Some familiar names are at the top of the heap for the boys soccer playoffs but there are also a lot of new storylines to keep things fresh.
CVU (13-0-1) is gunning for its third straight title in Division I, while Stowe (13-0-1) is the team to beat in D-II. The Raiders won the past seven championships in D-III before bumping up to a more competitive division this season.
The void in D-III is especially large because two-time defending runner-up Twin Valley is now playing in D-IV. Winooski (12-2) enters the D-III tourney as the top seed, but the Spartans are vulnerable after losing two of their last four games. Twin Valley (11-2-1) received a first-round bye in D-IV and could face upset-minded Sharon in the quarterfinals.
With playoffs kicking off Tuesday, here is a glance at the dynamics in each division:
Top dark horse if favorite stumbles: Sixth-seeded Mount Mansfield (8-5-1) made its last semifinal appearance in 2006 and hasn’t won a title since 2000. The Cougars will host No. 11 BFA-St. Albans (5-8-1) for the right to visit No. 3 Essex (10-3-1) in the quarterfinals.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: No. 13 Rice (0-14) at No. 4 Brattleboro (11-3). The Green Knights are better than their record, though bus legs could be an issue.
Lower seed nobody wants to play: The No. 7 Burlington Seahorses (7-4-3) have a polished finisher in Jake Manley, they tied CVU and their strength of schedule can’t be questioned. BHS will host No. 10 Colchester (6-8) before potentially visiting No. 2 South Burlington (11-3).
Longest trip: The No. 9 North Country Falcons (8-5-1) will head three hours (175 miles) to battle No. 8 Burr and Burton (9-5).
Fun fact: The last non-Metro Division team to win the D-I title was Rutland in 2001.
Top dark horse if favorite stumbles: The No. 8 U-32 Raiders (8-4-2) are the only school this season to tie Stowe. U-32 will host No. 9 Woodstock (9-3-2) in a rematch of last year’s semifinal, with the winner likely advancing to play Stowe.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: Second-seeded Middlebury (11-3) will face a physical challenge against No. 15 GMVS (2-7). Fullback Ryan Beardsley and midfielders Christian Riis and Sebastian Segre helped the Gumbies sneak into the playoffs with a 3-1 victory over Stratton.
Lower seed nobody wants to play: The No. 7 Montpelier Solons (9-4-1) were deadlocked in the standings with Woodstock and U-32, but they won a tie-breaker to avoid playing in Stowe’s side of the bracket. The Solons can’t think too far ahead because No. 10 Mt. Abraham (8-4-2) is coming to town Tuesday.
Longest trip: No. 16 Stratton (2-6-1) will head two hours and 30 minutes (125 miles) to visit Stowe.
Fun fact: Goalie Ollie Hammond and No. 3 Harwood (11-2-1) enter playoffs with seven straight shutouts.
Top dark horse if favorite stumbles: The No. 5 Vergennes Commodores (6-7-1) will not be intimidated if they visit the Spartans in the semis. Scoring threats Josias Salomao and Jonathan Willis lead a Commodores side that has scored 14 unanswered goals.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: No. 10 Windsor (4-9-1) at No. 7 BFA-Fairfax (7-7). The Bullets have been on both sides of some blowouts and are one of three teams to defeat No. 2 Enosburg (11-3). BFA suffered a 2-1 loss to Winooski.
Lower seed nobody wants to play: The No. 6 Peoples Academy Wolves (6-7) endured a disappointing 3-2 loss to Stowe at the start of the season. Little did they know that Stowe would only allow three goals all season. PA will have to defend well against counterattacks during a playdown versus No. 11 Thetford (3-11).
Longest trip: The No. 14 Bellows Falls Terriers (3-11) will travel 2 hours (120 miles) to face No. 3 Hazen (11-3).
Fun fact: Winooski made its last title appearance in 2009, while Enosburg hasn’t been to the championship since 2006.
Top dark horse if favorite stumbles: The No. 7 West Rutland Golden Horde (8-4-2) have the tools to claim the program’s first title since 2004. They are 1-0-1 against second-ranked Proctor and will host No. 10 Danville (4-9-1) in the playdowns.
Most intriguing first-round matchup: No. 12 Craftsbury (4-9-1) at No. 5 Twinfield (9-4). The Trojans have not hosted a playoff game since 2010 and made their last quarterfinal appearance in 2009.
Lower seed nobody wants to play: Last week the No. 9 Sharon Phoenix (6-8) held a 4-1 halftime lead over Proctor (12-1-1) before the Phantoms rallied to a 5-4 victory. Sharon will technically be the underdog when it travels to play No. 8 Blue Mountain (6-6).
Longest trip: The No. 11 Richford Falcons (4-9-1) will head two hours (104 miles) to play No. 6 White River (8-6).
Fun fact: Twin Valley scored 94 times last season and have buried 64 goals this fall.