By Tris Wykes

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – Tree seedlings in small, cardboard containers were given away to spectators at Friday night’s Hartford High boys lacrosse game against visiting Colchester. The “Elber-trees” were part of Bill Elberty Night, a time to remember the former Hurricanes coach who passed away suddenly at age 66 last spring.

The seedlings were fitting momentos because Elberty grew the Hartford program almost from the ground up. The Hurricanes were an athletic afterthought in 2010 when he arrived from Woodstock High, where he’d coached the Wasps’ Vermont Division I program for four previous seasons. 

Hartford High boys lacrosse coach Grant Whiteway speaks with Memphis Johnston during halftime. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

Hartford slogged along for a couple of seasons while Elberty instilled accountability and his charismatic personalty began to draw better athletes to the team.

The Hurricanes evolved from stick-swingers and became positionally and emotionally aware enough to reach the Division III finals in 2016 and 2017. They’ve been one of Division II’s better programs since returning to that level in 2018.

Friday, Hartford pinned a 10-6 defeat on the Lakers behind an early Carter Nalette hat trick and under the direction of fourth-year coach Grant Whiteway, who eased into the role as Elberty stepped back during the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. 

Standing under the field lights after his team improved to 6-3, Whiteway, a former high school All-American and UMass player, recalled first meeting Elberty in Hartford’s fitness center during his second day of work as a teacher at the adjacent middle school. Elberty oversaw a program for at-risk high school students.

Hartford High’s Blaine Gour falls in front of Colchester’s Kyle Nadeau. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“We talked lacrosse three or four times a week and he gave me the reins and taught me so much about the little things I didn’t know,” said Whiteway, whose father, also named Grant, is a longtime high school coach. “Player management, riding kids’ ups and downs and listening to what they need. Bill was a really great mentor to me.”

Whiteway’s wife, Brianna, is a Hartford High graduate he met at UMass and they settled in the Upper Valley after college. Elberty could have shut the newcomer out, but in typical fashion, welcomed him aboard. By Whiteway’s second season, he was effectively running the team during games, while Elberty wandered the sidelines, replacing out-of-bounds balls or easing alongside a Hurricane to offer a gentle reminder.

Friday’s game could have become chippy, but Hartford was unwilling to play that style and pulled away from a 7-4 halftime lead with poise and the continuation of a quick transition game. 

“That’s something that was huge with Bill, to never retaliate,” Whiteway said. “We continue to teach that, because learning that lesson can help anywhere in life.

Hartford High’s Joseph Barwood waits for a whistle to restart play. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“The kids played for Bill tonight and they played their tails off. It’s fun to coach this group with the hard work they put into practice and the way they get after it in games. We’re trending in the right direction for this point in the season.”

Hartford was eliminated from the 2019 state semifinals by Harwood and lost to the visiting Highlanders, 13-4, on April 26. The Hurricanes have won four of five contests since that setback, however, and are solidly in the division’s top half, along with Harwood, Stowe, Spaulding and Rice. The latter visits Hartford on May 21 and the Hurricanes travel to Stowe five days later.

Friday’s game started with Nalette scoring three of his team’s first four goals, en route to a 6-1 lead that chased Colchester’s starting goaltender to the bench. The Lakers (2-2) rallied by striking for four of the next five tallies and trailed, 7-5, less than a minute into the third quarter.

The hosts put the game away by going up, 10-5, three minutes into the final stanza. Joseph Barwood had two goals and six ground balls and Memphis Johnston, Ezra Mock, Bentley Boonyaharn, Chris Pierce and Matt Derosier also tallied. Tarin Prior made 14 saves, six of them during the fourth quarter. Hartford won 6 of 15 faceoffs.

“We played with high intensity last night against St. Johnsbury and that carried over into tonight,” said Whiteway, whose team beat the visiting Solons, 12-4. “Our guys are sharing the ball. They’re dodging hard and forcing the defense to slide and moving the ball to the open man on the back side. That’s the type of lacrosse we want to see.”

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Hartford High’s Simon Spaulding levels Colchester’s Isaac Karlin. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.