New Era in Many Ways for Wildcat Baseball Program

HARDWICK – The first pitch for the Hazen Union baseball team next week will usher in an era of new young players, a first-year head coach, and a newly formed partnership with Craftsbury Academy (CA) athletics.

The Wildcat program is coming off their best three years of varsity baseball in school history, winning 41 games, earning back-to-back Division III number one seeds, a pair of Final Four berths, and their first trip back to Centennial Field since 2007. A legendary senior class (Tyler Rivard, Lyle Rooney, Jadon Baker, James Montgomery) and head coach Spencer Howard have since left and a three-year merger between Hazen and CA’s athletic programs has been agreed upon, paving the way for Charger alum Shaun Allen to take over the reins. Joe Rivard was a key coaching contributor to helping Howard put Hazen back on the state baseball map the last four years and will return this season to help Allen with the transition. Allen’s biggest challenge might be creating a cohesive team out of players from both schools, but he can’t stress enough how vital Rivard’s presence is to help make that happen.

“Joe has been amazing and so helpful in practices so far and I can’t stress enough how thankful I am that he returned to help coach the program this season. Everyone has been welcoming to me and the players from Craftsbury during the transition and I think this is going to be a really good relationship between the two schools. Spencer and Joe built a special program here at Hazen and with the players we have here, we don’t want to think of this season as a rebuild, but more of building off of what they’ve already started,” said Allen.

Pitching will be the key for all teams as the season gets condensed in high school baseball in Northern Vermont. Allen returns senior hurler Andrew Menard to lead his rotation and adds CA sophomore fireballer Grayson McNaughten to the staff. Menard has been a key cog in the rotation the last two seasons for the Wildcats and will take on a leadership role in his senior campaign. McNaughten has a live arm and raw athleticism that Allen sees him harnessing quickly as he grows into his frame. Allen hasn’t officially named any captains, but notes that Menard and fellow senior Dan des Groseilliers have stepped up from the start to lead practices and open lines of communication between players.

“Having players like Andrew and Dan be proactive so early in the season with leading practices and drills has been a huge help. They’re good players and have shown the type of leadership you want for your team. I’ve put Grayson and Andrew together so far as we bring our pitchers along slowly and I think Grayson will learn a lot from Andrew this season. We have a few more guys throwing and showing potential on the mound and we hope to have a lot of capable arms when we get into the busy part of our season. Hazen graduated a strong senior class, but we have some really good talent in this group, and they are battling each other for key positions on this team. Work ethic has been good so far and they want to be the next stars of this program,” said Allen.

Allen has brought four to five players from CA, giving him 17 strong on the roster. Hazen will not field a junior varsity team this season, but Allen stresses that the key to sustained success for the program will be fielding a JV team in the near future.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is that we have a JV team, and I’ll keep stressing it and pushing it. It is the lifeblood of a program, and it gives players a place to play and develop, rather than sitting the bench at the varsity level. Hazen and their A.D. Aaron Hill has been great to work with so far with that, along with scheduling, and you can see that he approaches those duties with the same passion that he does with his basketball program. I like this group of kids that Joe and I have, we’ll take our lumps at times this season, but we’re going to win and lose with class. I want this program to continue to have success, to be respected, and I think with the athletes that we are developing here, absolutely anything is possible,” said Allen.

Hazen is scheduled to open their season next Tuesday at BFA-Fairfax.

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