Rays of Brilliance Shine Through in a Splintered 2020 Sports Season

by Ken Brown

HARDWICK – COVID-19 abruptly brought the high school basketball postseason to a close, wiped out the entire spring sports season, and gave us an abbreviated soccer season played with pandemic protocols that were unfamiliar to our eye. Through all of that, several local high school student athletes persevered and still managed to create some unforgettable moments for us in 2020.

Winter Sports

Head coach Aaron Hill and his Hazen Union Wildcats made an improbable run to the Barre Auditorium this past winter, winning 18 games and securing the top seed with an inexperienced team that had only one returning starter from 2019. When that returning starter’s name is Isaiah Baker however, anything is possible. Baker topped his breakout sophomore campaign by leading the Wildcats in scoring once again with nearly 25 points per game. He led Hazen Union to their second straight Dave Morse Classic Championship to start the season and reached 1,000 career points in only his twelfth game as a junior.

The reigning Mountain League Player of the Year was also selected to the Vermont Dream Dozen team for a third straight season, shooting over eighty percent from the foul line and over forty percent from beyond the arc. If Baker is given a full slate of games to play in 2021, Tim Shedd’s all-time scoring record of 1,695 is within striking distance.

Twinfield Union’s Gavin Fowler enjoyed a stellar junior season, leading the Trojans to a 14-6 record, while averaging a double-double along the way. Fowler scored 20 or more points with double digit rebounds over six times for head coach Chris Hudson and the Trojans, including a season-high 29-15 effort against Winooski this past January. He was selected to the Vermont Dream Dozen team for a second straight year and is on pace to become Twinfield Unon’s next 1,000-point scorer if given a full slate of games in 2021.

Hazen Union alum Tim Whitney returned to the sidelines to lead a young Lady Cat Squad to a nine-win season, including a first round win over Rivendell Academy in the Division IV playoffs. Junior Alleigh Gabaree led Hazen Union in scoring and rebounding and will return for her senior campaign with 1,000 career points within reach. She’ll be surrounded by some young talent, including sophomore Alexis Christensen who poured in a career-high 22 points in her first-ever playoff game.

Craftsbury Academy had a disappointing two-win season, but senior captain Logan Lanphere ended his career with a bang, pouring in a career-high 27 points, including seven three-pointers, in a loss to Mid-Vt. Christian in their regular season finale.

Cabot’s Alisha Celley wrapped up an impressive college career at NVU-Lyndon this past winter that included a career-high 26-point performance in a win over UMaine-Presque Isle in January. Celley is Cabot’s all-time leading scorer and played her best basketball for the Lady Hornets in her final season, averaging 10 points and a team-high six rebounds.

Hazen Union alum Nate Gilcris soared to new heights this past January, becoming the first Castleton University athlete in program history to clear 2.00m in the high jump to win the Middlebury Winterfell indoor competition. As a freshman in 2019, Gilcris broke onto the track and field scene clearing a height of 1.83m to break the school record in his first-ever meet. He broke his own record later that spring with a jump of 1.93m in the Division III New England Regionals.

Fall Sports

After the cancellation of the high school spring sport season, the Hazen Union girls’ soccer team gave us all something to cheer about this past fall with a Cinderella run through the Division IV playoffs that ended in a runner-up finish to undefeated Proctor in the state championship match.

Head coach Harry Besett led the Lady Cats through a roller coaster season that saw them lose their first five matches before reeling off six straight to reach the Division IV title game for the first time in 33 years. A pair of seniors would lead the way for Besett, as Macy Molleur put the Lady Cat offense on her back with a career-high 16 goals, including seven in the playoffs. Alleigh Gabaree anchored the Lady Cat defense all season long, recording 164 stops and turning away several penalty kicks throughout their playoff run. Both earned Vermont Coaches Association All-state and First Team Mountain League honors for their performance and Gabaree was named Mountain League Keeper of the Year. Molleur was runner-up in the Mountain League Player of the Year voting.

The Twinfield/Cabot boys’ soccer team earned their first playoff win in 11 years under head coach Peter Stratman. They narrowly fell to powerhouse Proctor in the Division IV quarterfinals, finishing the season at 8-4. Stratman has revived the Trojan program with 17 wins in his first two seasons, while hosting back-to-back playoff matches. The Trojan defense was a question coming into the season, but freshman keeper Neil Alexander became a bright spot throughout the year, recording six shutouts.

Head coach Seth Wilmott also has the Twinfield/Cabot girls’ program heading in the right direction after leading the Lady Trojans to their first home playoff match in nine years. They narrowly lost to Long Trail in the opening round of the Division IV playoffs, but their six wins over the last two seasons are more than the program has enjoyed in the five previous seasons combined. Wilmott will lose two senior captains in Kayla Green and Delaney Fowler, who led the offense and defense, but he has a large core of young talent returning who now have playoff experience.

With 2020 being forgettable for many, let’s try to remember the extraordinary accomplishments of our local student athletes during extraordinary times. Winter sports is tentatively scheduled to start on January 11, 2021. I’ll personally keep my fingers crossed that basketballs will be bouncing on hardwood floors throughout local gymnasiums very soon and seniors will have the opportunity to finish their high school careers on their own terms. Happy Holidays to everyone.