When any sports season begins, most teams dream of playing for a championship. They also most likely dream, if they can’t play for a championship, of at least qualifying for the playoffs and making some noise along the way. Success brings good feeling, and athletics provide short periods of time that create lifetime memories.
During August of 2020, a couple of stories were developing in the area of the lower Connecticut River Valley. Athletes were preparing on their own, hoping to have a moment before snow flies, which could reward the hard work they were putting in. However, this year was different.
It was unlike any year, any area athlete ever encountered. Training during the summer always can present challenges. Do you take today off to go to the beach, just enjoy the nice day, or spend some extra time with friends? This year, it was easier to succumb to such attractive alternatives because the athletes didn’t know if they would even have a competitive season in the fall.
Then practices began, although they didn’t commence until school began. Then, after a couple of weeks of practice, the games didn’t begin as scheduled. The governor said things weren’t safe enough to allow competition between schools. Athletes were likely wondering would this be like a repeat of the spring sports season when they didn’t get to play at all.
Finally, during the closing days of September, everything was a go. The games began and the dreams were reloaded. Six weeks later, two separate success stories were on the platter. One was about an individual who already was scripting an outstanding resume to which she added more accolades. The other was about a team who captured its school’s only state title ever in their sport and, although they fell short of repeating their dream, concluded their season with the best two-year resume the school has ever put together. That leaves us with two success stories and each is still in the making.
Bellows Falls Terriers’ Abby Broadley has won the Vermont Division III State Cross Country Championship for the third straight year. She won top honors as a freshman, as a sophomore, and this year as a junior. In 2020, there was no New England Meet, thus the state cross country powers brought back the Meet of Champions with all the top runners squaring off regardless of division. Broadley won that competition as well.
The Green Mountain boys’ soccer team won the school’s first Vermont Division III soccer championship one year ago. This year they enjoyed another strong fall season collecting an 11-2 record and then won three playoff games to reach the finals for the second year in a row – and the second time in school history. The Chieftains had four semifinal appearances on their all-time resume entering the 2019 season – 1998, 1995, 1990 and 1981 – but that was it.
This group of seniors, who played their last game in a semifinal defeat at the hands of Peoples 1-0, should quickly shake off that defeat, knowing two finals appearances and a state title are a story dreams are made of, and theirs is actually really special.
Broadley isn’t just a three-time state champion; she is undefeated in any Vermont Division III competition in her three years. Twice, she failed to win the prestigious Woods Run in Thetford, but that includes all divisions in Vermont as well as out-of-state competition. Twice she ran in the New Englands, finishing 67th as a freshman and 20th as a sophomore. Broadley saw a Vermont sophomore Ava Thurston place sixth in the New Englands a year ago. She focused on that and vowed to be ready when they met again.
Abby’s coach Josh Ferenc admits winning is fun for Abby, but he says, “It’s not the only thing. She always wants to run against Division I competition not to win but, more importantly, to see where she actually stands.”
Ferenc says Broadley is “anxious, not nervous before a race. She really is good, but again, it’s not just about winning. The goal is for the sport to be a lifetime activity.” If the times cooperate, Ferenc hopes to have more elite challenges for Broadley and the team on the schedule in the fall of 2021.
Most observers pointed to a duel between Thurston and Broadley and maybe some Division I standouts in the Meet of Champions. Thurston competes for Division II Harwood. In the end it came down to the two contenders. Broadley was out in front and was determined to stay that way. She said, “I knew I had trained hard and my coach and I came up with a race plan. During the race, I had to shoot down negative thoughts and doubts that I had while listening to her breathing on my neck. I had to maintain my composure, ice out any doubts, and rely on pure determination to get me across the last 800 meters. This race was a matter of persistence for me. I refused to give up.”
It was an individual win and a great personal moment, but Broadley wanted to make sure the spotlight shining on her was shared. She noted, “My teammates also did super well, and I am very thankful for my coach who believes in me even on my dreariest days.”
I wish we could tell you that Jake Walker’s Green Mountain team won back-to-back titles, but not all successful stories end up in the winners’ circle. Obviously, it becomes tougher to both swallow and process when a team comes close to its goal. A one-goal loss can be heart wrenching, but these Chieftains have that lone title under their belt and the only two semifinal victories in the school’s history.
Walker said, “The team got together two or three times a week last summer to play and train. There were definitely times when we were all stressed about if we would have a season or not, but I told them that we needed to be ready and couldn’t slack off because we knew in order to reach our goal of going to the state championship that we needed to make sure we were ready.”
During the season their leader also noticed, “They were playing at such a high level. It was very high intensity, even in practice, that’s something I demanded of them, and they responded well. I know they were dreaming about the state championship their whole careers, and I told them that it’s good to dream, but if you dream your whole life, you’ll never accomplish anything. You need to turn the dream into a reality, through hard work and that’s what we did this year.”
Many of these Chieftains still have another chance to keep the noise going next fall, but for the seniors, Walker says, “I think they understand how much of an impact they had on the program and helped steer it in the right direction. We want to be known as a program that produces good soccer players, winning seasons, and respectful student athletes.”
Two successful stories, which both have chapters left to write. As I have said many times, stay tuned.