Anthony had 10 individual champions crowned, finishing ahead of second-place St. Johnsbury and third-place Mount Mansfield.
At New Englands, MAU had two New England champions for the third year in a row, three finalists, five scored top-six place finishes and all 12 competitors scored team points as MAU won its third straight regional title, roaring past Newtown and Fairfield-Warde, Conn.
Troy Gassaway won another regional crown, then passed Jesse Webb's school win record at the National High School Coaches Association tournament in Virginia at the end of March.
The other came from Dylan LaFountain, who won his 200th career match in the New England final.
"It's an exclamation point for the seniors," said MAU coach Scott Legacy in March. "[They were] third as freshman, most [of the guys] jumped in the lineup by sophomore year. Now to do it three years in a row is unbelievable. These guys were undefeated three years in a row and to win three New England titles, I never could have dreamed it."
No. 3 Bennington Little League makes regional
The 12 team members of the 10U Bennington Little League represented southern Vermont in a way well beyond their years, competing at the regional tournament in Rhode Island.
"They have done a great job. I can't say enough of these kids," said manager Todd Granger in August. "We knew we were going to see the best of the best, that's why we're here at the regional. They performed great and it was an awesome experience."
Despite not winning a game in the tournament, Granger said he was most impressed with the way the Bennington players represented Vermont.
"We had the banquet that the host league does on Saturday and we had a great time, they really know how to keep it fun for the kids," Granger said. "The coaches and managers were in a hula hoop contest and the kids had fun with it. [To be able] to present the team with a lot of smiles, I'm proud of them."
The all-stars made Bennington history as the first 10U team to win the state championship and reach the regional tournament. Along the way, the support from the parents and fans went a long way.
"We have a really good community, the fans have been awesome, to be able to get time from work to watch this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience," Granger said.
No. 4 BBA football wins state title
In the past couple of seasons, the Burr and Burton Academy football team had been closing in on its final goal, coming up short in agonizing fashion. That ended in 2015, as the Bulldogs went undefeated, beating Bellows Falls in the championship for its first title since 1948.
Tied at the half, BBA scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final 24 minutes as the Bulldogs won the team's first state title in the VPA era.
"We had a bitter taste after last year [a finals loss to Fair Haven], we worked so hard in the offseason and it's all paid off in the end," said junior quarterback Griffin Stalcup in November. "After last year, we were new to it, we had never been undefeated before, we didn't have a final goal. This year, we knew that being undefeated wouldn't mean anything unless we won the last one."
No. 5 Scott Legacy to leave MAU wrestling to start Castleton program
Most recently, it was announced that legendary coach Scott Legacy would leave Mount Anthony after this season to begin a new program at Castleton University in the fall of 2016.
Legacy will depart from Mount Anthony as one of the winningest coaches in the history of the state, in any sport. The New England Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee and 2014 USA Today National coach of the year has more than 650 wins and a winning percentage more than 94 percent. That total includes eight New England championships - the last three consecutively - and eight more second place finishes. Fifteen of his teams have been ranked in the top-25 nationally.
"He's accomplished everything and more at Mount Anthony," said athletic director Tim Brown. "He set the bar so high and I certainly appreciate him for taking this challenge. I'm sure people are disappointed a little bit, but [at the same time], people want him to take that challenge."
Legacy said he feels that the team will continue as strong as ever.
"The cupboard won't be left bare, it's very full," Legacy said. "There's a lot of young guys on the team this year and the junior high program is flourishing with high numbers. The family [side], that will be tough to give up, I think a few might follow and help out with me. They were happy for me, everyone is."
No. 6 New athletic programs (SVC lax, MAU volleyball)
With schools across the country cutting sports programs, our area is bucking the trend. At Southern Vermont College, former MAU coach Tom Otero had the first season of women's lacrosse and at Mount Anthony, Katie Contrada and Lorrie Carra became the coaches of the inaugural volleyball program.
Otero coached for 14 years at MAU before making the leap to the college game and the past 18 months of hard work will come to fruition when SVC steps on the field for the first time.
"It's a new challenge, but my ultimate goal is to make SVC a top program in the conference, I think that [will be] attainable for us," Otero said in March.
MAU volleyball had an up-and-down first season, but won its first playoff game. Nearly all of the players are multi-sport athletes. As good as they are in their chosen sport, a surprising number are finding their niche on the volleyball court.
No. 7 1,000 point scorers
BBA's Joey Shehadi, SVC's DeShawn Hamlet and Arlington's Molly Elwell all became 1,000-point scorers within a month of each other.
Shehadi got his against Middlebury, Hamlet's came against Mitchell and Elwell's came in the final regular season game against Bellows Falls on Senior Day.
"I was very nervous at the beginning of the game," said Julia Lacoste, Elwell's teammate, classmate and best friend. "I just wanted her to get it, I was ready for her to get it. It's amazing that she got it, and once she got it we opened up and played our game."
No. 8 Hoosick Falls girls basketball reaches state final
The Hoosick Falls girls kept winning and winning and eventually reached the state championship for the first time in history. They foguht valiantly in the title game against Susquehanna, but lost, 51-45 on March 21.
"We talked about it in the locker room. We're standing looking at the medals and we're state finalists, who'd have thought it," said Hoosick Falls coach Eamonn DeGraaf, whose team finished 24-2, the second-best mark in program history. "In November, if you said we would be one of the top two [teams], you're crazy. My girls believed in themselves and worked hard every day to make sure they'd get to the top. I couldn't be more proud of them."
No. 9 BBA boys lacrosse win second straight crown
After 2014, when the BBA boys lacrosse team upset three teams to win the D-II state title, they did it as more of a favorite in 2015, as the 3-seed. Max Pagnucco scored a minute into overtime to propel the Bulldogs to another title.
"I wish we could say we had something planned out, but once we got that face off we put everyone where they needed to be," said Pagnucco back in June. "When I got the ball from the side, I saw an opening and went for it. I was trying to roll the cage all day. I had some success, some failures, but when I saw that, saw the clock, I knew it was my time to shine."
No. 10 BBA's new turf field
BBA officially opened its new turf field, named for 1957 graduate Judy McCormick Taylor, with a big win from the football team on Homecoming Weekend in September.
It sits on the same site as the school's former main athletic field, although slightly larger. It will enable the school's sports teams to get out earlier in the spring and practice, something that was often problematic before the weather warmed up sufficiently to dry off the former grass field.
"I always wanted a turf field with a big Bulldog in the middle of it," said Derry Taylor, looking out towards the large green and yellow mascot in the center of the field back in September. "Mark Tashjian told me that's the biggest Bulldog they could find."
No. 11 Flagg sets scoring record
Southern Vermont College senior women's basketball star Amber Flagg ended the year on a high note, becoming the all-time leading scorer in program history in December.
She needed 12 points to do it, but ended up with a program-high 40 in the process.
"She's a special player, it's been amazing watching her for her four years here," said SVC coach Mike Quinn.
Honorable mentions: BBA girls soccer reaches D-I final, stops CVU's long winning streak during season; BBA girls lacrosse reaches state final, Arlington boys soccer reaches D-IV final as a No. 9 seed; MAU boys soccer reaches second straight semifinal, wins first John James tournament since 2006; Cambridge's Olivia Mooney finishes fifth in the state in the high jump; SVC men's basketball has best record in history, wins season-ending ECAC tournament; SVC women's soccer hosts first playoff game, SVC women's basketball wins first playoff game; Local players and SVC men's basketball coach participate in The Basketball Tournament, a nationally-televised amateur basketball tournament; Roller Derby comes to Southern Vermont with new Battle Cats team.
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