The girls' indoor track team won their fifth consecutive title.
Article courtesy of Paul Hayes/Caledonian-Record.
Vt. state track and field championships: St. J girls claim fifth straight crown
Febuary 17, 2019
BURLINGTON — The Rotti sisters, Jen and Lia, combined for 58 points as the St. Johnsbury Academy girls claimed their fifth straight Division I indoor track and field championship Saturday at the University of Vermont.
The Academy sealed a half-decade of dominance by winning six events and beating runner-up Essex by 76.5 points.
Rebecca Green added two individual wins, in the 1,500 and 1,000 meters, and was part of two first-place relay teams, the 4x400 and 4x800, as the Hilltoppers became the first D-I girls program to win five consecutive indoor state titles.
It was a notable achievement because the team's championship core has completely changed since the start of the Hilltoppers' title run in 2015. In their place a new group has stepped up.
"Now you have a different cast of characters. We cycled through a group of superstars and still carried on. I think that part is significant," said SJA head coach Chip Langmaid, noting that past teams established a legacy and "these kid were able to continue it."
Meanwhile the St. J boys fought hard but fell one point short of a three-peat, finishing second to Essex, 143-142.
"We knew it was going to be really, really close," Langmaid said. "We had a great day. I don't know that we could have done much better."
Following the loss of key seniors, including Katherine Cowan and Hannah Wescott, who combined for 70 points last year, the Rottis and Green stepped into lead roles.
They flourished in the spotlight.
Lia Rotti shook off an ankle injury and won the triple jump (a school record 36-1.5), was second in long jump, and placed third in the 55 hurdles and 300 meters. Jen Rotti won the 55 hurdles (9.16), and posted three third-place finishes in long jump, triple jump and 600.
They were tone-setters for the Hilltoppers, Langmaid said. "This has been a very businesslike group. I think a lot of that is the character of Jen and Lia. They do what needs to be done, no matter what. They've never not sacrificed."
Stepping to the forefront this year, the Rottis have shown what coach Langmaid already knew: They're stars.
"They would've won 10 or 12 state championships had they not had a teammate in front of them [in past seasons]. They've had a lot of second place finishes behind teammates," Langmaid said.
Meanwhile Green won the 1,500 in 5:24.57 — edging Hannah Brisson of Essex by a 0.23 second margin — and repeated in the 1,000 (3:21.32). She also anchored two winning relay teams, the 4x400 paired with Lilly Leach, Riley Higgs and Katie Ryan, and the 4x800 alongside Higgs, Callahan Beck and Rory Young.
After a challenging cross country season, Green found her stride this winter. Things clicked during early season meets at Dartmouth College, where she posted solid times in the 1,000, ending with her running a season best 3:14.89 at the Dartmouth Relays.
"With [Green], things just started rolling. She just kept building her confidence and getting stronger and stronger. She became somebody that we relied on team-wise," said Langmaid.
In winning the 1,500 and the 1,000, Green proved her mettle, Langmaid said.
"This was a big deal. A couple of weeks ago we asked 'Do you think you can do the 1,500, then the 1,000 two events later?' It's a hard double, and she said she could do it," Langmaid said. "She gave it everything. When she finished, she collapsed on the floor. She did what she needed to do."
The Hilltoppers couldn't match last year's record-setting 230 point performance. On Saturday they finished with 176.5 points, the lowest point total of their five-year reign. Still, they finished comfortably ahead of runner-up Essex (101 points) and South Burlington (75.5).
Once again, the Academy relied on its superior depth.
The Hilltoppers supporting cast came up big. Leach was second in the 55 hurdles (9.47) and third in high jump (5-0), Higgs was runner up in the 600 (1:47.64), and Ryan was third in the 1,000 (3:29.6). Molly Brennan was fourth in the 1,500 and sixth in the 3,000.
Next year figures to be a tougher road. The Hilltoppers will graduate the Rottis, Green and more. But the Academy is expected to return a talented young core. The key, Langmaid said, is how his athletes will rise to the challenge.
Said Langmaid, "We've got a nice core. There's some really intriguing young kids. We're not going to be nearly as strong, but it's going to be fun."
Two-time defending champs St. J didn't go quietly.
With one event remaining, the 4x400 relay, the Academy trailed by three points, and the Hilltoppers squad of Sajan Harvey, Nate Atkins, Gabriel Hatch and Malik Joell did their part, winning in a time of 3:39.81. Unfortunately Essex placed second.
The Academy gained two points, but it wasn't enough, and Essex captured its first boys D-I indoor title since 2013, and ninth overall.
It was the second straight year St. J and Essex took it down to the wire. Last year the Hilltoppers edged the Hornets by one-and-a-half-points, 106.5 to 105.
"Our kids went into the 4x400 knowing they had to run faster than they've run all year. They went for it and they did it. It just wasn't enough," Langmaid said. "As a team, I don't think we could have done any batter. We got beat by a great team."
St. J and Essex staged a duel for the ages.
The Hilltoppers won six events (Dillon Ryan, weight throw and shot put; Jacob Lacaillade, high jump; Malik Joell, 600; 4x400 and 4x800 relays) and outscored Essex by a combined margin of 70-10 in four events: the 1,000, 600, shot put and high jump.
The Hornets answered. Essex had five event winners (Jamaal Hankey, 55 hurdles and 300 meters; Henry Farrington, 1,500; Ryan Guerino, long jump; 4x200) and piled up points in the 55 meters, 300, 1,500 and long jump, outpointing the Academy 75-7 in those events.
"The best analogy is a heavyweight boxing match," Langmaid said. "They landed a huge blow. Then we landed a huge blow."
The knockout punch came late in the meet, in the 300, where Essex finished 1-2-3 and outscored St. J 24-0. Hankey led the way, winning in a time of 36.92.
"We might have had them on the fence, and they really scored a lot of points in the 300, and we didn't answer back," Langmaid said.
Despite the outcome, there were plenty of bright spots for St. J. Ryan picked up a second throwing title. A week after winning the weight throw (59-8.5), he triumphed in shot put with a toss of 42 feet, four inches. Teammate Lance Abella was second (39-2.5).
Lacaillade won the high jump, clearing a season best 6 feet, and Joell won the 600 in 1:29.78, edging teammate Nathaniel Atkins by 0.27 seconds.
It was a Northeast Kingdom sweep in the girls shot put circle on Saturday.
Lyndon Institute's Camryn Heath defended her crown, repeating as Division II shot put champion with a throw of 36 feet, 11.5 inches. Her throw was the longest of any competitor in either division.
It was a 1-2 finish for the Vikings, with LI's Sydney Smith placing second (31-5.25).
Meanwhile, North Country's Anne Potter won the D-I title with a toss of 34-11.5, edging St. J's Sadie Bushway (second, 32-9) and Kayla Talbot (third, 31.4.25).
Potter completed the throwing double, also winning the D-I weight throw championship (36-3) a week earlier at the St. J field house.
Powered by Potter, the North Country girls placed fifth in D-I. Other top performers for the Falcons were Alexis Lefaivre (third, 55 dash; tied for fifth, 300), Allison Harris (fourth, 600), and Calah Gaiolini (sixth, shot put). The NCU team of Abigail Bellizzi, Ryan Beloin, Lefaivre and Harris were fifth in the 4x200 relay.