Jaywalking: Top stories of 2017

  • Turners Falls' pitcher Peyton Emery shares a moment with her pitching coach following their win over Mount Everett in their Western Mass division III championship game at UMass' Sortino Field Saturday, June 10, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Turners Falls' Kate Garcia, Cassidhe Wozniak and Jordyn Fiske celebrate after scoring their first run against Hopedale High School to tie the game 1-1 during their division III state semifinal game at UMass Amherst's Sortino Field Tuesday, June 13, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • GHS celebrates win vs Frontier Thursday night in Agawam. November 9, 2017. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Frontier celebrates their MIAA Div. III championship win against Bourne on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at Worcester State University. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier huddles up at the start of their match against Lee for the Western Mass Division 3 championship at Holyoke Community College on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Above, Turners Falls’ Jordyn Fiske and Abby Loynd embrace after defeating Mt. Everett in the WMass Division III softball championship game. Above right, the Frontier girls’ volleyball team celebrates its State Division III championship. Below, Greenfield field hockey was all smiles after winning the WMass Division II crown. Recorder file photos

Monday, December 25, 2017

The wrapping paper has probably been picked up by now, presents put away, and some folks are probably getting ready to take down their decorations.

It’s the day after Christmas, which means we are just five days away from celebrating the New Year. With that, comes a time to reflect on everything that has happened in 2017. It also means a time for Top 10 lists, including our yearly look at the top sports moments from the past year.

Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region have seen their fair share of champions in the past 365 days. We’ve had two state championship teams, another that won a western Mass. title, and some great individual efforts from local athletes. There have been some surprises this year, and there have been other champions who have not been such a surprise. We have also lost some great people in sports over the past year, including Gary Stacy, who not only officiated basketball and softball, but was also the WMass softball tournament director for several years before passing. The Turners Falls 1942 state championship baseball team also lost a pair of members in Raymond “Gump” Zukowski and Paul Whiteman.

With all that in mind, let’s dive in to the list of top sports moments in the area from 2017. As always, if something or someone was left off the list, my apologies. 

10. Local individuals — It was another memorable year for local individuals as the area celebrated five champions at the Central/West Division II track & field championships in the spring, and also had a great showing during the cross country season.

The track & field champions were highlighted by Greenfield High School’s Silvian Popusoi, who not only won the Central/West Division II crown, but went on to finish second at the All-State meet and sixth in New England this past spring, following a path first paved by his brother Vlad, who he now competes with on the Division I UMass-Lowell track & field team. He was joined on the winner’s podium at the Central/West meet by Franklin County Technical School’s Owen Ortiz, who won the triple jump, and Athol High School’s Mason Barrieau, who won the 400-meter hurdles.

On the girls’ side, Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s Lilly Wells won the 800 meters, and Frontier Regional School’s Olivia Vecellio won the discus.

This fall was also memorable for those in the running community as our cross country runners put on quite a show. The Frontier boys’ team finished second at the WMass Division II meet, led by Carsten Carey, who came in second overall. Meghan Davis of Mohawk Trail Regional High School was the top individual runner from the area with her second-place finish at WMass, while the Greenfield girls’ team also had a memorable season as it earned its first-ever league title.

9. Hockey cooperative — While it has been several years since any of the local hockey teams have done anything notable on the ice, this past year saw the two local squads do something notable as they formed a cooperative under the Greenfield banner, that now has seven schools playing together.

The result essentially combines all the youngsters who have played under the Franklin County Hockey Association banner during their younger years, and if this year’s 3-0 start is any indication, good things could be in store for Franklin County hockey fans. 

8. Turkey Day — I may be a bit partial to this one because I was on the sidelines for it, but Greenfield finally ended a six-year losing streak on Turkey Day in dramatic fashion with a 22-18 victory over Turners Falls.

The game featured a little bit of everything. You had the underdogs from Turners Falls who led much of the way and proved that no team is too small to compete, with just 16 players. Later, just when it looked like Turners was going to inexplicably capture its seventh straight win, Green Wave wide receiver Danny Vega threw a bomb on a trick play on fourth-and-23 for a touchdown that pulled Greenfield back into the game. The Wave then held Turners to a three-and-out, and marched down the field with time expiring, leading to RJ Byrd scoring the go-ahead touchdown with only seconds to play.

I have witnessed so many memorable Thanksgiving Day games between the teams in my years covering Turkey Day for the newspaper, and this one ranked right up there with the best of them.

7. Turners’ hoop streak — Speaking of streaks ending, the Turners Falls girls’ basketball team ended a streak that had been ongoing since I was still a pre-teen.

The Turners Falls girls’ team had not won a playoff basketball game since the 1993-94 season until it did so this past March, and it did so in dramatic fashion, beating Lenox Memorial High School, 51-47, in overtime in the WMass quarterfinals.

That led the team to Curry Hicks Cage for the semifinals, where they ultimately came up short against eventual WMass champion Quaboag, but the excitement in the Powertown was palpable. Adding to all that, earlier this month guard Maddy Chmyzinski scored her 1,000th career point to become the first girl in program history to accomplish that feat.

6. Tech golf — It was quite a fall for the Franklin Tech golf team.

The Eagles came off a 4-13 campaign from a year ago to finish the regular season with a perfect 14-0 record. The team followed that up with a great postseason as it won the State Vocational golf title, and then finished second at the WMass Division III Championships, which qualified it for the state meet. Franklin Tech ended its season by placing 11th at the State meet.

In addition to all that, former Tech golfer Cody Booska shattered a course at the Country Club of Wilbraham this summer and qualified for the 109th Massachusetts Amateur Championship, where he made a run all the way to the quarterfinals. It was part of a solid summer of golf for Booska, who also finished 21st at the New England Amateur Championship this year.

5. Turners mascot — The least exciting news in this roundup comes from Turners Falls, where the high school continues to be without a nickname.

Over the course of the first half of 2017, parties on both sides of the nickname argued over whether to do away or keep the longtime “Indian” nickname. After the school committee voted to do away with it, supporters of the nickname put it on the town-wide ballot in May to try to keep it. Despite winning the non-binding vote, the nickname remained on the outs, and now it seems the school and town awaits a decision by a committee to come up with a new nickname.

Perhaps 2018 will finally resolve this and the student athletes can finally move on with a new nickname.

4. Frontier football — The entire fall football season was enthralling for local fans, as the Intercounty League North featured several surprises.

The theme for the season seemed to be that anyone was capable of beating anyone on any given weekend, and it provided for thrilling moments.

In the end, the cream rose to the top. The Frontier football team featured a pair of backfield stars in Aaron Landry and Stephen Worthley, who ran behind the best offensive line in the league. After an early-season hiccup against Greenfield, in which the Red Hawks fell in overtime, Frontier righted the ship and marched through the remainder of the regular season. The team then got over the hump in the WMass Division VII playoffs, beating South Hadley to advance to the WMass championship game. It marked Frontier’s first playoff win following three straight semifinal losses. The team then gave it a go in the finals against Wahconah, which proved to be too much for the Frontier defense to handle, as the Warriors ended the Hawks’ run, 45-20.

Frontier ended the season on a positive note with a lopsided victory over Mohawk on Thanksgiving Eve — a nice way to finish off a strong season.

3. Greenfield field hockey — The resurgent field hockey program in Greenfield continued its recent string of success by celebrating its second consecutive WMass Division II championship.

The Green Wave battled through the regular season this fall after getting promoted up to the Valley League along with local squad Frontier, and the two teams showed why they have been among the best programs in the western part of the state. The Red Hawks used an early-season victory over the Green Wave to claim the Valley League crown, while Greenfield finished in second place, as it did not lose another league game.

That placed Frontier and Greenfield as the top two teams in the WMass Division II tournament and neither club disappointed, as each marched through the field to reach the finals. There, the two clubs put on a show, and in fitting fashion, it took extra time to decide things.

Greenfield led 1-0 at halftime, and throughout much of the second half, until McKenzie Patterson scored with six minutes left to pull Frontier even and eventually push the game into overtime. Both teams had chances in the extra frame, but the game was eventually decided on a bit of a controversial call, as Greenfield was awarded a penalty shot when Raegan Hickey was obstructed breaking in on the Frontier net. Audrey Bresciano took the stroke and buried it to send the Wave off with a 2-1 victory.

Greenfield’s season ended in the state semifinals with a disappointing 7-1 loss to Oakmont. With many of the same players back for another go-round next fall, expect the Green Wave to be back.

2. Frontier volleyball — The final two spots in the countdown were essentially a tie for first as the Frontier volleyball team and Turners Falls softball team each won state titles in the past year.

Both programs are established dynasties in Franklin County, with no other programs even coming close to matching their success.

We will start with Frontier volleyball, which had a challenging schedule during the regular season and went 12-8, but finished 6-2 in the PVIAC East Division (the strongest division in western Mass.) and tied perennial Division II power Longmeadow High School for the league crown.

That led Frontier to the postseason, which is where the program shines the brightest. For the 13th consecutive season, the Red Hawks hoisted a WMass Division III championship trophy high into the air, as the team defeated three teams in the tournament, all by 3-0 scores, to win the crown. In the finals, Frontier faced a Lee High School team that it had fallen to in the season-finale, so winning the title was certainly not a given.

That led Frontier to the state tournament, where this year’s team had some unfinished business. The 2016 Red Hawks were a young, inexperienced group who managed to win a WMass crown, but came up short in the state championship game. That ended a run of six straight state titles for Frontier, and with the team nearly intact from a season ago, the players were all back with something to prove. That’s exactly what they did and they did it in convincing fashion with a 25-11, 25-21, 25-15, victory over Bourne High School in the finals.

1. Turners Falls softball — The other local dynasty is the Turners Falls softball team, and the reason the Powertown edged out Frontier for the top spot in our yearly poll is that 2017 saw Turners do something no other team has ever done: Win a ninth state title in softball.

Not only did the Powertown capture the record-breaking title — their third state crown in a row — they did so with a revamped roster, including the most important position in the entire sport, the pitcher. Mackenzie Phillips graduated after beating Austin Prep, 2-0, in the 2016 state championship game, but as coach Gary Mullins seems to do each and every time he graduates an all-star player, he had another player waiting in the wings. That was junior hurler Peyton Emery, who pitched magnificently for Turners throughout the tournament, helping the team bridge another new era.

Turners rolled through the western Mass. tournament, defeating McCann Tech in the quarterfinals and then beating an upstart Green Wave team, 8-0, in the semifinals, which most people felt was really the WMass championship game after Greenfield was slighted a bit in the seedings. After that win, Turners toppled Mt. Everett, 15-1, in the finals for the fourth consecutive WMass title in program history. Turners outscored its three WMass opponents, 32-2, in the run.

Turners moved on to face a solid Hopedale High School team in the state semifinals, where it came back from a 1-0 deficit to score twice in the sixth inning and squeak out a 2-1 win. That sent the team to the finals, where it again faced Austin Prep. Gabby Arzuaga gave Turners a 1-0 lead in the first inning when she doubled home Cassidhe Wozniak, but Austin Prep tied the game in the bottom of the third. Turners responded immediately, when eighth-grader Taylor Murphy hit a lead-off double and scored when Melissa Hersey blooped an offering into shallow right field that appeared to be catchable, but deflected off the right fielder’s glove, allowing Murphy to score. Emery made the 2-1 lead hold up and moved Turners ahead of Bishop Fenwick for the most state softball titles by a program.

In a few short months we will see if Turners can add to that total.

There you have it, the top stories of 2017. I hope everyone has a Happy New Year. See you in 2018, where I’m sure the area will celebrate several more champions.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.