By Sam Jefferson, Community News Service
As high school winter sports seasons come to a close, The Valley Reporter checked in with all Harwood Union High School winter sports coaches. As The Valley Reporter goes to press, the Nordic skiing coach had not responded to requests. Here is the first installment in the report.
GIRLS' BASKETBALL (11-5)
Despite losing homecourt advantage this season, Tom Young’s team put together a winning season. “This season has been great, I’ve never had a team that is just so supportive of each other,” Young said. "One of the best moments so far came when the girls faced off against South Burlington and were leading by three with three seconds left in the game. On defense, they had two options, foul and force Burlington to shoot two free throws and run the clock down or defend and hope they miss their shot. It was a great opportunity to test our team and they just played straight-up defense and did it so well that South Burlington never got a shot off,” Young said. “This was against a D-I team too, so we were happy with that.
“We’ve been able to play as a collective group, I think we’ve had seven different girls lead us in scoring this year which is great,” Young said.
BOYS' BASKETBALL (6-8)
Jay Bellows’ boys' basketball team also lost its homecourt from the gym flood last fall. Both basketball teams have been using Green Mountain Valley School’s gym for practices. “Losing half of our home games has been significant this year, as home games allow you to shoot in a gym and on baskets that you use every day, in front of your own fans, and not walking off the bus every game,” Bellows said.
Bellows added that his players have handled the situation with maturity and grace. Many of the kids on the team also had to play through the COVID year that only held seven games, and the year after when fans weren’t allowed and players had to play with masks on.
To start the season, many of the team's starters were out due to injuries, so the hope for Bellows’ team is that with a fully healthy squad they can make a push to end the season with a winning record and gain momentum for playoffs. “Now that we have everyone back and healthy we plan on making a run these last eight games to finish up strong,” Bellows said.
GIRLS' HOCKEY (0-16-1)
This has been a rebuilding year for the Highlander girls' hockey team. As the team enters mid-February without a win, it’s been important for head coach Katie Martin to encourage the team to keep their heads up high.
“There have been quite a few challenges this season, a lot having to do with behavior and attitudes on the team,” Martin said. “We are trying to change that culture and move forward with our season with those that are on the team to just play hockey, enjoy the sport, and love to skate.”
One player that has stood out so far for this team is goalie Jordan Hunter who works relentlessly to keep the puck away from her goal. “Jordie averages about 45-50 shots a game, and has fought through a slew of injuries this season on top of that,” Martin said. “She works hard every game, and works with our new defense to communicate when and how to step up on the ice.”
The winter season has been going smoothly for Anissa Davis’s gymnastics team, as despite weather cancellations and players falling ill, they currently stand at 5-3. “We seem to be peaking at the right time,” Davis said.
With a smaller roster this year, Davis’s squad has seen five players compete. Each of these gymnasts competes in all four events, vault, bars, beam and floor. “We are allowed to put up six competitors for each event, and then the top four scores from each event make up the team total,” Davis said. “That leaves little room for error with us only having five people and means our athletes need to be mentally tough on their event knowing we could be taking their score if one of their teammates has a major error.”
With added pressure to perform, senior Miranda Rayfield has continuously steadied the ship for her team, having taken home firstst place in multiple meets this season. “Miranda is our senior captain and the glue of our team, she has been working hard on increasing her start values on all of her routines and always puts up consistent scores,” Davis said.
Harwood’s alpine skiing’s first-time coach Hillary Downing has had an amazing year with her team so far. “It’s been incredible to see our athletes improve so much from the first race,” Downing said. “Everybody’s so close on the team and they’re always joking around, it’s great.”
Keeping her players’ spirits high has been key this year, as in the beginning of the season the team had to wait to practice because of how little snow was on the mountains. “We actually went to our first race without being on snow yet, so we were basically training to be a ski team in the gym and workout room,” Downing said.
Junior Linda Spina has been a standout skier this year for the team, as well as freshman Parker Downing, who consistently finishes in the top 10. With eight out of the 12 players on the team being seniors, it’s important for Downing to know she’ll have these racers back for next season.
BOYS’ HOCKEY (4-12)
With many seniors deciding not to play before the season’s start, Matt Migonis’ hockey team has had to plug in many freshman players into starting roles. “The freshmen have had to step-up and play a huge role this season,” Migonis said. “They have had to log much more playing time than we originally thought coming in but have welcomed the challenge which will only help them in future seasons.”
In addition to fielding a younger squad, the team experienced a slew of injuries and illnesses to start the season. Because of this they had to reschedule lots of their games and are now trying to squeeze them in at the end of the year.
“Having a game every other day the last three weeks of the season is tough, but the kids have stayed positive throughout the whole experience and always give max effort no matter the result,” Migonis said.
He noted freshman Eli Herrington has been an incredible addition to the team this year. He currently has three hattricks and leads the team in goals, assists, and points. “It's exciting to think how this experience this season will help him and the team going forward next year when he's older, stronger and wiser,” Migonis said.
This season has been an exciting one so far for Casey Moulton’s wrestlers. Her roster has grown and gotten younger this year with six freshman, one sophomore, and three juniors competing.
“With our growing numbers we have been able to be more competitive not only as individual wrestlers but as a team during dual meets,” Moulton said.
Recently the team has finally gotten healthy and recovered from early season injuries. Moulton hopes this means they can peak at the right time as the season begins to come to a close.
“Currently, we are healthy enough to be able to reach our peak as the season comes to a close,” Moulton said. “It’s been great to see this team grow and improve not only this season but throughout the next few years.”
Vermont varsity states for wrestling will take place at Vergennes on February 24 and 25, where Harwood’s freshman Quinn Smith will be competing in the 145-pound weight class.