Boys basketball: Young Pioneer was ahead of schedule, now stakes go up

  • Pioneer’s Brayden Thayer goes up for a shot during the Panthers’ 45-32 loss to Maynard in the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Friday night at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

  • Pioneer’s Kurt Redeker (3) pulls up for a shot against Maynard during the MIAA Division 5 quarterfinal round on Friday at Messer Gymnasium in Northfield. PHOTO BY J. ANTHONY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2023 9:00:35 AM
Modified: 3/13/2023 9:00:15 AM

NORTHFIELD — Maynard boys basketball coach Paul Howes watched his team win a state championship last year and follow that up with a trip (so far) to the semis this winter.

After defeating Pioneer 45-32 on Friday at Messer Gymnasium in the quarterfinals, he walked away knowing that if his Tigers want to make more state title runs in the years to come, there’s a good chance they’ll be seeing the Panthers along the way.

“They’re going to be a problem because they’re all young,” Howes said of Pioneer after Friday’s win. “They have a team that’s going to go deep next year.”

As the Panthers graduate just two seniors and bring back their entire starting five, it’s easy to see why Howes would feel that way.

Brayden Thayer and Kurt Redeker are both sophomores while Josh Wood is just a junior this year. Those three led the Panthers in scoring this year and all will be back next winter. As will starters Alex McClelland and Hugh Cyhowski, in addition to Gavin Gammell and Diego Laffitte who played big minutes off the bench.

After winning the Hampshire League South and Western Mass. Class D title, it felt like the young Pioneer squad was arriving early. After making a run to the Div. 5 quarterfinals, it was really just setting the bar for what the program hopes to accomplish in the coming years.

“We have two seniors [Sam Glazier and James Staelens] who are leaving us but we have everyone else coming back,” Panthers coach Scott Thayer said after the loss to Maynard. “The mentality is a little different. It’s understanding we have to put more work in now. We’re not a team on the ascend, we’re a team that everyone looks at and says we should be doing such and such.”

Playing in games like the Western Mass. final where it had to battle it out with Hopkins, having to rally late and hold on to beat KIPP Academy of Lynn in the Div. 5 Round of 16, as well as its loss to Maynard are all great learning experiences for Pioneer.

Those experiences are something Thayer says he hopes his team takes with them into next year, learning from the wins and the losses along the way.

“I talk about them being youthful all the time, which they are,” Thayer said. “You see them accomplishing things but they haven’t been in this gym where it’s like this. You create it but you have to go through these experiences. I’ve won a state title and lost a state title. You have to learn how to do both. Nobody goes undefeated.”

Howes understands that better than anyone. In the fourth quarter against the Panthers on Friday, there was never a panic in his Tigers despite Pioneer being within four-to-six points throughout the final frame.

It was the experience it got on its state title run the year before that allowed Maynard to settle down, make the right read and do what was necessary to survive and advance.

“We’ve been there and done that,” Howes said. “Everyone understands that we have to spread them out and take care of the ball. It’s when you dribble your way into trouble when it can get ugly. The kids have been in some big games so we understand that.”

While bowing out in the quarterfinals was a disappointment for Pioneer, Thayer said he hopes his team can look back and understand how much it accomplished this season.

“We have a school of 130 kids from [grades] 9-through-12,” Thayer said. “When you’re a small school, it makes it an even bigger accomplishment. I’m extremely proud of them. We fought tonight. It wasn’t for a lack of effort.”

The future is bright for area basketball in general. Pioneer will look to make another state tournament run, Greenfield returns its entire starting five next year from a team that made it to the Round of 16, while Athol, Mahar and Frontier are all bringing back key cogs from teams that made state tourney appearances.

There’s plenty of young talent in the area that should be shining for years to come.


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