Realignment reshaping area leagues

  • Frontier's Alec Kirkendall (45) fights through the Amherst defense in the first half on a Friday night in South Deerfield last season. File Photo/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls' Wyatt Keith was named Intercounty League North MVP last month. File Photo/Dan Little

Published: 3/12/2019 9:43:06 PM

Football leagues across western Mass. received a recent makeover.

The Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference recently approved several moves that have teams moving around the football landscape. 

The biggest change involving most of the local teams is that Monument Mountain has moved into the Intercounty League North Division, making it an eight-team division along with holdovers Athol, Easthampton, Franklin Tech, Frontier, Greenfield, Mahar and Turners Falls.

This offseason marked the halfway point of the four-year cycle for league alignment in the PVIAC, which gave teams the ability to ask for relief or to ask to be moved up a division. The PVIAC was actually presented with one proposal to realign leagues according to division, but the PVIAC’s philosophy is to not do radical realignment mid-cycle.

That said, the PVIAC does allow for movement and several teams throughout western Mass. took advantage of that. Both Drury and Monument asked for relief from the Intercounty South Division, which also featured Lee, Amherst, Ludlow, Mt. Greylock and Belchertown last season. Drury was dropped into the Tri-County League, while Monument was moved into the IL North. Local coaches did not see the addition as a big deal, although it does take away from a league that had a very local flavor to it.

“I’m a traditionalist, I like the leagues to stay the same,” Turners Falls coach Chris Lapointe said. “I just don’t like all the change. I think it’s important to keep teams in the counties together as best they can.”

Franklin Tech coach Joe Gamache echoed the sentiment of keeping area teams together, but also said that the Berkshire teams need homes since they decided to come into the PVIAC for football.

“I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense because of the tradition of playing in the IL,” he began. “That being said, when Berkshire teams came into the PVIAC for football, they had to go somewhere and from a competitive standpoint, I don’t believe Monument was accurately placed when they were put in the IL South. From a competitive standpoint, they fit, but it is sort of an awkward placement.”

The reason it would be considered awkward is because from Greenfield, a trip to Great Barrington (home of Monument Mountain) would take nearly 90 minutes. For Athol and Mahar, that time increases north of two hours. Every team in the IL North will have one trip to Monument in the next two years before realignment takes place following the 2020 season (more on that in a moment), but Monument will be making three or four long trips during the regular season each of those two years.

Greenfield coach Mike Kuchieski pointed out one of the benefits to having Monument added to the IL North is that the Spartans are a Division 7 team, which will benefit the five Division 8 teams that call the IL North home. One other change to the football landscape this season is that in the past, wins against teams from higher divisions earned teams 1.2 points in the Walker System, but over the next two years those wins will earn 1.5 points. 

“It doesn’t change much,” Kuchieski said of the move. “I think it will be beneficial from what I’ve been told about the ranking systems.”

Besides Drury and Monument dropping down, Amherst asked to move up out of the IL South. Amherst moves into the Suburban North, which lost three teams due to relief requests. Commerce and Chicopee — which both finished as the bottom dwellers in the SL North last season — dropped down into the IL South. The biggest question mark among moves comes in the form of reigning WMass Division 8 team Hoosac Valley, which also asked for relief from the SL North and also dropped down to the IL South. Despite winning a WMass title last fall, the Division 8 Hurricanes were playing in a league with teams all in higher divisions, which allowed them to earn relief. 

Tournament future

The future of the football tournament — and all MIAA tournaments in general — appears headed for a statewide format. 

The MIAA’s Tournament Management Committee has already begun the process of laying out plans for statewide tournaments across all sports, which would mean an end to WMass, CMass, and North and South sectional champions. Instead, teams across the state will be placed in a division and the top-ranked teams from across the state — regardless of their section — will make the tournament. More details may come out during the annual state athlets directors’ conference at the end of March.

Before people go into a panic, early rumors are that the lower divisions will be dominated by teams from the West due to enrollment figures, which will likely be a large part in determining divisional placement. 

The ranking system to be used would be MaxPreps, which has a formula that includes results, strength of schedule and more. The issue is that MaxPreps uses a proprietory software, so the exact formula for ranking teams is not known. Early tests, however, seem to back up the formula being accurate.

None of this will go into effect for another two years, but stay tuned, the days of crowning western Mass. champions may be drawing to a close.

IL North Awards

The Intercounty League North held its banquet last month and a pair of Turners Falls football players took home the league’s two prestigious awards.

The MVP award sponsored by the Greenfield Recorder went to senior running back Wyatt Keith, who program and area single-season records with 2,355 yards this fall. 

The Lineman of the Year award sponsored by Gilmore & Farrell Insurance went to senior Reilan Castine, who dominated on both sides of the ball and was partially responsible for helping Keith set the rushing record.

IL All-League selections

It was big year for local honors, as the Intercounty League North recognized its All-League selections at last month’s banquet.

League champion Turners Falls led the way with nine selections, followed by Frontier with seven selections. Easthampton received six selections, Franklin Tech was next with five, Greenfield and Mahar had four apiece. Athol rounded out the local contingents with three.

Turners senior quarterback Kyle Dodge and his 1,162 passing yards landed him a selection as one of two signal callers tabbed. Easthampton’s Nick Pellegrini also earned an All-League nod.

The running back position was loaded last fall, headlined by Wyatt Keith and his record-breaking season (2,355 yards). The Pioneer senior, by way of Turners, led five tailbacks on the All-League list. Greenfield’s RJ Byrd, another 2,000-plus yard rusher, is also on the squad, with Frontier’s Garrett DeForest (1,357 yards), Athol’s Mason Barrieau (1,055 yards) and Mahar’s Jon Gariepy (829 yards) rounding out the quintet.

The wide receiver position was loaded in the fall season, and four players took home All-League honors. Turners Falls had two on the list, as the two-headed monster of senior Andy Craver (423 yards, 7 TDs) and Jaden Whiting (362 yards, 4 TDs) led the way. Greenfield senior Danny Vega was the league’s leading receiver, hauling in 30 receptions for 482 yards and 9 TDs to get him a guaranteed spot on the list, while Easthampton’s Quinton Baker-Cisero was also honored.

Mahar’s Charlie Barnes (410 yards, 5 TDs) found his way onto the All-League team as a tight end.

The offensive line was comprised of Franklin Tech’s Sam Trudeau (senior), Greenfield’s Colby Avery (junior), Turners’ Dom Carme (senior), Frontier’s Nate Austin (senior), Mahar’s Adam Clement (senior) and Easthampton’s Jacob Ross (senior).

On the defensive line, All-League selections were handed out to Frontier’s John Semaski (freshman), Easthampton’s Damien Diluzio (senior), Athol’s Connor Arpide (senior), Easthampton’s Tallon Garelli (senior), Franklin Tech’s Deven Goshea (senior) and Turners Falls’ Reilan Castine (senior) and Jon Fritz (junior).

The linebacking unit consisted of a plethora of talented two-way players. Frontier’s Corbin Blight (junior), Athol’s Dylan Castine (senior), Franklin Tech’s Tim Fritz (senior) and Austin Demers (sophomore), Mahar’s Joey Brozell (senior), Greenfield’s Nate Haselton (senior) and Turners’ Jake Comiskey (senior) all snagged All-League honors.

In the defensive backfield, Frontier’s Matt Hildreth (senior) and Kiernan Freeman (senior) were recognized for their fine seasons, as was Easthampton senior Ben Landry.

Not surprisingly, Turners senior Tyler Lavin was the All-League kicker after a season where he drilled 36 of his 42 extra-point attempts. Franklin Tech’s Jared Bergmann was selected as an All-League athlete, where he amassed over 400 rushing yards and nearly 300 passing yards.

Several players found their way into the accolade discussion as IL North Honorable Mention selections.

Frontier’s Jake Bryant (OL/DL), Xavier Santiago (OL) and Jackie Phong (OL/DL), Mahar’s Todd Chiasson (OL) and Lucas Seney (RB), Greenfield’s Cam Lackey (OL/DL), Franklin Tech’s Bailey Young (RB) and Dylan Demers (OLB) and Easthampton’s Justin Malek (LB) and Jacob Neumann (RB) all found their way onto that list.

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