Today’s games are listed below.
Canton @ Foxboro, 3:15
Stoughton @ Oliver Ames, 3:30
Taunton @ King Philip, 3:00
Mansfield @ Milford, 3:00
Today’s games are listed below.
Canton @ Foxboro, 3:15
Stoughton @ Oliver Ames, 3:30
Taunton @ King Philip, 3:00
Mansfield @ Milford, 3:00
By HockomockSports.com Staff
2019 Record: 6-10
Coach: Jon Burre
Despite graduating over a half a dozen seniors from last year’s squad, head coach Jonathan Burre is excited to see what the new faces will bring to the table this season. One constant the Bombardiers have is junior captain Brendan Raymond, who led the team with an average score of 40.3 last year as a sophomore. Not only is Raymond a solid player on the course and great around the greens, but Burre also said he’s a great leader for the young squad.
Junior captain Parker Sackett, junior Jackson Sweeney, and sophomore Carter Shelton are all back after picking up valuable match experience last season and will be counted on to be key scorers for the Bombardiers, who are playing out of Stone-E-Lea Golf Course for the third straight season. Sophomore Leo Lombardo has made a big leap and will factor into the scoring for the squad while freshmen Dane Holske and Ryan Hill have shown promise in tryouts and practices.
“I like what I have seen from the underclassmen and I am looking forward to seeing who steps up and grabs those last few match spots each week,” Burre said. “The team has been coming in each day with good attitudes and competing at practice. We are well led by our captains and ready for the season!”
2019 Record: 13-1 (Davenport division champions)
Coach: Mike Barucci
The three-time defending Davenport division champions will be looking to stretch the streak to four this season, which would be a program first. The Bulldogs earned their third straight crown last season on the back of Hockomock League MVP senior Chris Lavoie, who led the league in average for the regular season, as well as a very deep lineup behind him. The Bulldogs will host division foes at Blue Hill Country Club on the challenger course.
Canton also won three straight league titles from 1998-2000 and the Bulldogs head into this season as the favorite to win a fourth straight Davenport title. Despite losing Lavoie to graduation, Canton returns three other Hock All-Stars in juniors Conor Hunter, Will Gefteas, and Michael Leonetti — all three shot an average of under 40 during breakout sophomore campaigns. They will be joined by four-year starter Thomas Singleton in the quest for a four-peat in 2020. Head coach Mike Barucci praised the improvement of senior Owen Donovan and expects a lot of golfers to be in the mix for a spot in the lineup including Nate MacDonald, Andrew Middleton, Aiden French, Charlie Cohen, and Ryan Doucette.
“We have a lot of depth this year and a lot of guys returning who have experience playing in matches,” Barucci said. “We should have a very competitive and exciting season.”
2019 Record: 10-6
Coach: Jared Tise
It might be a month later than anticipated but the Foxboro Warriors are excited to hit the links and get back out on the course to try and build on their 2019 campaign. Posting an 8-2 record against division foes and a 10-win season overall — the squad’s best in nearly a decade — Foxboro is looking to challenge Canton for the top spot in the Davenport.
Teeing off on the front nine at Foxborough Country Club, the Warriors will be anchored by a pair of senior captains in Dylan Quinn and Luke Davies. Quinn, who qualified for states as an individual last season, spent the summer improving all parts of his game and will be in the mix among the top golfers in the league this year. Davies was apart of the Warriors lineup each match last season and head coach Jared Tise expects him to be a big factor this year.
“[Davies] has improved to come out of tryouts as our number two player,” Tise said. “Luke, like Dylan, has worked very hard this summer improving his game while keeping his strength of iron play.”
Foxboro will turn to a handful of juniors to round out the top four this season, including Jack Rounds, Matt Fossella, Jack Watts, and Dylan Pothier. Rounds and Fossella each played in all of Foxboro’s matches last season while Watts and Pothier gained some valuable experience; all four are likely to factor into scoring this year.
2019 Record: 14-4
Coach: Dustin Picillo
With six starters returning from last year’s 14-win team, including five experienced seniors, the Panthers are primed to make a push for the Kelley-Rex division title. After sharing the crown with OA in 2018, the Franklin finished second last year but will be one of the top challengers as rival Mansfield looks to repeat. Franklin calls Franklin Country Club home and will host teams on the front nine (par 35).
Spearheading the way for the Panthers will be senior Jack Paterson, returning after a stellar 2019 campaign. After finishing the regular season in the top five with an average score of 38.2, Paterson capped the season by shooting a 76 at Blue Hill Country Club to take home the individual title at the Hockomock League Championships. Seniors Nolan Norton, Brian Sandham, Sean Connelly, and Pat Dolan, who is coming off a breakout season in 2019, will make up the backbone of the Panthers this season. Juniors Caroline Woelfel and Jack MacKinnon will also be in the mix after gaining valuable experience on the course a year ago, while underclassmen Jack Hagerty, Ben Paterson, and CJ Steel have impressed in the early going.
“We are excited about our team this year,” said head coach Dustin Picillo. “Greens are firm and fast at FCC which has given us an early test of where we are at. We’re excited to get started against Attleboro.”
2019 Record: 9-5
Coach: Myles McHugh
Despite a late start to the season, King Philip is aiming to be a spoiler in the Kelley-Rex division title hunt this season. Coming off a nine-win season, the Warriors are hoping to take the next step this year. Junior captain and Hock all-star Mike Matheson will lead the way for the Warriors, fresh off a strong 2019 campaign in which he averaged 39.9. He will be joined by senior captain Aidan Leonard, a four-year member of the program who will provide leadership and guidance for a squad with 11 juniors and nine underclassmen.
Head coach Myles McHugh will be leaning on Jared Curran, Pat Reardon, and Kevin Birenbaum — three returners from last season. Juniors Timmy Hartwell and Markus Paschke have shown a lot of improvement from a season ago and will be in the mix for the starting lineup when the Warriors tee off at Wentworth Hills Country Club. Sophomore James Boldy and freshmen Ethan Sullivan and Tyler Douglas have impressed in the early tryouts and practices and will be pushing for spots in the KP lineup.
“With 21 players on the team this year, the eight varsity travel spots are sure to be hotly contested,” McHugh said. “And as always, I would like to thank Wentworth Hills Country Club for hosting our team. It’s is a beautiful course that has afforded us a strong home course advantage for several years now.”
2019 Record: 14-2 (Kelley-Rex Division Champions)
Coach: Chris Hall
The Hornets had a banner year in 2019, winning the Kelley-Rex division for the first time since 2015 and went on to take first place at the Hockomock League Championship with a 12-stroke margin of victory. With virtually its entire starting lineup back this season, Mansfield enters the season as the favorite to repeat as division champions under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Chris Hall.
Playing the front nine at Norton Country Club its home course, the Hornets will face stiff competition as they try to secure another division championship. But with a strong senior class that features 11 golfers, Mansfield remains the team to beat. Ryan Dow, who led the team with an average of 38.8 and placed second at each of the last two league championships, is joined by brothers Jason See (39.1) and Brian See (39.5) at the top of the lineup for the Hornets. And don’t forget senior Nate Morreale (40.3), who took home the individual title as a sophomore at the 2018 league championship meet. Mansfield boasts incredible depth with seniors Joe Gormley (41.8) and Ava Haggis (42.8), both consistent scorers over the past couple of seasons, back in the lineup.
“Rounding out the team are a variety of incredibly talented senior athletes, mixed with a strong group of juniors and underclassmen looking to complete,” Hall said. “The Hornets have truly worked together to build a successful program at Mansfield High School. While our short term intentions are clear, the future is bright for the Hornets.”
2019 Record: 3-12
Coach: Jason Potty
Milford is hoping to have a bounce back season after just three wins in 2019. Hosting division rivals at Hopedale Country Club (par 35), the Scarlet Hawks will lean heavily on their most experienced golfers as they battle against Kelley-Rex foes this season. While the Hawks will have home course advantage against most of its new division rivals, they will be venturing to a handful of courses for the first time this season.
Seniors Dave Pacella (captain) and Wesley Murdock will lead the way and have a big impact for Milford this season. They will be joined by juniors Ronan Fleming and Tom Donato, who both picked up valuable experience last season as sophomores. After that, the Hawks will turn to youth to fill out the lineup card. First-year sophomores Eric Farrell and Tyler Caldon are going to be in the mix while freshmen Anthony LaPierre, Nate Lawrence, Jacob Hipolito, and Joe Pezza have shown promise early on and could factor into the scoring for Milford.
“We’re really excited that we actually have a season even if it is shortened so the seniors can have a nice send off and young guys can get match experience and play the other golf courses in the Hock,” said head coach Jason Potty.
2019 Record: 8-8
Coach: Steve Nelson
After spending the past two seasons on the gridiron, junior Tyler DeMattio will be hitting the links this season and will be one of the main players for a Rocketeers squad that is looking to break Canton’s streak atop the Davenport division. With football pushed to the wedge season between winter and spring, athletes have the opportunity to participate in a different fall sport and DeMattio is taking advantage, trading his helmet and shoulder pads in for a driver and putter.
Along with the addition of DeMattio, the Rocketeers have sophomore Jake Gaskin back in the fold at Heather Hill Country Club. As a freshman, Gaskin burst onto the scene with an average of 40.6 during the regular season and tied for North’s top score at the league championship match. With a year under his belt, Gaskin will likely be in the mix among the top golfers in the division. Senior co-captains Aidan Weir (43.6) and Sam Gallagher (43.0) will lead the way both on and off the course this season. Head coach Steve Nelson has eight golfers battling it out for the last four spots, hoping the competition among teammates will bring out the best when the Rocketeers tee off this week.
2019 Record: 9-5
Coach: Ryan Riley
After a four-year stint in the Kelley-Rex that featured three division titles, the Tigers are back in the Davenport where they won four straight titles from 2012-2015. With its seven-year title streak snapped in 2019, Oliver Ames is looking to knock off three-time defending champion Canton behind a deep, but young, squad.
Head coach Ryan Riley will lean on senior captain James Walsh and junior captain Jo Jo Gaultier to provide some stability to a team that graduated six seniors, including all three of its participants in last year’s league championships. Senior Logan Domenico and junior Carter Allbritton have match experience and will be key pieces this season while junior Jake Kaplan has impressed in the early going. Freshmen David Rodgers and Sean Kearns don’t have any match experience yet but will be in the mix for the Tigers’ starting lineup. Oliver Ames plays off the white tees at Pine Oaks Golf Course in Easton.
2019 Record: 5-8
Coach: Thor Van Vaerenewyck
Sharon lost two starters to graduation and has just one senior on the team this year, but with two of the top returning golfers back in the fold, the Eagles will contend against division foes this year on the front nine at the Cape Club of Sharon.
Senior Ethan Skelly has been among the league leaders in each of the past two seasons (37.5 average over two seasons) and that trend is likely to continue this year. Skelly, who finished tied for sixth at Hocks last year, is joined by juniors Nathan Daley and Eric Carter, who not only picked up valuable match experience last year but were key contributors in the Eagles’ starting lineup. Daley had a strong finish to his 2019 campaign with a fourth-place finish at Hocks while Carter has shown improvement from a year ago. Juniors Owen Kevorkian and Rosie Leonard will also factor into the scoring for Sharon after getting their feet wet last season.
2019 Record: 1-14
Coach: Brett Boyd
With all eight starters back from a year ago, the Black Knights are aiming to have an improved season on the links. Led by senior captain Max Huminik, who had the top average on the team and was the team’s medalist in almost all matches, the Knights are hoping to increase the win count this year under fifth-year head coach Brett Boyd.
Juniors Anthony Hearn and Patrick Smith are aiming to build on some great rounds from last year, gaining valuable experience as sophomores on courses they will see again this season. Senior Jake Curtis will be another key contributor for Stoughton, who hosts teams on the front nine at Easton Country Club. Curtis is a consistent player and will likely factor into the scoring in each match. Boyd noted how all four golfers have made great adjustments off the team and have positioned themselves to improve their scoring. Jonah Hochberg, Brooke Bulger, Joseph Mark, and Joseph Rush have impressed early on and will be battling for spots in the starting lineup.
“I’m looking forward to having the same squad back from last year that now has experienced playing in matches and seen these other courses,” Boyd said.
“It will only help make us more competitive down the stretch.”
2019 Record: 2-13
Coach: Brad Koneski
The Tigers boast four returning starters from last year’s squad and are aiming to improve as the season progresses. The Tigers are set to tee off on the road against King Philip but later in the week will entertain the Warriors, as well as the rest of the Kelley-Rex division, at Segregansett Country Club.
Seniors Spencer Andrews, Colton Fagan, Dillon Schofield, and Kyle Robinson are the key contributors back for the Tigers in 2020 and will all be important pieces for this season. All four were apart of the Tigers’ starting lineup a year ago and that experience should help as they battle through a loaded Kelley-Rex division. Head coach Brad Koneski, now in his sixth season at the helm, also expects Nathan Fernandes and Alex Dias to factor into the scoring for the Tigers this season.
Nate Tellier is living the dream of kids and baseball fans (of all ages) throughout New England. The former Attleboro High standout and All-Little East Conference pitcher and outfielder at UMass Dartmouth put pen to paper Tuesday on a three-year free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox. He has been invited to join his hometown team at spring training in March.
“There is no better feeling,” Tellier explained, still obviously coming to grips with a wild week that saw him invited to the Kelly Rodman Memorial Summer Rivalry Classic in Hartford on Friday, where he struck out the three batters he faced, to being offered a contract four days later by Red Sox scout Ray Fagnant.
“[Ray] texted me Monday at 11:30 at night and was like, want to meet tomorrow?” Tellier said. “I just thought we were going to talk…then he asked, ‘Do you want to be a Boston Red Sox? We’ve got a contract with your name on it right here.’ It was unbelievable.”
Telier continued, “It’s always been my dream to play for the Red Sox. It’s a dream come true. I’m just blessed because not many people get to live out their dream like I am right now.”
It has been a roller coaster year for the fireballer. At the beginning of his senior season in February, Tellier was recognized by Perfectgame.org as the No. 4 prospect nationally in Div. III. As a center fielder and closer for the Hawks, he was named Little East Player of the Week after the first three games and was batting .436 as UMass Dartmouth jumped out to a 9-1 record.
Then the world changed. The COVID-19 pandemic ended the spring season and Major League Baseball announced that it was shortening its amateur draft to just five rounds. “I was pretty disappointed because being a DIII player I’m not going to get drafted in the top five rounds,” Tellier admitted.
With a potential pro career seemingly stalled, Tellier, who graduated this spring with a degree in biology, joined the Brockton Rox of the Futures League for summer baseball and started considering his options for one more college season. Three saves and 19 strikeouts in 11-1/3 innings with the Rox, while regularly hitting 94-95 mph on the gun, caught the eye of scouts again and earned Tellier his chance to impress in Hartford.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a year, but it all worked out in the end,” he said. “Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long career.”
Tellier had an impressive career at Attleboro. His senior season, he went 3-0 in the regular season and led the Hockomock League in strikeouts (65) and ERA (0.60). He struck out 16 in an eight-inning no-hitter against North Attleboro, outdueled Norwood’s Sean Mellen (Northeastern University) in the first round of the playoffs, shutting out the Mustangs over nine innings and having both of Attleboro’s hits in a 1-0 win, and battled a sore shoulder in a close South semifinal loss at Silver Lake against Gatorade Player of the Year Anthony Videtto (UMass).
The talent was evident, but, according to former Attleboro coach Matt Bosh, it was the work ethic that turned Tellier from a 4-foot-11 freshman into a pitcher capable of signing with a big league club.
“His commitment is off the charts,” said Bosh. “He’s going to outwork everybody at any level he competes at and that’s how he’s always been. He would make other players around him better because they would see the best player on the team working the hardest. That’s a luxury for any coach.
“He’s made himself into a professional athlete. All that hard work paid off for him and it’s what he deserves.”
Tellier added, “Ever since I was seven it’s just been baseball, baseball, baseball, just full throttle. I don’t think I’ve gone a day without baseball since I was seven and just all the hard work that I put in, all my friends who’ve been pushing me, and it’s paid off.”
In a Boston Globe article by Alex Speier on Wednesday, Fagnant said, “Good story, but most importantly, at the end of the day, you’ve got big league tools. That’s the most important part. It’s a big arm, he’s a strong kid, and he’s athletic. It will be fun to watch his progress.”
Minor league baseball has been closed down for the summer, due to the pandemic, so Tellier will have to wait until March 3 before he reports to Red Sox camp. In the meantime, he will continue to go through his throwing program and work out and try to get used to the fact that his dream of being able to say, “I have to report to spring training with the Red Sox,” has come true.
“It hasn’t sunk in,” Tellier said with a chuckle, as he tried to describe his feelings. “I still can’t believe that I’m with the Boston Red Sox.”
Tellier is one of two members of the Attleboro High class of 2016 to sign professional contracts this year. He joins classmate Kyle Murphy, who signed with the NFL’s New York Giants as an undrafted free agent in April and is taking part in the team’s training camp.
The Hockomock League officially announced the move of girls volleyball to the Fall 2 season in a statement released on Saturday afternoon. The announcement follows Thursday’s meeting with league athletic directors and principals.
Volleyball joins football, competitive cheerleading, and unified basketball in the Fall 2 season, which is slated to start on February 22. Boys and girls soccer, field hockey, golf, and cross country are scheduled to start on September 18 at the earliest, with some schools pushing the start date until September 21 due to Rosh Hashanah. The MIAA announced its guidelines and modification for those sports on Friday, which can be found at here.
“The Hock realizes the reality of many schools starting in a remote-only structure, keeping buildings closed, as well as hybrid schools not having appropriate access to their gymnasiums,” the statement said. At least five Hockomock schools – Canton, Franklin, King Philip, Mansfield, and Taunton – are set to start the school year fully remote.
The statement included a total of five key bullet points, including a vote against out-of-season coaching. The MIAA Board of Directors voted on August 19 to “allow out of season coaching from September 18th, 2020 through July 3rd, 2021, as approved by the member school principal.” The Hock voted unanimously to “continue to follow the MIAA Handbook guidelines on out-of-season coaching until at least November 1. Rule 40, titled “Out-of-Season Coach-Athlete Contact Limitations” partially reads that “between seasons a coach may conduct a meeting(s) with team candidates only to elect captains, collect equipment, issue equipment, to provide for physical examinations, to conduct legitimate fund-raising events, or to offer wellness workshops or activities.” You can view the entire MIAA Handbook at here.
The statement also notes this includes the fall sports (football, volleyball, competitive cheer, unified basketball) that were moved to the wedge season, noting “There will be no practices conducted for these sports until the issue is re-investigated on or before November 1.” Multiple sources have indicated that most leagues in the region will be making the same decisions regarding out of season coaching.
The Hockomock League also announced a new spectator policy in accordance with the most recent guidance that was issued by the MA Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. There will be a limit of 50 spectators while face covers and six feet social distancing are required. Only spectators associated with the host school will be allowed into the facility and the league says spectators are “strongly discouraged from traveling to away games, especially since they will not be allowed into the host school’s facility when they arrive.”
Below is the complete statement from the Hockomock League:
Fall 2020 Sports are now moving forward to implementation. Several Hockomock League School Committees approved this week a return to the slate of Fall I sports put forth by MIAA. The MIAA Sports Committees completed their task of providing modifications to their sports to abide under the restrictive DESE and EEA guidelines issued on August 13. The MIAA Board of Directors approved and published these modifications on August 28.
The Hockomock Principals, following the recommendations of their respective Athletic Directors, made some important decisions regarding the sports offerings and procedures for the upcoming season. Their goal, as always, is to keep the League united and consistent in its competitive offerings. Here are the motions as approved by the Principals:
1. Start Date – The MIAA start date for Fall athletics is Friday, September 18th. This is the first day of the religious holiday of Rosh Hashanah. The League Principals voted to leave the start date up to the individual school. Therefore, some schools will begin practices on September 18 and others on Monday, September 21.
2. Sport Offerings – Guidelines from DESE/EEA/MIAA allowed schools to play Golf, Field Hockey, Boys and Girls Cross Country, Boys and Girls Soccer and Volleyball. As other conferences have done, including Central MA, all of District 3, and the Tri-Valley League, the Hock Schools agreed it would be best to move Volleyball to the new Fall 2 “wedge season” which will start on February 22. The Hock realizes the reality of many schools starting in a remote-only structure, keeping buildings closed, as well as hybrid schools not having appropriate access to their gymnasiums.
3. Out-of-Season Coaching – The MIAA approved Out-of-Season Coaching from September 18th to July 3rd. This in fact would allow any and all athletic programs to run practices all year. In order to minimize the amount of student extracurricular activity and limit student cohort interactions, the Principals voted for the League to continue to follow the MIAA Handbook guidelines on out-of-season coaching until at least November 1.
4. Football, Volleyball, Unified Basketball and Competitive Cheer Practice – These sports have been moved to officially practice and compete in the Fall 2 season that begins on February 22. In similar fashion to the motion above on out-of-season-coaching, the Principals approved the motion to govern these four sports under the MIAA Handbook guidelines. There will be no practices conducted for these sports until the issue is re-investigated on or before November 1.
In an effort to organize the safest athletics experience possible for our student-athletes, the Hockomock League will be following the most recent guidance that was issued by the MA Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. In the most recent guidance, issued on August 13th, the following details are specific to spectators regarding “Outdoor Capacity Limits”:
No more than 50 people excluding players, coaches, referees, or facility/activity workers in the aggregate in, on, or surrounding any surface / playing area or start/finish lines at any one time, provided that there is adequate space for all players, coaches, referees, or facility/activity workers and spectators to maintain at least six feet of social distancing.
Spectators must wear facial coverings and maintain six feet of social distance at all times.
In order to enforce this STATE-MANDATED restricted attendance, the Hockomock League will only be allowing spectators associated with the host school into their facility. All spectators are strongly discouraged from traveling to away games, especially since they will not be allowed into the host school’s facility when they arrive. The method by which each host school chooses to admit, or not admit, fans will be decided at the individual District level.
Any adjustments which we are pursuing are being made in order to continue to provide a healthy and safe athletic environment for our student-athletes. We are asking our families and student bodies to respect these Board of Health limitations to spectators at sporting events.
We are grateful for the opportunity for our Fall athletes to return to the playing field. While the seasons are date-modified, the sectional and state tournaments cancelled, and the sports are modified for health and safety, the student athletes will gain competitive experience and learn life lessons in these challenging and difficult times. Our students will greatly benefit and t heir social and emotional health will prosper.
The Hockomock League ADs
Mark Houle, Attleboro
Danny Erickson, Canton
Joe Cusack, Foxboro
Tom Angelo, Franklin
Gary Brown, King Philip
Mike Redding, Mansfield
Peter Boucher, Milford
Kurt Kummer, North Attleboro
Bill Matthews, Oliver Ames
Nick Schlierf, Sharon
Ryan Donahue, Stoughton
Mark Ottavianelli, Taunton
Below is the official statement from the Hockomock League regarding the upcoming Fall 2020 season.
August 20, 2020
We have all patiently, yet eagerly, awaited the Massachusetts DESE guidelines pertaining to Interscholastic Athletics for the 2020-21 school year. Late Tuesday we received those guidelines and the MIAA Board of Directors have voted to approve those guidelines. Very importantly, there is still a lot of work to be accomplished before a Fall 2020 sports season is permitted. The earliest date to begin any practices is Friday, September 18.
Each school district was tasked over the last several weeks to develop a detailed DESE-approved plan for the return-to-learning this school year. Rightly so, each district’s School Committee and Superintendent’s office is now focused on implementing that approved learning plan. Some districts have opted for a full-remote start while others have approved a hybrid model. Both come with their own obstacles that each district is aiming to overcome. Both plans will impact how Fall sports may look for that district.
We do know under these DESE-approved guidelines that the high-risk sports, Football and Competitive Cheer, have moved to a “Fall II” season with a start date of February 22, 2021. The low-risk sports, Cross Country and Golf and the moderate-risk sports, Field Hockey, Soccer, and Girls’ volleyball must undergo modifications, some significantly changing the look of the game, to adhere to the EEA/DESE guidelines. Those MIAA-sport committees are working on that goal now. Girls’ volleyball, as an indoor sport, has some very significant hurdles for high school programs to overcome.
Please be patient as our twelve districts individually tackle the DESE parameters and logistics of implementing their return-to-learning models. We hope to know more in the coming week or two what a Fall Sports season will look like. Each district’s School Committee is charged with approving the specific sports programs that will be offered at each of our schools. Once those details are gathered by our League ADs and Principals, schedules can be drawn up and approved for publication.
Please know we all want to see as many student-athletes return to the competitive playing field this Fall. The health and safety of our students is paramount in any and all of these decisions which are forthcoming.
The Hockomock League ADs
Mark Houle, Attleboro
Danny Erickson, Canton
Joe Cusack, Foxboro
Tom Angelo, Franklin
Gary Brown, King Philip
Mike Redding, Mansfield
Peter Boucher, Milford
Kurt Kummer, North Attleboro
Bill Matthews, Oliver Ames
Nick Schlierf, Sharon
Ryan Donahue, Stoughton
Mark Ottavianelli, Taunton
There has been a lot of talented teams in the Hockomock League over the past decade, and narrowing it down to a select few was a tedious and challenging task. With nearly 40 state championship teams, dozens of state finalists, and numerous sectional champions, there was no shortage of talent to select from.
When it came to selecting the top team for the list, there was one squad that stood out above the rest: the 2018-2019 Canton boys hockey team.
Like all of the teams at the top of the list, Canton was loaded with talent on the roster from the first player through the last, and the Bulldogs also checked every box when it came to championships, winning at the league, sectional and state level.
But what really separated this group from the rest was the manner in which they dominated the competition from day one up until the Division 2 State Championship at the TD Garden. Outscoring opponents 133-23, the Bulldogs picked up marquee wins throughout the regular season; they were great from the first game (7-2 over Plymouth South) all the way to their crowning achievement against Tewksbury (6-2).
Some of the great teams on this list have had slow starts while others came up just short late in the tournament or in the state championship. And of course, there were some teams that had a hiccup here or there in the middle of the season against top competition.
This Canton team rolled from the opening puck drop down in Bourne, a season-opening win over Plymouth South to avenge a heartbreaking loss that abruptly ended their season a year prior. In fact, you could circle that game — the 2018 D2 South Semifinal 5-3 loss to Plymouth South — as one of the biggest motivators for the 2018-2019 squad.
“I’m going to use a word that HockomockSports came up with for this team and that’s relentless,” said Canton head coach Brian Shuman. “I think that was the perfect word that sums up this team, they just did not stop. I think we scored the more goals in the opening couple of minutes of a game than I’ve ever been apart of as a coach.
“From the opening puck drop to the very end, just not stopping. Coming shift after shift, three or four lines, and six or seven defensemen playing consistently. Just non-stop and you don’t have to be a hockey aficionado to know that this team was a relentless group of driven and talented hockey players who were on a mission. Not even from day one, it was from the end of the season before from that heartbreaking loss to Plymouth South.”
And when the postseason rolled around, the Bulldogs were at their very best. Against the best competition in the area, Canton made it look easy by outscoring teams 29 goals in just five games, scoring six or more goals in four of those contests.
“We were just so close with each other,” said Ryan Nolte, a senior captain and forward that registered an impressive 71 points (32 goals, 39 assists) that season. “Most of us played together our whole lives growing up. We all had the common goal of playing for the varsity team, we were all together for one last ride my senior year so we wanted to make the most of it.
“We were just so competitive in practice, no one wanted to lose. I think that translated onto the ice in games. And off the ice, I think it was probably the closest group out of all four years I was there. We were always together, even after film and after practice, we’d hang out together. I think being such a close-knit group played a huge role in our season.”
Canton notched two impressive wins before the new year, knocking off a good Franklin team (that went on to the D1 South Finals that season) and dominating Westwood, 4-0. The Wolverines entered unbeaten and didn’t lose a game the rest of the regular season, eventually meeting with the Bulldogs in the South final.
When league play began in January, Canton continued to have its way with opponents. The Bulldogs won their first six league games by outscoring foes 36-5. A good non-league win over Newburyport preceded a two-game span that ended up being a big defining point in the season.
A Wednesday night trip to Franklin nearly derailed the perfect season as Zac Falvey and Scott Elliott each scored to put the Panthers up 2-0 through two periods. But in true fashion of a great team, the Bulldogs battled back. Nolte set up Jack Connolly less than a minute into the first period and Tommy Ghostlaw tied it 2-2 less than two minutes later. Despite playing with a 101-degree temperature, junior Johnny Hagan (21 goals, 31 assists) scored the game-winner with under two minutes to play.
“I’d say the moment when we kind of realized we were really good was that second Franklin game,” Nolte said. “Johnny Hagan was playing with the flu, we were down 2-0 and probably played two of our worst periods of the year, and we went out, in Franklin, and scored three in the third to come back and win 3-2. In the locker room after that game, it was like ‘Okay, we have a real shot at this.’”
Just days later, Canton was put to the test against a hungry North Attleboro squad. After letting a 2-0 lead slip away, Nolte notched his 100th career point by setting up Owen Lehane for the game-winner with just over two minutes to go.
“The two games back-to-back that really showed the grit and mettle was the game at Franklin which we were down 2-0 at their place and came back with three goals in the third period to win 3-2,” Shuman said. “And then to gut out a tough win against a really good North Attleboro team, who had us on the ropes, and we scored a late goal to get the win. That showed they had the mental toughness to do something special.”
Canton completed its unbeaten league schedule with a win over Taunton and then really beefed up its resume by knocking off top non-league foes: Bishop Feehan (6-0), Smithfield (8-1), Shrewsbury (5-0), Hanover (4-3), and Natick (3-0), garnering them attention for the Super 8 (Division 1A) Tournament.
“This team was unique and one way was because some of our best players had a confidence — not a cockiness — but a confidence that when they played well, we would win,” Shuman said. “Ryan Nolte, Johnny Hagan, Mike Staffiere…those guys in particular, the guys we were leaning on to score big goals and make big saves. They were definitely the most confident group I’ve coached. That mentality was contagious and infectious throughout our team. When they have that attitude, it really filters throughout the team.
The lone “blemish” of the season came in the opening round of the Quinn Tournament. Hagan scored a late equalizer for the Bulldogs against Boston Latin, with the game going down as a 2-2 in the MIAA record books. Since it was a tournament, it went into overtime and Hagan added another goal to give Canton the win. In the tournament finale, the Bulldogs put an exclamation mark on their resume with a 6-1 beating of Coyle & Cassidy.
The Super 8 committee met two days later and there Bulldogs got four votes in the first round of nominations to advance to the second stage, but didn’t get nominated again and were not selected despite boasting a 20-0-1 record.
“Honestly, I thought we had a shot at it,” Shuman said of the Super 8. “To go undefeated is incredibly difficult. If you’re involved in sports, you know how hard it is, day in and day out, game in and game out, get everybody’s best and respond like we did, it was pretty remarkable. We didn’t talk about (the Super 8), but I think it was on everyone’s mind, including myself.
“I felt the MIAA and the coaches association had opportunities to shake it up over the years and get teams into the Super 8 tournament that never had the chance before. Teams have those windows where they have a great group and they can hang with the best teams in the state. Like Wilmington had a good run, and Franklin had a good run in Division 2 that those teams should get a chance. I thought we made a great case…if they didn’t give it to us, they’ll never give it to a Division 2 team as far as I’m concerned. I think it would have been fun, it would have been special but everything works out for a reason.”
Longtime Franklin coach Chris Spillane, who guided the first Hockomock team to the Super 8 tournament in 2015, saw the Bulldogs a handful of times throughout the season and suffered a pair of setbacks to Canton as mentioned above.
“It’s heartbreaking that Canton didn’t get a look [in 2019] and didn’t get a sniff this year,” Spillane said. “The process is flawed tremendously because people get so caught up on Div. 1 and Div. 2 and there’s no doubt in my mind watching Canton play last year and this year there was no doubt in my mind that not only would they have held their own they probably would’ve had success.”
If the Bulldogs were disappointed by the snub, they certainly didn’t let it translate to their play on the ice. When the Division 2 South tournament started the following week, it was all business for Canton. And for the rest of the bracket, it was trouble.
“You always want to be playing your best hockey going into the playoffs and that’s what this team was doing,” Shuman said. “You look at that Boston Latin overtime win, it was like a playoff game so it showed we were ready for the postseason. As bummed out as a lot of kids were that we tied the game, it showed me we were ready for the playoffs that we went on to win in overtime.
“When you get to the playoffs, everyone is good. We looked at our side of the bracket, you could not have structured a more difficult road to the Garden from D2 South.”
It was like a revenge tour for the previous decade during the playoffs. After drubbing Norwood (6-0) to start the tournament, the Bulldogs welcomed league rival Oliver Ames to the Ice House. Despite holding a 5-2 win over the Tigers from earlier in the season, OA was a team with a successful track record against Canton in the tournament. Back in 2011, the Tigers stunned Canton in overtime, and two years later OA posted a 2-0 shutout in the semifinals.
True to form, the Tigers gave Canton their stiffest test of the tournament. Going stride for stride, up and down the ice, trading hits, it was one of the most competitive games of the year. A one-minute span in the second period changed the game as Nolte tipped in a shot from Connolly, and just 52 seconds later, Chris Lavoie redirected a shot from Matt Martin. Staffiere (17 saves) stood tall in net as the Tigers continued to pressure but Hagan recorded his 100th career point with an empty net goal to secure the win.
Up next was a trip to Gallo Arena, which had recently turned into a house of horrors for the Bulldogs in the month of March. Dating back to 2013, Canton reached at least the semifinals each season, which meant a trip down over the bridge to Gallo. And unfortunately, it also meant heartbreak. A 2-0 loss to OA in 2013, a 3-2 loss to Medfield in 2014, a 4-1 setback to Westwood in 2015, being upset 4-2 by Scituate in 2016, and back-to-back heartbreakers: a 3-2 loss to Medway in 2017 and the 5-3 defeat to Plymouth South a year prior.
“The word was that we couldn’t win at Bourne,” Nolte said. “We wanted to keep the haters in the rearview and prove them wrong.”
Not only did Canton go on to win at Bourne, they decimated the competition. Going against one of the best goalies in the region in Norwood senior Austin Reardon, the Bulldogs put together a terrific performance, scoring six goals against one of the stingiest defenses around.
To top that performance, Canton went on to light the lamp eight times in the South sectional final. Westwood, which hadn’t lost a game since its setback to the Bulldogs in December, entered with a 16-1-6 record but it took Canton less than a minute to score and the rout was on from there.
“You talk about being relentless? We scored early in that game and that set the tone for the entire game,” Shuman said. “We just didn’t stop at that point, we continued to put the pressure on. There aren’t many times you can look back and see an 8-0 win in the sectional final. It’s tough to beat a team twice and tough to beat a team with that much talent but it was truly a team effort. Our depth really carried us that game, that was the most complete game of the season.”
While nothing is given, and the Canton boys hockey program had certainly seen its share up ups and downs during the postseason over the past decade, it certainly felt like the state championship was just a formality; that’s how good this team was playing at the time.
If there was any doubt or nerves while playing under the bright lights at the TD Garden against Tewksbury for the D2 State Championship, it certainly didn’t show. In typical fashion, Canton needed just five minutes to find the back of the net. Lehane blasted a shot from the point and Timmy Kelleher buried the rebound. Just 90 seconds later, Ronan O’Mahony set up Connolly for a blast for a 2-0. And just 16 seconds later, Nolte joined in on the scoring party and suddenly Canton had a 3-0 lead just 7:49 into the game.
Tewksbury battled back in the second, cutting the deficit to 4-2, but Staffiere came up with some big saves to preserve the lead and Hagan added two more goals to complete the hat trick, earning a 6-2 win and the state championship.
“You dream of getting off to a good start like we did but it’s a 45-minute hockey game and you don’t win a game in 15 minutes,” Shuman said. “We knew Tewksbury didn’t play their best, they played much better in the second and scored a couple of goals but credit to our guys, we responded and fought back like we had all year long. We came out swinging early on, took a few blows in the second but then closed it out in the third.”
|Plymouth South||W, 7-2|
|Plymouth North||W, 5-0|
|Franklin||W, 3-1 (Recap)|
|Mansfield||W, 4-0 (Recap)|
|King Philip||W, 2-1|
|Oliver Ames||W, 5-2 (Recap)|
|Franklin||W, 3-2 (Recap)|
|North Attleboro||W, 3-2 (Recap)|
|Bishop Feehan||W, 6-0|
|Boston Latin||T, 2-2 (W, 3-2 in OT)|
|Coyle & Cassidy||W, 6-1 (Recap)|
|Oliver Ames||W, 3-0 (Recap)|
|Norwood||W, 6-1 (Recap)|
|Westwood||W, 8-0 (Recap)|
|Tewksbury||W, 6-2 (Recap)|
With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious just how talented the 2012 Franklin girls soccer team was, but heading into that season there were question marks about a roster featuring 15 freshmen and sophomores. Only two years removed from a trip to the state semifinal, could the Panthers incorporate so much youth and still compete with the top teams in the league, let alone the state?
They could and they did. The Panthers outscored opponents 98-15 over the course of an unbeaten season, winning the Kelley-Rex division title for the third straight year, just missing out on perfection with a tie in the regular season finale, and claiming the program’s first-ever state championship.
It was a remarkable finish, but one that was hardly guaranteed at the start.
“I had some kind of idea of how they would be,” Franklin coach Tom Geysen said of the incoming freshmen, “but especially in our league, because our league is very competitive, if you’re not a very physically aggressive person then you can be taken out of your game almost immediately.”
One of the players that needed to step into a critical role was freshman Dani Lonati, who became the team’s starting goalkeeper. Along with her fellow rookies, like midfielders Alexis and Victoria Stowell, Lonati needed to be ready to go right from the opening whistle and she credited the captains, Kristi Kirshe, Grace Conley, and Stephanie Pisani, for providing a welcoming environment for the younger players.
“It was probably one of the most welcoming teams that I’ve been on,” she said. “The upperclassmen knew entering that season that they were about to have a younger team. As soon as we entered the team and were on the roster, we were best friends. I think that was probably one of the most essential parts of our success was that we had some amazing team chemistry.”
It also didn’t hurt to have one of the state’s most prolific offenses giving the team a cushion almost every game. Spearheaded by Kirshe and sophomore Taylor Cogliano, the Panthers never scored fewer than two goals in a game.
“Because we were spending so much time at practice and on the field together that we got to a point where we knew how to anticipate each other, we knew how each other played,” said Kirshe. “We just started to become a dynamic duo, which was a lot of fun.”
In a roster loaded with talent, Kirshe was the star. She would score 36 goals that season, earning All-American honors and being named Gatorade Player of the Year. It was about more than just the number of times she found the back of the net, but also when she scored. She tallied the winner in both the state semifinal and final.
“She’s a rock,” Lonati said of Kirshe. “She’s probably one of the most athletic people I’ve ever met. She’s always there and she’s like that as a person too, you can rely on her no matter what. She’s competitive, she’s tenacious, and she’s the player you want because you know she’s going to get it done.”
Geysen said simply, “In all my years that I’ve been here at Franklin, she’s the best all-around female athlete we’ve ever had and we’ve had some good ones.”
He added, “The most unassuming, laid back, nice kid. Everything about her was what you wanted. She was aggressive as hell, she was physical as hell, and she was skilled.”
A dynamic partnership up top is nothing if the defense is leaking goals, but the Panthers proved to be just as solid at the back as they were up front. In front of Lonati, Pisani, junior Julia Bireley, and sophomores Nicole Ellin and Lexi Martin all played key roles making it tough for the opposition attack.
“The key to the back became Dani,” Geysen explained. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a goaltender over four years who had the stats that she had and that game against Nashoba [in the state final] she was lights out.”
Franklin cruised through the first half and talk started to grow about an undefeated season. Only Mansfield managed to stay within a goal of the Panthers over the first 13 games. Mansfield coach Kevin Smith noted, “They were so tough because they were loaded with talent in every position. They had multiple scoring threats, which made it near impossible to stop the team. You could stop one, maybe two, but not four-plus. Their midfield group was super athletic and super talented as well. There was not a weak link anywhere.”
It was the second meeting with North Attleboro, in the 14th game of the season, that Geysen highlighted as the moment when he realized his team had the extra mental fortitude it would take to go the distance. After jumping out to an early 3-0 lead, Franklin made changes to the lineup and North got one back, but the Panthers answered to make it 4-1. North got two in quick succession to make it 4-3 and Geysen thought the game was going to slip away.
“It was coaching changes that took the momentum away from them, but they came back and regained the composure and slowed the game down and kept it under control’” he said. “Even when the games were close, there was no panic on their part. If there was any panic, it was me. From that point on, I said, these kids understand.”
Kirshe said, “Coach Geysen was very, very clear about making sure we focused as a group on game at a time. There were moments when we felt like we were doing something special and we had a lot of potential but Geysen did a really good job of keeping us grounded so we weren’t thinking about the possibilities.”
The need to remain focused became clear in the final game of the regular season. On a dreary Sunday night, the Panthers fell behind against a Walpole team that barely qualified for the tournament and only salvaged a draw thanks to a late Kirshe goal. The perfect season was over, but dropping a point just before the tournament may have been a blessing in disguise.
“I think it lit the fire for us again and reminded us that this wasn’t something we were going to be able to walk through,” Kirshe said. “We had some easy games through the season, but we were getting into tournament now and tournament is a special part of the season where anything can happen. I’m incredibly grateful for that tie, to this day. Without that tie, I don’t think we win that state championship.”
Franklin rolled into the South final, but the 2-0 win against Marshfield in the semis proved to be costly. Pisani was injured in the game and would miss the remainder of the season. That left a big hole to fill in the defense with no obvious solution. Grace Conley, who had played sparingly that season after surgery related to stomach cancer, told Geysen that she was ready to step in and, after some debate, he agreed.
Conley was one of the team’s leaders from the sideline and she proved to be an inspiration on the field as well over the last three games.
Lonati said, “She truly cared about every person on that field. To be able to go into those last three games and to play such an important role and to earn that title after everything she went through was amazing.” Kirshe added, “Grace is one of the best people I know. It was incredibly special for me as a friend and a fellow captain to see her get that moment. She was the spirit of our team, so just getting her on the field was something that lifted all of us and made us want to play that much better.”
The Panthers faced league rival Oliver Ames, in a battle of the two previous South champs, and prevailed 3-2 to get back to the state semifinal for the second time in three seasons. Against Beverly at Manning Field, Kirshe made personal history when she scored on an early free kick, which was a rarity for her, to notch the 100th goal of her career. Thanks to a strong defensive performance, particularly Bireley’s man-marking, that shut down Beverly’s 50-goal scorer Caitlin Harty, Franklin advanced with a 2-0 win.
“We got to play every single possible game in our senior year, which is something that so few people get the opportunity to do,” said Kirshe. “You know it’s your last time to play high school soccer, it’s your last time with this group of people, and personally I find a lot of happiness in that.”
Kirshe found the back of the net twice to put the Panthers ahead in the title game but Nashoba battled back to cut the lead to one and ramped up the pressure looking for an equalizer while the Franklin defense held on, thanks to 10 saves from Lonati.
“I had the ball in my hands, actually, and I made eye contact with the ref and I knew there wasn’t much time left and he signaled for me to distribute it,” Lonati recalled. “So, I punted it and as soon as it left my foot that whistle blew and I was, oh my god, in utter shock.:
“I cried,” Kirshe admitted. “To be quite honest with you, I cried today when I was looking back trying to think about it. That’s a dream come true for any high school soccer player. Especially as a senior, just to cap off a career that way? It was just such an unforgettable moment and just a testament to years of hard work. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief.
When asked what it took to go unbeaten and win his first state title as a coach, Geysen said, “You have to have things go your way. We’ve had other years where we’ve been every bit as good overall but not with the kind of depth as this crew.
“The best part of that whole thing for me was after we beat Nashoba, when everything was going crazy on the field, I stood off to the side and just watched them. Nothing will ever take that picture away from me. To work that hard for that long, some of them for four years, and to accomplish that and to appreciate it the way they did was the most gratifying thing for me.”
|North Attleboro||W, 4-0|
|Oliver Ames||W, 6-1 (Recap)|
|King Philip||W, 4-1|
|North Attleboro||W, 4-3|
|King Philip||W, 7-0|
|New Bedford||W, 4-0|
|Oliver Ames||W, 3-2|
|Beverly||W, 2-0 (Recap)|
|Nashoba||W, 2-1 (Recap)|
One of the signatures of the Mansfield football team over the past decade has been its ventures out of Massachusetts to play against top competition in other states. Not only do the trips allow the Hornets to see how they stack up on the field, but the off-field activities can also boost team morale and camaraderie.
Mansfield’s lone loss of 2010 came in New York when they visited Aquinas, who went on to win a state championship as well that season. A year later, the Hornets picked up one of their more impressive out-of-state victories with a decision over Christian Brothers of Syracuse inside the Carrier Dome.
Mansfield ventured out of state again to start the 2013 season, heading south to Maryland to take on three-time defending D1A State Champions Dunbar. After coming up short in the state final a year before, the Hornets entered the season with high expectations and put the rest of the Hockomock League and the state of Massachusetts on notice with their performance in the Old Line State.
“After those two experiences (in 2010 and 2011), we really felt like doing it was such a great experience, to see football in another part of the country,” said longtime Mansfield head coach Mike Redding. “The Dunbar trip was really cool because we did a lot of touring in Washington D.C., we went to the U.S. Naval Academy so beyond football it was going to be a great trip. Our concern was, ‘Can we compete with them?. They were three-time defending state champs, they had kids back, their QB had committed to West Virginia…so we knew it would be a great challenge on the road.”
Mansfield built a 21-6 lead in the game but Dunbar quarterback William Crest, who went on to play at West Virginia, rallied the Owls to take the lead in the fourth, up 26-21. The Hornets didn’t panic, driving down the field and senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski connected with classmate Michael Hershman on a 29-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds left to secure a 29-26 victory.
“We went down there and played one of the best games I’ve seen as a coach and win it on the road against a great team, I think that was definitely a sign for us…let’s go back to Massachusetts and keep this rolling,” Redding said. “If we can beat Dunbar at Dunbar, we can compete with anybody when we get back home.”
And not only did the Hornets compete with everyone back home, they blew most of the competition out of the water. They beat both Milton (21-0) and North Attleboro (35-14) by three scores each, scored over 30 points in wins over Attleboro, Taunton, and Franklin.
“Expectations were high, we had played a lot of seniors the year before as juniors,” Redding said. “We had kind of an up and down year in 2012, I think we were 2-2 before we went on a little run to win the league title. I think the highlight of that year, we knocked off Duxbury who had something like a 40-game win streak so it was a big upset. But then we ran into Reading in the final, which was probably an All-Decade team in the Middlesex League. But I think beating Duxbury and getting to a Super Bowl gave the senior group a lot of experience and a lot of motivation to try and finish the deal.”
The Hornets installed a new offense at the beginning of the season, going with the spread as Wisnieski worked mostly out of shotgun compared to the normal Wing-T/I-Formation approach Mansfield fans had become accustomed too.
As you can see, the offense worked just fine. Wisnieski set a handful of program records this season, including passing yards (2,541) and touchdown passes (27). Not only was Hershman (who finished with a total of 85 career receptions, third in program history) one of the most talented receivers around, junior Brendan Hill was a matchup nightmare and hauled in a program-record 54 receptions that season. Tight end Kyle Hurley and back Miguel Villar-Perez were both threats in the passing game as well.
To complement the passing game, Villar-Perez was a handful to deal with out of the backfield, finishing with 1,500 all-purpose yards that includes returns and a total of 18 touchdowns. Chris Buchanan helped lead the way from the fullback spot.
The team averaged 382 yards per game, which is second-most in program history, and it resulted in 428 total points, which came out to an average of 32.9 points per game.
The toughest game back in Massachusetts came a week before the regular season finale as the Hornets, the top-ranked team in the state, traveled to Wrentham to take on #8 King Philip.
With yards incredibly hard to come by, Villar-Perez broke free for an 88-yard touchdown in the second quarter that tied the game. Redding still recalls the play being a jet to the left side and the senior back made the play himself, cutting back up field when the first option wasn’t there. Wisnieski connected with Hurley in the second half to put Mansfield football ahead and Villar-Perez sealed it with his second score.
Mansfield’s defense pitched a second-half shutout to help pick up the win.
“When we played KP on the road, it was a different type of game, a physical, low-scoring, defensive battle…that really challenged the toughness of our group. I think winning on the road there gave our players a lot of confidence they could play a different style of game, We could score points but when push came to shove, we could line up and play tough physical defense to win a game.”
The defense was led by a strong group of linebackers featuring Alex Ruddy, Joe Moreshead, and Q’Ra Guichard. On top of that, the Hornets had a strong secondary with the likes of Aurian Dawkins and Mike Barresi.
“Defense was a lot like most of the defenses we’ve had,” Redding said. “[Defensive coordinator] Mark DeGirolamo got guys on the field that ran around and made plays for us. A real physical and fast group led by a group of good linebackers like Ruddy, Moreshead, Guichard…not a lot of size, we didn’t impress people when we lined up for stretching but when the game started, the kids played hard, played physical and were a real aggressive group on defense.”
This season also marked the start of the new tournament format. In years prior, only the league champion advanced to the tournament and needed to win only one or two games to reach the final. In the new format, eight teams qualified based on a rating system.
Mansfield football opened in style, taking down a good Wellesley at home before hosting Needham for what turned into one of the more entertaining contests of the postseason. The Hornets were their dominant selves as they raced out to a 28-7 halftime lead, and took advantage of an early second half turnover to push the advantage to 35-7.
But the Rockets refused to go away, scoring three straight, including a kickoff return and one after an onside kick recovery. The Rockets even got the ball back down just 35-28 but Barresi forced a fumble and recovered the loose ball to get possession back. On the next play, Wisnieski connected with Hill for a 51-yard touchdown to push it back to a two-score lead.
Mansfield won the South sectional title with a convincing win over #2 Barnstable, and went on the road up to Cawley Stadium in Lowell and destroyed Waltham, 41-0. The Hornets scored at will in the first half with Wisnieski connecting with Hill twice for scores. Villar-Perez also had a receiving score and Ruddy rushed one in as Mansfield held a 35-0 lead by halftime.
Mansfield took care of business against rival Foxboro on Thanksgiving but suffered a loss in the form of Hill, who went out with an injury and had to miss the state championship.
In the first-ever true state championship, the Hornets took on Central champion St. John’s of Shrewsbury. The Pioneers boasted a highly touted offense, scoring over 50 points in all three of their sectional wins, and ousting Springfield Central, 37-32, to reach Gillette Stadium.
As good as Mansfield had played all season long on the offensive side of the ball, the Hornets had one of their worst halves of the entire season. Not only were they limited to just one score, they had five turnovers in just the first two quarters alone. Those turnovers led to extra possessions for a St John’s team averaging nearly 50 points per game in the postseason.
But similar to the King Philip win, Mansfield’s defense was back in the spotlight, this time under the bright lights in Foxboro at Gillette Stadium. Despite plenty of chances, the Hornets held St. John’s to just a pair of touchdowns, both after a fumble from Mansfield. The other three turnovers, Mansfield got a turnover on downs, another a three-and-out, and Hershman came up with an interception to end the first half to keep the deficit at 14-7.
“I don’t know if it was nerves, being at Gillette for the first time, or guys trying to do too much but the first half was just a disaster. The key there was the defense. They were really talented on offense and we were handing them too many possessions. The defense played unbelievable…we gave up 14 but other teams, it could have been over.
“We couldn’t have played worse in terms of turnovers, and we were only down seven. If we just hold onto the ball, I don’t think they can stop us and we can score points. The second half was exactly what we hoped for.”
Barresi came up with another big postseason play, intercepting a pass three plays into the second half. Mansfield’s offense quickly capitalized with a touchdown run fro Ruddy but a rare missed extra point kept the Hornets down.
Nonetheless, Mansfield seemed to seize the momentum it needed. They didn’t turn the ball over at all in the second half and the offense orchestrated two real impressive drives to take the lead and add onto it. First came a 10-play, 59-yard series capped by an 8-yard rush from Hershman (six catches, eight carries, 138 total yards), and a two-point play from Villar-Perez gave Mansfield football a 21-14 advantage with just over three minutes to play in the third.
After another stop from the Hornet defense, Mansfield’s offense went back to work and made sure to take all the time it needed. The Hornets marched 80 yards on 14 plays, taking off nearly eight minutes of time off the clock before Villar-Perez (18 carries, 118 yards) punched it in from in close for a 28-14 lead with 2:38 to play.
“We played probably our best half of the year after playing probably our sloppiest half,” Redding said.
With the win, Mansfield football capped the perfect season at 13-0 and claimed the first-ever true D2 State Championship.
|Dunbar (MD)||W, 29-26 (Preview)|
|North Attleboro||W, 35-14|
|Attleboro||W, 49-42 (Recap)|
|King Philip||W, 20-7 (Recap)|
|Franklin||W, 35-13 (Recap)|
|Wellesley||W, 31-14 (Recap)|
|Needham||W, 42-35 (Recap)|
|Waltham||W, 41-0 (Recap)|
|St. John's Shrewsbury||W, 28-14 (Recap)|
There are few teams that have had as much success as the Mansfield boys basketball program over the past decade. Not only have the Hornets been the class of the Hockomock League, but they’ve also won multiple sectional championships and a pair of trips to the state championship.
So there’s certainly a long list of impressive wins, but one that remains near the top of the Hornets’ resume is the 55-50 win over Central Catholic on the parquet floor inside the TD Garden in a state semifinal matchup. Timely shots, impressive defense, and a dramatic finish highlighted what head coach Mike Vaughan calls one of his most proud wins in his tenure at the helm.
The 2012-2013 Mansfield boys basketball team, which earned its first-ever appearance in the state championship game with that win over Central Catholic, was loaded with talent from top to bottom. A very talented sophomore group complemented a strong junior class and a handful of seniors that led the way.
“It was a team that had a little bit of everything,” Vaughan said of the 2013 squad that posted a 25-3 record. “We just really had no weaknesses with the exception of our youth. We had three sophomores playing a lot, three juniors that played a lot…as the season went on, we started to realize this team could win in a number of different ways and were super talented.
“And the other that really goes unmarked about this particular team, we had some guys at the end of this roster that didn’t necessarily play a whole lot who probably on other teams in the league or in the state probably would have played a lot of minutes. Guys like Cole Cummings and Zach Wisnieski, guys that were just great practice kids and great teammates. When they had the opportunity to play, they went in and played really hard and did everything we asked them to do. In any other varsity program, they would have played their fair share but this particular year we had some dynamite underclassman. But they were great teammates, great leaders, great in practice and they were unsung heroes for us.”
Greg Romanko was the lone senior in the starting lineup, a 6’3 forward that gave the Hornets leadership on the court, could stretch the floor with his shooting, and provided interior defense. Rocky DeAndrade, Kevin Conner, and Kyle Wisnieski played the most minutes among the junior class. DeAndrade took a huge step forward from his sophomore campaign and ran the show from the point, Wisnieski was one of the best defensive players in the area, and Conner provided a lot of flexibility, giving the Hornets size but his athleticism made him a tough matchup for opponents. Michael Hershman, who was selected as a league all star as a sophomore, played very limited minutes throughout the season due to injury.
And the sophomore class featured Brendan Hill, who went on to win the Hockomock League MVP that season, along with Ryan Boulter and Michael Boen. Hill was a true star on the court, with the size of a forward but could play any position on the court. Boulter emerged as an offensive boost off the bench as a sharpshooter while Boen was another defensive option as the season started.
But the importance of depth was a theme among the players too. DeAndrade stressed how important practice was and how the competition among one another helped improve the entire squad.
“Everyone had a role and everyone played it perfectly, and that’s from one through 15,” DeAndrade said. “A lot of our success we had that season comes from practice. It was the battles we had in practice, the guys getting the minutes on the court had to play better. The competitiveness…every drill was a battle. It didn’t matter if you were a starter or on the bench, it was all about winning. Everybody stepped at some point when we needed it. That’s what made it so tough to beat us, we always had an answer.
“Everyone had the same mission on the team, everyone was there to win. It sounds cliche but no one was there with a personal agenda, it was all about what can we do to help the team win that game. I think it was our chemistry, just how well we all played together and how it translated off the court. We all hung out even outside of basketball so we were around each other all the time. And we had all played together since middle school. We were so used to playing with each other.”
The Hornets started the season 4-0, sweeping its first three Hockomock League games by an average of over 25 points per game, as well as an impressive double-digit win over BC High. At the Shooting Touch tournament at Emmanuel College, Mansfield knocked off Amityville out of New York before suffering their first setback, a six-point loss to D2 power New Mission.
Mansfield got back on track in the new year, picking up 12-straight wins. The Hornets picked up a key 68-62 win over Taunton early in January and followed it up with one of their most impressive results of the year, a 65-42 win over rival Franklin. Mansfield clinched the Kelley-Rex title with their second close win over Taunton but just six days later, their winning streak came to a screeching halt at the hands of their rival Franklin.
The Panthers edged out the Hornets with a three-point win in overtime, splitting the regular season series. Despite suffering that loss, Mansfield was quick to correct things and five days later picked up a marquee win. In the RoundBall tournament, Mansfield hosted Wakefield, who was one of the favorites in D2 North. Mansfield notched a 69-46 win.
“At the end of the season, we played in the RoundBall tournament against Wakefield and Bruce Brown Jr., who went on to play in the NBA, and we dominated that game,” Vaughan said. “They were ranked higher in the city papers, they were one of the favorites for the North, and we dominated that team from start to end. It was one of my more proud games we played that year. At that point, it felt like the sophomores were playing like juniors, the juniors were playing like seniors, and the seniors were just great, playing with a veteran mentality. That’s when I thought we could do something special in the South section…but I never thought we would get beyond that or play in a state championship because it’s so hard to do, it’s not necessarily part of the thought process.
“So how did we get there? We had length, we were athletic, smart, we could do things game-to-game, adding things or taking things out, we had toughness, and we had basketball junkies. So you look back now and say, that was a pretty special team and that’s why.”
After knocking off Newton South in the opening round of the tournament, Mansfield ran into rival Franklin to settle the season series. The Hornets survived regulation, going into overtime after the Panthers had a chance to win it late, and eventually came away with a 57-48 win. DeAndrade was the star late, scoring 11 of his game-high 21 points between the fourth and overtime.
“We watched the film recently, it was an absolutely crazy game,” Vaughan said. “There’s a play that happened late, where if that ball goes in, we lose and Franklin wins. There was a time I asked Paul Connolly over at Newton North, who had won back-to-back state titles, I asked what’s the secret. He said you have to be good, you have to be disciplined, you have to be a well-oiled machine but you have to get lucky somewhere. For us, that definitely happened there. There were no secrets between us and Franklin, we already went into overtime before. If that game is different, then we’re not even talking about playing in the state championship.”
While the next two games were far from easy, the Hornets took care of business with a 68-50 win over Brookline behind some hot shooting from Boulter, and then a 57-45 win over North Quincy, sparked by its bench, to win the D1 South Sectional title.
Defense was the key to the game at the TD Garden as both Wisnieski and Boen took turns limiting Central Catholic star Tyler Nelson. Nelson, who was named to the Boston Herald’s All-Decade EMass starting lineup, was one of the most lethal scorers in Massachusetts this decade. In the end, it was Conner who came up with key baskets late to elevate Mansfield to the win.
“One thing I remember is the defense Kyle and Boen played on Nelson in the first half,” DeAndrade said. “I don’t know why it’s stuck with me, but after the game we all were on about the defense those two played. We made some big plays when we needed to, when they counted most and that’s why we were able to come out with the win.
“We just played great from the start,” Vaughan said. “Kevin Conner hit some big baskets for us, Michael Boen and Kyle Wisnieski did a tremendous job on Tyler Nelson. We played a near-perfect game for what you’d consider a perfect game for a high school game. We got contributions from almost everyone in that group. That was probably one of the best victories we’ve had in our program history.”
While the win over Central Catholic remains as one of the best in program history, the game that followed is one the Hornets wish they had a chance to play over. A team that averaged over 66 points per game throughout the course of the season had its worst shooting performance of the season, falling to Putnam in overtime, 50-47.
Mansfield’s defense did its part, holding the Beavers to just 17 points in the first half. But the Hornets couldn’t get things going in the second half and saw its halftime lead evaporate by the start of the fourth. And then things went from bad to worse as Mansfield trailed by seven late in the fourth as its offense sputtered (only nine second half points, 4-for-26 three point for the game).
A three-point play from Boen sparked the comeback, and the sophomore followed it up with another triple. After Putnam sank two free throws, Romanko battled to keep possession off of a miss and, on the ensuing inbounds play, Boulter was fouled while shooting the tying three with 7.5 seconds to go.
Despite all the pressure on the shoulders of a sophomore, Boulter delivered and sank all three free throws to force the extra period. Boulter connected on a pair of three’s in the overtime period as well, the second tying the game at 48-48. In the end, it was a pair of free throws from Ty Nichols with under 10 seconds to go that put Putnam ahead for good as Mansfield’s last second shot was off the mark.
“It was one of those nights, and that happens in sports,” Vaughan said. “It’s why you play the games, you can’t just walk in and win the game. I don’t think that particular game takes away from the level of talent this team had and what they were able to accomplish all year.”
|King Philip||W, 69-45|
|BC High||W, 69-57|
|Amityville (NY)||W, 65-58 (OT) (Recap)|
|New Mission||L, 60-54|
|Oliver Ames||W, 82-54 (Recap)|
|Taunton||W, 68-62 (Recap)|
|Stoughton||W, 72-57 (Recap)|
|North Attleboro||W, 69-30|
|King Philip||W, 58-26|
|Milford||W, 76-52 (Recap)|
|Taunton||W, 45-41 (Recap)|
|Franklin||L, 59-56 (OT)|
|North Attleboro||W, 68-32|
|#17 Newton South||W, 72-56|
|#9 Franklin||W, 57-48 (OT) (Recap)|
|#12 Brookline||W, 68-50 (Recap)|
|#6 North Quincy||W, 57-45 (Recap)|
|Central Catholic (State Semifinals)||W, 55-50 (Recap)|
|Putnam (State Final)||L, 50-48 (OT) (Recap)|
It may still have been the regular season and there was a lot of basketball standing between the teams and a trophy, but there was a distinct sense of anticipation when Franklin and Bridgewater-Raynham met up in the first round of the Comcast Classic at Woburn High. A lot of people in the stands were wondering if the Panthers, who had been widely-considered the top team in the state since preseason, were as good as advertised.
Franklin made a statement, leading from the opening tip and pulling out a comfortable 58-41 victory over the eventual Div. 1 South champion. It was a turning point, where the 2020 Franklin girls basketball team recognized that it could play at another level, one that even the top teams in the state would struggle against. It was a confidence boost that carried the Panthers to a second straight D1 Central crown, a perfect season, and the program’s first state championship.
“That’s when we started to realize, and that was in February, that maybe it’s even beyond what we originally thought,” said Franklin coach John Leighton. “Some of the kids said they wanted to go undefeated from day one, and that’s a great goal, but seeing it become a reality is a different thing.”
Senior center Ali Brigham, who was named league MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year for the second season in a row, added, “We didn’t want the rankings to do the talking. We actually wanted to go out and do it ourselves. I think every single person, when we stepped on that court, and even days before when we knew we were playing B-R, it was time to lock in and play how Franklin basketball played. We did the talking in our play.”
While there was plenty of attention on Franklin coming into the season, after reaching the state semifinal the year before and with Brigham, a George Washington-commit, returning in the middle, the Panthers had some questions. Two starters from 2018-19, Shannon Gray and Bea Bondhus, graduated and it wasn’t obvious who would emerge as an offensive threat to take the pressure off Brigham.
Those questions were answered in the first week of play. Juniors Kaleigh Houlihan and Elizabeth Wilson added outside shooting, senior Megan O’Connell and sophomore Emma Sousa added athleticism and versatility at forward, and junior point guard Erin Quaile continued to be a rock on both ends of the court. Meanwhile sophomore Olivia Quinn scored 20-plus points in two of the first three games and became one of the league’s top players this season.
“It made me and Ali’s lives super easy,” said O’Connell. “Instead of trying to find people to step up and take those roles, people were gunning for them. Olivia Quinn is tremendous. No one worked harder than her in the offseason and that was clearly visible by all of her accomplishments.”
The Panthers dominated from game one. The only team that managed to keep it close against Franklin was Holy Name, which lost by four and by nine in the two regular season meetings. It seemed that Franklin could flip a switch and take over games on both ends of the court.
Against King Philip, the Panthers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. On the road at title rival Oliver Ames, Brigham and Quinn combined for 37 points in the second half and they won by 30. Davenport (and D2) champion Foxboro was down by single digits in the fourth quarter until a 17-0 run broke the game wide open.
“To go undefeated, and any team that gets to do it will say the same thing, you just need that consistency that the players are able to bring,” Leighton explained. “You need to bring that every day and if you have kids who aren’t feeling well or working on an injury, it doesn’t matter. You need to bring that same level day.”
O’Connell said the team was aware of the rankings and the hype surrounding the team but added, “The coaches did a great job of keeping us level-headed and not letting that go to our heads. They said that means absolutely nothing unless you go out and show everyone that is true.”
The Comcast Tournament, which also included a 17-point win against D4 state champion Cathedral, came at the perfect time. Along with a one-point win against New Hampshire power Bishop Guertin, the Panthers closed out the regular season by overcoming tough challenges, a good warm-up for the state tournament and additional confidence for a team that was already riding high.
“There is a fake confidence, fake bravado,” said Leighton, “but then you have that real confidence when you look at each other in the huddle and you just know that we can come back and do what we need to do. You know you can get that look, you know you can make that stop, and you can count on the kid next to you to make that play.”
In the playoff opener, Brigham achieved an important personal milestone, solidifying her place in program history. With a free throw late in a big win against Framingham, she passed Kelly Meredith to become the school’s all-time leading scorer (male or female). She finished her career with 1,692 points (and also with a school record 1,276 rebounds).
“I wrote a letter to myself when I was in eighth grade to my 2020 self,” Brigham recalled. “My main goal was to make the varsity basketball team.”
“I’m just really glad that I was able to do it,” she continued. “I put in a lot of work, and especially having it be my last home game, which was pretty cool. It was almost like I wasn’t even the most excited in that video.”
Congratulations Ali !! Franklin’s all time scoring leader pic.twitter.com/UCbPdntV1s
— Ned Brigham (@NedBrigham) February 29, 2020
Leighton said, “At no point was Ali worried about Ali this year and that tells you so much about her. She’s a program-changing player. The young kids at Franklin playing at halftime to high-five Ali Brigham, those kids are going to remember that. Her legacy will last a very long time here.”
King Philip coach Dan Nagle said, “Ali is a real issue (obviously) because she not only is bigger than any kid in our league, but she is incredibly skilled and unselfish. If you double her, she finds a wide open shooter. If you don’t double her, she scores easily with a wide variety of moves/finishes. She even hit a three against us this year and I know we weren’t alone. She is a ridiculous talent.”
In the Central semifinal, Franklin faced Holy Name for the third time and the first quarter did not go as planned. The Panthers were held to just six points in the first and looked out of sorts. “They knew everything you wanted to do,” said O’Connell. “They knew I was going to pump fake and go to the left and whatever. It was super frustrating for all of us and we just had to turn it around.”
Franklin closed the gap to one at halftime and then dominated the second half to win by 17. That momentum carried into the Central final, as the Panthers jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never looked back. Even when the offense was struggling, as it did in the third quarter against Natick, the defense locked opponents down and different players stepped up each night with key plays to get the win.
“I honestly think they were far and away the best team in the state this year,” Nagle said. “Even the very best teams could hang with them for a quarter or two, but eventually their size/talent, coupled with extremely organized and effective coaching, really separated them from the rest of the pack. It was a group of kids that from an opposing coach/onlooker’s perspective really understood and embraced their roles, and simply executed them to perfection night-in and night-out all season long.”
When the final horn sounded in the state semifinal win against Minnechaug, the celebrations were muted. It was clear from the players and coaches that reaching the final wasn’t the ultimate goal and there was still work to be done. Unfortunately, the following night it was announced that the final would be canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m so sad that it ended that way,” said O’Connell. “I was in my driveway and I was tagged in a Twitter post. I was like, holy crap, I would’ve stayed [at practice] all night if I had known they were going to cancel it.”
Brigham said, “The last practice we had we all got into a circle and were just talking about it. It was like an, ‘okay, we’ll see you tomorrow,’ thing. Driving home, I pulled into my garage and got the text that we’re not playing. We weren’t able to have that final goodbye together as a team, we still haven’t. It’s definitely unfortunate because we didn’t get to end it the way a team should.”
Weeks after that final practice, both players were able to reflect on the achievements of the season and the history that the team made this winter even if there is still disappointment about not having that moment in the spotlight. Brigham joked, “I’m really competitive so the fact that another team thinks they’re state champions too, that doesn’t go over very well with me.”
Leighton also took time to reflect on the perfect season and the first title in program history.
He said, “That banner will always be there and that’s a piece of history and they really bought into that. I don’t think it diminishes anything in the kids’ eyes. In the moment it did, it stunk, but now that you have a moment to step back and reflect and look at everything that happened, I’m so proud of them.
“Fairly quickly, the team attitude was obvious, how we were getting at it in practice, the maturity, our work approach. We saw that early, but seeing that you could be really good is different from winning every game or winning a state championship. It’s a whole different level.”
|King Philip||W, 80-50|
|Holy Name||W, 44-40|
|North Attleboro||W, 53-33|
|Oliver Ames||W, 71-41 (Recap)|
|Foxboro||W, 61-40 (Recap)|
|King Philip||W, 65-39|
|Holy Name||W, 52-43|
|Oliver Ames||W, 76-30|
|Bridgewater-Raynham||W, 58-41 (Recap)|
|Bishop Guertin (NH)||W, 47-46|
|Holy Name||W, 59-42 (Recap)|
|Natick||W, 53-38 (Recap)|
|Minnechaug||W, 55-43 (Recap)|