It will be a hard act to follow the next few months for the Vineyard’s winter sports teams following historic runs last year when all four teams qualified for the post-season.
For the first time in Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School history, last year, all four winter sports teams, boys and girls’ basketball, and boys and girls hockey, earned a berth in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) tournament.
The four teams return this year with a different set of players, but all share the same goals as they did last year: win games and perhaps return to the big dance at the end of the season.
New in the winter mix this season will be the coed swimming team, which will now compete at the varsity level after two seasons as a club sport.
In this week’s Times, we will preview the swimming, girls basketball, boys basketball, and the girls hockey teams.
The Vineyarders, who wish to be known unofficially as “The Splash” in their swimming endeavors, will compete in the Bay Colony League, alongside Barnstable, Bridgewater-Raynham, Coyle Cassidy (Taunton), Nantucket, Nauset (North Eastham), Pope John Paul II (Hyannis), Sacred Heart (Kingston), and Sandwich.
Coach Robin Tuck currently has more than 20 swimmers on the roster. Fifteen returned from last year, which is a luxury for the fledgling program.
“I think we’re going to scare a few people,” coach Tuck said following practice on Monday. “The kids who have been here understand the starts, turns, and finishes better, and now I’m able to work at bettering their technique, even though we don’t have a ton of time, just 12 weeks.
“The first year and half of the second was just teaching them how to swim because [in some cases]they didn’t even know what the strokes were. This year, we’re incorporating videos of Olympic swimmers demonstrating stroke technique. I see a difference already the first day they come to the pool after watching the videos.”
The Vineyarders lost key swimmer Kaija Nivala to graduation but will hope to make a splash in the BCL this season with captains Mariah and Jessica Campbell, both juniors; seniors Paige Nitardy, Alex Mazza, Bella Bennett, and Katherine Donegan; sophomores Liam Cosgrove, Raz Sayre, and Galya Walt; and freshmen Kate Hansen and Tucker Cosgrove.
Coach Tuck has good team speed and balance at her disposal. Sprint events account for about 75 percent of league meets. Paige Nitardy should be a threat in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle, Liam Cosgrove in the breaststroke and 200-meter free, Galya Walt and Jessica Campbell in the butterfly, Mariah Campbell in the breaststroke, and Katherine Donegan in the backstroke.
“We have people who will be able to compete in all of the events. Last year, we had empty (uncontested) races,” coach Tuck said. “Raz Sayre is my man for going in any event at any time. Liam [Cosgrove] is also a very natural swimmer who can race in anything.”
MVRHS opens up the new season on Sunday in Sandwich at the Bay Colony Relay, a team event where the Vineyarders will get a first look at many of the swimmers competing against them in league meets during the season.
The first home meet is Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 3 pm against Pope John Paul II. The team is still looking for timers to assist with the meet.
The girls’ basketball team struggled at times last year during the regular season, and didn’t qualify for the state tournament until the final game of the season when they defeated Nantucket.
But the Vineyarders made the most of the opportunity, beating Ashland and then East Bridgewater in the tourney before losing to Fairhaven in South Sectional semifinals.
The team returns this season with almost all of the key players from last year: Maggie Riseborough, Jennie Lindland, Katie Stewart, and Alayna Hutchinson. Also returning is Kat deBettencourt, who missed all of season for medical reasons.
The team did lose Madison Hughes and Alex Mark, two strong players from last year’s squad, but the core of the team remains intact, and expectations are high. “Offensively, I think we are better,” coach Lisa Stewart said.
The coach said this is both a talented and savvy team with great chemistry. Many of the players have played together on travel teams as far back as the sixth grade.
“I hardly need to coach them. The starters in particular just know where the others are and where they need to be at all times. I have a lot of talent, but more than anything, I have a team with a very high basketball IQ,” coach Stewart said.
Riseborough is expected to play most of the time at center, while Katie Stewart will play power forward. Kendall Robinson, Lindland, and deBettencourt will all play guard.
Alayna Hutchinson, Hailee McCarthy, and Miranda Tokarz, Mia Houston, and Samantha Hargy are all expected to come off the bench. Some underclassmen may split time between the varsity and junior varsity teams, coach Stewart said.
The coach said this is a team that can push the ball up the court, but also run the offense through the post with taller players like Riseborough and Stewart.
“We like to run Jenny [Lindland], she is super quick getting the ball up the court and she is just tenacious on defense. But we also have the benefit of having four girls who are over five feet, ten inches,” she said.
“We are going to look to get it inside, but then we have great shooters on the wing like Kat [deBettencourt] and Kendall [Robinson],” she added.
The coach said the team’s tournament run last year gave this year’s squad valuable experience and seasoning.
“We won a few games and now we know we can do it. But this season is still going to be a challenge. All the league games [in the Eastern Athletic Conference]will be tests, they are all so tough,” she said, adding:
“But the goals are clear: continue to gel as a team and get better and be competitive in our league — and of course get back to the tournament. This is a great group and I am excited about the season.”
The boys basketball team may have lost six seniors from last year, but one thing it does have in spades: height. The team this year has an unprecedented five players who are over 6 feet, four inches.
“It’s certainly one of the taller teams I’ve ever had,” coach Mike Joyce said.
The team may need every inch to return to the heights of last season, when they made it all the way to the finals of the MIAA Division 3 South Sectional before losing to Wareham by five points in a championship thriller at UMASS Boston.
The Vineyarders went 21-3 last season and won the Eastern Athletic Conference championship. It was the farthest a team has gone in the tournament under Coach Joyce.
The team lost Will Stewart, Carlos Guzman, Charlie Everett, Ryan Fisher, Peter Keaney, and Del Araujo from last year, but returns guard Jack Roberts, center/wing Izak Browne and guard Brandon Watkins.
The coach said that Brown, as well as Liam Weston, Jahmari Thomas, Navardo Anderson, and Deshawn James all measure up at over 6′ 4″. Despite the team’s size, the coach said this will still be a run-and-gun style team.
“Were still going to run, but now we can mix it up. We can go big and try and use our height as an advantage for a wider variety of plays. But these players are all very athletic and we will still be looking to push the ball up the court,” he said.
Coach Joyce said the team is still learning to play together, but overall he likes what he sees and thinks this team has a tremendous upside.
“Right now we are working on team chemistry. We certainly have the athleticism, but right now the players are developing trust in one another. I think we have potential to be a good team,” he said, adding:
“This is their own group, it has their own personality and I don’t think they feel a lot of pressure to live up to last season. I think they understand there is a standard to live up to, and it’s about how you play as a team,” he said.
After a season in which the girls’ hockey team qualified for the state tournament for the first time in the program’s 15-year history, the team returns this year with a markedly different look.
The team lost six seniors from last year’s team: including defenseman Maggie Johnson and standout forward Celia Mercier, who had 29 goals during the regular season.
Coach John Fiorito said the team has a chance of again being a contender, but admits it may be difficult to return to the tournament. “I think we have a chance to be pretty good, but remember we did lose six seniors, including three of our four main defenseman.”
He said the strength of the team will be goaltending, thanks to the return of senior net-minder Texe Craig. Senior Katie Smith will also play some time between the pipes, coach Fiorito said.
The team also returns seniors Skylah Forend and Tayla Kuehne, and senior co-captains Emily Cimeno and Kassidy Bettencourt. Freshman Sydney Minnehan will be a key defenseman and junior Callie Jackson will see a lot of time at center.
Coach Fiorito said interest in the team has spiked over the past year. “We had 13 kids come out for four spots so we actually had a tryout week this year, which we haven’t really had in the past.”
The coach said he likes the makeup of his team. “It’s a good mix. We have returning seniors and a good group of young players coming in. It’s a great group of kids and they are committed to it, I think we can compete this season and maybe come in first or second in the league,” he said.
Next week, the Times will preview the boys hockey team.