by Ken Brown
CRAFTSBURY – First year head coach Jess Barber will return a talented core of student athletes for the Craftsbury Academy (CA) track and field team this spring that is coming off of the school’s first boys’ division IV state championship in 2022.
Barber replaces Abby Schaibel, who stepped down over the winter after leading the boys to a state title and a fourth-place finish for the girls at the state meet in Manchester last June. Barber is from Catskill, N.Y., and ran track in high school. She graduated from SUNY Potsdam State University with a B.A. in Outdoor Education/Adventure Sports and Administrative Management. She is currently the K-12 physical education teacher at CA and is excited to take over a Charger track and field program with so many impressive student athletes.
“The comradery in track and field is so much different than other sports and I was drawn to it at an early age. You can tell in practice already that this team has that and they constantly support one another to get better. I’m so honored to be a part of this program at CA and grateful to have Mike LeVangie’s help and experience. I don’t have a lot of these kids in my classes, so I’m just starting to get to know them and his knowledge of this program and the kids is invaluable,” said Barber.
First year athletic director Connor Bean has confidence in Barber to keep steering the decorated Charger program in the right direction.
“I think Jess is a great addition to the staff. She already has connections with the students and parents, which is beneficial for the coaching-student athlete relationship. Being based in the school, it’s great and easier for her to communicate with said student-athletes. She provides a wealth of knowledge and combined with the excellent coaching of Mike, I believe she can help continue the success of the program,” said Bean.
Noah McKibben has graduated and will be a loss for the boys’ team after five individual titles in the regular season, culminated by a state title in the 300m hurdles. The Chargers return a wealth of talent however, including several individual state title winners and state record holders. Cormac Leahy, Mathew Califano, Alex Califano, Charlie Kehler, and Charlie Krebs teamed up in two different iterations, kicking off the 2022 season by shattering the ten-year-old Division IV state record in the 4X800m relay by five seconds, only to obliterate their own record a week later by seven seconds. Also returning are seniors Linden Stelma-Leonard and Alan Moody, who teamed up with the Califano brothers to capture the state title in the same relay event. Leahy also added a 3000m state title in Manchester and will be joined by returning senior field captain Dalton Gravel. The boys’ team capped off an amazing day at Knapp Field in Manchester by edging Green Mountain by six points for their first ever team state championship.
Captain Ida Eames has graduated and will be sorely missed for the girls’ squad, but the team is in good hands with returning super sophomore Anika Leahy and her two individual state titles in her maiden season at the varsity level. Leahy put a bow on a sensational freshman campaign with a state title in the 800m and teamed up with returning senior Rachel Bjerke, junior Sadie Skorstad, and Eames to claim the 4X400m relay in Manchester. Seniors Ella Gillespie and Verna Stoddard also return and their talented team will be rounded out by some up and coming underclassmen who excelled at the middle school level.
“These teams are closely knit and who we expected to come back and compete are here this spring and then some. Practices have been great so far and they’ve known each other for so long that they know how to push and motivate each other. I use them as a resource for what works and one of the only things I’ve implemented is to get the track and field players to run together. It has been an adjustment I think, but this group is dedicated to putting in the work. They have big goals and they are going to go for it and I’m excited to see what they accomplish throughout the season,” said Barber.
The weather has already canceled the Charger’s season opener at Lyndon Institute on Wednesday and they are now scheduled to travel to St. Johnsbury Academy next Tuesday to open the season.