Boys basketball: Hampshire League titles up for grabs as 2022-23 season gets underway

  • Mahar's Gavin Sullivan (5) splits Athol defenders Beau Manning and Vinny Gordon last year in Orange. Staff FILE Photo/Paul Franz

  • Pioneer's Brayden Thayer tosses up a shot against Drury last winter at Messer Gym in Northfield. Staff FILE Photo/Paul Franz

  • Franklin Tech's Ty Sadoski drives past Athol's Jet Castillo during action last winter. Both players return to the mix for their respective teams. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Greenfield’s Jonathan Breor drives to the hoop against Athol during their boys varsity DRIVE Basketball League game over the summer at Greenfield High School. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/8/2022 7:07:16 PM
Modified: 12/9/2022 2:07:38 PM

The inaugural MIAA statewide tournament was not kind to Recorder area boys basketball teams last winter.

Athol was eliminated on an overtime buzzer-beater against Innovation Academy in the preliminary round, and Greenfield and Frontier each lost in the Round of 32. Pioneer was the lone squad to pick up a win — beating Prospect Hill Academy in the Round of 32 — but fell in the Round of 16 to Baystate Academy.

Can the tides turn this year? There are plenty of teams hopeful they can reverse that fortune and find success at the state level. The majority of area teams boasted young rosters a season ago, and the valuable minutes gained should pay dividends once they hit the court this winter.

It was a battle every night in the Hampshire League South a season ago, and that looks like it’ll be the case again this season.

Drury took home the league title but graduated its starting point guard and center, while Hopkins Academy will have to find a way to replace the production lost from the graduation of top scorer Andrew Ciaglo.

Greenfield is one of those teams looking to take a step forward this year. The Green Wave graduated the majority of their roster from last year, but return sophomores Jon Breor and Caleb Murray, both of which saw playing time as freshmen last year. Murray will run the point for Greenfield while Breor — who has bulked up since last year — should be a force in the paint. 

Those young guys will be counted on to step us, as the Green Wave don’t have any seniors on their roster. 

“We could potentially do some things this year,” Greenfield coach Angelo Thomas said. “Our goals are to win Western Mass., win the league championship and qualify for the state tournament. Those are goals that haven’t been around this program in about eight or nine years. I think we have the talent, the team chemistry and the want to do something like that.” 

While the Green Wave lost the majority of their roster, the success of last year’s JV team gives Thomas confidence he has plenty of young players ready to step into prominent roles this winter. 

The Greenfield JV team lost just one game last year, and players like Jacob Blanchard, Jackson Campbell, Petru Cojocaru, Caleb Thomas and Oliver Postera will try to replicate that success at the varsity level. 

Transfer Noah Murray, who transferred from Easthampton, is another player who could see time for the Green Wave. 

“We had a good summer and a good fall,” Thomas said. “We played in a good preseason tournament in Holyoke against some Div. 1 teams and we competed well. As long as we stay healthy and keep progressing, we should be in good shape.” 

Just about every player on the Pioneer roster last season was either a senior or a freshman. Five seniors — Jared Hubbard, Jayden Fox, Sean Allen, Jalen McGraw and Ryan Potter — have graduated, ushering a new era of Panther players.

That new era is guided by Brayden Thayer, who led Pioneer with 12.2 points-per-game last year as a freshman. Gavin Gammell, Ethan Mauthe, Alex McClelland and Kurt Redeker also contributed as freshmen and will be looked at to step into bigger roles this winter while Josh Wood will be the most veteran returning player on the roster as a junior. 

“Every day we’re just trying to add another building block,” Panthers coach Scott Thayer said. “We're a very young team but it’s a good group of kids who like each other. We’re trying to build that chemistry and continuity and get everyone to understand their role and where they fit. That process takes time.

“I’m harping to them that this is a lump of clay,” Thayer continued. “This is brand new. What you did last year as young kids is nice and dandy but we’re molding something new now. What that will be, I don’t know. It could be a work of art or it could be a ball of clay with a handle that doesn’t look very good.” 

Pioneer has the talent to compete for the league title, but it’ll come down to getting underclassmen to play their role and come together as a team. 

“Last year we had a rash of injuries and dealt with COVID like everyone else,” Thayer said. “We had to throw all the young guys into the fire and they were playing more minutes than you would have wanted. They could compete skill-wise, but you still need to have the mental part. They were going 100 miles an hour and not absorbing much. Those minutes are valuable but also a detriment because you can pick up bad habits. We just want everyone to understand their role. We don’t need everyone to try to do everything. Through team success comes individual success. If you get that backwards, it usually doesn't end well. We’re working on that every day.” 

It was a building year for Mahar last winter, as the club started the season slow before coming on strong down the stretch and nearly sneaking into the state tournament on the final day. Guard Cole Johnson was the lone player to graduate from last year’s team, and head coach Chad Softic is expecting the Senators to take a step forward this winter. 

“We had a really good AAU season and played well in the summer league,” Softic said. “We have a lot of continuity. We were a young team last year but started playing well down the stretch and won our last four games. We used that as a springboard moving into this past offseason and hopefully it pays dividends. We should be a pretty good basketball team by the end of the season.”

Connor Sluder and Will Barnes return to the front court for Mahar. Gavin Sullivan will once again be a key player running the point while Hunter Martin should provide scoring on the wing. Lucas Isrow will join them in the starting lineup, and Softic said the sophomore has made the biggest leap of anyone in the program. 

Softic likes his depth this year. Jayden Delgado, Owen Carl and Cathal Davis will all provide minutes down low while Morgan Softic and Caleb Rodriguez will see time in the backcourt. Nate Danielson will see time once we recovers from injury while Marshall Ames, James Vezina, Carmichael Thompson round out the bench. 

“It’s nice not starting over like we were last year,” Softic said. “We went through all the bumps and gained valuable experience last year. All that will be beneficial. We want to compete for the league title and get in the tournament. We want that every year but we’re poised to say that this year.” 

Frontier has the task of replacing nearly its entire roster, as well as acclimating to a new head coach. 

Ben Barshefsky stepped down as head coach of the Redhawks, having led the team since 2010. In comes Josh Morse — who spent four years as the JV and assistant coach at Frontier before coaching the varsity team at Wilbraham & Monson Academy last winter — who must rebuild a roster that graduated all five starters and 10 seniors in total. 

“There wasn’t too much of a learning curve as I’ve coached a lot of these guys and are familiar with them through AAU,” Morse said. “It wasn’t too much of a transition process. At the beginning of every season, you’re still starting from scratch to some degree. They’re coming off soccer seasons, football seasons, etc. We have multi-sport athletes which is great but each sport is different on the body. The guys are doing great getting back into it and have great attitudes.” 

Freshman Max Millette is someone who has impressed Morse and will take over the point guard role vacated by the graduation of Iain Spearance. Senior Danny Fellows will play the other guard spot and has looked good so far at practice.

Good luck trying to score on the Redhawks in the paint. Owen Babb, who stands at 6-foot-5, has played strong down low while Frontier brings two Carey brothers back into the fold in Aleks and Jack, both of which are 6-foot-8. Their older brother, Peter Carey, is currently playing at Syracuse.

“Height and skill are two different things but we have a good mix of both,” Morse said. “We’ll be competitive. We were a tournament team last year but when you lose most of your team you have to rebuild. That rebuilding process is going well so far.”

Over in the Hampshire League North, Athol has plenty of motivation to get back to the postseason after how last season ended. The Bears looked to be cruising to a victory when Innovation Academy turned it on late to force overtime, where it won on a 35-foot buzzer-beater.

That loss left a bad taste in Athol’s mouth, with the team gearing up to avenge the loss and try to win its first tournament game in over a decade.

“The program is going in the right direction,” Bears coach Brian Patria said. “I’m excited for this season. We’re setting our goals with the understanding that we have the opportunity to be competitive again like we were last year. We want to win more games, get back in the tournament and try to continue the tradition of being a tournament team at Athol. We want to get to that level of competition and be successful. We still have that sour taste in our mouth from last year. Our goal is to get back and get our first tournament win this year.” 

Conall Tontodonato is the lone starter returning on a team that finished second in the HL North to Mount Greylock. The senior will serve as the lone captain for the Bears.

Angel Castillo will run the point, Colby Goodwin can play all over the lineup, Aedan Erickson brings toughness that Patria likes and Ben Kearney is a sophomore who is looking to step into a bigger role. 

Logan Cormier, Jacob Knowles, Ethan Bacigalupo, Dom Curtis, Aaron Roullette, Jamison Vincent, Caleb LeBlanc and Ray Castine are all players who will see time off the bench for Athol.

“This is a very disciplined group of kids,” Patria said. “They have some skills but at the same time have high level character. That on top of basketball skills, you love having a team like that. We’ll be a little undersized but that’s where we want to be dynamic, use our speed and athleticism and be a defensive-minded team. That’s how we’ll overcome our lack of size.”

It was a challenging season for Turners Falls, which failed to pick up a win during the regular season. 

That shouldn’t be the case again this season. The Thunder brought back nearly their entire team, led by junior Branden Truesdell who will be looked upon as the top scoring option.

Levin Prondecki, Logan Addison, JJ Charles and Jake Lavin make up the four-person senior class and each should log minutes throughout the season. Cam Burnett, Kiri Corbin, Joey Mosca, Deven Sloan, Dylan Shinall, Alex Quezada, Caden Williams-Senethavisouk, Ricky Pareja and Matt Crossman are all players who will mix into the lineup.

Turners head coach Gary Mullins said he likes the depth of his team, and with just about each spot in the starting lineup up for grabs, it’s been a competitive couple weeks of practice so far for the Thunder.

“We’ve had some good practices,” Mullins said. “They’re competitive and from a coaching standpoint, it’s nice to see the kids going at it and competing. I think that it’s possible we have 20 different starting lineups this year. We’ll have a better understanding once we start playing and see who’s performing but we can mix things up. I’m excited about their effort and their willingness to learn. If we can make a few shots, we’ll win some games.”

Franklin Tech guard Ty Sadoski — who led Recorder area teams with 20 points-per-game a season ago — is back and will once again be the focal point of the Eagles offense. 

The rest of the Franklin Tech squad will look just about the same as it did last year, as the Eagles didn’t graduate any seniors from the program. 

“We returned almost everyone,” Franklin Tech coach Tim Artus said. “This is the first time since my first season here where we’re junior and senior heavy. To have them all engaged and wanting to continue playing is a blessing. It’ll be fun to manage them. It’ll give me a lot of options. We have strong players in the backcourt and we have height in the frontcourt. We have some interchangeable parts and some good players.” 

Sadoski looks like he’s picked up where he left off last year, and Artus said he’s been impressed with the senior’s leadership on the court. Robbie Murphy and Noah Ausikaitis will also serve as captains with Sadoski. Murphy is looking strong in the post while Ausikaitis brings another scoring threat from the guard spots. 

Cayden Lehtomaki returns after not playing last season while Josiah Little, Tyler Lafountain, Gabe Mota and Robert Belval are all players who will look to help the Eagles try to compete for the Hampshire League North title

“We would like to be competing for the league title,” Artus said. “We have to take care of our business, stay solid on our fundamentals and not beat ourselves if we want to do that. This is a very coachable group of players.” 

While Mohawk Traildid not field a varsity team a season ago, it had a JV team in hopes of building toward the future. This year those players will bump up to the varsity level, led by freshman point guard Sam Thompson who will be the centerpiece of the Warriors rebuild.

Ty Griswold, Moshe Close and Noah Sprague also played on the Warrior JV team a season ago and will be relied upon to play big minutes throughout the season. For a deeper look at the Mohawk Trail program’s return to varsity status, see the article in Thursday’s edition of the Recorder (Dec. 8).

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