Lake Region wins Babe Ruth 13-year-old district title

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The Lake Region Babe Ruth 13-year-old All Stars were crowned district champs following a 19-9 win over Lyndonville at Lake Region Union High on Sunday.  With the win, the LR all-stars head to Brattleboro on July 19 to compete in the state tournament.  The members of the district champion squad are, back row, from left to right:  Coach Shawn Santaw, Mitchell Gonyaw, Kaleb Gibson, Liam Kennedy, Cole Azur, Hunter Marsh, Coach Greg Marsh, and Coach Jason Kennedy.  In the front, from left to right, are:  Brady Perron, Ryan Descheneau, Caleb Lanoue, Tanner Amyot, T.J. Santaw, and Noah Royer. Photo courtesy of Jason Kennedy

The Lake Region Babe Ruth 13-year-old All Stars were crowned district champs following a 19-9 win over Lyndonville at Lake Region Union High on Sunday. With the win, the LR all-stars head to Brattleboro on July 19 to compete in the state tournament. The members of the district champion squad are, back row, from left to right: Coach Shawn Santaw, Mitchell Gonyaw, Kaleb Gibson, Liam Kennedy, Cole Azur, Hunter Marsh, Coach Greg Marsh, and Coach Jason Kennedy. In the front, from left to right, are: Brady Perron, Ryan Descheneau, Caleb Lanoue, Tanner Amyot, T.J. Santaw, and Noah Royer.
Photo courtesy of Jason Kennedy

by Richard Creaser

ORLEANS — The tournament may have been small, but the competition wasn’t.  However, the Lake Region squad defeated Lyndonville to earn the Babe Ruth district three 13-year-old title over the weekend.  The two teams squared off at Lake Region Union High on Saturday and Sunday to determine the winner under scorching conditions.

“I’m not sure I could have gone out in that heat and played three games with that level of intensity,” Coach Jason Kennedy said Tuesday.  “I think they’re just a great group of young guys who really love the game of baseball.”

Even though there were only two teams vying for the title — the Lake Region team being composed of players from both the Lake Region and North Country Union High School areas — the competition still followed the double elimination tournament rules.  As such, the tournament played out more like a major league divisional series than a one and done playoff game.

The Lake Region squad struck first, taking the first game of the tournament 6-4.  That first game, it would later seem, was merely an effort to gauge each team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Lyndonville rebounded with a decisive 19-12 victory in game two, setting up a tense and exciting championship match on Sunday afternoon.
Lake Region would break out the big bats to post a five-inning, 19-9 victory to capture the district title and advance to Friday’s state tournament in Brattleboro.  Though the score may have seemed lopsided, taken as a whole both teams put up a tremendous effort, Coach Kennedy said.

“Our bats really came alive on Sunday,” he said.  “Both teams really hit the ball well all weekend.  We had to earn that win.”

Although the Lake Region squad is composed of players from different teams, finding that team chemistry wasn’t a big problem, Coach Kennedy said.  Many of the players had played against one another at different levels of baseball throughout their young careers.

“They may not have played together, but it’s not like they were meeting each other for the first time,” Coach Kennedy said.  “They all wanted to be there and to play baseball.  They have a drive and a desire to do well.”

The state tournament kicks off with Lake Region playing against host Brattleboro at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, July 19, at Brattleboro High.  The winner of the state tournament will move on to compete at the New England Regional Tournament in Manchester, New Hampshire, starting on July 26.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For a story on the 13-to-15-year-old Babe Ruth district tournament, click here.

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Cal Ripken tournament: Celebrating America’s pastime between weather delays

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Lake Region All-Star Dylan Gagnon sets for the play as Lake Region takes on Central Valley under the lights at the Barton Recreational Field on Friday night.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Lake Region All-Star Dylan Gagnon sets for the play as Lake Region takes on Central Valley under the lights at the Barton Recreational Field on Friday night. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

BARTON —  By any objective measure, the greater the number of delays, the harder it is for pitchers to stay warmed up.  Friday night, opening night of the Vermont U12 Cal Ripken Baseball tournament, was just such a night.  Fans and players alike sought what shelter they could find as the umpires cleared the playing field behind the Pierce Block in Barton Village.  Overhead menacing skies threatened, but so far, had failed to surrender anything more than loud noises.

Twice the game would be called for thunder delay, a mandatory period of 20 minutes to allow any danger of lightning strikes to pass.  Given the fact that tall light poles and chain link dugouts constituted the bulk of structures closest to the field, the precautions seemed justified.

No sooner had the second thunder delay come to an end when a light rain began to fall.  The players, coaches and umpires gamely took to the field, playing half an inning before the intensity of the rain increased and even the most die-hard of parents and fans scrambled to their cars, under the trees or, through forethought and good planning, popped open their umbrellas.  Game one of the tournament was off to a rather poor start.

Coming out of the third delay in as many innings, the field now given a good drenching, the quality of play suffered somewhat.  Pitchers struggled to control sopping wet baseballs from atop a greasy mound.  The ring of aluminum bat on plastic cleats became a familiar sound as the players took breaks to remove the accumulated muck from their spikes.

“I got a lot of dirt stuck in my cleats,” Hartford reliever Chris Nulty acknowledged.  “I was having a hard time staying on the mound.  I would throw and then start to slip.”

Nulty was the second pitcher to take the mound for Hartford, Hunter Perkins having been pulled after an accumulated hour-long delay.  Though Nulty struggled, loading the bases and allowing North Country to tie up the game, he was far from defeated.  Nulty went on to record a three-run inside the park home run to begin Hartford’s rally from a long, painful inning.

North Country All-Star Aiden Gariepy takes to the mound against the Hartford All-Stars as second baseman Derrick Breault looks on.  A series of thunder and rain delays extended the opening round of the tournament on Friday night.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country All-Star Aiden Gariepy takes to the mound against the Hartford All-Stars as second baseman Derrick Breault looks on. A series of thunder and rain delays extended the opening round of the tournament on Friday night. Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country’s Aiden Gariepy, though subjected to the same routine dashing delays as his Hartford counterpart, would likewise struggle to recover his form.  Fastballs adopted unexpected movement, jinking and juking like knuckleballs, rising or dropping unexpectedly.  The role of the catcher became one less of calling pitches and catching strikes than one of simply arresting the ball’s forward momentum and hoping to keep it out in front.

Hartford moved on to the winner’s bracket, ousting North Country 15-5 in five innings.  Despite the ten-run mercy-ruled game, an hour of delays pushed back the start of game two.

The slick conditions persisted into the evening portion of the tournament as the Lake Region All-Stars took on Central Valley.  The lights, coupled with a persistent haze, gave the outfield a rather Field of Dreams quality.  However, what came out of the shrubbery on this night was not Shoeless Joe Jackson but, rather, a determined and ravenous horde of mosquitoes.

Despite the weather and the little miseries that accompanied them — or perhaps because of an ample supply of popcorn and hot dogs provided by the Barton Academy and Graded School’s eighth grade class — the players returned to the field and the fans got up and stretched, tried to dry out a bit, and went back to the business of baseball.

It was a sentiment shared by the players.  The night game has a certain mystique about it, recalling the major leagues and all those golden heroes of the diamond.  Maybe it’s just a function of the background being lost behind the lights, but everyone seems to stand a little taller.  There are no network TV cameras, but the dim glow of shaky handy cams and  the luminescent sparkle of camera phone flashes fills the night.

“This is my second one,” Lake Region catcher Parker Perron says of night games.  “You don’t really do anything different.  You just don’t want to look right at the lights.”

Lake Region All-Star Parker Perron (right) takes a short lead as Central Valley All-Star first baseman Chris Frost and base umpire Mike Wise prepare for the next play during Friday night's action.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Lake Region All-Star Parker Perron (right) takes a short lead as Central Valley All-Star first baseman Chris Frost and base umpire Mike Wise prepare for the next play during Friday night’s action. Photo by Richard Creaser

Tracking pop-ups and running down baseballs in the outfield are probably the hardest parts of night baseball, he said.  The lights tend to be off to the sides and pose little problem for the catcher, he added.

The night game also holds the power to magically ward off bedtime, a fact not lost on the players.  Rian Hayman-Jones marveled at the hour when his walk-off three-run inside the park home run allowed the Lake Region team put away Central Valley 11-0.

“It’s pretty fun to be out playing baseball at 11 o’clock at night,” Hayman-Jones said afterward.

Adding to the fun was a strong sense of teamwork that enabled Lake Region to advance to the winners bracket.  A loss to North Country in the district playoffs spurred the Lake Region squad to do better, Hayman-Jones said.

“Losing that game made us work harder as a team,” Hayman-Jones said.  “We just had to work harder and play better.”

Despite being made up of players from Glover, Barton and Irasburg, the Lake Region All-Stars played as if they had spent the entire season together.  Indeed, this U12 team is largely composed of the same players who came within one out of being the U10 state champions two years earlier, Coach Jethro Hayman said.

North Country All-Star Briley Carter sheds water during a rain-delayed third inning on Friday night.  North Country would fall 15-5 in the opening round of the U12 Cal Ripken state tournament.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country All-Star Briley Carter sheds water during a rain-delayed third inning on Friday night. North Country would fall 15-5 in the opening round of the U12 Cal Ripken state tournament. Photo by Richard Creaser

“Some kids have gone and others come in, but this is basically the same team,” Mr. Hayman said.  “They’re very close.  They’re like brothers, and it shows.”

Like brothers, some of their dugout chatter spoke of their fellowship.  Parker Perron admired a bat and asked Parker Brown, the bat’s owner, if he could use it in his next at-bat.

“You don’t have to ask,” Brown replied.  “Unless you’re gonna use it to hit rocks or something.”

That good-natured rivalry and the spirit of fellowship that is the game of baseball would prevail.  Bernie Gonyaw, the state commissioner for Vermont Cal Ripken Baseball summed it up best.

“What better way to spend a Friday night than to spend it watching baseball under the lights?” Mr. Gonyaw mused.  “It’s the only place to be.”

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For an article on the tournament champions, click here.

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North Country grad will coach NBA Charlotte Bobcats

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Steve Clifford, a 1979 graduate of North Country Union High, was named the head coach of the NBA franchise the Charlotte Bobcats on May 29.  It has been a long 28-year journey, but Mr. Clifford is thrilled to be doing what he loves most.  Courtesy photo by Kent Smith, NBAE/Getty Images

Steve Clifford, a 1979 graduate of North Country Union High, was named the head coach of the NBA franchise the Charlotte Bobcats on May 29. It has been a long 28-year journey, but Mr. Clifford is thrilled to be doing what he loves most. Courtesy photo by Kent Smith, NBAE/Getty Images

by Richard Creaser

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Steve Clifford, a 1979 graduate of North Country Union High School, has been named head coach of the NBA Charlotte Bobcats.  Mr. Clifford accepted a two-year, $6-million deal with a club option for a third year.  Mr. Clifford spoke with the Chronicle about his new position on Thursday, June 6.

“My dad was a really successful coach at North Country, and I think that’s really where it all started,” Mr. Clifford said, referring to his father, Gerald Clifford.  “There were a lot of nights spent sitting around the kitchen table talking basketball.  We definitely were a basketball family — it was a big part of how we lived.”

By the time he graduated from North Country, Mr. Clifford had already taken his first steps on the path to the NBA.  He entered the University of Maine at Farmington, graduating with a degree in special education.

“I always knew, even from a young age, that teaching and coaching were something I wanted to do,” he said.  “It was while in college that I started off coaching at Woodland High School.”

Mr. Clifford made the transition from high school varsity to the collegiate coaching world with a four-year stint at St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire.  Over the next 14 years he would find himself at Fairfield College, Boston University, and Siena College before landing a head coaching position at Adelphi University.

During his time at Adelphi, Mr. Clifford led the program to an 86-36 record and four straight 20-plus win seasons, including four appearances in the NCAA Division II tournament.  Mr. Clifford would then serve one year as assistant coach at East Carolina University before making his first foray into the NBA.

Mr. Clifford’s career in the NBA began in 2000 as an advance scout for the New York Knicks and as an assistant coach from 2001-2003.  He then went on to serve as assistant coach to Jeff Van Gundy with the Houston Rockets from 2003-2007 and then as an assistant coach to Stan Van Gundy with the Orlando Magic from 2007-2011 before landing with the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2011-2012 season.

“I didn’t set out to be an NBA coach,” Mr. Clifford said.  “I’ve just always loved my job and went where the opportunities presented themselves.”

There are a few simple sounding things that have helped guide him to his current position, Mr. Clifford revealed.

“It starts with finding a profession you have a passion for,” he said.  “I go to work every day and I’m excited by it and challenged by it.”

It’s also important to focus on each and every task you encounter.  You need to take pride in what you produce each and every time, Mr. Clifford said.  When you take pride in your work, others will take notice.

Next you need to be able to handle the good and the bad.  It’s never easy to accept bad news, but it is a fact that life doesn’t always give you exactly what you want or how you want it, regardless of what profession you’re in, Mr. Clifford said.

“How you deal with adversity is a big part of life,” he said.  “Throughout my career I’ve been fired four times.  It’s never easy but you have to pick up and move on.”

But success is not a plateau but an ever-evolving goal.  “You need to strive to continually evolve,” he said.  “It’s not always easy in this world but you need to be ready to jump at the opportunities that present themselves.”

Along with success there are always drawbacks as well.  Some sacrifices will have to be made, even as the head coach of an NBA franchise, Mr. Clifford said.

“The demands of the job will affect your personal life and your family time,” he said.  “That’s the biggest negative.  It’s the kind of job where you can’t just half do it.  It takes a lot of your time and you have to be prepared for that.”

As head coach you’re always under the microscope of the fans, your employers and the media, Mr. Clifford said.

“There’s nothing else I could do to make the kind of money I do at something I love,” he said.  “Dealing with the reality of what it is is a big part of being able to move on and do better.  You don’t get all of the great things without all of the bad things.”

Taking the helm of a team, at any level, is a test of leadership.  It involves establishing credibility with your players and setting a direction for the team, Mr. Clifford said.

“The detail parts are so important,” he said.  “Coaching, to me, at any level, is hard.  The difference is this:   If you’re coaching at the high school level, you’re the best coach that guy has ever played for.  By the time you get to the NBA, they’ve played for a lot of great coaches.”

Standing out among great coaches isn’t easy.  Despite the challenges, Mr. Clifford is certain that it’s a challenge he’s willing to accept.

“It’s great,” he said.  “It’s something you never take for granted.  There are times when you’re driving home and you’ve just seen the brilliance of Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard and you have to think this is the best job in the world.”

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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In baseball playoffs: Hot-hitting Rangers double up Highlanders

Lake Region's Josh Locke laid down a perfect bunt and beat out the throw to set the stage for the Rangers' four-run first inning on Tuesday.  Lake Region took on visiting Harwood Highlanders in boys Division II playdowns and advanced to Friday's quarterfinals with an 8-4 win over Harwood.  Photos by Richard Creaser

Lake Region’s Josh Locke laid down a perfect bunt and beat out the throw to set the stage for the Rangers’ four-run first inning on Tuesday. Lake Region took on visiting Harwood Highlanders in boys Division II playdowns and advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals with an 8-4 win over Harwood. Photos by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle June 5, 2013

ORLEANS — The Lake Region Rangers (11-5) hot-hitting ways continued Tuesday as they faced the visiting Harwood Highlanders (8-7) in the first round of Division II baseball playdowns.  The Rangers rapped out ten hits against three Highlander pitchers en route to a convincing 8-4 win.

“I feel like that was our best hitting game this year,” Rangers freshman second baseman Kolby George said after the game.  “I really liked batting today — lots of nice, straight pitches.”

George’s early at bats may have contributed to the early departure of Highlander starter Ty Delphia.  George battled his way through 11 pitches in the first at bat for the home team before launching a double deep against the centerfield wall.

“I knew our guys were going to hit it,” Coach Eric Degre said after the game.  “We’ve been really dialed in at the plate.  Today we worked the pitch count and took advantage of our opportunities.”

Coach Degre took a chance using his number two starter, Dustin Bathalon, opting to save flame throwing starter Matt Messier’s arm for later in the playoffs.  It was a good call, as Bathalon pitched six innings surrendering four runs, only three of them earned.

“Dustin was pretty awesome,” Coach Degre said.  “He’s been pitching pretty well all year.”

Though Lake Region has played a primarily Division III schedule and Harwood a Division II schedule, Coach Degre was confident that his team was up to the challenge.  Tuesday’s game was the first match-up between Harwood and Lake Region this year.

“I don’t care who you play,” Coach Degre said.  “You still have to catch, pitch, throw and hit to win the game.  We knew what we needed to do to win, and we did it.”

Solid defense and hot hitting have been key elements in Lake Region's late season surge.  Here Ranger Sam Barbeau snags the throw as Harwood Highlander Matthew Fischer charges down the first base path.

Solid defense and hot hitting have been key elements in Lake Region’s late season surge. Here Ranger Sam Barbeau snags the throw as Harwood Highlander Matthew Fischer charges down the first base path.

Despite never having faced Harwood before and fielding a relatively young team, the Rangers were not in the least intimidated by their opponents, George said.

“I knew they would be a similar sort of team,” George said.  “They would play a lot like us.  We knew this was a playoff game and I figured we’d step it up.”

The Highlanders got on the board early as Lucas Russell came around to score on Dylan MacIsaac’s RBI single in the top of the first.  The Rangers would respond by bringing around four batters to jump out to an early 4-1 lead.

The Rangers endured some costly defensive lapses that allowed Harwood to tie the game at four apiece in the second inning.  Despite those costly errors, the Rangers rallied back.

“I always talk to the guys about dealing with adversity,” Coach Degre said.  “They know how to handle it.  They’re very supportive of each other.”

Lake Region reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the third after Logan Harper reached on a single and advanced to third on a pair of brilliantly executed stolen bases.  With the bases loaded and one out, Highlander Coach Mitch Casey made a pitching change and brought in Dominic Moreno to relieve Dephia.  Though Moreno retired the first batter he faced, he plunked Alex Beauregard to bring in the go-ahead run before inducing a groundball out to end the inning.

Lake Region plated two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to cement their lead, and add their eighth and final run in the bottom of the sixth.  Bathalon continued to pitch into the top of the seventh before a single and an error put men on the corners.  Coach Degre let Messier take the mound.

Messier struck out all three batters he faced to secure the win and help the Rangers advance to the quarter-final round.  With the win the Rangers will face either number two seed Otter Valley or number 15 Montpelier High on Friday, June 7.

“To advance to the quarter finals with such a young team really feels wonderful,” Coach Degre said.  “They’re young but their learning.”

Contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

 For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Sports pages. For all the Chronicle’s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital editions.

 

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In Nordic skiing: Night relays show lighter side of competitive skiing

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It’s not every day that a tiger tags off the relay to his short-necked giraffe Nordic ski partner.  And yet that is precisely what happened when Lyndon Institute's Daniel Chen (right) tagged Jayan Xie at the North Country-hosted night relays in Craftsbury on Thursday. Photo by Richard Creaser

It’s not every day that a tiger tags off the relay to his short-necked giraffe Nordic ski partner. And yet that is precisely what happened when Lyndon Institute’s Daniel Chen (right) tagged Jayan Xie at the North Country-hosted night relays in Craftsbury.  Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 2-17-2013

CRAFTSBURY — The lighting was dim, the footing uneven, and the quest seemingly impossible — locating Supergirl and a pink winged fairy.  North Country Union High School’s annual night relay on Thursday, February 14, at times seemed less a competitive cross-country skiing event and more like a vignette from a Hunter S. Thompson story, at least to the uninitiated.

The night relay is an annual event, normally held at the track at North Country proper.  But due to limited snow cover, the event was moved to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.  Staggering down the hill through deeper snow, on account of having overlooked the perfectly groomed paths leading down to the relay area, I was greeted by a polar bear, a bumblebee, and two girls in grass skirts.  I thought I had crashed the wrong event.

Coming across a journalist acquaintance, I discovered that costumes and revelry are actually part and parcel of the North Country night relay experience.  A group of nearby Falcon varsity racers were quick to confirm this.

North Country's skiing executive Dan Decelles cruises downhill during Thursday night's North Country-hosted night relays held at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

North Country’s skiing executive Dan Decelles cruises downhill during Thursday night’s North Country-hosted night relays held at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

“I’m not sure when it started, but it’s been going on long before we were in high school,” senior Brian DeLaBruere said.  “There are a lot of hills and features that you normally wouldn’t encounter in Nordic skiing.  It’s fun and it’s a nice change.”

“It’s also kind of neat that it’s under the lights,” Laura Smith added.

Asked why costumes became a part of the event, Jade Dandurand looked quizzical before responding, “Why not?”

The night relays are quite unlike most other Nordic events the North Country squad encounters in the run of a racing season.  Relays are a part of the experience and, weather permitting, night relays occur as well.  But nothing is ever quite like the North Country-hosted event.

“It’s a little more carefree than most of the other races,” Dan Decelles said.  “Everyone has a chance to relax before heading off to the state championships.  It’s fun but everyone is still here to compete.”

Craftsbury Academy’s boys duo of Anders Hanson and Jacob Morse took third place, only one minute and eight seconds off the pace of Mt. Mansfield’s first-place team of Wylie Picotte and Ben Hegman.  North Country took eighth and ninth place in the two-man relays with Alex Cotnoir and Sam Brunette, finishing 22 seconds ahead of Dan Decelles and Brian DeLaBruere with times of 21:35 and 21:57, respectively.  Craftsbury’s Kestrel Owens and his partner Matthew Lawlor finished tenth with a time of 22:48.

Falcon Haley Jo Tetreault tackles the miniature snow mountain.  Tetreault's salt designation paired with her partner Adele Woodmansee's pepper.  Scuttlebutt around the North Country camp indicated that plans for aluminum foil headgear fell through.

Falcon Haley Jo Tetreault tackles the miniature snow mountain. Tetreault’s salt designation paired with her partner Adele Woodmansee’s pepper. Scuttlebutt around the North Country camp indicated that plans for aluminum foil headgear fell through.

In the girls’ varsity race, Falcons Haley Jo Tetreault and Adele Woodmansee finished sixth overall with a time of 24:30, two minutes and 53 seconds behind event winners Molly Larson and Amy Bruce of Mt. Mansfield.  Fellow Falcons Laura Smith and Jade Dandurand finished with a time of 27 minutes.  Craftsbury Academy’s Olivia Jones and Sabrina Thomas finished with a time of 31:14.

In the mixed relay, Mt. Mansfield again came out on top with the team of Wylie Picotte, Ben Hegman, Tiana Bibb, and Annavitte Rand finishing first with a time of 9:54.  The Falcons would finish fifth and sixth, with the team of Haley Jo Tetreault, Adele Woodmansee, Alex Cotnoir, and Sam Brunette edging out the team of Laura Smith, Jade Dandurand, Dan Decelles, and Brian DeLaBruere with times of 11:16 and 11:30, respectively.  A combined team of St. Johnsbury Academy and North Country racers Callum Hening, Sophie Martin, Patrick Lawlor, and Brianna Grimm finished ninth with a time of 12:29, while the Craftsbury team of Olivia Jones, Jacob Morse, Sabrina Thomas, and Anders Hanson finished eleventh overall with a time of 12:31.

In the junior varsity races, North Country’s Alex Cope and Fred Petzoldt finished second only two seconds behind event winners Mt. Mansfield’s Liam Ossler and Keegan Cummings with times of 11:41 and 11:39, respectively.  Top Falcons girls JV racers were Rebeka Young and Brianna Grimm with a time of 15:44.  Mt. Mansfield again claimed top honors behind the performance of Acadia Dinardo and Claire Julianelle who completed the race with a time of 12:29.

It was, at times, difficult to keep a straight face throughout the race.  Where else would two ninjas, a pirate and a ladybug clamber up a hill dominated by a cougar and a man in a neon green vest?  Where else could you show Supergirl a photo and discover that this is not the Supergirl you’ve been looking for?

On a night of costumed mayhem Lamoille Union's Kelly Kryzak was one of two caped champions to tackle the quirky Nordic track at North Country's night relays in Craftsbury.  Kryzak's race partner, Clare Salerno, was the second Supergirl.

On a night of costumed mayhem Lamoille Union’s Kelly Kryzak was one of two caped champions to tackle the quirky Nordic track at North Country’s night relays in Craftsbury. Kryzak’s race partner, Clare Salerno, was the second Supergirl.

And, for those who have ever wondered, a collision between a skier and a polar bear doesn’t always have to end badly.  Sometimes the two participants simply get up, shake the snow off, utter quick apologies and continue on their way.  It’s true, I saw it happen myself.

Spying a young man wearing a Cat in the Hat hat, I figured he would probably be the kind of person to put this whole experience into perspective.  As Cat in the Hat hats go, it was among the finest examples of its kind, a fact attributable, no doubt, to its origins as a mother-made piece of millinery.

“I honestly don’t know how it stayed on my head,” Fred Petzoldt admitted.  “There were a few hills, a lot of little bumps, and you could get some good speed coming into the homestretch.  But it stayed on the whole time.”

Mr. Petzoldt became momentarily distracted when a five-foot-and-change tall bumblebee passed by.  The distraction was not his alone, however.  After a pause, we resumed our conversation.

“This is actually my first year in Nordic skiing so I’ve never seen this before,” Mr. Petzoldt said.  “But I like it.  It’s a lot of fun.”

North Country’s night relays aren’t the sort of thing that most people expect to see at a high school Nordic meet and that’s perfectly okay.  Amidst the pressure to succeed and the mental and physical toll racing takes on a body, sometimes it’s nice to relax and let it all hang out, even if it is in a samurai costume.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com.

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In boys hockey: Essex defeats Falcons in comeback win

North Country Falcon Chris Bronson turns in a sterling glove save during the Falcons' match against the visiting Essex Hornets on Saturday night.  Flanking Bronson on the play are Hornet Joey Robertson (far left), Falcon Ben Pecue and Hornet Steve Jurkiewicz.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country Falcon Chris Bronson turns in a sterling glove save during the Falcons’ match against the visiting Essex Hornets on Saturday night. Flanking Bronson on the play are Hornet Joey Robertson (far left), Falcon Ben Pecue and Hornet Steve Jurkiewicz. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright 2-13-2013

JAY — The North Country Falcons (10-4-1) came out on the wrong end in a match-up of top five Metro Division teams in boys hockey action on Saturday night as they lost 3-2 against the visiting Essex Hornets (11-2-2).  The game featured solid goaltending on both sides as Chris Bronson patrolled the net for North Country and Brock Paquette manned the pipes for Essex.

Saturday’s contest at the Ice Haus in Jay displayed some of the finest hockey action fans for either side could have expected.  The game’s officials appeared content to let the teams play a physical — though far from goonish — game.  Hard hits, slick skating and dynamic playmaking kept the two sides close throughout the contest.

The Falcons have scored five or more goals in nine of their ten wins and have yet to be shut out by any opponent.  By contrast, and with only a few exceptions, Essex has proven itself a capable defensive team whose wins generally turn on low-scoring affairs including a 1-0 shutout win over top seeded South Burlington.  Saturday’s match would be a contest that would pit North Country’s high flying offense against the Hornets’ smothering defense.

Scoring opportunities would be at a premium on Saturday night.  As if realizing the enormity of the challenge, the Falcons took advantage of an early power play opportunity.  Ross DeLaBruere would record the power play goal at 7:06 of the first period to give the Falcons the early lead.  Nathan Marsh provided the assist.

The teams would remain dead even through the second period, as the two teams battled to a scoreless draw.  North Country had a few solid scoring chances on breakaways but were unable to beat Hornet net minder Paquette to increase their lead.

“We didn’t really give them a lot of quality scoring chances,” Falcons Coach Andrew Roy said after the game.  “We were able to keep them on the wings, out of the front of the net.  We played 30 minutes of good hockey and then got a little sloppy in the final period.”

North Country's Adam Viens (center right) completes a mid-ice check against Essex Hornet Tom Vanzo as Hornets Brody Almeida (left) and Luc LeBlanc look on during Saturday night's match.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country’s Adam Viens (center right) completes a mid-ice check against Essex Hornet Tom Vanzo as Hornets Brody Almeida (left) and Luc LeBlanc look on during Saturday night’s match. Photo by Richard Creaser

The Falcons received a boost in the third period when Adam Viens wrangled the puck past Paquette to give North Country a 2-0 lead a mere 47 seconds into the period.  It appeared that the Falcons had the game well in hand until the Hornets struck at 5:03.  Tom Fogg snuck one past Bronson to cut the Falcons’ lead in half.

Four minutes later the wheels came off the bus for North Country.  Penalties to DeLaBruere and Viens 37 seconds apart gave Essex a 5 on 3 advantage.  Those penalties had a greater effect on the outcome of the game than fatigue brought on by a short bench, Coach Roy said.

“I don’t think it was tired legs or anything else,” Coach Roy said.  “We made some key mistakes out there tonight and it cost us.  It’s a tough loss to swallow.”

Though North Country would hang in and kill off the penalties, Essex took advantage of the post-power play confusion to strike.  A mere 16 seconds after Viens came out of the box Luc LeBlanc would deflect in a shot from Nate Foice to tie up the game at 2-2.

The collapse would be complete when, with 1:22 remaining to play, Steve Jurkewiecz buried a pass from Joey Robertson and Brody Almeida to cap off the Hornets’ comeback win.

Despite the heartbreaking loss Coach Roy was not discouraged with his team’s chances heading toward the post-season.

“If we can avoid making those mistakes we can play with anyone,” Coach Roy said.  “There’s no reason we can’t be the top team in the state.”

The Falcons play two more home games against BFA-St. Albans on Wednesday, February 13,  at 6 p.m. and Rutland on February 16 at 7 p.m. before finishing out the regular season with three road games against Rice Memorial, Middlebury and Champlain Valley Union on February 20, 23 and 26 respectively.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

For more free sports stories, look in our sports category on this site or subscribe to our print or online editions.  Click on this link for a full winter sports schedule.

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In boys hockey: Rebels end Falcons’ five-game win streak

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North Country Falcon Ben Pecue (left) upends South Burlington Rebel Eric Craig as Falcons' goalie Chris Bronson looks on during boys varsity hockey action at the Ice Haus in Jay on Saturday night.  Photo by Richard Creaser

North Country Falcon Ben Pecue (left) upends South Burlington Rebel Eric Craig as Falcons’ goalie Chris Bronson looks on during boys varsity hockey action at the Ice Haus in Jay on Saturday night. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 1-6-2013

JAY — The visiting South Burlington High Rebels ended North Country’s five-game winning streak on Saturday night 5-2.  The Falcons entered the contest sitting atop the Metro Division standings with a sterling 5-0 record.

“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a real test for us,” North Country Coach Andrew Roy said after the game.  “We made some mistakes early and it caught up to us.”

The Falcons roster features two goalies and only 14 position players — less than three full lines.  A small roster denies the Falcons the ability to keep players rested, especially if they fall afoul of penalty trouble.

“We’ve got the talent to make a comeback, no doubt about it,” junior and goalie Chase LaCourse said after a brutal first period.  “We came back against Colchester and we could do it again if we can keep out of the penalty box.”

Fatigue was definitely a factor in the game’s outcome, Coach Roy conceded.  Excessive penalties contributed as much as the small roster to tired legs.

“Nobody came off the ice in the third with extra energy,” Coach Roy said.  “They gave it everything they had.  We just didn’t get the result we’d hoped for.”

Penalties would play a key factor throughout the game but never more so than in the first period.  North Country would hit the scoreboard first as Adam Viens drilled home the puck with one second remaining in the Falcons’ first powerplay opportunity of the game 3:15 into the first period.  Less than two minutes later South Burlington would return the favor as Rebel Matt Baechle buried one by Falcons’ goaltender Chris Bronson.

A minute and a half later the Rebels would strike again.  This time Eric Craig flipped a puck past a sprawling Bronson to give visiting South Burlington a 2-1 lead.  The final goal of the game would again come on the man advantage as Craig beat Bronson again for South Burlington’s second powerplay goal of the game and a 3-1 lead after the first period of play.

Though the penalty parade continued in the second period, North Country contained the South Burlington offense.  The Falcons accomplished the feat despite drawing five more penalties, two of which gave the Rebels a five-on-three advantage.  The Falcons would edge back into the game with less than seven seconds remaining in the period as Ryan Paul beat Rebel goalie Noah Beatty to bring the Falcons within one at the second intermission.

“We still got into trouble with penalties in the second but we held our own,” Coach Roy said after the game.  “Our penalty killing did what they needed to do.  We also got back a goal so that’s a positive.”

Penalties dogged both teams into the third period.  The game featured 21 penalties in total by the end of the game.  Despite giving and receiving the powerplay both teams remained tight with the Rebels carrying their 3-2 lead over from the first period.

The next goal of the game would come with only 1:10 left in the period.  The Falcons pulled Bronson to add a sixth skater only to see South Burlington pad its lead as Gabe Simpatico grabbed the puck in the neutral zone and rifled it into the empty net.  Down 4-2 at this point, Bronson returned between the pipes as the game wound to a close.

The final goal of the game could have been missed by the casual observer.  Amidst the clamor of the fans and the final buzzer of the game Conner O’Toole slipped the puck through Bronson’s five-hole to record the Rebels fifth goal at the 15-minute mark.

“He kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win,” Coach Roy said of Bronson’s 25-save effort in goal.  “He did everything for us we could have expected.”

With the loss, the Falcons drop to 5-1 on the season while South Burlington improves to 4-1.  Essex climbed atop the Metro Division standings with a victory against Champlain Valley Union.

Opposing snipers duel for control of the puck as North Country's Ryan Paul (right) swings wide around South Burlington Rebel Eric Craig.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Opposing snipers duel for control of the puck as North Country’s Ryan Paul (right) swings wide around South Burlington Rebel Eric Craig. Photo by Richard Creaser

The Falcons return to action on Wednesday, January 9, with an away game against Mount Mansfield at the Essex Skating Facility.  The game has a 6:45 p.m. start.

Contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com For more free sports stories, look in our sports category on this site or subscribe to our print or online editions.  Click on this link for a full winter sports schedule.

 

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In boys basketball: Falcons top Thunderbirds in high scoring affair

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North Country’s Kendrick Gray (center behind number 22) jumps to block a shot by Missisquoi Valley’s R.J. Machia as Falcon Jason Hatin (right) and Thunderbird Alex Deuso look on. In mid-flight Machia would execute a maneuver that enabled him to bounce pass to Deuso for the basket. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 12-15-2012

NEWPORT — It was a wild and wooly affair as the host North Country Falcons staved off a late run by the visiting Missisquoi Valley Union Thunderbirds to snag the 94-90 win.  Late foul trouble allowed the Thunderbirds to claw back into contention in a fourth quarter that saw the two teams score a combined 64 points.

“My boys delivered what I promised at the beginning of the year — an entertaining team,” North Country Coach Brian Bonvechio said after the game.  “We kept trying to attack, attack, attack.  We don’t play the slow game very well so we need to keep up the tempo.”

The tempo was clearly something the Falcons needed to build toward.  Through the first half of the game the Falcons rarely had the lead, often finding themselves chasing down MVU on the score sheet.  What kept the Falcons in the contest throughout the game was a barrage of three-point field goals and solid shooting from the foul line.

Sophomore Matt Duncan was among North Country’s most proficient shooters on the day.  Though held to a single three-pointer in the first quarter, Duncan came alive in the second notching nine of the Falcons’ 27 points heading into the half.  He finished the night with six of the team’s 13 three-pointers as well as going eight for 11 from the free throw line and adding in a couple of two-point baskets for good measure.

“You gotta run and gun and hit the shots,” Duncan said after the game.  “I really gotta give credit to the team for giving me those shots.  I just went out there and did what I had to do to get the win.”

North Country’s Matthew Duncan (center, number 21) springs in for the lay-up through a defensive screen on Missisquoi Valley Union defenders Alex Deuso (left), Matthieu St. Amour (right) and Alex Larose (obscured right) as Falcon Colton White (background left) moves in for the rebound. Duncan would finish the game with 30 points including six three-point field goals and shooting 8 for 10 from the free throw line. Photo by Richard Creaser

The Thunderbirds battled intensely under the net limiting North Country’s opportunities for rebounds.  MVU’s tight control around the net enabled them to establish a first quarter lead of 18-14.  As the Falcons settled into their outside shooting routine, however, control of the net became less of an issue for North Country.

With Rejean Roberge, Tyler Paxman and Matt Duncan landing three-pointers in the quarter, North Country managed to remain in contention. Paxman’s buzzer beating three-pointer to end the second trimmed MVU’s six point lead and finished the half with North Country down 44-41.

Though the third quarter wasn’t as productive as the second in terms of total points scored, 24 points in the third compared to 27 in the second, MVU’s own offense faltered to a game-low 11 points.  For the second straight quarter the home team outscored the visitors.  Duncan poured in three more three-pointers with Paxman and Tyler Sanville also contributing to the cause.

Foul trouble caught up to both sides in the final quarter of play.  It also contributed to an offensive explosion on the part of both teams.  Matthieu St. Amour, the Thunderbirds leading offensive contributor, would foul out in the final quarter.  After recording 45 of his team’s points, his loss to the MVU cause could not be underestimated.  St. Amour finished the game with ten two-pointers, five three-pointers and shot 10 for 17 from the free throw line.

“We drew way too many fouls at the end,” Coach Bonvechio conceded.  “They went to the line a lot and that really cut down our lead.”

As the Thunderbirds likewise ran into foul trouble the Falcons managed to maintain their lead.  Duncan shot 3 of 4 in his final two trips to the free throw line and Jason Hatin shot a perfect 5 for 5 on foul shots in the game, including 4 for 4 in the final quarter alone.

Duncan lead all North Country players with 30 points in the win while three other players contributed with double digit figures — Hatin with 15, Colton White with 11 and Paxman with 10.  St. Amour was the clear top offensive player for the Thunderbirds with his 45 points accounting for half of his team’s output on the evening.  Tyler Cooper scored 17 points for MVU while Nathan Lumsden contributed 13 in the losing effort.

Contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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UCA vs CA boys basketball game decided in final quarter

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by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 12-9-2012

Craftsbury Academy Charger Austin Masi (left) bolts down the sideline as UCA Crusader Ji Hwan Kim tries to cut off his avenue of attack. Photos by Richard Creaser

NEWPORT — The balance of the game hung on every basket as the well-matched United Christian Academy Crusaders hosted the visiting Craftsbury Academy Chargers on Saturday afternoon.  An unbroken run of 11 points in the final quarter of play helped propel the Crusaders to a 46-41 win over Craftsbury.

Throughout the game fans from both schools watched as their team battled back to take or retake the lead.  The Crusaders came out strong in the first quarter after allowing Craftsbury to open the scoring.  UCA responded with 14 straight points before the Chargers clawed back onto the scoreboard.  At the end of the first, UCA took the lead 19-13.

The second quarter belonged solidly to the Chargers despite UCA recording eight of the first nine points in that quarter. Craftsbury would record the last 14 points to take a 28-27 point lead into the half.

Coming back from the break the third quarter boasted the least amount of scoring of the entire game.  Both sides managed only nine total points between them with Craftsbury padding their lead to 34-30 entering the final frame of play.

Craftsbury Charger Austin Masi (center) leaps for the basket as UVCA defender Marquel Webster (right) and Chris Delabruere (left) try to stop the drive.

That’s when the Crusaders came to life and racked up their 11-point run including going 5 for 6 from the foul line.  The Chargers battled back to within four points only to send the Crusaders back to the foul line time and again.  Though the Crusaders would not enjoy quite the same degree of success as they had earlier, shooting only 3 for 9, those extra points helped round out the 46-41 victory.

Chris Delabruere paced the Crusaders with 18 points and closely followed by teammate Paul Saaman who recorded 17 points on the day.  Ctaftsbury’s Kyle Adams recorded 17 points followed by Alex Vetere who scored 11 points in the losing effort.

Contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

The members of the United Christian Academy Crusaders boys varsity basketball team for the 2012-2013 season are, back row from left to right: Dale Martel, Jon Delabruere, Marquel Webster, Marc Quirion and Coach Tony Delabruere. front row from left: Chris Delabruere, Ji Hwan Kim and Paul Saaman.
Photo by Richard Creaser

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NC girls hockey team fueled by youth

The Lady Falcons enter the season with several key additions to the team. Though the team is young, rostering only three seniors, the addition of veteran goaltender Mikaella Doran (center) and LI standout Emily Doty (right) will help their fellow Falcons like Savannah Alberghini (left). Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 12-5-2012

JAY — The 2012-2013 edition of the North Country Lady Falcons hockey team should prove an exciting one to watch this season.  Asked to describe the greatest strength of this year’s squad, Assistant Coach Tom Bernier replied with a single word — “youth.”

“We only have three seniors and a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” Mr. Bernier said at Monday night’s practice.  “We’re a young team and we’re still growing.”

The team features several players from neighboring school districts, including juniors Corrina Cota and Taylor Morley from Lake Region Union High, and Emily Doty from Lyndon.  That blending of players has proven both helpful and frustrating at times.

The bigger issue for head Coach Claude Paul and his staff is reconciling the varying skill levels of the players.  While some have grown up with Border Hockey or came up through the Lyndon Area Youth Hockey Association, other players are hitting the ice for their first season of varsity hockey.

“What we don’t want to do is hold back the girls who have been on the ice eight to ten years, because they’ve already got the basics,” Mr. Bernier said.  “At the same time, we have some girls new to the sport who need to learn the fundamentals.  Some of them are even fairly new to skating.”

Entering her third year on the varsity roster, Ms. Cota has endured some difficult seasons as a Falcon.  Throughout the team’s struggles, however, she has noticed that certain spark that suggests brighter days lie ahead.

“It’s been really exciting to see the team grow and develop over the years,” Ms. Cota said.  “We keep getting better and our skills are growing stronger.”

Incorporating players from the far-flung corners of the Kingdom can be a difficult task.  Just as in professional hockey, a team laden in talented players won’t automatically result in success if the team chemistry is absent.  That hasn’t proven the case with the Falcons, Ms. Cota said.

“You have to get used to each other and the way we play,” she said.  “But after a couple of weeks working together you get a feel for what they can do and what we can do as a team.”

A solid addition to the team comes in the form of Emily Doty from Lyndon Institute.  Because Lyndon lacks the numbers to field a varsity team, Ms. Doty is playing her first season for the Falcons.

“If I wasn’t playing here I would probably be playing with the boys again this year,” Ms. Doty said, referring to last season’s play on LI’s boys’ varsity squad.  “Playing with girls and against girls is going to take some getting used to.”

The biggest adjustment for Ms. Doty comes from the rules on contact in women’s hockey.  Having played with boys, she reveled in the more physical aspects of the game.

“I’ve been trained to check, line guys up for a hit,” Ms. Doty said.  “The first thing Coach Paul did was give me a page from the rule book telling me how to hit.”

Making that adjustment might run counter to the experience she gained last season, but will hardly influence how she approaches her first season with the Falcons.  Her solid, two-way play should assist the Falcons on both sides of the ice.

Another key addition to the squad comes in the form of the team’s newest goalie — Mikaella Doran.  Though new to the Falcons uniform, Ms. Doran comes with a lifetime of experience between the pipes.

“Having Mikaella is definitely going to help us both ways,” Mr. Bernier said.  “Having that confidence in net is going to let us play a more offensive game.  Her experience is going to help keep us in the game.”

The Lady Falcons start the season in earnest with a home game on Thursday, December 6, facing Woodstock at 5 p.m. at the Ice Haus in Jay.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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