Boys’ basketball preview: New faces lead new-look Hampshire League

  • Sophomore Anthony Peterson (33) of Turners Falls returns as one of the team’s key pieces from last year’s WMass Div. IV semifinalists. Recorder FILE PHOTO

  • Mahar senior guard Brennan Mailloux is one of two returning starters for the Senators, as he’ll join classmate Sam Paul to comprise the team’s back court. Recorder FILE PHOTO

  • Pioneer point guard Garrett Cote steps into the spotlight as one of the team’s most important players this winter. Recorder FILE PHOTO

  • Senior forward Jake Suhl of Greenfield (left) is one of just a handful of players back with varsity experience. The Green Wave has just 10.8 points per game back from last year’s squad. Recorder FILE PHOTO

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Graduation hit the local boys’ basketball teams hard. Especially on the offensive end.

Gone from last year’s rosters are nine of the top 10 Recorder-area scoring leaders, as only Joel Farrick of Franklin County Technical School (11 points per game), a Tri-County League program, returns from that list after finishing ninth.

There was the departure of a 1,000-point scorer in Pioneer Valley Regional School’s Tucker Llewelyn; and Pioneer, Greenfield High School, Mahar Regional School and Mohawk Trail Regional High School all lost their top two scorers from a year ago.

Frankly put, you will need a program to recognize many faces on the floor at a Hampshire League game.

“That’s the story of high school basketball,” began Athol High School head coach Dan Bevis. “There’s always turnover. Kids come and go. So now it’s time for the next wave of kids to step up.”

Despite a lot of new faces, the area schools remain focused on improving upon last year’s disappointing postseason performance. Just one team reached the WMass semifinals, as Turners Falls High School reached the Curry Hicks Cage before falling to eventual champion Hopkins Academy. The Hawks won their third consecutive WMass Div. IV championship before falling in the state semifinals to Maynard High School.

Other than that, every local boys’ team either failed to qualify for the postseason or lost in the first game of their respective tournaments.

The regular season action has a bit of a different look due to realignment, which shifted the Hampshire League into two divisions — North and South. Athol, Frontier Regional School, Greenfield and Mohawk comprise the North along with Smith Academy, while Pioneer, Turners Falls and Mahar are joined by Hopkins and Belchertown High School in the South.

“Hopkins has been the top dog the last three years, so until someone knocks them off, they’ll still be on their perch,” Frontier coach Ben Barshefsky said.

The realignment means that at least four of those 10 schools will qualify for the postseason, as teams that win their league or finish second punch their ticket.

“From our standpoint, I think it allows us to be a little more competitive in our division,” Bevis said. “It’s gonna give another team or two a chance to experience the postseason it may not have gotten to in years past.”

Here’s a closer look at Hampshire League this winter with last year’s record in parentheses:

Athol (1-19)

A little more depth could go a long way for the Red Raiders, which finished just 1-19 a year ago. Bevis said that despite graduating five seniors from last year’s team, there’s some promise thanks to a mix of veteran and newcomers entering with a renewed focus.

“The work ethic has been good. The kids are trying to buy into the team mentality and working hard every day,” he said. “We’re trying to challenge them a little more than in the past and just put them into positions to be successful. We’re hoping they continue to work and not be satisfied with the roles they have.”

Sophomore Bryce King is penciled in as the team’s point guard, and Bevis has been pleased with his indoctrination into the position during the early-going.

“We’re throwing Bryce into a situation where he’s going to have to lead and get us into our offensive and defensive sets,” Bevis said of King. “He’s worked hard and gotten better. Our expectations for him are to take up that role and he’s the type of kid that wants to do it.”

Sophomore Mark Ferrari is another one to watch this winter, as Bevis expects the 6-foot-3 forward to be a top offensive option.

“He’s somebody we’re counting on to put the ball in the hoop,” Bevis said of Ferrari. “He was kind of in the shadows a bit last year, teams didn’t really know about him. He’ll have a bit of a bullseye now so he’s gonna have to learn to play with that. He’ll have to find different ways to score.”

Seniors Evan Saisa (forward) and Brymere Edwards (forward/guard) join junior Angel Rivera (guard) as Athol’s other starters, though Bevis said the team’s lack of height means that players will see time in a variety of spots on the floor.

The Raiders hope they can utilize their roster for a bit more depth, with players like seniors Colby Mason (G/F) and Justin Blake (G) joining the likes of sophomores Colby Soltysik (G/F) and Parker Deleo (G) as key players off the bench.

“We’re hoping guys try and step into some of those vacated roles from graduation,” said Bevis.

Senior Chris Perrault (G), sophomore Maysin Tarbell (G/F) and freshman Noah Pottinger (G) will all look to figure into the rotation throughout the season.

Belchertown (0-20)

After back-to-back 0-20 seasons, there’s nowhere to go but up for Belchertown High School.

The Orioles shift from the Suburban League to the HL South, and it took exactly one game into the season for the squad to crack the win column after a 83-59 win over Ludlow High School over the weekend.

Belchertown, under second-year head coach Matt Stenuis, does have a star player in senior Mitch Medina. The forward averaged 17 points per game a year ago and poured in 26 in the win over Ludlow.

The Orioles have several seniors in their rotation back, with the likes of Nolan Vogel (G), Michael Laughner (G/F) and Cyrus Raines (G) all capable of scoring in double figures. Juniors Corey Lanoue (G), Collin Laramee (F), Nathan Wright (G) and Zach Wrona (G) also return.

Frontier (9-11)

It’s a relatively inexperienced team in South Deerfield this winter, though head coach Ben Barshefsky hopes his team can contend for one of two spots in the HL North after posting a 9-7 record in the league (9-11 overall) a year ago.

“We don’t have a ton of varsity minutes coming back,” admitted Barshefsky, who enters his eighth season in charge of the varsity program. “We’ve got a few guys with some experience but this year, probably moreso than other years, we’re going to have to depend on some other guys to step up.”

Junior center Carsten Carey leads the contingent of returning players, as he was the team’s leading scorer a season ago at 9.3 points per game. Carey scored in double figures nine times a season ago, and he opened this year with an impressive 20-point outing against Southwick-Tolland Regional High School.

“Ball security is going to be key for us but we also can’t be one-dimensional just trying to feed Carsten inside,” explained Barshefsky. “There needs to be good movement off the ball. We have smart players, they need to go out and execute. I’d love for the offense to be spread out.”

Junior Alex Sharp will run the point for the Red Hawks this winter, while classmate Kalen Evans is the team’s starting shooting guard. Seniors Ben Litskoski and Jared Muzyka join Carey along the front line as starting forwards.

Sophomore Donovan Hoffman and freshman Peter Carey will see minutes at forward off the bench, while junior Timmy Barrington and freshman Owen Morse are expected to contribute in the back court.

Seniors Noah Graves and Brandyn Robinson, juniors Marcel Pattavina and Zach Nuerminger, and sophomore Gabe Jones-Thomson round out the varsity squad.

“The guys have a great attitude and work ethic so far. They need to gel as a group for us to be successful,” Barshefsky said.

After opening with a 43-40 loss to Southwick Monday, Frontier next travels to play at Hoosac Valley High School Thursday night in Cheshire.

Greenfield (7-13)

Greenfield High School enters the season with some offensive uncertainty.

The Green Wave graduated star forward Kevin Mendez and point guard Connor Joy from a season ago when the Wave went 7-13 overall.

Mendez was the second leading scorer in the area with 19.5 points per game as he could attack the hoop and nail down shots from the perimeter. Joy, meanwhile, was an adept ball-handler and averaged 8.7 points per game in running the Wave offense.

Without those two players and some other role players, the Green Wave returns just 10.8 points per game from a season ago. Wave coach Tim Caplice, now in his fourth season, said that replacing that kind of production is impossible, but he will rely on team depth to try and find some offense.

“I think it’s going to come from various people,” Caplice said. “We have a number of kids who are capable of putting the ball in the basket. I don’t expect to have one kid who is going to be our leading scorer every game. I’d be lying if I said I don’t think we will struggle to score at times, but our strength is going to be our depth.”

Caplice said he will use the beginning of the season to see exactly what he has to work with, although he has been encouraged by the preseason.

One player to keep an eye on is junior Jonath Roman, who will run the point and is capable of scoring. Roman transferred to the area after previously living in Florida, and is capable of creating his own offense.

Senior guard Colin Cloutier is the top returning scorer on the Wave with 4.3 points per game, while senior forward Jake Suhl is next with 3.4 points per game. Those are the two captains of the team and likely starters.

Junior Hunter Campbell is another projected starter at forward after he scored 3 points per game last season. Juniors Nate Haselton and Dan Vega could both start at guard, and classmate Owen Phelps could start at forward.

Seniors Javier Mendez (forward) and Hector Rodriguez (guard) will come off the bench, as will junior forward Jeremiah Meadows. Sophomore guard Jared Hart joins freshmen forwards Mason Meadows and Jake Sak as the other players on varsity.

Caplice said he hopes to end a three-year tournament drought and that the players are willing to work for that goal.

“I’ve told the guys since the first day of tryouts that the goal doesn’t change and there needs to be a sense of urgency,” he began. “We have something to prove. We just have to play our best against whoever is in front of us. We want to have a tournament team annually and we want the new Ump Gym to be a place where people go to watch good basketball.”

Hopkins (21-3)

Losing one of the best players in the state would be tough for most high school basketball teams, but if any team can withstand such a loss, it’s Hopkins Academy.

The two-time defending western Mass. champions from Hadley will be dealing with life after Sam’i Roe, the reigning WMass Player of the Year who averaged nearly 27 points per game last season. Fifth-year Hopkins coach Angelo Thomas admitted that no one player is going to make up for that kind of scoring, but he does have four returning starters each capable of each picking up a piece.

“Sam’i was the leading scorer in the state,” Thomas said. “As a group, I think we can make up for his scoring, but it will be tough to make up when the shot clock is down under 10 seconds and you would give him the ball. We’ve got one or two guys who are willing and able to step up to the challenge.”

One player is senior guard John Earle, who averaged 18 points per game last season. Earle is a fearless shooter, and his 3-point shot is among the best in the HL. Another player to keep an eye on is senior forward Jon Morrison, who is headed to Rhode Island to play baseball next year, but continues to get better on the court.

“He’s one of the only players who can take eight months off from playing basketball and actually get better,” Thomas said.

Morrison averaged 13 points per game last season. He and Earle are joined by classmates Justin Ciaglo and Nate Kelley in the starting rotation. Ciaglo is another guard who will see his scoring rise this year after quietly averaging 10 points per game last season. Thomas said he is now 6-foot-3 and added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Kelley is another guard who will join the rotation. Junior Caleb Graves is another forward in the rotation this season, while senior Spencer Butterfield is a talented forward who will come off the bench. Thomas said that having five seniors return has him feeling good despite the loss of Roe.

“It will definitely be a group thing this year,” he began. “I’m excited because I’ve got five seniors who have played together a long time. They are all unselfish and play well together.”

Another player to keep an eye on is freshman guard Braedyn Tudryn, who dropped 12 points in the season-opener against Drury on Saturday. Tudryn will challenge for starting minutes and will help offset the loss of Roe.

“He really impressed me in the first game,” Thomas said.

Sophomore forward Erik Berg will be one of the first off the bench as well this season. Senior Eric Belton is another forward off the bench, while junior Mik Gnobo and sophomore Nate Waldron are both guards off the bench.

Mahar (18-3)

Mahar Regional School had three players score in double figures last season.

All three have graduated, leaving the Senators looking to its remaining players to fill some offensive voids this season. Those pieces may just be there in the form of seven seniors and several more former junior varsity players on the squad.

“We’ve had a successful junior varsity team for a while,” coach Chad Softic said. “These kids have been successful. And we have a senior class of seven kids who care about basketball and they are ready to take on the opportunity.”

The Senators enter this season without Bryce Cleveland (13.1 points per game), Isaak Reinikainen (12.2) and Gabe O’Lari (10.0), who were the three offensive leaders for a Mahar team that went 18-2 in the regular season. Unfortunately, the team struggled in its postseason opener and was upset at home by Southwick-Tolland Regional High School.

If Mahar is going to replicate its success, it’s going to do so with a new cast of characters, albeit ones who are familiar with the system and each other. Softic has always preached defense-first with his teams and that won’t change this season.

“If we can continue preaching defense first, we will be fine,” Softic said. “These kids have been in the program for four years. They will play Mahar basketball and they will be fine. It is nice to have seven seniors who have been around and been through it. We don’t have to start over from scratch. These kids have put in a lot of basketball with AAU and Summer League, and they are ready.”

Two players who will be crucial to the team’s success are its two returning starting guards — seniors Sam Paul and Brennan Mailloux. Both players are capable of putting the ball in the hoop. Paul averaged 8.2 points per game last winter, while Mailloux averaged 7.1. Each player will start in the backcourt for the Senators.

The front three players will each be different, but the team should be more athletic this season. Senior Ryan Donaldson will start at the small forward, while seniors Quinn Gervais and Matt Jenks will start at the power forward and center spots respectively. Jenks is returning to the sport after a layoff, but the 6-foot-2 soccer star has impressed early on and has played AAU and Summer League with the rest of the team.

Senior Jack Temple will be the first off the bench up front, while sophomores Deven Patch (forward), Charlies Barnes (guard) and Daesean Watson (center) will also factor in big minutes. Softic said that playing the youngsters does not worry him.

“They just need to keep it simple,” he said. “I think their offensive prowess will develop as the year goes on. As long as they don’t turn the ball over and they play good defense, they will be fine.”

Senior Treyton Pasakinskas (guard) will come off the bench, as will juniors Peter Currie (guard) and Joseph Brozell (forward). Sophomore guards Aiden Lupien and Jamie Temple will also come off the bench.

Junior guard Jordan Desrosiers was hurt in the Turkey Day football game and will miss the season with a knee injury.

Mohawk (5-15)

It’s been a tough start to the season for the Warriors, though new head coach Jeff Herd said he’s preaching patience with his inexperienced group. Mohawk lost its first two games of the season in lopsided fashion at the Eagles’ Holiday Classic at Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls.

“I’ve got a good group of kids who are working hard,” explained Herd. “They are not getting down on themselves. We know we are better than (the first two games).”

Mohawk must replace its top six scorers from last year’s 5-15 team, including Torsten Sloan-Anderson (13.4 points per game) and Ian Eckler (10.4).

Kaleb Fitzgerald is the team’s leading scorer back from a year ago after averaging 2.6 points per game. The senior forward/guard is joined in his class by forward Karl Bohonowicz (F), Cam Hoff (G), Luke Viens (G), Andrew Hicks (F) and Michael Gabaree (F).

Sophomore guard Anthony Moffatt and juniors Will Guyette (F/C), Jackson Hicks (F/C), Jayden Hoff (G), Jon Schuetze (F/C) and Raven Sauceda (G) will all look to make their marks this winter, as the Warriors battle in the HL North.

Mohawk (0-2) gets back to work with a Thursday night game against Mount Everett Regional School.

Pioneer (16-5)

Losing Tucker Llewelyn (18.2 ppg) and Tyler Martin (11.1) means that Pioneer will need to look elsewhere for offense this winter.

The Panthers, which finished 16-5 overall and lost to Hoosac Valley Regional High School in the Div. III opening round, have the players to fill in those gaps. The problem early in the season is that injuries have derailed the starting lineup, meaning Pioneer likely opens the 2017-18 campaign without the services of top seniors Brendan Emond and Jordan Loughman.

“Hopefully the silver lining is that this is happening at the beginning of the year and not game 19,” said Pioneer coach Scott Thayer, who said the pair will miss at least the first week of the season. “Injuries are an unfortunate part of the game. This gives the opportunity for some kids to step in and theoretically, when those two come back, we’ll be a stronger unit.”

When he returns, Emond, who averaged 7.9 points per game a year ago, should be a force on the inside for Pioneer. The 6-foot-6 forward/center is a force at both ends of the floor.

“The hope is that since he’s going to be garnering a lot of attention from other teams, it’ll make everyone’s job easier,” explained Thayer of Emond. “When you’re putting top guys defensively on him, that opens up the floor.”

Loughman is another key member of the rotation who can play a variety of spots on the floor. Fellow senior Mike Menard (G/F) will likely play an even more pivotal role with his two classmates out of the lineup, while Justin Hubbard (F/C), Cody Letourneau (G/F) and Karl Wheeler (G/F) round out the senior class.

Junior point guard Garrett Cote will hope to stem the tides in the meantime, and he’s expected to take up an even bigger role with the graduation of Llewelyn and Martin.

“Now kind of being a lead guy, not playing behind Tucker and Tyler and those guys anymore, he’ll be more aggressive and he’s been more vocal in a positive way,” Thayer said of Cote. “Not just production-wise, but he’s also going to have to offer that leadership that every team needs.”

Junior Zachary Fox is an athletic player who at 6-foot-2 offers the Panthers some length on the defensive end. Classmates Jacob Fuller and Ryan Underwood should both aid the cause off the bench, while Cam Baird is also on the roster this winter.

Freshman Troy Emond rounds out the club, and Thayer expects the rookie to contribute immediately all over the floor.

“He’ll play a lot of meaningful minutes, especially now with guys out of the lineup,” he said. “He’s athletic and has some good size. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him so far.”

The Panthers are looking to avoid a slow start to the season like last winter, when they went just 2-3 out the gate before heating up to move into the HL title discussion late in the year. Thayer said that while Llewelyn and Martin handled the bulk of the offensive duties last year, this year’s team should be less reliant on one or two players.

“It’ll be a more collective unit offensively,” he began. “One thing we’ve done is we’re moving the ball well and sharing it. The ball doesn’t stick in one place. We have six or seven guys on any given night who can get you double figures. Hopefully that’ll make us harder to guard.”

The Panthers open their schedule against Drury High School this week.

Smith Academy (3-17)

Junior Jack Zigmont keys Smith Academy this winter, as the guard averaged better than 10 points per game a year ago for a Falcons team that managed just three wins.

Head coach Matt Zerneri, who enters his 11th season with the program, has four starters back from a year ago, as senior Matt Bouley (F) and juniors Brett Gratz (F) and Carter Woodward (G) also return. Woodward scored 32 points in the team’s season-opening win over St. Mary’s, burying eight 3-pointers in the process.

Junior Max Bartlett is a top interior option, as he’s penciled in as the team’s center. Senior Hunter Zygmont (G) and sophomore Colin Ferrara (G) are other returning players for the Falcons, which should be in the mix near the top of the HL North.

Turners Falls (14-9)

Last year’s lone team to reach the Cage on the boys’ side, Turners Falls returns a team that looks very different from the club that fell to Hopkins, 73-60, in the WMass Div. IV semifinals.

Veteran head coach Gary Mullins expects some growing pains early in the season, as the team graduated top scorer and point guard Tionne Brown (12.3 points per game), as well as reliable starters Kyle Bergmann and Nick Croteau. The Powertown struggled in Saturday’s season-opener against Mount Greylock Regional School.

“In a lot of ways, it’s a brand new team,” explained Mullins of his squad. “We’ve got to find some things that work for us. There really aren’t any positive things to take out of the first game.”

Turners, which went 14-9 overall a year ago, does return senior Jimmy Vaughn (5.3 ppg), the forward who was a key piece to the puzzle a year ago. Senior forward Jovani Williams also returns, while forward David Tricolici rounds out the class.

Junior guards Tyler Lavin (8.0 ppg) and Jovanni Ruggiano are also back, as is sophomore center Anthony Peterson (7.3). Peterson developed into a nice piece down low a year ago as a freshman, and Turners will need him to be a major part of the puzzle this time around.

Sophomore Jaden Whiting should also be in the rotation for the Powertown, while juniors Kyle Dodge (F), Ryan Kucenski (F) and Avias Politis (G/F) and sophomore Jon Fritz (F) will all look to make their mark.

Freshman Chase Novak (G) is a promising underclassman who got into a few games late last season as an eighth-grader and should factor into the equation from the get-go. Classmate Jake Dodge (G) rounds out the roster.