Andy Gardiner

Andy Gardiner is a former sports writer for USA Today and the Burlington Free Press, who lives in Burlington.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The storybook season crafted by the Middlebury men's basketball team was supposed to carry the Panthers to Salem, Va., for this weekend’s Division III Final Four.

Can Norwich pull off a double championship? Can anyone keep the Plattsburgh State women from a fourth consecutive national title? The answers begin trickling in this weekend as the NCAA Division III hockey playoffs reach critical mass.

Brian Jenkins / UVM

The University of Vermont men’s basketball team will find itself in an unusual role when it tangles Thursday night in Milwaukee in the opening round of the NCAA tournament: underdog.

Earlier this month, Vermont’s John Becker became only the seventh man in NCAA Division I basketball history to win at least 20 games at the same school in his first six seasons as a head coach.

Courtesy of the University of Vermont

In his two decades as a Division I head hockey coach, Kevin Sneddon has never experienced as a tumultuous a first half to a season as he has this year with the University of Vermont.

Courtesy of the University of Vermont

Bigger. Faster. Longer. Deeper.

Those were the adjectives coach John Becker offered when asked to compare the 2016-17 edition of the Vermont men’s basketball team to the one that went 23-8 last year, the program’s eighth consecutive 20-plus victory season.

Brian Jenkins / UVM

In the 50-plus-year history of University of Vermont men’s soccer, the program has had a string of prolific scorers, players from Peter Baldwin to John Koerner to Mike Mason to Jamie Farrell. But the Catamounts have never had a one-two offensive punch like Brian Wright and Bernard Yeboah.

Vermont Lake Monsters

After two months in the Arizona heat, Aaron Nieckula is more than happy to be back in Burlington for his second season as manager of the Vermont Lake Monsters, the short-season Class A team that serves as the Oakland Athletics' team in the New York-Penn League.

Courtesy of Ellie Brady

Nearly 10,000 runners and volunteers will participate in the annual Vermont City Marathon & Relay this Sunday. The 28th Peoples United Bank race along the streets and waterfront of Burlington will bring a mass of humanity with a diverse collection of goals and motivations.

Chris Day looks on at the sidelines.
Courtesy of the University of Vermont

Chris Day’s first encounter with the University of Vermont’s women’s basketball program came five years ago when he was an assistant at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia. The Hawks were part of the four-team field in UVM’s annual November tournament early in the 2011-12 season.

“I walked around a little bit and I honestly said to myself, ‘Wow, I could see myself here,'" Day said. “Vermont has always been on the radar for me if (the head coaching position) was to open.”

Courtesy University of Vermont

When Jeff Schulman succeeds Bob Corran as athletic director at the University of Vermont on July 1, he will be only the ninth person to hold that position and the fourth since 1973.

Courtesy Middlebury College

The college women's hockey campaign has shifted into post-season and the area's Division III programs are once again front and center in the quest for berths in the NCAA tournament.

Courtesy University of Vermont

Ask coach Jesse Cormier when he first believed the University of Vermont men’s soccer team had the right stuff to reach the NCAA Division I tournament, and he reaches back to the end of the 2014 campaign.

In 2014 the Catamounts fell to Maryland-Baltimore County, 3-1, in the semifinals of the America East playoffs to finish 8-9-2. But UVM held its ground against a Retriever team that produced four consecutive NCAA shutout victories before falling in the tournament semifinals.

University of Vermont

Can the University of Vermont extend its streak of 20-win seasons? How will St. Michael’s respond to the loss of its entire starting lineup? And does Middlebury have enough firepower to jump back into its conference upper echelon?

Answers will begin to appear Friday when the 2015-16 men’s college basketball season begins. The final picture won’t become clear until March, but November will be an important month for area programs.

The Middlebury College football team has surged over the last four years, going 24-5 under coach Bob Ritter, including a 4-1 mark this fall. And the Panthers have been succeeding with an increasing number of in-state players.

Middlebury would normally have one, or perhaps two, Green Mountain boys on its 75-man roster. This season there are five former Vermont high school standouts suiting up for the Panthers, and two of them are playing significant roles.

Courtesy University of Vermont

Will the momentum of back-to-back 20-win seasons carry the University of Vermont into the NCAA tournament field this season? Is Norwich primed for another trip to the Division III Frozen Four?

What lies ahead for Middlebury now that veteran coach Bill Beaney has handed the reins to former player and assistant Neil Sinclair? And can St. Michael’s improve on a season that ended in the conference finals a year ago?

Courtesy St. Michael's College

The over-arching hallmark of St. Michael’s College athletics in the 70 years since World War II has been continuity. In that seven-decade span, the school has had only three athletic directors.

That number grew to four on July 1 when Chris Kenny began his reign as athletic director, succeeding Geri Knortz, who retired after 18 years.

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

From the very first steps it took 27 years ago, what is now called the People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon has been known for its commitment to the relay element of the race. VCM organizers made the relay a signature piece of the event when almost no other marathon offered that option.

It may be the first day of spring, but area men’s and women’s college hockey teams are still rolling along in playoff form. Vermont, Norwich and Plattsburgh all face win-or-go home challenges this weekend.

Tonight, the Vermont men face Massachusetts-Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals at Boston Garden, while Plattsburgh State hosts the women’s NCAA Division III final four with a showdown against Norwich. On Saturday, Norwich plays at Amherst and Plattsburgh goes to Trinity in the men’s NCAA Division III quarterfinals.

Brian Jenkins / UVM Athletics

Unless an invitation to the CBI or CIT tournaments comes Vermont’s way, the college basketball post-season ended last weekend when the Cats were knocked off by Stony Brook in the America East semifinals. But the area landscape is still jammed with championship action in hockey and skiing.

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