Spring is in the air. And so is change.
Vermont high school spring sports teams began formal practices Monday and there are some new faces among the coaches.
The most perceptible change is at Otter Valley, where the Otters will play softball for the first time in more than three decades without Hall of Fame coach Pattie Candon at the helm. Her presence will still be felt — the field is named for her.
Kelly Trayah and Toni Poalino will be the co-coaches for the OV softball team. Trayah has experience as the former head coach at Mount Abraham and Poalino did some coaching under Candon last spring.
Poalino referred to Candon as a legend but that doesn’t mean the new coaches won’t put their own stamp on the program.
“We are certainly going to be more aggressive on the bases and we want every player to know how to lay down a bunt,” Poalino said.
Trayah was the head girls varsity basketball coach at the school and Poalino was his assistant. Between the basketball talk on bus trips this winter, they found time to discuss softball strategy and they are in agreement about playing small ball with a premium on bunting and running.
“That can put a lot of pressure on the pitcher and her defense,” Trayah said.
The Otters open at home against Springfield and the hard throwing Hannah Crosby on April 5.
The softball coaching change at West Rutland is about as seamless as a coaching change can be. Carl Serrani was the head coach last year and his wife Laurie was his assistant. This year, Laurie and Carl Serrani simply trade places.
The turnout was robust at both Otter Valley and West Rutland. OV had 29 softball players answer the call and Westside 23.
Serrani’s Golden Horde returns a lot of players including Elizabeth Bailey and Kiana Grabowski, who shouldered most of the pitching load last season.
The Horde is preparing for an opener on April 10 at Green Mountain.
Bailey and Grabowski were so busy playing for the state championship girls basketball team that they were unable to do any throwing over the winter in the gym.
Neither thinks it will take long for them to get in the groove.
“I haven’t thrown at all since soccer season,” Bailey said Monday at practice. “All the time was taken up by basketball.”
That’s where pitching coach Mikayla Taylor comes in. The former Granville High pitcher is a big asset, Grabowski said.
“She helped us a lot last year and taught us a lot of things that we didn’t know,” Grabowski said.
A big change for Proctor will be playing without standout pitcher and shortstop Joe Valerio on the baseball diamond. He brought a lot to the Phantoms but upcoming surgery on his knee will sideline him for some time.
“I should be back for the end of the season,” Valerio said while playing light toss Monday in the Buggiani Gym.
His absence means that coach Jeff Patch’s pitching rotation will likely be comprised of Camden Richardson, Solomon Parker and Jacob May. Richardson or May will likely slide into the shortstop spot vacated by Valerio when not pitching.
The numbers aren’t great for the Phantoms.
“I think we’ll have 12, tops,” Patch said. “We don’t have a lot but I think we will be competitive.”
He will begin to find out on April 8 when Garrett Brewer brings his Mount St. Joseph team to town for the opener.
Patch believes that game will go off as scheduled.
“The field looks decent. I think we can make it,” he said.
The Vermont Principals’ Association allowed baseball coaches to hold practices for pitchers and catchers beginning March 11, but Patch didn’t have many arms in the gym that week due to the required rest for basketball players. The Phantoms went deep into the playoffs, making it to the semifinals.
Richardson, Sincere Bride and Hunter Manfredi were Proctor pitchers taking advantage of that week.
“Camden Richardson has looked very strong,” Patch said.
There is a new baseball coach at Mill River, where Brandson Laferriere replaces Sam Major.
Poultney softball coach Tony Lamberton was out of town on business so former players are running his practices this week — daughter Emma Lamberton, a graduate student at Pitt, and Hayley Mead, who is his returning assistant.
Fair Haven has new track and field coaches leading the program with Jon Oakman and Randy Shutters.
Hailey Watters, a former Otter Valley tennis player, takes over the OV girls tennis program for Kate Wysolmerski.
“She is very excited about it,” OV Athletic Director Steven Keith said.
The Rutland High teams were preparing for their openers, the earliest of which comes on April 5 when the Raiders host Mount Anthony in girls lacrosse and the boys tennis team hosts St. Johnsbury.
The Raiders open in baseball April 10 at Windsor before playing the home opener at Giorgetti Park on April 18 against Essex.
The Rutland softball team opens April 8 at home against Otter Valley and the Raiders host Mount St. Joseph on April 9 in girls tennis at Whites Playground.
The Rutland boys lacrosse team will scrimmage Keene on March 23 at Alumni Field before opening at home on April 6 against Woodstock at 11 a.m.
The Raiders track and field team heads to New York State to open the campaign, competing in the Warrior Track Classic at Niskayuna High School.
All the spring sports teams would love to do what the Mount St. Joseph boys, Fair Haven girls and West Rutland girls did in basketball recently — bring home a state title. The quest began Monday.