Essex, St. Johnsbury secure Division I track titles



Entering the Division I high school track and field state championships, the Essex girls weren’t defending champions, something rare the last three decades. And the St. Johnsbury boys were aiming to end a four-year drought.

The most decorated track and field programs in the state rose to the top once again, out-performing their seeds at rainy and cool D.G. Weaver Athletic Field Complex on Saturday.

The Hornet girls scored in 17 of the 18 events to counter South Burlington’s trio of stars led by Mollie Gribbin, and the Hilltopper boys ran away from the 13-team field on a milestone day for both programs. St. Johnsbury nabbed outdoor title No.¤30 while Essex won its 25th, including its 11th in 13 seasons.

The kings and queens of Vermont track took back their thrones.

“We were hoping we could pull it off. We weren’t sure, but the kids were positive,” Essex’s 32-year coach Joe Gonillo said. “They said we wanted to steal a state meet and we did.”

“We are very happy with this, very proud of these guys,” St. Johnsbury coach Chip Langmaid. “We talked about the weather not bothering us and we had a few personal bets. Everybody performed better than we expected.”

The Essex girls finished with 139.5 points. Gribbin captured four individual events for the second straight year, but the Rebels (120 points) fell short of a repeat. Mount Mansfield took third with 61.5 points.

On the boys side, SJA collected 122 points for a wide margin over MMU (69), Colchester (65) and Burlington (61).

Division I girls

Evidence of the Hornets’ depth was found at nearly corner of Saturday’s meet, but especially on the 400-meter track. With Markie Palermo sidelined this season, senior Nikki Braceras carried the distance squad, sweeping the 1,500 and 3,000 races. In the 1,500, Essex freshman Rose Monahan, seeded seventh, raced to second place, critical points at the state of the meet.

“(Monahan) just blazed out of nowhere. It was incredible,” Gonillo said.

Mariah Neverett won the 100 hurdles, the Hornets also captured the 4-by-400 and 4-by-800 relays and had a cast of point-getters like Rosy Gallo in the jumps and Isabella Esposito in shot put to dethrone the Rebels.

“It feels fantastic; it feels great to able to help my team come back from last year,” said Braceras.

Essex’s team performance outweighed South Burlington’s stars who accrued 100 points. In addition to Gribbin’s four wins, Kayla Gilding collected three seconds and a first–place finish in the 400 (57.14), tying the 25-year-old Division I record in the process, and Christa Weaver claimed the 300 hurdles in a 26-point day.

In her final high school meet in Vermont, Gribbin broke her own 100 state record (12.10), and also seized wins in the 200 (25.16), long jump (18-03.25) and triple jump (39-10). Saturday’s haul gave Gribbin 11 individual outdoor state titles, all at Burlington’s swanky facility.

“Two years ago I guess I didn’t imagine my career being like this,” said Gribbin, who also claimed 11 indoor crowns. “I love the Burlington track. ... I really couldn’t ask for a better end to my Vermont competition.”


Division I boys

While the girls team standings came down to the last few events, the Hilltoppers’ title was in little doubt. Picking up where they left off after securing their first indoor crown this winter, James Fitzhugh and Dage Minors dug down for impressive performances to carry the Hilltoppers.

Fitzhugh won the 200 (23.33), 400 (50.20) and ran legs on second-place 4-by-100 and first-place 4-by-400 relay teams. Minors anchored the winning relays while placing second in the 800 and third in the 1,500 during a busy day.

“It’s a testament to the people on the team and definitely our coaches, cause being able to do that in one year is phenomenal,” said Fitzhugh of SJA’s title sweep.

“We were just trying to finish each season as the best team in Vermont — to prove a point,” added Minors.

Brian Fubler also rose to the opportunity, winning long jump and placing second in triple jump and third in the 100.

Another athlete unaffected by the poor conditions was Brattleboro’s Jacob Ellis, who established a Division I mark in the 1,500 (3:57.33), taking down a record from 1986. The senior also edged Minors in a photo-finish in the 800, took sixth in the 200 and ran a leg on the fourth-place 4x400 relay team.

Mount Mansfield finished second for the first time since 2001. And they were led by a freshman — Alec Eschholz, the son of MMU coach Bill Eschholz. The younger Eschholz won the 300 hurdles (41.03), tied for second in jump, was third in the 110 hurdles and ran a leg on the third-place 4x400 relay team.

“It’s going to be hard living with him, because he’s going to have the Eschholz family records pretty soon now,” Bill Eschholz joked