Like almost every other aspect of life in Vermont, high school sports and the athletes who play them were deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The end of the 2019-2020 winter sports season was postponed, then later canceled, as the pandemic first struck.
The entire spring season fell victim, too.
High school sports finally returned with an abridged season this fall, as teams played shorter seasons, under new rules.
Some players were able to complete full seasons with state or regional championship games for field hockey, football, soccer and outdoor volleyball.
Despite all the challenges high school athletes and teams faced this year, squads from Lamoille County turned in strong seasons throughout the year, both winning state championships and making runs through the postseason before bowing out short of the ultimate goal.
Here’s a look back, plus a forecast of what might have been if the pandemic hadn’t squashed the dreams of athletes who were looking forward to spring seasons.
Teams played an abridged season, starting only in October, with most championships pushed back at least a week into mid-November.
But athletes at Lamoille Union, Peoples Academy and Stowe High School still showed out in 2020, with three teams claiming titles and several others making deep postseason runs or doing well at state championship events.
The Peoples Academy boys’ and Stowe High School girls’ soccer teams both claimed Division 3 crowns.
The PA boys, ranked fourth in the division, upset No. 1 Vergennes in the state semifinals and then outlasted No. 3 Green Mountain Union, 1-0, to claim the program’s first title in a decade.
The Stowe girls pulled off four-straight upsets to win their title. Ranked No. 10 in D-3, the Raiders won three-straight, one-goal road games to book a spot in the state finals. Then, after a scoreless first half against No. 4 Vergennes in the title tilt, the Raiders poured in four goals after the break to claim the win and the program’s first title since 2016.
Stowe’s golf team also returned to the top of its division in 2020, claiming its first D-2 title after coming up just short and finishing second the year before, in the Raiders’ first year in the division. Stowe outshot U-32, a team playing on its home course in the state championship tournament, 345-360, to claim the win.
Stowe’s field hockey team came just shy of making it four titles for Lamoille County in the fall. The No. 2 Raiders lost the Division 3 title game to No. 1 Windsor, 2-1.
Other fall teams qualified for the postseason, but failed to make their respective title games. The Stowe boys’ soccer team, winners of eight straight state titles and ranked No. 2 in Division 2, was upset in the opening round while the Lamoille boys’ team, ranked No. 8 in D-2, also lost their opening-round home game. The Lamoille girls’ squad upset Springfield in their opening round game but then fell to Harwood in the quarterfinals while the PA girls’ team fell to Vergennes in its opening round game.
Other fall sports athletes also did well; Lamoille’s Maggie McGee ran to a second-place finish at the girls’ D-2 cross country state championships and Stowe’s John Lackey finished third in the boys’ D-3 championship race to lead his team to an overall second-place finish.
Lamoille’s inaugural bass fishing team finished fifth at the state championship meet, and the cooperative football team from Fairfax-Lamoille won its first playoff game before falling in the second round of its regional playoff tournament.
The fall season of 2020 saw teams add to the trophy cases at both Stowe and Peoples Academy, but its winter counterpart, which kicked off the year, saw near-misses for several teams.
Two squads, the Peoples Academy boys’ basketball and the PA-Stowe cooperative boys’ hockey teams, came within striking distance of state championships, but both fell short just shy of the finish line.
The winter wasn’t completely title-less though, as a pair of individuals brought home indoor track and field titles to Peoples and Lamoille.
Peoples Academy senior Ben Craig claimed one of those crowns, winning the 600 meters by just under a second to claim the D-2 title. Lamoille Union senior MegAnne Gilmore nabbed the other title, winning the 1,000 meters to claim her second D-2 crown in that event in her career.
The PA-Stowe boys’ hockey team came the closest of any local team to winning the title, finishing as runner-up in Division 1. PA-Stowe ranked, No. 4 in the division, upset No. 1 Essex to book a spot in the finals but eventually fell to No. 2 BFA St. Albans, 4-1, in the title game.
That championship game was the last competitive high school contest played until fall sports started back up six months later, as all remaining postseason games for winter sports were eventually canceled.
Peoples Academy’s boys’ basketball team came within one contest of its state title game. The Wolves upset Fairfax in the quarterfinals and took a commanding lead over reigning champ Thetford in the semifinals only to watch that lead, and the Wolves’ hope of a title-game berth, disappear in the second half.
Peoples eventually lost the game 51-48 after several players fouled out and Thetford went on to claim its second-straight title.
Lamoille Union’s dance team also had a near miss, finishing second in jazz at the state championship event, while Lamoille’s Nordic squads, both boys’ and girls’, finished third overall at the D-2 state championship races.
The cooperative girls’ hockey team from Peoples Academy-Stowe started out its season slow, then came on strong late in the year, winning its opening round game before falling to North Country-Lyndon in the quarterfinals.
The PA girls’ basketball team earned the No. 4 seed in D-3 after a strong regular season that featured 17-regular season wins, but the Wolves lost a squeaker to Oxbow in the quarterfinals, 39-38.
A win in that contest would have moved Peoples on to the semifinals and would have earned the Wolves a co-championship as all four teams to make the final four were declared champs after the pandemic halted the playoffs.
After their first winning season in over a decade, the Stowe boys’ hoops team earned its first playoff win in even longer, an opening-round thriller over Windsor, to advance to the D-3 quarterfinals before bowing out to No. 1 Hazen.
The Stowe girls fell to Oxbow in their own opening-round matchup.
Both Lamoille Union basketball squads bowed out in the first round of their tournaments; both ranked No. 11 in D-2, the girls lost to Mount Abraham while the boys fell to Middlebury.
In more individual winter sports events, Stowe’s Rai Bleda-Vilalta finished second in giant slalom and third in slalom at the alpine state championships, Lamoille’s Gilmore was second in the 3,000 meters in indoor track and field, and Peoples Academy’s Anna Isselhardt was ninth in freestyle and 11th in classic at the D-2 cross country state championships.
The season that wasn’t seemed like it had the potential to bring even more hardware back to Lamoille County.
Stowe boys’ tennis and boys’ lacrosse teams were coming off state championships in 2019 and returned strong squads, while others, like the cooperative baseball team at Peoples Academy-Stowe and the track and field teams at all three schools, returned rosters full of young potential seasoned with just enough vets to feel confident about making noise in their respective postseasons.
Other squads, including girls’ lacrosse teams at Stowe and Lamoille, the girls’ tennis team at Stowe, the boys’ lacrosse and baseball teams at Lamoille and the softball teams at Peoples and Lamoille also had high hopes for 2020 that were dashed by COVID-19.
The resurgence of the pandemic put winter sports on hold to close out 2020, but news broke late in December that practices for those winter athletes and sports teams was allowed to resume.
That news means that high school athletes across the county will be looking to bring more hardware back to their schools as the 2021 winter and spring sports seasons loom on the horizon.