When the 2017-18 season ended against Bloomfield (N.J.) College in the semifinal of the East Regional, Ryan Boulter was just two points shy of the 1,000-point mark for his college career. The former Mansfield standout and Hockomock League MVP, who scored more than 1,300 points for the Hornets, wasted no time in reaching the milestone this year. In fact, it took only one shot.
The Merrimack College senior forward made a back cut down the right side of the lane for an easy layup just 30 seconds into the season opener against Holy Family University (Pa.). “I wanted to get it out of the way early, but I didn’t expect to get it on the first basket like I did,” Boulter said in a phone call on Friday morning.
Despite the milestone not having the same level of pomp and circumstance that chasing 1,000 points does in high school, for instance the game continued without a break, Boulter recognized the magnitude of the achievement. He said, “I knew I was two points away and all of my teammates knew about it. They all congratulated me during the game and after the game. It was pretty special.”
Boulter led the Warriors with 19 points in the 69-50 win over Holy Family and was the 45th player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark (junior guard Juvaris Hayes also reached that mark last season). The milestone meant even more for Boulter because coming out of high school there were questions about his ability to play at the Div. II level. He received few looks from schools outside of Div. III until longtime Merrimack coach Bert Hammel (who passed away this October) offered him the chance to come to North Andover.
“A lot of people didn’t really expect me to play Div. II,” Boulter admitted. “I had a lot of Div. III offers, but a lot of people didn’t really recruit me for Div. II except Bert, so it’s really meant a lot for me to score 1,000 points here.”
It didn’t take Boulter long to prove that he deserved the chance to play in Div. II. The 6-foot-7 forward came off the bench in 23 games during his freshman season, averaging six points per game and shooting more than 38 percent from beyond the arc. Boulter took off in his sophomore season under new head coach Joe Gallo (who took over when Hammel retired), earning third team All-NE-10 honors as Merrimack’s leading scorer at 18 points per game.
There were high expectations coming into last season and Merrimack largely lived up them as a team, winning 20 games, but Boulter was sidelined for a dozen games in the middle of the season with a foot injury. Despite the setback and dealing with the first significant injury of his basketball career, he was still second on the team with more than 13 points per game and shot more than 43 percent from three-point range.
“It was pretty frustrating, coming back and missing about two months and trying to get your legs back into it,” he explained. “Having to play off the bench and having to play a certain amount of minutes was something I had to get used to but at the end of the season I started to get my feel back a little bit.”
The injury provided extra motivation for this season. The Warriors were ranked second in the preseason NE-10 coaches poll, behind St. Anselm, are expected to challenge for the conference title, and to make a run in the postseason. After missing time as a junior, Boulter is ready to get back to the all-conference level he reached as a sophomore.
He said, “It was really painful not being out there with the guys and it motivated me this off-season to really focus on my body, get it right to play a full season, and get this team to where we know we can be at the end of the year.”
The reason that expectations are so high for the Warriors is the depth on the team. Boulter said that this team is the deepest he has ever played with. He explained, “Especially in the starting five, everyone can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and we’ve got three or four guys coming off the bench who can do the same thing.”
Watch highlights of Merrimack running its offense and you see players constantly switching positions, spreading the floor, making cuts to the basket, and stretching the defense all across the court. “It’s incredible because we don’t care about who’s the leading scorer each game, we just care about winning and focusing on our goals,” Boulter said.
The Merrimack system also looks very similar to the offense that Boulter was part of at Mansfield, where he and the Hornets compiled a 72-9 record over his career, reached a state title game (where Boulter, just a sophomore, hit three free throws in the final seconds to force overtime against Putnam) and two sectional finals.
Boulter carried that culture of success, and the knowledge of what it takes to win games, into his collegiate career.
“Coach (Mike) Vaughan, that’s what he drilled into us every day in high school,” he said, “just focus on winning. It doesn’t matter if you’re in class or on the basketball court just focus on winning and having that mindset that you’re a winner.”
He added, “It makes it fun, even in practice, to have a great group of guys who just care about winning and don’t really care about their stats and all that.”
Last winter, Mansfield won its first ever state championship and Ryan’s younger brother Tyler played a critical role in the Hornets’ tournament run. Ryan had several close calls, including the overtime loss to Putnam in the final and a pair of thrilling match-ups with loaded Catholic Memorial teams in the South sectional, and he was excited for his brother being part of the first Hornets team to reach the pinnacle.
“I was very happy for him,” Boulter said. “He kind of had to live up to high expectation being my little brother, but I was really proud of him. He played his heart out and I was really happy that he won it.
“When I got there,” he continued, “I wasn’t really expecting to have the team really go far but [Coach Vaughan] really brings out the best in everyone and brings out that competitive nature in every practice. He really gets on us to get us where we want to be and he knows how great those teams can be. It’s amazing to see that program keep growing each and every year.”
It is only three games into the new season (Merrimack played Bentley on Saturday afternoon) but Boulter is already seeing signs that the Warriors can reach their goals this year – winning the NE-10 title and getting out of the East Regional. He pointed to the 72-42 win against Assumption on Wednesday night as an example of what the team can achieve.
“That’s probably the best defensive game we’ve played in my four years here,” he said. “If we focus on the defensive end for 40 minutes, then we’ll be very hard to beat because we know with our talent that our offense will come. If we can play as well as we did the other night on the defensive end then we can go really far this year.”
The season started with a personal milestone, but Ryan Boulter is focused on ending the season, and his Merrimack career, with an even bigger prize – the NE-10 title.
Ed. Note – Merrimack suffered a 65-59 loss at Bentley on Saturday to even its record at 2-2. Boulter scored six points in 37 minutes, shooting 2-of-6 from three.
In three postseason games, Franklin has gone to five sets all three times and has won all three of them.
That pattern held again in the Div. 1 Central/West final on Saturday evening at Wellesley High. Franklin cruised through the first two sets, demonstrating why the Panthers are still unbeaten, but then Shrewsbury rallied to win two straight and force a decisive final set. Franklin jumped out early to win the fifth set 15-5 and secure the program’s first-ever sectional title.
“You just have to work harder than the girls on the other side of the net, just want it, and I think it showed in the fifth set that they wanted it,” said first-year Franklin coach Kelsey Weymouth. “I’m beyond proud.”
Junior setter Lauren McGrath said, “We always have the energy but sometimes we doubt ourselves and we have to pick ourselves back up. We really proved that tonight in the fifth set; we came out strong.”
When asked how she felt to be the first Franklin team to win a sectional title, McGrath replied, “Amazing, I can’t even think right now. I’m blown away.”
Franklin was on a roll at the start of the match. The Panthers took their first lead at 8-7 of the opening set and never relinquished it, winning 25-22 to get the early advantage in the final. Defensively, the Panthers were tenacious, led by libero RRiley Marino, and didn’t allow the Colonials to find any rhythm.
“She’s a little spitball of fire,” Weymouth said of Marino. “Riley is probably one of the best defensive girls that I’ve seen in high school. She hustles every single ball, she’s always talking, she is always moving. Her heart is always in it.”
The dominant play continued in the second set, as Franklin took the lead at 9-8 and carried the lead all the way to a 25-21 win. Shrewsbury was struggling to keep up with the balance in the Panthers attack, which featured streaks from a number of hitters, including five kills in the second from Ellie Wisniewski and strong hitting in the middle from Maggie Doyle and Hailey Sanders.
The key to the Franklin attack was McGrath, who not only spread the ball around to all the hitters but always seemed to make the right decision as to who had the hot hand or who had the best look to beat the defense.
Weymouth said, “Lauren is good enough that she’ll put the ball to whoever is on. She does a very good job of spreading out the offense and knowing what time is right to go to what player.”
McGrath was asked how it feels to have so many weapons at her disposal as a setter and she responded, “It is the greatest thing in my life. I always get so excited. It’s awesome.”
Everything was going to plan for the Panthers until the start of the third set. It was as though a switch had been flipped and suddenly it was Shrewsbury dominating, the Colonials that never allowed a ball to hit the floor, and hitting every seam.
Franklin kept it close at first, trailing only 7-5, but then the Colonials rattled off five straight points to take control of the set. Peyton Arone subbed in for the Panthers to give the briefest of sparks, but Shrewsbury kept adding to its lead and won the set 25-17.
Any hope of the fourth set being different was put to rest quickly, as Shrewsbury raced out to a 9-2 lead. Serve-receive was a struggle, the Colonials were contesting every hit, and the Panthers couldn’t stem the momentum. Twice with Franklin hanging around, down by a handful of points, the teams put together long rallies filled with digs and great plays, but each time it was the Colonials that ended up with the point.
After Shrewsbury won the fourth 25-15, Weymouth gathered the team to refocus it on the task at hand – being the first to 15 points in the fifth. Whatever was said in that huddle seemed to work.
When the final set started, it was the Panthers from the start of the match that took the floor. Franklin pulled ahead 5-0 behind solid serving by Wisniewski and a kill from Allyson Bonnet-Eymard. Back-to-back kills by Doyle were followed by back-to-back kills by Lily Gallucio and a kill from Sanders. Suddenly it was 10-1 and it was Shrewsbury struggling to find any momentum.
“Having that first one under our belt gave them the confidence that we can do it,” said Weymouth. “I know going into a fifth set that we can do it. It was all on them.”
Wisniewski set up match point with a kill and Doyle finished it off with one of her own. The Panthers won the fifth set, the match, and the championship at a gallop.
Franklin (20-0) will advance to the state semifinal and will host perennial state power Barnstable.
Weymouth never won a sectional title as a player during a standout career at North Attleboro. The closest that she came was as a junior, when the Rocketeers lost to Barnstable in the South final. Although it is a different experience as a coach, she is enjoying every minute.
“It feels pretty great,” she explained. “I had been in their shoes and I wanted it for them. It’s huge and they deserve it more than anything.”
Facing a team widely considered the best in the state is a challenge, but McGrath is relishing the chance to show that Franklin belongs in the conversation.
“It’s the craziest thing,” she said. “We want it so bad. At the beginning of the season, we knew we’d be that strong team and we’re going to go out there and prove that we’re a damn good team.”
WELLESLEY, Mass. – Momentum is a key to any high school volleyball match. Teams build up confidence and go on scoring runs, which is amplified when that run closes out a critical fourth set and keeps a season alive.
Groton-Dunstable went on that type of run in the Div. 2 Central final on Saturday afternoon at Wellesley High, winning nine of the last 11 points to pull out the fourth set 25-19 and force a decisive final set. The momentum from that run to keep the season alive, helped the Crusaders take control of the fifth and deny Canton its first sectional title since 2012.
The Crusaders won the fifth set 15-7, including eight of the last nine points, to beat the Bulldogs 3-2 (20-25, 25-14, 16-25, 25-19, 15-7) and claim the Central title.
“It’s a game of momentum, but unfortunately in the end they had the momentum,” said Canton coach Pat Cawley. “They did carry it over [from the fourth set] and we didn’t have an answer for it. We played a little tight on serve-receive…we didn’t get our offense going at all.”
Canton got off to a strong start to the match in a back-and-forth opening set. Despite dealing with the strong hitting and blocking abilities of Crusaders star Lily Blodgett, the Bulldogs were able to get into a groove with Taylor Harris and Theresa O’Brien on the outside. The five-point edge that Canton ended the set with was the largest lead for either team in the first.
Groton-Dunstable answered right back with a dominant second set. Blodgett was in total control and had the Bulldogs out of sorts at the start, particularly middle hitter Erin Devine, who had a couple of hits blocked in the first and had to be creative to get good looks.
“She (Blodgett) blocked her a lot, but I was proud of Erin because she scored a lot of points in different ways,” Cawley said.
Devine and the Bulldogs bounced right back in the third and had their strongest set of the match. Devine got things started with a kill and then Harris added two on the outside, as Canton jumped in front 10-2. After the Crusaders cut the lead to five points, Harris again found a hole in the G-D defense for a big points and a 12-6 lead.
Everything seemed to be working for the Bulldogs in the third. Olivia Chinsen and libero Megan McDonough each had an ace, Rose Hazam came off the bench and was able to scramble a ball over the net that dropped in for a point, Bailey Shea had a kill in the middle, and Liz Bickett snagged a point for Canton as well.
The fourth set was also back-and-forth, as the two teams were within no more than three points of each other until the final stretch. Groton-Dunstable built an early 6-3 lead, but Canton answered right back with kills from Shea and Harris. Harris also earned a point with a block and setter Nicole Brown (who Cawley called the “glue of the team”) stepped up to the net for a block that made it 11-10.
With the score tied at 16-16, the Bulldogs won the type of point that had its fans thinking the trophy was heading to Canton. After a long rally between the teams, Harris managed to dig a tough hit, Brown hustled to keep the play alive and then McDonough not only bumped the ball back across the net from outside the court but also saw it drop in for the point and the lead.
G-D looked unfazed, winning the next three points to regain the advantage and force a Canton timeout. The set was closed out on back-to-back aces by Crusaders libero Peter White, who was a defensive stalwart for the Groton-Dunstable back line.
“Obviously, they didn’t let the ball fall on their side, so they could run their offense,” Cawley explained. “Their defense was better than just about any we faced this season.”
The fifth and deciding set started out even, with the teams trading the first six points. After a pair of Crusaders kills, Harris stepped up and found space down the line to make it 5-4. Carolyn Mullins, who stepped up in the middle when Blodgett was on the bench, had a kill and a block to extend the lead.
A kill from Shea and a mishit got Canton back within one and gave the Bulldogs hope that they could turn things around, but three straight points, including a pair of aces from White, put the Crusaders in the driver’s seat.
“We hung in their in the first half of the fifth set and then we had some trouble with serve-receive and we just couldn’t get out of it,” said Cawley.
Canton’s struggles with serve-receive continued down the stretch as the Crusaders won two more service points before Blodgett put an exclamation point on her night with one final kill to seal the championship.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my team tonight,” Cawley said. “None of them had played in the tournament before. This was the first time for every single one of them. Their growth from last year to this year has been amazing.”
For Canton (19-3), this was an impressive bounce back year. The Bulldogs regained their spot atop the Davenport division and reached the sectional final through a complete team effort.
Cawley said, “It was big growth in their confidence level as well as their skill level. They put all out there and it just didn’t go our way.”
She added, “I carried 18 kids on my team and I can honestly say for the first time ever all 18 of them I could put in there and feel confident. Every day someone new stepped up.”
MANSFIELD, Mass. – The first game back in September was a surprising shootout, but the rematch in the pouring rain on Friday night at Alumni Field was more of what has come to be expected from battles between Mansfield and King Philip.
Defense was the story of the Div. 2 South final. The Hornets scored a touchdown on their opening possession but were held off the board for the remainder of the game, while the Warriors were held without a touchdown until midway through the fourth quarter.
King Philip came away with a hard-hitting 10-7 victory over its division rival, securing its third straight trip to the Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium.
“There’s playing teams and then there’s playing Mansfield,” King Philip coach Brian Lee remarked. “You know what you’re going to get and it’s just how are you going to move the ball when they’re big and mean and tough and we’re just trying to find a way.”
Mansfield took the lead midway through the first quarter, taking advantage of a short punt to score its only touchdown of the game.
After a three-yard punt, the Hornets got the ball at the KP 37 but then backed up 10 yards on a pair of false starts. On third and 15, Aidan Sacco was able to pull the ball down and scramble for 16 and a first down. Two plays later, Sacco again found space to run and rumbled in untouched for a 16-yard score.
The ensuing kick was fielded at the one by Aidan Bender, but he returned it 47 yards out to midfield. The Warriors were unable to make it count, but the defense got the ball right back.
KP forced a Mansfield three-and-out and regained possession inside Hornets territory. Ryan Halliday (27 carries, 96 yards), with help from a defensive holding call, got the ball down to the 21, but Mansfield held firm and forced a 38-yard field goal from Cole Baker that cut the lead to 7-3.
Mansfield had a chance to add to its lead before halftime when it go the ball back at midfield. The drive started poorly, as Sacco was sacked by Halliday and Max Armour, but a personal foul following an incomplete pass gifted the Hornets 15 yards and a first down. Sacco then hit Cincere Gill for 20 yards down to the KP 18, but two plays later Gill fumbled and Bender recovered for the Warriors.
“When they didn’t score before the half, I thought we were okay,” said Lee. “We couldn’t have played any worse offensively and made some mistakes on defense, but if we could get into the half and make our adjustments and only be down four I thought alright that’s KP football, we’re fine.”
The third quarter continued the trend where defenses were in control of the game. Even without Vinnie Holmes at linebacker, Mansfield was getting big plays from Chris Copponi and T.J. Guy. KP was getting typically strong performances from Armour and fellow linebacker Jack Webster to stymie the Mansfield offense.
The score stayed the same heading to the fourth before KP finally got something going on the offensive side of the ball. The Warriors ate up six minutes with an 11-play, 51-yard drive to take the lead.
“We started just grinding it out, pounding it,” said junior quarterback Robbie Jarest about the go-ahead drive. “The line was doing really well, we were just grinding it out.”
Halliday continued to be the workhorse back, grinding out yards, including a two-yard burst to convert a fourth and one. On second and six, KP called for a bootleg from Jarest and he bounced it to the outside for 11 yards. On third and six, Jarest scrambled and managed to dive ahead for nine and another first down to the Mansfield 12.
On the next play, he hit David Morganelli just outside the goal line for a first and goal from about a foot, which Jarest finished off with a sneak.
The Hornets had 5:38 on the clock to try and get back the lead. Back-to-back nine-yard gains by Gill and Joe Plath got the ball out to the 43. After an eight-yard gain by Khristian Conner pushed the ball into KP territory, Mansfield took a chance downfield. Sacco tried to squeeze a pass in down the middle but it was picked off by Deric Casado at the 16.
On third and eight, again KP turned to its quarterback on a bootleg and Jarest weaved his way through the Mansfield defense for nine yards and a dagger first down that sealed the win.
“Robert gave us a little wrinkle at the end that was just enough,” said Lee. “That’s kind of what we do at KP, just enough. He’s really done a great job stepping up, taking the coaching, and I’m really proud of his efforts.”
No one was quite sure what to make of this KP team at the start of the season. With no returning starters on offense, this didn’t seem like a Warriors team that could make it back to the state title game, but here they are again booking a trip back to Gillette Stadium with eyes on a three-peat.
“It’s a very different team and it’s presented challenges along the way but they still have the same theme, which is keep believing, keep working,” Lee explained. “The one thing that stayed from the last two years is their work ethic and their belief that they can pull it off.”
He added, “We have heart, we have guts, we have teamwork, and we use it on this team better than anybody. Anybody can be a hero on a different play.”
King Philip (8-2) will face Franklin on Thanksgiving Day and then take on North champion North Andover in the Div. 2 title game. Mansfield also finished the season at 8-2 and will finish its season with its Thanksgiving Day rivalry game against Foxboro at Fenway Park.
TAUNTON, Mass. – It has been a remarkable two-year run for King Philip. The Warriors have won back-to-back Kelley-Rex division titles in dominating fashion, leading the league in goals scored and fewest goals allowed both years, and won a Div. 1 South crown in 2018.
The quest to repeat as sectional champions came to an abrupt end on Thursday night in the semifinal at Taunton’s Tiger Aleixo Stadium, as the Warriors gave up three straight goals, including two in two minutes, against Somerset-Berkley and lost 3-1 in a rematch of last year’s South final.
“I think the girls were nervous coming in,” said Kim Meehan, who, along with Erin MacDonald, was one of King Philip’s two coaches this season. “There was so much hype around this game that we’ve tried to keep them focused on their game.”
There was plenty of excitement surrounding this matchup of two of the top programs in the state, and a little bit of controversy as well. The Raiders have two boys, Alex Millar and Lucas Crooks, in the starting lineup and there has been a debate raging about whether or not that is fair to other programs.
The question was put to the KP coaches after Millar scored the game-winning goal on Thursday and Crooks added the insurance goal that sealed the victory, but both wanted to focus on the play of their team and not on something that can’t be changed.
“I’m more concerned about the game,” said Meehan. MacDonald added, “We’ll talk about our team and the strategy. We don’t want to talk about the rest.”
It was an end-to-end game, played at a pace that few teams in the state would be able to match for a full 60 minutes. KP had an early chance to try and break the deadlock with Nicole Connor finding Alli Meehan off a corner and she quickly swung it to Katie Lindmark for a shot that was just wide of the post.
Somerset had a good look minutes later when Crook got in behind the KP defense off a pass from Megan Salsinha, but he couldn’t put his shot on target. Meehan again got going with a winding run through the defense and her shot into the middle was redirected just wide by freshman Meghan MacDonald.
Camryn Crook had a good look at goal in the 17th minute but pressure from KP defender Emma Izydorczak put her off enough that the shot went wide. Millar also went close with a powerful backhand shot off a corner.
Meehan drew a save with six minutes left in the first half and the rebound came to Connor but her effort hit the side of the goal. A minute later and the Raiders missed a golden opportunity when Salsinha stole the ball on the restart and broke free only to rifle a shot wide when clean through.
Lucas Crook had another good chance just after halftime when he stole the ball in the attacking zone, but Grace May came up with a big kick save. MacDonald nearly fashioned a good chance for KP when she took it off Millar’s stick and tried to hit Abby Nixon right in front, but again it went wide.
The breakthrough finally came in the 39th minute. Meehan picked out Claire Lawler on the left side of the goal. Lawler played it back to Meehan in space and she was able to draw a save our of Madison Ferrara. The rebound went right back across goal to the far post, where Lawler was ready for the tap in.
Rather than give KP a momentum boost, the goal seemed to spark the Raiders into life and Somerset-Berkley quickly turned the game on its head.
“I was a little surprised by that,” MacDonald admitted. “I thought scoring the goal would take us to the next level intensity-wise and I don’t know that it did.”
In the 45th minute, Camryn Crook forced May into a save and Millar drew another good save off the resulting corner but finally on the third try Salsinha managed to knock in a rebound and tie the game.
When asked about the play of May in goal, Meehan said, “She made a couple of great saves,” while MacDonald added, “She was like a super hero out there today.”
All the energy was with the Raiders and they quickly went back to work in the attacking half of the field, earning another corner. The ball was played out to Millar and he fired a shot into the mass of players in front of the goal. It took a deflection off a KP stick and looped into the top corner of the net for what turned out to be the game-winner.
KP tried to push and get back into the game, but the Warriors were struggling to create clear chances against the Somerset-Berkley defense. In the end, it was the Raiders that would add another goal. Lucas Crook drove across the crease onto his backhand and he fired a shot into the far corner.
“I’m super proud,” said Meehan. We have 10 athletes on the field who have given 100 percent all season long, six seniors, and they’ve just put in so much work. It wasn’t that we didn’t play well. We held our own.”
King Philip finishes the season at 18-2-1.