Thursday was a day for excitement — the opening day for all high school fall sports teams’ first practices, with the exception of football, which started Monday.
There was enough optimism to fill every Gatorade jug in the state. Everyone was undefeated and dreaming about playing in November.
Excitement was through the roof. Make that through the sky in Poultney.
The Blue Devils have a full-fledged girls soccer program for the first time in years after getting off the ground in 2018 by piecing together a schedule that included both JV and varsity teams.
Now, it is for real and the only two seniors on the team, Kassidy Mack and Kat Scribner, are appreciative of the fact they will get at least one varsity season in their time at Poultney.
“It is definitely exciting. We had a team in the summer league. It was difficult to get everyone there every game in the summer but the last game against West Rutland we won and we showed a lot more skills,” Mack said.
“We have got some young players. We are building a program,” Scribner said.
Mack liked what she saw in the first practice Thursday.
“We had really good energy,” she said.
Mack and Scribner think attaining full varsity status and having the playoffs as a carrot is making a big difference this year.
“The playoffs give us something to work for,” Mack said. “Last year, I think some players thought, what’s the point. Now, we have something to work for.”
Hannah Corkum is the Blue Devils coach. She played soccer at Burr and Burton Academy and Castleton University.
Much of her coaching style is taken from Suzanne Mears, her coach at Burr and Burton.
“She taught me a lot,” Corkum said.
Corkum patterns her practices after the ones Mears conducted at BBA. That means the Devils get a lot of individual work with the ball the first 30 to 45 minutes at practice each day.
“There are a lot of touches with the ball. Everybody has a ball at their feet. There is no waiting around,” Corkum said.
She also learned the value of cultivating relationships with players from Mears.
“She taught me a lot about making connections and creating a family environment,” Corkum said.
While everything is new at Poultney, there is something that is becoming old hat in Rutland. The Rutland boys soccer team is chasing a league title for a fifth consecutive season.
Coach Ron Henderson gathered the Raiders and talked about that goal.
“I am excited about putting things together and going for our fifth league title,” he said to the players in the cool of the early morning at Alumni Field. “You have a lot to live up to.”
Henderson had some transfers on hand. Ryan Flanders had come over from Division II Mill River and Joey Giancola and Ezra Robichaud from Division IV Mount St. Joseph.
Henderson stressed the difference in play in Division I to those new players.
“It is a different ballgame. It’s a more physical game in Division I,” Henderson told them.
Part of preparing for the rigors of Division I will come in a pre-season jamboree Saturday in St. Johnsbury, where the Raiders will play three 40-minute games against different opponents.
A twist to Rutland’s schedule this year will be playing South Burlington twice instead of once. The home game against the Wolves will be the Harry Loyzelle Game, where the late Rutland teacher and administrator will be honored with a trophy presented in his name.
Across town at Giorgetti Park, the Rutland girls soccer team was practicing. Coach Lori McClallen was thrilled with the number of players in the program.
She had 48 players out for a program normally in the low- to mid-30s. Many were freshmen and sophomores.
“That is exciting. The numbers are here to build the program,” McClallen said.
Her Raiders will hold a scrimmage against Milton on Aug. 22 at the Polo Fields in Rutland Town. Their season opener comes on Aug. 31 at Colchester, the first of five straight road games.
The Proctor boys soccer team is fortified by plenty of experience with eight of 11 starters returning.
They picked up transfer Logan Starling from MSJ. Starling, Solomon Parker and Joe Valerio are the only seniors.
Nathan Stone was one of 14 players at the Fair Haven boys soccer team’s opening practice and coach Tim Dayton loved the shape Stone came back in for the new season.
“He dropped about 20 pounds and added muscle,” Dayton said.
That will likely mean a switch in positions for Stone. He is expected to leave the goal and play up on the line where he showed a nose for the ball the few times he was moved up there. That will make room for freshman Cole Matta, an experienced goalkeeper.
Not everyone could be at Thursday’s practice and Dayton pegged his roster at about 18.
Dayton has scrimmages set with West Rutland and Fort Ann.
Jen Clement was sending her Fair Haven field hockey team through its first practice during the morning hours. Clement has an assistant coach this year. Jackie Bendick, who played field hockey at the University of Vermont, was taking an active role in the practice.
The Slaters are set in the goal, where Clement has Jordyn Howard returning for her third year as the starter.
The opener is Aug. 29 at Granville.
The West Rutland girls soccer team had its season ended by rival Proctor last year. The Golden Horde would like to get over that hump and then win a state crown.
Most of the players have already celebrated a state championship in basketball and softball.
“Hopefully, we can go all the way,” senior captain Madison Guay said. “That is what the town is talking about on social media. They are saying, ‘Let’s get one in soccer, too.’”
It’s a good senior group: Deanna Kenyon, Jenee McGee, Kiera Pipeling, Alissa Covarrubias, Bailey Sevigny, Becky Sanderson and Alana Raymond are multi-sport athletes who have tasted plenty of success.
But Guay was also impressed with the younger candidates at Thursday’s practice.
“We have a lot of young kids coming up and they are willing to work,” Guay said.
Westside coach Deanna Rodolfy has healthy numbers for a Division IV program with 21 players.
The Mill River soccer teams practiced Thursday afternoon on side-by-side fields.
Rumors were flying that the Minutemen were too short of numbers on the boys side and only nine players were there to start the practice.
Assistant coach Chuck Hall told the players not to worry; that there were five players with excused absences and that he fully expected a roster of 16.
Peter Roach, once a varsity girls coach at Fair Haven, was running the practice. He will be the Mill River boys coach this season pending school board approval on Aug. 21.
“I think we will be ready. We have some talented players to build around,” Roach said.
Those include All-State goalkeeper Tyler Regula.
NOTES: There will be a pre-season jamboree in White River Junction on Aug. 24. The West Rutland and Poultney girls soccer teams will be among those in the event. ... Ray Nichols, a longtime assistant coach at Mill River, has moved over to Rutland where he will be assisting McClallen with the girls team. ... New Mill River girls soccer coach Shawn Bendig will get a look at the Minutemen in scrimmages against Green Mountain on Aug. 21 and Proctor on Aug. 26 before the opener on Sept. 3 at Springfield. ... Black River announced on Monday it will not field a boys soccer team this year. Thursday, Green Mountain had one player from Black River at practice and might pick up another. ... Dillon Zaengle takes over the West Rutland boys soccer program. ... The cross country team was the first at Otter Valley to practice with 14 runners hitting the trail at 8 a.m. ... Excitement and expectations are high at Otter Valley for field hockey where a team that pushed Mount Abraham to the hilt in the semifinals returns nearly everyone.