We start off with a team that knows a thing or two about banners at this point. After seeing local rival Norwich seize their crown in 2018 to end a four-year streak as national champions, the Plattsburgh women's hockey team returned with a vengeance last winter. The Cardinals posted a 25-2 regular season, won the NEWHL yet again, then rolled through the NCAA tournament to claim their fifth title in seven years and seventh in program history. The Cardinals are once again the #1 team in the country right now, but their perennial challengers Middlebury and Norwich sit second and third respectively at the holiday break.
Speaking of those Cadets, the only head coach they've ever known moved on this year, as two-time national champion Mark Bolding left to take a Division I opportunity at Yale. He was replaced by one of his former players on that 2011 title team, Sophie Leclerc of Barre who spent the last 4 seasons as an assistant at Colgate.
Over on the men's side, after Mike McShane's retirement in 2018, new head coach Cam Ellsworth set to work building his own legacy. The Cadets caught fire in the new year, going their first 19 games of 2019 unbeaten, reclaiming the NEHC title from Hobart after falling to the Statesmen the year before, and getting all the way to the national title game for the second time in three years. Norwich was unable to capture the program's fifth national title, as they fell to top seed Stevens Point in overtime, but the Cadets have their eyes firmly set on finishing the job this year.
The NCAA ski championships returned to Vermont in 2019, and though UVM shined the brightest, the other three area teams acquitted themselves quite well. St. Mike's senior Gui Grand claimed All-American honors in the slalom to lead St. Mike's to a 13th place finish, while Justin Alkier did the same in the GS as Midd finished 10th. But Dartmouth blew them both out of the water. The Big Green got eight All-American finishes in the four days of competition and captured a pair of individual national titles: Tanguy Nef in the men's giant slalom and Katherine Ogden in the Women's 15K classic. Dartmouth would finish 4th as a team.
To the Spring we go, the Norwich men's lacrosse team got to their conference championship game and made up for a loss the year before by edging Lasell 8-6 on the road before bowing out to NEC in the NCAA tournament.
But the Queens of the Spring Season were the women's lacrosse players at Middlebury. After a heartbreaking defeat to Gettysburg in the 2018 title game, the 2019 season didn't get off to the best start: the Panthers dropped their season opener at Bates in early March...but then, they didn't lose again the rest of the season! Midd dominated those same Bobcats in the conference semis, edged Tufts in a tough NESCAC title game, then smoked all comers in the NCAA tournament. The Panthers dominated Salisbury in the final to claim their second national title in a four-year span.
A Middlebury team that hasn't had that level of recent success is the football program, but the Panthers made up for years of near misses in the Fall of 2019. Midd survived a squeaker on opening day against Williams, beat Trinity for the first time in five years, and claimed an all-timer in double overtime at Amherst en route to complete the first 9-0 season in NESCAC history! The Panthers earned their first outright NESCAC title in 12 years and just the fourth championship in program history.
But they weren't the only local team to earn a football crown this year. After a heartbreaking loss to Princeton that ended up costing Dartmouth the Ivy League title in 2018, the Big Green bounced back in a major way this year. Dartmouth dominated its first six opponents of the season, then had a prayer answered at Harvard as Masaki Aerts hauled in a 43-yard Hail Mary from Derek Kyler to keep the Big Green unbeaten. A heavily hyped rematch with Princeton at Yankee Stadium turned out to be a dud from the neutral perspective, but that was just fine with Dartmouth as they came out with a dominant victory. It got a little dicey in the last two games as the Big Green saw their perfect season slip away with a shocking loss to Cornell, but they came from behind at Brown the next week to earn the school's record 19th Ivy league championship.
We started 2019 with one remarkably dominant team and we ended it with another. The Middlebury Field Hockey team once again proved to be the nation's best over a grueling season in the best league in the country. The Panthers suffered their only loss of the year to Tufts, but avenged that defeat in the NESCAC championship. From there, it was a methodical march in the NCAA tournament, with Middlebury winning three of its four games by just one goal, Marissa Baker proved the only tally against Franklin and Marshall to seal the Panthers' third straight crown and fourth in the last five years. A spectacular way for our local colleges to close out the decade, and with any luck, 2020 will prove to be yet another banner year.