Sports in 2016 brought lots of thrills, occasional agony

Highlights of Island sports include wins, losses, and some major changes.

Clockwise from left, the girls tennis team gets pumped before a match; James Sashin unleashes his pitch; Samantha Robinson strikes a Falmouth ball; and Whitney Schroeder goes head to head with a Barnstable player. —Photo Illustration by Stacey Rupolo

This past year was full of uncommon occurrences in Island sports, momentous wins and losses, some sea changes and a contretemps over much-needed repairs to high school playing fields.

Several high school sports teams attracted record numbers of participants, including swimming, track and field, boys and girls soccer, and girls basketball. Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) athletic director Mark McCarthy will lead the school back to the Cape and Islands League, reviving 50-year old rivalries.

Here’s a look at Island sport stories making headlines in 2016:

New football coach

Steve McCarthy stepped up to replace Donald Herman as head coach for the 2016 season. Coach Herman, who was inducted into the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association hall of fame, amassed more than 230 victories over a 30-year career, which included 28 seasons at the helm and five victories in eight Super Bowl state championship appearances.

The Vineyarders, alas, lost the Island Cup this year, after 12 consecutive victories in the annual rivalry game with Nantucket. EAC all-star honors went to Zach Moreis, Matteus Scheffer, James Sashin, and Lucas DeBettencourt.

Former MVRHS gridders are making their mark in the national sports world. Former Vineyarder quarterback Randall Jette, MVRHS class of 2010 and a four-year starter at Division 1 University of Massachusetts, had a taste of NFL life this fall during a preseason stint with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Mr. Jette joins Mike McCarthy, MVRHS class of 2009, as Herman-era players who became pros.

Girls tennis wins state championship second year in a row

The MVRHS tennis juggernaut continued with the undefeated (21-0) girls team pitching a shutout in the state tournament and clinching back to back Division 3 state championships. The girls won a staggering 43 consecutive matches during their 2016 season. The boys team were close behind with a 13-5 record, advancing to the sectional quarterfinals.

Golf team defeats powerhouse rival Bishop Feehan for the first time in five years

Doug DeBettencourt’s squad finished 2016 with gusto, missing a share of the EAC title by a whisker and placing sixth in Division 3 state play. His golfers will happily remember their first regular-season win over EAC rival and golf powerhouse Bishop Feehan. Feehan had been undefeated in more than five years of regular EAC play. Putters Finn Simpkins and Zak Danz received EAC all-star honors for their performance this season.

Boys soccer comes close to tournament victory

Esteban Aranzabe’s boys booters caught fire in the second half of the season to qualify for the state tournament, advancing to the second round of the tourney. The high point of the season came in a win over the defending state champs, Division 3 Norton High School, who had bounced the Vineyarders from the sectional finals in 2015. Players Nainoa Cooperrider, Nevin Wallis, Owen Hess, and Gabe Bellebuono earned EAC all-star honors.

The girls squad struggled to a 3-10-1 mark, losing a frustrating number of one-goal games that challenged a 22-member squad. The girls were led by captains Cana Courtney and Whitney Schroeder, with co-captains Livy Smith and Adelaide Keene. Misses Courtney and Schroeder took EAC all-star honors.

Despite the long season, Coach Rocco Bellebuono remained buoyed by the growing popularity of Island girls soccer, noting that MVRHS fielded a girls JV squad for the first time this year, and pointing to a cadre of future talent in the Island youth soccer system.

Field hockey makes strides toward victory

MVRHS has been a strong performer over Lisa Knight’s 16-year career, which began with a state championship during her first season as coach in 2000. The 2016 team qualified for the state tournament, losing a 2-0 heartbreaker to Dover-Sherborn in the first round. The team had three EAC all-stars, including Lacey Dinning, Julie Hart, and Kylie Hatt.

Boys and girls basketball qualifies for state tournament

The 2015–16 girls basketball team cruised into the state tourney again, and picked up a win in the sectional series before bowing to Fontbonne in a 46-43 thriller. Vineyarder 1,000-point-scorer Erin Hill and Molly deBettencourt led the team, and both were named to the girls EAC all-star team. The boys squad gutted their way to a 10-10 season mark, mounting a late-season run to qualify for the 2016 state tournament.

Baseball knocks it out of the park

The 2016 baseball team qualified for the state tournament for the second consecutive year, posting a 12-8 regular-season mark before bowing in the sectionals. Several players had successful summers playing travel ball on the Cape. Senior James Sashin emerged as a top pitcher, traveling to Washington State to compete in the Senior Babe Ruth World Series.

Softball makes it far in farewell season for Coach Herman

MVRHS softball rebounded from several down seasons, missing the state tournament by a whisker with an 8-12 mark in retiring coach Donald Herman’s final season.

“We doubled our wins from the previous season; lost three one-run games, including a 4-3 loss to powerhouse Coyle and Cassidy, the best we’ve ever done against them,” Coach Herman said.

While the team doesn’t know yet who will be coaching next spring, there is a strong foundation in veteran leadership from seniors Tina Courtney, Samantha Robinson, and Emily Bunker. Freshman starters Summer Cardoza and Meghan Sonia will help to fill the shoes of Emily Turney, EAC all-everything and four-year starter, who will compete for Adelphi University.

Growing lacrosse teams had great seasons

Island athletes have flocked to lacrosse over the past decade, and the benefits have been apparent with the development of a youth program and continual improvement at the high school level. Under coaches Betsy Dripps and now Kristin Moore, the girls squad has made the state tournament in four of the past five years. It sent Madison Hughes, its 2011 season captain, to a Division 1 college career at Central Connecticut State University, where she earned all-conference honors from the Northeast Conference in 2016.

The boys have made the tourney for the past two seasons under Coach Chris Greene, who is handing over the reins in 2017 to assistants Bob Schnibbe and longtime Coach Tom Keller.

While Mr. Green is stepping down, he will continue to work at the youth level. “It’s been wonderful to see lacrosse become a real program. We had a five-year plan, and I think the team is poised to make a real run in the tournament next year. The team is in great hands with Bob and Tom. The kids believe in them, and they offer good continuity, which kids really need,” he said.

The girls finished 2016 with a 10-6 regular-season record, and the boys had an 8-8 mark and notched their first state tournament win.

Cross-country and track teams grow

The big news for cross-country this year was the emergence of strong new harriers, including freshmen Catherine Cherry, Veronica Wendt, Peter Burke, Keiran Karabees, Solon Oliver, and Vito Aiello. The continued success of statewide standout senior captain Aivaras Gedvilas also brought pride to the team. Mr. Gedvilas and Ms. Cherry earned EAC all-star honors this fall for their work. The winter indoor track team is nearly three times larger than the 2015 turnout, with 37 competitors. This year’s team has longtime coach Joe Schroeder over the moon.

Hockey season off to a strong start

Watch out for both the boys and girls hockey teams in the 2016–17 season. Boys coach Matt Mincone has the depth and talent for four forward lines this year, and has got stunning early play from junior goalkeeper Cathal Robinson. The boys won a 3-2 dogfight in their opener against Dennis-Yarmouth.

Girls coach John Fiorito reports that more than 40 athletes showed up for tryouts, and he’s got enough talent and depth for a junior varsity unit for the second consecutive year. He’ll start three freshmen to support veterans Julia Bettencourt in goal and top defender Kylie Hatt.

Swim teams swell in size

Coach Jonathan Chatinover has quietly nurtured the varsity swimming program over its first five years, and the team matured in 2016 with record numbers of participants, particularly on the boys roster. The formerly independent team now has a league of its own in the EAC. Several school records fell in the swimmers’ first meet this month, a huge victory for a team that has never won more than two meets in a season.

The Cubs take home victory over the Pirates in Little League championships

The Cubs rolled over the Pirates 9-0 to win the majors championship behind the five-hit, shutout pitching of Cam Napior (4⅔ innings) and Keaton Aliberti, while mounting a nine-hit attack of their own. In the minor league championship game, the Rangers rallied to beat the Twins, 9-8. The game featured a stellar game-ending catch by Ranger centerfielder Henry Wansiewicz to preserve the victory. The Rangers were aided by a three-run inside-the-park home run from Nick Rabeni.

Oak Bluffs dominates interscholastic basketball championships

The Oak Bluffs Blazers swept the junior high hoops championship games last January on the big court at MVRHS. The Blazer girls grounded the Edgartown Eagles 61-21, while the Cottage City boys clipped the West Tisbury Hawks 47-35.

Women’s and men’s softball leagues secure legendary wins

The Mama’s Girls rolled to their third straight title, defeating the Snaps by a 33-6 count in the final contest. The popular six-team league concluded its 12th season under the arcs at Veteran’s Field in Vineyard Haven.

The Hurricanes pulled off a men’s softball championship three-peat, clinching a fifth title in six years. That’s a dynasty, folks. The Hurricanes outlasted the Whitecaps two games to one in the finals. The Whitecaps took Game 1, 9-6, but the Hurricanes roared back and captured the crown by winning a pair of nail-biters, 10-9 and 4-3.