Buzzer-beaters, overtime thrillers, perfection, surprises, moments for the scrapbook — here’s our take on the best of the 2014-2015 school year:
GAME OF THE YEAR
• South Burlington-Essex, Division I boys soccer championship: Essex struck first, on a pretty set-piece, but Alex Pasanen’s sublime goal with 8.4 seconds to go — bar-down! — forced overtime before the swarming South Burlington Rebels outlasted Essex in Division I’s first penalty shootout since 1970 to polish off a memorable title in a storybook season.
• BFA-Fairfax-Otter Valley, D-III football championship: A couple of fourth-down conversions in the game’s closing minutes led to the go-ahead touchdown and gave the Bullets their first football crown in program history — in just their eighth year in the varsity ranks. Matt Larose (282 yards) hit paydirt to put Fairfax in front to stay against against favorite Otter Valley.
• Essex-South Burlington, D-I boys hockey championship: No boys hockey championship game took longer to finish and it’s hard to imagine one more tense from start to finish. Clocking in at 79 minutes, 45 seconds, the Hornets’ 3-2 triple-overtime victory required a combined 82 saves between Essex goalie Erik Short — who collected a title-game record 48 stops — and South Burlington’s Ben Greenstein before freshman Alex Giummo pocketed the winner.
• Proctor-Sharon, D-IV boys basketball championship: Trailing No. 3 Sharon 66-61 with 35 seconds left in overtime, Proctor rallied for nine unanswered points to wrestle away the crown — the program’s 15th — in a wild start to the annual championship tripleheader at Barre Auditorium.
• Champlain Valley-Middlebury, D-I boys lacrosse championship: Both the Redhawks and Tigers reached the state final via semifinals decided by a single goal and they delivered more of the same. The biggest lead (three goals) lasted 19 seconds and the two were tied four times in the second half before Matt Palmer struck with 20.2 seconds left to give CVU a 11-10 win and third straight title.
• South Burlington-Essex, D-I boys tennis championship: Essex and South Burlington had been preparing for a showdown all season, and everyone expected a tight championship match. The two teams exceeded expectations, with four third-set matchbreakers needed to determine a champ. South Burlington prevailed 4-3 for its fourth straight title.
The winners — Abrami: D-I boys soccer; Danforth: D-I boys hockey; Read: D-I boys hockey.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
• Champlain Valley girls soccer: The team to beat from Day 1, the Redhawks, led by Free Press player of the year Paige DuBrul, scored their second straight 18-0 campaign — stretching a multi-year winning streak to 44 games and counting — and fourth consecutive Division I crown.
• Middlebury football: Another autumn passed and the Tigers remained No. 1. Despite significant shoes to fill in the trenches, Middlebury and its returning cast of game-breakers at the skill positions once again tore through an 11-0 Division I campaign and repeat title.
• Essex field hockey: (15-0-1): With the state’s top player Kathleen Young driving the offense, Essex was expected to score goals. No one expected to them to pitch 12 shutouts. The Hornets allowed just four goals all year en route to the program’s second straight D-I title and an undefeated season.
• Mount Anthony wrestling: St. Johnsbury put up the best fight the Patriots had seen since 2009, but MAU’s vice-grip on the Vermont crown wasn’t about to slip. Ten individual champions powered the Patriots’ 27th state title in a row and third straight New England championship.
• Rice boys basketball: With two genuine Mr. Basketball candidates in juniors Ben Shungu and Kendrick Gray, no team could match the Green Knights’ firepower and they had the results to prove it, going 23-1 to secure the program’s 15th crown and first three-peat.
• Champlain Valley girls basketball: The Redhawks proved their system is tough to beat — and with 71 straight wins, unbeatable since 2012 — when key pieces like two-time Miss Basketball Emily Kinneston graduate. Laurel Jaunich turned into the state’s best and balanced CVU had its three-peat.
The winners — Abrami: Middlebury; Danforth: Rice; Read: Essex.
• Burlington girls lacrosse: Burlington High School hadn’t raised a state championship banner since 2009. Its girls lacrosse program had never appeared in a title game. Both facts were motivation for the Seahorses, who went 16-2 and ended both droughts with a 15-7 win over Burr and Burton in the Division I final.
• Richford’s girls basketball championship run: What do you get when you combine a 22-year-old, first-year coach — who didn’t know any of her players until the first day of practice — and a Division III title race that included heavy favorites? A dominant championship run for the Rockets, who torched undefeated Williamstown by 38 in the semis and defending champion Thetford by 35 in the final.
• South Burlington golf state title: Two-time defending champion Rutland boasted a talented lineup once again and a reigning medalist, Drake Hull, capable of scoring in the 60s. But neither the Raiders nor the setting, unforgiving Green Mountain National, deterred the Rebels, whose eye-popping 314 total on the Killington course captured the program’s first title since 1987, when junior Devon Havers’ father was on the team.
The winners — Abrami: Burlington; Danforth: Richford; Read: Burlington.
MOMENT OF THE YEAR
• Graduation in the morning, titles in the afternoon for BFA-Fairfax: First the diplomas, then the trophies — June 13 was a big day for several BFA-Fairfax seniors. Hours after graduation, the baseball team cruised to its second straight Division III crown at Centennial Field while the softball team recaptured the D-II championship with a win in Poultney.
• South Burlington’s dramatic boys soccer championship: Soccer doesn’t usually do buzzer-beaters but the Rebels got a spectacular, chest-to-half-volley, bar-down equalizer from Alex Pasasen with 8.4 seconds left to force overtime against Essex. After that, and the raucous celebration, their penalty-shootout win — the first in Division I since 1970 — was almost a relief.
• Coach revived at Division I girls basketball semifinals: When the game’s result didn’t matter — and a life did. Rice coach Tim Rice collapsed to the floor of Patrick Gym with 59.5 seconds left of a one-possession game, needing a quick-thinking group of medical responders to resuscitate the 59-year-old in front of a large, silent crowd. Rice, who went through cardiac arrhythmia, was saved, thanks to the use of an AED kit.
• The final two minutes of the boys lacrosse season: Burr and Burton set the stage for Champlain Valley and Middlebury with an overtime win in the Division II final, the first half of a doubleheader at Castleton. The Redhawks and Tigers just rode the narrative further, trading four goals in the final two minutes — the last being Matt Palmer’s winner with 20.2 seconds to go.
The winners — Abrami: Coach revived; Danforth: South Burlington; Read: Coach revived.