WORCESTER – In the end Steve Bucciaglia’s decision on where to continue his academic and athletic careers did not come down to anything tangible. His choice was not based on academic programs, the recent success of the football team or where the school was located. It didn’t come down to anything he read in a brochure or that was pitched to him by the admissions office.

“I chose Assumption College because it just felt like it was the right fit for me,” Bucciaglia, St. John’s record-setting quarterback, said. “I went on a recruiting trip there and spent the night and I really liked it. I could picture myself there.”

Steve Bucciaglia/Photo: St. John’s High School

Bucciaglia, who led the Pioneers to an undefeated season and the Division 3 state championship in December, signed his National Letter of Intent to attend Assumption College on an athletic scholarship on Wednesday. He said the other schools he was seriously considering attending were fellow Northeast-10 schools Bentley and Merrimack.

Bucciaglia finished his senior season for St. John’s (13-0) by helping to defeat North Attleboro, 35-33, Dec. 1 at Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium. In the Pioneers’ victory over the Red Rocketeers Bucciaglia completed 16-of-18 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring strike to Jay Brunelle on a third-and-12 play that pushed the St. John’s lead to 35-20.

For the season the 6-foot-1 Bucciaglia completed 207-of-285 pass attempts for 3,591 yards and 45 touchdowns.

Complicating Bucciaglia’s college decision-making process was the fact that Bob Chesney, Assumption’s wildly successful head football coach departed the Salisbury Street campus in December to become the Holy Cross head football coach. Chesney was 44-16 in five seasons leading the Greyhounds, who captured two Northeast-10 championships and appeared in the NCAA Division 2 playoffs three times while he was there.

“I knew I wanted to go to Assumption but I was waiting to see who they named as coach,” Bucciaglia said. “I wanted to meet the guy before I made my decision.”

Assumption hired former Holy Cross offensive coordinator Andy McKenzie on Thursday, Feb. 1, and two days later Bucciaglia and McKenzie had a face-to-face meeting. Just hours after the two met Bucciaglia announced on Twitter that he would be attending Assumption College.

“He’s a really nice guy and I would love to play for him. I made my decision right after I met him,” Bucciaglia said. “He’s a quarterback-oriented guy. He said he saw me on film and he said I’d be a good fit at Assumption. I was really happy when I heard that.”

Most recently the 45-year-old McKenzie served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Holy Cross, from 2008-2015. Prior to that, from 2002-2007, he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Allegheny College, from where he graduated in 1996.

From 2000-2001 McKenzie was the quarterbacks coach at Williams College. Before that, from 1996-1999 he was the wide receivers and secondary coach at Northeastern University. McKenzie got his start in coaching before he graduated from Allegheny, serving as the Gators’ wide receivers coach during the 1995 season.

“Coach McKenzie was excited when I told him I had decided to attend Assumption,” Bucciaglia said. “So were the other coaches who have been recruiting me since the summer (quarterbacks coach Jensen Gebhardt and linebackers coach Nick Kessel). They really liked me and I really liked them. I’m excited for August.”

McKenzie declined to comment on Bucciaglia’s college decision although the Assumption College football twitter account welcomed him to the family on Wednesday.

“I’m going to let Steve speak to that. I’m not sure I can comment on kids yet,” McKenzie said. “There are some recruiting rules about commenting on prospects and kids so I’m just going to take Steve’s word for what’s going on. I can’t comment because there is some documentation that has to be completed before we’re allowed to comment on such things.”

Bucciaglia said he was pleased and relieved that he has made his decision.

“Yeah I am,” said Bucciaglia, whose father Steven and mother Lauren (Lumsden) are both Assumption graduates. “The process is kind of stressful so I was wicked excited just to get it over with.”

Bucciaglia said the St. John’s community has been reaching out to him since Saturday congratulating him on his decision.

“Everybody at St. John’s has been wicked supportive and are very excited for me,” Bucciaglia said. “They wished me the best of luck. It’s cool because I think my teammates will be able to see a couple of my games in the next four years.”

Bucciaglia, who grew up in Worcester but now lives in Shrewsbury, said he considered schools from all the college divisions.

“I was looking at some NESCAC, NE-10 and smaller Division 1 schools,” Bucciaglia said. “In the end, though, I saw myself as a Division 2 player so I went after those schools. I went to the camps during the summer and sent my highlight tape from my junior year to them. I’ve been talking to a lot of NE-10 schools since the summer.”

McKenzie left his job as athletic director at Gardner High School to accept the Assumption College position. This was McKenzie’s third year overseeing the Wildcats’ athletic programs.

“The administration in Gardner, Mark Pellegrino (superintendent of schools) and Paula Bolger (Gardner High principal) were phenomenal to me,” McKenzie said. “I’m so appreciative and grateful for the opportunity they gave me at Gardner. Hopefully they feel like I worked hard for them and did the right things there, which I think they do. After a good conversation with them they were more than willing to let me move on to Assumption College and be the head football coach.”

McKenzie said when the Assumption job opened up he simply had to throw his hat in the ring.

“I’m a football guy. I love football and I love the value that a sport brings to a community and what it does for the growth and development of the kids that participate in it,” McKenzie said. “It’s always been an important part of my life. When the opportunity came about at Assumption it was an opportunity I could resist looking into.”

McKenzie has had to hit the ground running, getting the Assumption position right in the middle of recruiting season. Wednesday was National Signing Day for Division 1 and 2 college football programs.

“I’m walked into the position on Friday with just a weekend and a couple days to try and put a recruiting class together,” McKenzie said. “Fortunately coach Chesney laid a great foundation here. There are a lot of positive things happening on campus and Assumption’s reputation right now is trending really high.

“There were a couple of assistant coaches on staff here (Gebhardt and Kessel) who held the fort together and did a great job of recruiting while the school was looking for a coach,” McKenzie continued. “We’re in good shape but this is just the beginning. We’ve still got more work to do.”

Although it’s still early, McKenzie said the transition from Chesney to himself has been smooth.

“The transition has been awesome,” McKenzie said. “As crazy as this time of year is for college football coaches the people at Assumption College, from the administration, to the athletic department, to the students on campus, to the players, they have all been totally supportive. “They’ve been totally into getting a new coach in here and moving forward and getting ready for next year. I’m really excited about how important the football team is to Assumption College right now.”

Leading the Greyhounds marks the first time in his coaching career of 20 years that McKenzie has been a head coach. He’s already come to the conclusion that it’s much different than being a position coach or a coordinator.

“When you’re a position coach or a coordinator you’re totally focused on coaching your position and taking care of your specific duties to the best of you ability,” McKenzie said. “When you’re in the head coach’s chair you’re responsible for the full program. You’ve got to think about the offense and the defense and the special teams and the budgets and the scheduling.

“It does open up a lot of managerial situations that you have to take care of and I think that’s where my time at Gardner as the athletic director has truly benefitted me,” McKenzie said. “I’m now able to handle all the different tasks that come across the desk.”

McKenzie said he hopes to have his coaching staff finalized by the end of this weekend.

“I’m working on it right now,” McKenzie said. “I anticipate having most of the guys on board by the end of this weekend or early next week. Right now I’ve got to hire a couple of coordinators and a couple of graduate assistants.”

McKenzie said he will be retaining Gebhardt, Kessel and running backs coach Mike Vulcano.

“They all did a nice job in the transition and they deserve to be here,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie and his wife, Salwa, live in Holden with their children, 13-year-old Braeden and 10-year-old Yasmine.

WORCESTER – It’s fitting that Burncoat High senior Maire Gallagher scored her 1,000 career point on a three-pointer last week against Fitchburg High. When you think Maire Gallagher you think three-pointer. When you think three-pointer you think Maire Gallagher.

Maire Gallagher/Photo Courtesy the Gallagher Family.

Of the 1,025 points that Gallagher has scored so far in her career, almost 500 – 498 to be exact – have come from behind the three-point line.

“I’m a three-point shooter,” Gallagher said quickly when asked what her basketball “specialty” was. “I just love to shoot the three. Once I hit a few they keep coming and I keep on shooting them. I know I’m on fire so I just keep on going.”

Her teammates know it, too.

“Maire (pronounced Mare, the Gaelic word for Mary) has a look when she gets going,” fellow senior Katie Pasquale said. “She gets really serious. Her eyes narrow and she gets really focused. You look at her after she’s hit a couple of threes and you know she is in that zone she gets in. As a teammate you just want to keep feeding her the ball and have her keep shooting.”

 

 

The 17-year-old Gallagher has always had the gift of being to drain a three-pointer from anywhere on the court – she hit 45 of them as a freshman and sophomore – but her three-point accuracy has exploded the last two seasons.

Through 14 games this season she has made 113 field goals, a Central Mass.-leading 59 coming from beyond the three-point arc. Of the 104 field goals she hit as a junior, 62 were three-pointers, also the highest total in Central Mass.

So far this season Gallagher has had games where she has hit nine three-pointers (once, against Blackstone-Millville), eight three-pointers (once, against South), six three-pointers (twice, against South and Westborough) five three-pointers (once, against Fitchburg), fourth three-pointers (four times, against Notre Dame Academy, South, Douglas and Worcester Tech), three three-pointers (twice, against North and Abby Kelley) and one three-pointer (three times, against St. Peter-Marian, Bartlett and Doherty).

Gallagher has had at least one three-pointer in every game this year.

Maire Gallagher with Family after scoring 1,000th point/Credit: Burncoat High School

“Watching her against Blackstone-Millville was just amazing,” said Paul Keenan, in his third years as Burncoat’s varsity coach. “There was a point where I was turning to my assistant coaches and I really didn’t know what to say to them. Blackstone-Millville was throwing all kinds of defenses at her but it just didn’t matter. She just took the game over.”

Gallagher is averaging 23.9 points per game – second-best in Central Mass. – this year for the 10-4 Patriots, who qualified for the Central Mass. Division 2 tournament for the first time in her career with Burncoat’s win over Fitchburg. As a junior she averaged 16.3 points per game.

“Maire has come a long way as a basketball player in the last three years,” Keenan said. “She’s always working on her game during the offseason. She’s always going to clinics and camps and she plays AAU basketball as well.

“Basketball is a high priority to her,” Keenan said. “She’s always going after it; she’s always trying to get better. Each year she works hard over the summer and comes to practice on that first day having added something new to her game.”

Maire Gallagher with student section of fans/Photo: Burncoat High Shcool

Gallagher credits an offseason program she has participated in the last two years as making her not only a better three-point shooter, but also a better all-around basketball player.

“Andy Sears, my AAU coach with the Central Mass. Lightning runs a six-week program during the summer that focuses on shooting and ball-handling and lifting weights,” Gallagher said. “We work for an hour on shooting the ball and an hour on our ball-handling. Then we go into the weight room and we lift for an hour.”

Gallagher has also played AAU basketball for Diago McClain, Ryan Connor and Adrian Machado, three well-known coaches in Central Mass. basketball circles. Over the last few years, when she wasn’t playing in AAU tournaments for Sears and the Central Mass. Lightning she would play for another AAU club, Team United, which is coached by Machado.

Last summer the 5-foot-4 Gallagher played for the Central Mass. team in the Bay State Games. She plans to play in the Bay State Games again this summer. She has also played with her Burncoat High teammates the past few summers in the Shrewsbury Girls’ Summer Basketball League.

“I mainly played for the Central Mass. Lightning, but if the Lightning didn’t have a tournament on a particular weekend I would go and play with Team United,” Gallagher said, referring to her AAU experience. “I probably play 100 AAU games a year, maybe more.”

Keenan said Gallagher often provides scouting reports on some of the players Burncoat will be facing during the season.

“She knows all the kids we face during the season from her AAU days, so she’s always providing information on this girl or that girls,” Keenan said. “And when she doesn’t know someone, I usually recognize them because my daughter, Julia, plays AAU and I go to a lot of AAU games in the summer.”

Maire Gallagher/Photo Courtesy of Gallagher Family

Gallagher, who played quarterback and wide receiver in the Worcester Youth Flag Football League when she was younger, started playing basketball when she was 10.

“When I was in the sixth grade at Clark Street Elementary School they had a Biddy Basketball Program. I was looking to play a sport and that’s all they had, basketball, so I joined the program,” Gallagher said. “At about the same time one of my teammates in the Biddy Basketball Program, her mom worked at St. Peter’s Parish. She was involved with the Rec League they run there and she was able to get me on a team.”

After playing at Clark Street Elementary School, Gallagher graduated to the basketball program at Burncoat Middle School. That’s where she met Pasquale.

“We’ve been playing together since our middle school days,” said Pasquale who has had a front-row seat to Gallaher’s development as a basketball player and a person. “We hit it off on the first day we met and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Gallagher said the idea of being a 1,000-point scorer for Burncoat originally began when she was an eighth-grader, on the first day of practice as a member of the junior varsity team. On that day she walked into the Patriots’ gymnasium, affectionately known as “the Green Graveyard” and “The Pit” and saw the banner on the wall of all the 1,000-point scorers in school history.

A year later she was part of a team that tried valiantly to get a teammate, Khadijah Hames, on that 1,000-point banner.

“Khadijah was so close to scoring a 1,000,” Gallagher said. “I think she ended up about 25 points away from scoring 1,000. Being involved in helping her try to score her 1,000 really motivated me to try and do it. Last year and this year I’ve tried to really step it up to make it happen.”

Despite keeping busy with all her basketball exploits, Gallagher has found time during her high school career to become a standout field hockey and softball player for the Patriots. She also participates in the dance magnet at Burncoat. As part of the Burncoat dance magnet Gallagher is enrolled in advanced level classes in classical ballet, modern jazz and modern dance.

While Gallagher isn’t sure yet where she will continue her education, she is sure about three things: she wants to play basketball in college, she wants to major in psychology and she wants to become a high school guidance counselor.

Gallagher has received interest from about 20 colleges and universities that would like her to continue her athletic and academic careers with them, including WPI, Anna Maria, Emmanuel, Rhode Island College and Bridgewater State University.

“Right now I’m considering a few schools,” Gallagher said. I don’t really have a top choice. It’s so hard to decide.”

Gallagher said she wants to be a high school guidance counselor because of the impact Connor – her guidance counselor at Burncoat – has had on her.

“I see the way he helps kids and gives them direction and that’s something I want to do, too,” Gallaher said.

There will be time for all that down the road. Right now there are still many three-pointers to take – and make.

Cover Photo by Ken Powers: Maire Gallagher (right) with teammate and co-captain, Katie Pasquale.

WORCESTER – Holy Name boys’ basketball coach Jason Chavoor issued what is considered in the lexicon of sports as the ultimate compliment when asked about the play so far this season of Naps’ point guard Tommy Dunn.

“He just knows how to play the game,” Chavoor said matter-of-factly.

Indeed he does. The oldest of Matt and Rose Dunn’s two sons, the freshman is averaging a team-leading 15 points per game for Chavoor and Holy Name (4-9) while delivering an armload of assists and collecting a handful of steals each game.

Tommy Dunn takes the ball down the court versus St. Peter-Marian

Just 11 games into his high school career Dunn has already scored 20 or more points in four games. In the third game of the season he scored 22 against North, and three games later tossed in 21 against Barrington High of Rhode Island. On Jan. 2 he poured in 25 – currently his career high — against St. Bernard’s. The next time out Dunn scored 21 against St. John’s.

Holy Name’s game Friday night against Burncoat was suspended at halftime due to condensation on the floor that was causing players to slip and fall. At the half, the Naps were leading the Patriots, 45-25, and Dunn has already scored 22 points. The Naps would hold on to win 77-61 and Dunn would finish with a team-high 28 points.

“Tommy has been a blessing; we graduated most of our ball handlers last year,” Chavoor said. “He’s learning on the run this year and I think it will be great for him as time goes on. He’s been excellent. He works real hard; he never takes any plays off; he never takes any practices off. He’s very skilled. In my opinion he’s the best freshman in the area, hands down.”

The quiet and soft-spoken Dunn said he is pleased with how things have worked out so far this season.

“I think it’s going pretty well overall. We’re struggling as a team to get wins but I feel like I’m working hard and doing everything I can to help my team win because that’s all that matters,” said Dunn who said Chavoor has been very encouraging and quick to offer suggestions and feedback. “Coach has been great, supporting me and helping me through this first year. He knows I’m seeing a lot of stuff I haven’t seen before so if I don’t understand something he’ll explain it to me and tell me what to do.”

Dunn Shoots a jumper versus Doherty High

Dunn, 15, began playing basketball when he was five years old, participating in local legend Bobby Berman’s youth program at the Jewish Community Center. At six he was sitting on the end of the bench of a local AAU team – the Worcester Sting – playing occasionally. Dunn played for the Sting until three years ago, when he joined the Central Mass. Shamrocks. He played his middle school basketball at Venerini Academy.

When it came time to pick a high school Dunn immediately chose Holy Name, even though his father and other family members are St. John’s graduates.

“I don’t know why, exactly, but I knew since the beginning of eighth grade that I was going to Holy Name,” said Dunn a Worcester resident. “I just wanted to go there; I could see myself there and I had a lot of friends that were already at Holy Name. I participated in the school’s Shadow Program last year, too, and that went great. I really liked the school, I liked the basketball program. So, to me, it was a no-brainer.”

Dunn’s first interaction with his current teammates was last summer at Crompton Park when he played on Holy Name’s entry in the high school boys’ basketball summer league.

“By playing with them in the summer league I got to know the guys,” Dunn said. “We’re a good group, we all get along well.”

Chavoor said he liked what he saw in Dunn when he attended some of the summer league games.

“I knew just by watching him in the summer league that he was going to be able to play,” Chavoor said. “You don’t get kids like Tommy very often.

“In 2003 I started three freshmen – Dominique Price, Ryan Brown and Mike Balderelli – and you knew right from the get-go that those kids were going to be good,” Chavoor continued. “To be honest, though, Tommy has the chance to be even better than those guys. As a freshman, maybe one of the three had a 20-point game. Tommy has already had four.”

The jump from Venerini Academy to Holy Name in terms of the level of competition a player is facing and the time commitment that’s expected is, well, huge.

“Going from a small school like Venerini Academy to playing on the varsity team at Holy Name as a freshman was a big adjustment,” Dunn said. “At Holy Name we have practice every day; we didn’t have that at Venerini. At Venerini basketball wasn’t as time consuming. The competition and intensity level of the games, you can’t even compare the two. Despite all the differences I’m getting used to it; I’m adapting and liking it.”

Chavoor agreed with Dunn about how different basketball is at Holy Name as compared to Venerini Academy.

“It’s night and day,” Chavoor said. “Who he played against last year and who he’s playing against this year, it couldn’t be any more night and day. From that catholic middle school league with Venerini Academy and Worcester Central Catholic to what he’s playing against this year, it’s night and day. That’s the only way to explain it.”

Dunn has frequently found this season that he is guarding, and is being guarded by, a player older, quicker and more athletic. More often than not, he holds his own.

“You just have to outsmart them. You have to know where the picks are going to be,” Dunn said. “If I’m guarding someone a lot faster and a lot quicker than I am, I play off him a little bit. If he hits the shot, he hits the shot. There’s nothing I can do because if I get up on him he might go right around me.

“Coach always says, ‘give up jump shots rather than layups,’” Dunn continued. “I’m almost always guarding the other team’s point guard. If he comes up court and hits a three without passing off to a teammate, hey props to him, good shot. My focus, at that point, is to keep him out of the paint and I have to do everything I can to keep him out of the paint. On offense I use my body coming of picks to protect the ball and get a little separation so I can get the shot off.”

Chavoor said Dunn has adapted and adjusted to playing against guys, quicker, faster and more experienced than he is.

“Tommy is a bit of a throwback player; nothing really bothers him,” Chavoor said. “He’s crafty, he cuts to the hoop well and he moves well without the ball. He does some things already that I can’t teach. There are certain things that you can’t teach and he has those things already, even though he’s only a freshman.

“He just knows how to play the game and he’s tough and competitive,” Chavoor said. “You don’t run into too many kids these days that have no baggage, but Tommy brings no baggage with him to our program. He shows up every day and he has nothing to say; he’s never complained once; he’s never questioned anything. He doesn’t feel like he’s better than anybody.”

The bottom line is Dunn hangs with everyone he’s guarding, even though he doesn’t look like he’s going to be able to hang with them.

“When it comes to Tommy out there on the court, playing defense, I’m reminded of that saying we learned as kids – you can’t judge a book by its cover,” Chavoor said. “He doesn’t look like he can play. Friends of mine come to games and I say to them, ‘wait until to you see this kid play’ pointing to Tommy and they say, ‘that kid?’ And I tell them what I tell everybody – the kid just knows how to play the game.

“When you watch him you can tell he has put in his time in the gym. He’s fundamental. He doesn’t make a lot of stupid mistakes; he doesn’t make a lot of bad passes,” Chavoor continued. “You might expect a freshman not to handle certain moments but he does. Against South he handled their pressure. Against North they put two guys on him and he was able to dribble through the press and find somebody to make a layup. He was able to make shots against St. John’s, when other guys struggled, to keep us in the game and give us a chance.”

One thing Dunn has made a seamless transition to is providing a one-two, inside-outside scoring punch for Holy Name with DeVandre Edmonds, the Naps’ senior center, who is averaging 14 points per game.

“I like to feed it to DeVandre in the post and he will either take it to the hoop or kick it back out,” Dunn said. “I’m a three-point shooter and sometimes I’ll take the three when he kicks it back out, but a lot of times I get it to DeVandre in the post and make cuts off that entry pass. Other times, when the pass back is not there, we’ll work a pick and roll at the top of the key.”

Chavoor said he’s been very happy with how well Dunn and Edmonds work together.

“DeVandre will post and Tommy will get him the ball and then Tommy will cut and DeVandre will give the ball back to Tommy,” Chavoor said. “DeVandre is a very unselfish player; we want him to be more selfish but his game is a pass-first game. DeVandre is very cerebral. When he gets the ball in the post he is able to hit the cutter, whether it’s to the left or the right. A lot of Tommy’s baskets come off assists from DeVandre.”

Dunn said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make this year – and it’s an ongoing adjustment – is with the pressure that comes with being the starting point guard as a freshman for a rich-in-tradition basketball program like Holy Name.

“There is a lot of pressure knowing that I’m the starting point guard even though I’m just a freshman,” he said. “There’s pressure to distribute the ball, to get my teammates the shots they need, to get the shots I need to keep the defense honest, to do what coach wants. And, just overall, to do the right thing every trip down the floor.”

Chavoor isn’t worried about the pressure Dunn may be feeling because he already knows something Dunn hasn’t quite figured out yet – whatever the situation, his freshman will figure it out.

“He’s just been a real pleasant surprise for us,” Chavoor said. “When I saw him play over the summer for the summer league team I knew he was going to be good, but he’s overachieved for us already. We’re hoping Tommy is going to be a mainstay up here for the next four years, score a ton of points for us, and then go on and play really competitive college basketball when he’s done.”

WORCESTER – Perspective is a funny thing.

Back in May of 2016, Worcester Academy basketball player Aliyah (pronounced Ah-Lee-Yah) Boston, just 14 years old at the time, traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo. – on her own dime — to try out for USA Basketball Women’s U17 team. Boston did well, becoming the youngest player ever to make the cut to 14. When the team was cut to 12 however, Boston was not on the final roster.

That didn’t seem to matter in the girls’ and women’s basketball world. Folks were too busy marveling at how the outgoing and always smiling 6-foot-3 prep school freshman — who didn’t even make her league all-star team — hung with the older girls. Division 1 college coaches at the tryouts were frantically Goggling Worcester, which they undoubtedly spelled, and pronounced, “Worchester” or “Worsester” to download the Hilltoppers’ schedule.

Aliyah Boston may not have made the U17 team, but she had arrived.

Not in her mind, however.

“I felt really said after the tryout that I didn’t make the team,” said Boston, who is now 6-4. “I never wanted to feel that way again. I told myself to keep working hard so that next time I tried out – because I knew I was coming back to try out again – I made it.

“I told myself after the U17 tryout, ‘I never again want to not make a team I try out for,’” Boston continued.

Make no mistake however, Boston had most definitely arrived. She was just beginning to receive the exposure as a basketball player that she – and her family – sought when she and her older sister Lexi moved to Worcester from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands back in 2014.

Aliyah Boston/photo courtesy of Worcester Academy

Lexi and Aliyah Boston relocated to Worcester without parents Cleone and Al, moving in with Cleone’s sister – their aunt – Jenaire Hodge, who lives in Worcester.

“I started playing basketball when I was nine,” Boston said. “My sister was just starting to get into sports and she started playing basketball. Since she was my big sister I wanted to do anything that she was doing, so I started playing basketball, too.”

The competition back in the Virgin Islands was limited, to say the least.

“When we lived in St. Thomas they weren’t many basketball teams. My sister and I played in a league where we were the only girls on our team. We might have been the only girls in the league,” Boston said. “I was excited that I was playing against the guys and doing OK, holding my own. I used to be in the paper all the time in St. Thomas; that was a really big deal to me. My mom, though, she used to tell me, ‘until you make the papers in the states, you haven’t really made it. So, don’t get too high.’”

Boston said the attention given to local players in the U.S. Virgin Islands has improved since she and her sister moved to Worcester, primarily because lots of folks from the states have moved there; folks who know how popular and how widely followed girls’ and women’s basketball is ‘in the states.’

“Those people, who went to college in the states, are transferring their kids to schools here in the states because they recognize the exposure that’s available,” Boston said. “By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to play basketball at the highest level and I knew that was in the states.”

So, while the Boston sisters were contemplating just how to propose to their parents a move to the states, her parents came to them and suggested a move to Worcester, where they could live with Hodge and play basketball here.

The sisters moved to Worcester in 2014 and enrolled at Holy Name. Lexi was in the 10th grade, Aliyah the eighth grade. Lexi Boston stayed at Holy Name, graduating in June, while Aliyah Boston transferred to Worcester Academy at the beginning of her freshman year.

“Initially (we came to Worcester) for basketball, but it became about academics for me,” Boston said. “Maybe it was because I was young, but in the eighth grade I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough, academically.  Coach (Dan) Nagle was the coach at Worcester Academy at the time and saw me play and he invited me to visit the campus.

“I really liked the academic offerings here at Worcester Academy. It was the academics here that made me ultimately decide to transfer to Worcester Academy,” Aliyah Boston said, “and I do feel like I’m being pushed more, academically, here.”

Boston said it was hard leaving St. Thomas for Worcester.

“It was very hard,” she said. “Even though I came here with my sister, my parents are still down there, as well as all my family and all my friends. So that’s hard. But I’m adjusting. It gets a little easier every day.”

Boston said she’s undecided what she’ll study when she gets to college but she is interested in the fields of law and communications.

“I know they’re very different but I love both,” she said.

A communications degree would help Boston get into a field like media relations, where she could work in athletics at a college or university or even in the front office of a professional sports team. Boston said she might like to give sports announcing a try, too.

Upon arriving in Worcester Boston hooked on with the Worcester Sting, an AAU team coached by former Holy Name standout Diago McClain. Looking for a more national AAU tournament schedule Boston soon joined the AAU team iExcel, which operates out of the New York/New Jersey area and is coached by Walter Welsh. The iExcel team plays a national schedule, often attending tournaments located in Las Vegas, Florida, Atlanta and Texas.

Boston’s stock has done nothing but rise since she crashed the party that was the U17 National Team tryouts in the spring of her freshman year. Last year, in helping lead Worcester Academy to a 19-3 mark she averaged 23 points, 15 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals a game.

For her efforts as a sophomore Boston, who wasn’t even a league all-star as a freshman, was named the Gatorade Massachusetts Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

This year, in helping the Hilltoppers start the season 11-0, Boston is averaging 24 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks and 3 assists per game. She is among the top recruits in the nation among girls who will graduate in 2019. Some publications have her ranked as high as the fourth overall recruit, while others rank her as the No. 1 recruit among post players.

“Aliyah is an extraordinary person. I always say that first because it’s rare when you have someone whose character matches their talent level. Aliyah is one of those rare people,” said Sherry Levin, now in the second year of her second stint as Worcester Academy’s girls’ basketball coach. “Her talent level is through the roof but she is not only one of the most talented players, but she truly is a genuine human being and a quality person.

“She is a great teammate. She is very coachable; she is always looking to learn,” Levin continued. “She gives solid input on what’s going on out on the floor during games. She is very mature for her age. She is going to make some college program really happy.”

Levin said the Hilltoppers’ offense runs through Boston.

“She is very unselfish when she needs to be,” Levin said. “She understands her role as being one of the top players. I can’t say enough about her character and her skills.”

In Worcester Academy’s most recent victory, 61-57, over St. Andrew’s School of Barrington, R.I., Boston had another impressive stat line – 25 points, 20 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 assists – but it was the effortless way in which she played that was impressive.

With the score tied, 57-57, with less than a minute left to play, Boston gathered in an entry pass on the left block and wheeled into the lane and calmly swished a 6-foot, turn-around jumper that gave Worcester Academy the lead for good, 59-57. On St. Andrew’s School’s ensuing possession Boston grabbed a key rebound to limit St. Andrew’s to one shot. Back in the offensive end she pulled down an offensive rebound and passed it out to a teammate, who canned a jumper to account for the 61-57 final.

Aliyah has a tremendous ability to make her teammates better,” Levin said. “When she gets the ball and she’s double-teamed she does a great job of finding her open teammate; it’s a drill we work on every day in practice. She sees the floor very well, she’s really unselfish and she embraces the role of being a leader on the team.”

During the entire final minute of Saturday’s game, and the 31 that came before it, Boston’s demeanor never changed. There was no way to tell if she was having a good game or a bad game. No way to tell if she had scored 5 points or 25 points.

Boston said she enjoys playing for coach Levin.

“I love it. She’s a great coach as far as Xs and Os go, but she’s a great coach off the court, too,” Boston said. “If I have any questions, if I need anything, I can always go to her.”

Boston’s play, starting at the U17 tryouts two years ago, had gotten the attention of every major Division 1 college and most of the mid-majors as well. Some lower-level Division 1 schools have shown interest as well, no doubt playing the “come to a smaller, quieter place to get a high-level education and Division 1 basketball experience in an intimate bucolic college setting.

Beginning with the first game of her sophomore year there has been at least one college coach at all of her games. Jeff Walz, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville, attended Saturday’s game against St. Andrew’s, sitting in the front row of the bleachers, right at half court.

When asked about the college recruiting wars that are going on to procure her services, Boston just smiled.

“I’m just enjoying the process right now,” she said. “I have a list of 10 schools that I’m considering.”

Boston, who had made unofficial visits to both Louisville and the University of Connecticut, said she plans to take her official visits after this season ends. She declined to reveal the schools on her list, saying she preferred to keep it in the family for now.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of the big Division 1 schools; a lot of them have shown interest in recruiting me,” said Boston, who was surprised to hear that many people believe that she is headed to UConn. “All I can tell you is nothing has been decided yet.”

Boston said she hopes to decide on where she will continue her education by the early signing period next year. She doesn’t know if she will verbally commit to a school before the early signing period.

“Right now I’m not sure about that,” she said. “Right now I just want to go through the process and take my time because wherever I decide to go, I’m going to spend the next four years. So, I want to make sure I make the right decision.”

She said her college decision will be based on athletics as well as academics.

“Basketball is going to end at some point so I do want to have a strong academic base to fall back on,” Boston said. “That will be a very important component to it.”

As far as going from just another freshman one year to the Gatorade Player of the Year the following season, Boston had a simple explanation.

“I just worked hard,” she said. “After the U17 tryouts I knew I could play at (the national) level, but I knew I needed to keep working hard. I started working on a whole lot of things – my outside game, my mid-range game, my dribbling.”

 

In June Boston played for USA Basketball in the FIBA Americas U16 Championship, earning MVP honors for the tournament while helping her team to the gold medal. The tournament was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The USA team won each of its games in the tournament by at least 50 points. The coach of the team was former Oxford High and UConn standout Carla Berube.

Boston couldn’t decide when asked which part of the game of basketball she liked best.

“I love it all. I love blocking shots, but I also love scoring the basketball, and I love playing defense, too,” Boston said. “I also love getting offensive rebounds because I work really hard on the offensive end to get in position. A rebound is like a reward for working hard.”

While she’s known across the Worcester Academy campus as Aliyah, in St. Thomas she is better known as “Peaches” a nickname her father, Al, gave her at the time of her birth.

“I was born two weeks early and when I was born, I was really red,” Boston explained. “My dad looked at me and said, ‘she looks like a peach.’ And ever since then my dad has called me Peaches. I’ll call home and my mom will answer the phone, ‘hi Peaches.’ Some people call me Aliyah, some people call me Peaches. I’m good with either.”

WORCESTER – All of Tommy Dunn’s points last night were important, but none were as big as his last two.

Dunn, a Holy Name freshman, hit an off-balance, one-handed shot while falling down with 48 seconds to play to help lead the Naps to a 64-61 win over South High at Francis P. Kelly Memorial Gymnasium.

“It was, ah, luck,” said Dunn, who finished with 13 points, while trying to explain what was ultimately the game-winning shot. “The shot clock was running down so I knew I had to do something; I knew I had to get a shot off. I came off an inside out and I got bumped and I was falling down to the right and I just threw the ball up at the basket with my right hand. It wasn’t the prettiest shot I’ve ever taken, but I’ll take it.”

So will Holy Name, which lost to St. John’s Tuesday night and plays at Burncoat Friday night and then hosts Doherty on Tuesday. The Naps improved to 3-7 with the victory over the Colonels, who fell to 5-3 with the loss. South, which won the first meeting, 53-52, has lost three of its last four.

Another freshman, Connor Knowles, provided Holy Name some breathing room when he canned his second three-pointer of the night with 12 seconds to play to extend the Naps’ lead to five, 64-59.

“Those two freshmen, Tommy and Connor, they really made a couple of tough shots at the end,” said Holy Name coach Jason Chavoor, who, like Dunn, couldn’t explain the game-winning shot. “The ball hasn’t really rolled our way all season so it was nice to see it finally roll our way tonight.”

South senior Michael Butkus (11 points) hit a layup at the buzzer to account for the 64-61 final.

The Naps looked like a team that lost by double digits the night before in the first half, playing passively and with very little intensity. At one point, when the Colonels were in the midst of a 9-1 run, Chavoor could be heard telling his players during a stoppage in play, “You guys look like you have never played basketball before.”

Holy Name trailed, 32-24, at halftime.

“In the first half we were making plays that we don’t teach and we were doing things that we don’t teach,” Chavoor said. “There is nothing more frustrating to a coach than when kids do stuff that you don’t teach them.”

Dunn said Chavoor did not mince words in the locker room at the break.

“Coach really laid into us at halftime, telling us we had to step it up if we wanted to get a win,” Dunn said. “I think the key for us in the second half was getting back on defense and doing a better job of passing the ball around and finding the open man.”

The Naps, apparently, listened to what Chavoor had to say.

After South junior Aaron Nkrumah (a team-high 19 points) pushed the Colonels lead to 10, 34-24, on a drive and layup 48 seconds into the third quarter, Holy Name went on a 14-0 run, taking a 38-34 lead with 4:05 left in the quarter. Junior Alvin Kouassi led the way, scoring six of his game-high 20 points during the spurt. Senior DeVandre Edmonds, who scored all 10 of his points after intermission, had four points in the run. Dunn added two free throws and senior Sam Ampofo (13 points) scored on a put-back of an offensive rebound.

“I think the key to our coming back in the second half was our defense,” Kouassi said. “We knew we had to work harder on defense. It was a very physical game; it always is against South because we all know each other. We all play against each other year-round, in the summer league, down at the YMCA.

“Personally, I knew I had to refocus,” Kouassi continued. “I had a lot of turnovers in the beginning of the game but I was able to settle myself down at halftime and mentally prepare for the second half. I just wanted to do a better job passing; a better job getting my teammates the ball.”

The teams essentially exchanged baskets the rest of the quarter, which ended with the Naps ahead, 49-44. With 4:20 left in the fourth quarter Ampofo scored on a runner in the lane to give Holy Name a 58-49 lead.

That when South began its comeback.

Junior Darrel Andoh (seven points) hit a free throw with 4:06 left in the game to pull South to within eight, 58-50. After a Holy Name miss and turnover, Colonels’ sophomore Bill Everson (nine points) scored on a drive with 3:10 to play to make it a six-point game, 58-52. Three possessions later Everson made it a three-point game, 58-55, by draining a right-side three-pointer with 2:18 to play.

Dunn then pushed the Naps’ lead back to four, 59-55, by hitting one of two free throws with 2:10 left in the game. South junior Papee Paye (13 points) hit a pair of free throws to make it a two-point game, 59-57, with 1:42 to play and then Butkus scored on a drive with 1:20 to play to tie the game, 59-59, setting up the late-game heroics provided by Dunn and Knowles.

“I thought we came out with better energy in the second half,” Chavoor said. “We really tried to get the game going fast, full-court, thinking that way maybe we could get some steals. Even though we were down big early in the second half I still thought we had time to come back and win.

“Not counting that basket at the buzzer, which didn’t mean anything, we outscored them by 13 in the second half,” Chavoor continued. “That’s important. I thought we played a lot better in the second half. We did some doubling and some trapping when we were down by 10 and all of a sudden we’re all tied up.”

While he was pleased with the win, Chavoor wouldn’t commit to it being a turning-point victory.

“The one thing I’ve learned about kids is they are very unpredictable,” Chavoor said. “We could come out on Friday and be absolutely useless; we could come out Friday and win by 30. We just try to take it day by day. Right now our focus is on tomorrow’s practice and our preparation for Burncoat on Friday.”

WORCESTER – The Worcester Tech boys’ basketball team has picked up in the 2017-18 season right where it left off in the 2016-17 season, winning its first five games – several in convincing fashion.

The Eagles (15-8 in 2016-17) closed last season with a flurry, winning three straight at the end of the season before losing to Maynard High, the eventual Division 4 Central Mass. and state champion, 45-42, in the semifinal round of the Central Mass. Division 4 Tournament.

“We gave Maynard its best game in its run to the state championship last year,” Eagles’ coach Sean Lynch said.

Worcester Tech (5-0, 3-0 in the Colonial Athletic League Large Division) faces its toughest test of the young season at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when it hosts also undefeated Assabet Valley (6-0, 4-0).

The teams split their regular season games last year, the Eagles winning at Assabet (60-47) and losing at home (72-60). Worcester Tech then beat Aztecs, 60-54, in the quarterfinal round of the Central Mass. Division 4 Tournament in a game played at Assabet Valley.

Assabet enters the game with a high-octane offense that’s averaging 81 points a game and a stingy defense that’s only allowing 40. The Aztecs have already cracked the 100-point barrier this year, beating Keefe Tech 116-48 back on Dec. 21. They’ve scored 86 points twice.

“Every time I pick up the paper it seems like they’re hanging 90 on somebody,” said Lynch, now in his 10th year as the Eagles’ head coach. “If we hope to win we’re going to have to keep them off the three-point line. They all shoot the ball very well. Taking away the three-pointers, especially the uncontested ones, that’s going to be our focal point.”

Assabet is led in scoring by Jeff Hunter, who is averaging 16.8 points-per-game, Gerry McManus (14.5) and Daisjaughn Bass (10).

Worcester Tech is pretty much the same team this year as it was last year, its only significant loss being Ian Mwalago, who averaged 19 ppg last year.

“He’s been tough to replace,” said Lynch who is the head of the math department at Worcester Tech.

The Eagles have five seniors, eight juniors and two sophomores on the roster. The seniors on the team are Jacob Adams, Josh Falero, Victor Florentino, Steven Rivera and Daniel Rodriguez. Juniors on the team are John Bab, Jose Bonilla, Ceasar Flores, Malcolm Gaines, Brendan Hamilton, Innocent Morte, Cooper Nyuane and Zaire Peart. Andrew Enlow and Deron Kumah are the sophomores on the team.

We’re definitely junior heavy,” Lynch said.

Florentino and Peart serve as team captains.

Florentino (13 ppg) leads the team in scoring, followed by Hamilton (11 ppg) and Enlow (8 ppg). Peart, Bonilla and Falero all average 6 ppg.

“Andrew Enlow, he’s our little sparkplug off the bench,” Lynch said. “He is instant offense and defense. He plays with a ton of energy. He’s a bulldog. We had his brother, Adrell, on the team a couple of years ago. He was the same way; it must be genetic. They both really get after it.”

Lynch, who said Worcester Tech’s regular lineup is Florentino, Peart, Hamilton, Falero and Bonilla, is not overly surprised at his team’s 5-0 start.

“I thought we would have a decent start,” Lynch said. “Our league (the Colonial Athletic League Large Division), I think, is pretty underrated. It keeps getting better and better each year.”

As of Jan. 7, five of the six teams in the CAL Large Division (Assabet, Worcester Tech, Abby Kelley Foster, Bay Path and Monty Tech) had a better than .500 record and the sixth, Main South was 2-3.

“Main South, they’ve played some tough teams already, including Acton-Boxboro,” Lynch said. “We played them the other night and it was a battle. It was the first time they were at full strength and it was a battle. It’s always a grind when we play them; it’s a good rivalry for us because all the kids know each other and the game is, essentially, for bragging rights in the neighborhood.”

Worcester Tech defeated Main South, 60-56, on Jan. 3. Lynch said prior to the Eagles’ game with Main South two of the team’s key players has missed playing time due to the injuries and its coach, Luis Ojeda Sr., had missed time on the bench as well.

A lot of high school basketball teams these days focus on offense, especially shooting the three-pointer. Lynch said the Eagles are not one of those teams.

“We’ve never been a high flying offense; we’re kind of a grind it out team,” Lynch said. “We like to run; we’re not the best half-court offensive team. We tend to grind a lot of games out. Our focus is on defense.”

Peart, who starts at point guard for Worcester Tech, is the lifeblood of the team.

“He’s probably the key to getting us going in the offensive end,” Lynch said. “He loves to push the tempo. On the defensive end they key for us is definitely Brendan Hamilton, our center. He’s the anchor to our defense. Brendan’s not that big (6-foot-3) compared to other centers, but he is quick and very athletic. Just his presence out there in the middle alters a lot of shots. And, he blocks shots and he’s a great rebounder, too.

“Victor does it on both ends for us,” Lynch continued. “He’s 6-2 but he can handle the ball, and he is one of our better shooters, too. On defense he’ll cover whoever we ask him to. He does it all. He’s a quiet kid; he leads by example.”

Lynch said Falero is a physical guard who is very good at pressuring the ball.

“For us it’s definitely a team concept, both on offense and defense,” Lynch said. “It’s not just one guy out there doing it for us.”

OXFORD – Contrary to widespread public opinion outside of town, Oxford High varsity football coach Jeff Clarkson did not open his home to Niko Murray as a thinly-veiled attempt to keep the Pirates’ star player in the fold and away from other teams.

Clarkson, born and raised and still living in Oxford, may not realize it, but he saw part of his own past in Murray’s future and he didn’t want any member of his team – star player or seldom-used reserved – to go through the unhappiness he went through many years ago.

“I think for Jeff it’s tied to his upbringing,” his wife, Dawn Clarkson said matter-of-factly. “It’s a totally different set of circumstances, but for his freshman year in high school Jeff went to St. John’s. He told me he missed his friends so much that it was one of the more difficult years of his life. ‘It’s a great school but I missed my friends,’ he told me one night. Jeff’s roots were, and are, here in Oxford.

“So Jeff understood when Niko said he wanted to stay in Oxford and at Oxford High because all his friends were here now,” Dawn Clarkson continued,” Jeff realized from talking with him that Niko’s roots were now here in Oxford, too.”

Murray, who grew up in Fitchburg, came to Oxford in 2014. The Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) classified Murray as a ward of the state and placed him in the George Bernardin Oxford House, a long-term residential group home for boys ages 11-18. The facility is run by YOU, Inc.

Murray and the Clarkson Family

Upon arriving in Oxford, Murray was enrolled in the eighth grade. The Oxford School Department applied for, and received, a waiver so he could play football at the high school and he joined the football team that fall. The first day of practice he met Joel Erickson and Ryan Walsh, two classmates and teammates he now refers to as his best friends.

“Some of the kids (at the Oxford House) were talking about going to Oxford High and playing football and I was interested in that because I played football in Fitchburg growing up,” said the outgoing and always smiling Murray. “I didn’t know anybody when I got here and started the eighth grade, but my first day here I made a bunch of friends. Joel was the first guy I met and he introduced me to Ryan. Joel and Ryan became my best friends.”

Murray played on the varsity team as an eighth-grader, splitting time between quarterback and running back. He started about half the games that year. Murray was the starting quarterback when the Pirates’ faced Bay Path Regional Vocational Technical High School in the Thanksgiving Day game between the teams. Murray was a member of the varsity football team as a freshman as well.

Statistical records from those two years are spotty at best. As an eighth-grader Murray appears to have rushed for 52 yards and four touchdowns, including a 12-yard touchdown against Ayer-Shirley, and a two-point conversion. As a freshman Murray gained 198 yards and scored two touchdowns on 41 carries, had three pass receptions for 86 yards and another TD, returned four kicks for 57 yards and kicked two extra points. The team was 1-9 in 2014 and 0-11 in 2015.

Murray has come into his own on the gridiron the last two seasons. As a sophomore he gained 1,265 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on 162 carries. He also returned a pair of kicks for scores. Last year was Murray’s breakout season as he rushed for 2,040 yards and 30 touchdowns on 160 carries. He also caught five passes for 88 yards and three more scores. Murray finished the year with 34 touchdowns and 204 points.

Jeff Clarkson and Nike Murray

Jeff Clarkson remembers meeting Murray – sort of – when Murray was an eighth-grader.

“I went over to the middle school to watch the middle school basketball teams play – my daughter Olivia was on the girls’ team. In middle school the boys’ and girls’ teams would play back-to-back,” Clarkson explained. “After one of Olivia’s games I see Niko waiting around but I don’t know who he’s waiting for or what he’s waiting for because I don’t know anything about the kid other than the fact he had played varsity football and he had started at quarterback in the Thanksgiving Day game.”

At this time Clarkson had no connection to the Oxford High football program – he was a youth football coach in town.

“I had just seen him play middle school basketball and I could see what an athlete he was even though he was only in the eighth grade,” Clarkson continued. “So, I went over to him that day at the middle school, after the games, and I said to him, ‘hey, you’re a good athlete, I’ve seen you on the basketball court and I’ve heard good things about you. I saw you play on Thanksgiving. Stay out of trouble. One of the keys to being a great athlete is staying out of trouble.

“Then, and I have no idea why I did this, I said to Niko, ‘Just remember, you never know, down the road, who your coach will be,’” Clarkson said. “I just threw that out there. There was nothing even on the radar about my becoming coach at that time. I mean, I had always thought about it, but the position wasn’t even open at the time (Mike Adams was the coach for Niko’s eighth-grade season). Then we shook hands and he told me he had to go, that his ride was here, and I see the gray van that is famous for being the Oxford House van, pull up and Niko gets in and off he goes.”

As fate would have it, the Oxford High varsity football job opened up later that year and Clarkson applied for the job – and he didn’t get it.

“I got passed over,” Clarkson said. “Ross Thibault, the principal at the time, calls me and tells me he is going to go with Brian Cain, an assistant coach at the time at Westfield State. Is he a better coach than me, Xs and Os? Probably 10 times better. No doubt about it. Does he know defense better than me? Probably 10 times better. I said to Ross, ‘I think you’re stepping over me.’”

Thibault, however, had a plan. He wanted Clarkson to work with Cain and help coach the Pirates.

“Ross said to me, ‘you bleed orange and black. I know you’re going to stay and help this kid,’” Clarkson recalled. “And I said, ‘I’m not going to. I got my hands full with the youth program.’ Then I said to him, ‘can I talk to you freely? Like I talk to one of my friends?’ And he said, ‘go right ahead.’

“So I said, ‘do you know what you’re doing? This whole town is going to be in an uproar over this thing. I’ve been involved in the youth program since Day One. Everyone in town knows me. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but this is what I’m supposed to do. This job has been waiting for me. This job came up now for a reason.’” Clarkson remembers telling Thibault.

Clarkson said that on paper Cain was a coach. He was coaching at the college level and had coached at the high school level before that.

“I told Ross, ‘from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think this is going to work out,’” Clarkson said.

And it didn’t, because it became apparent that Cain wanted a teaching job at Oxford High to go along with the coaching job, even though the administration had made it clear during the interview process that a teaching job did not come along as part of the coaching position.

Cain, who was hired in May, resigned on July 8.

“He called me that day and said, ‘Jeff, I just want you to hear it from me before all the craziness starts – I’ve resigned,’” Clarkson said. “He told me he had just clicked send on the email and sent it off to the superintendent and the principal. He said, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t hire you. You should have the job. I hope you get it. Good luck. Goodbye.’”

Clarkson acted quickly.

“I immediately sent an email to Ross that said, ‘you have one day to make a decision. If not, good luck. It’s July. I don’t have time to play games with this,’” Clarkson said. “Ross called me as soon as he got the email and said, ‘the job is yours. Let’s move forward.’ So, I kind of got the job by default, which was not the way I wanted to get it, but what are you going to do? I didn’t have time to cry over not being the first choice.”

The more Clarkson got to know Murray – now that he was his coach and interacting with him on a daily basis – the more he liked about him.

“Right from the get-go I realize this kid is a good kid,” Clarkson said. “It made me think, ‘what is he doing at The Oxford House?’ In mid-September I get a call from a DCF worker out of the blue and he says to me, ‘don’t get too attached to this kid. He’s a good kid. He’s progressed out of the Oxford House and we want to get him into a home with a family. He doesn’t belong here.’”

Clarkson went home that night and shared his “news” with his wife.

“I brought it home and put it right on the kitchen table. I said to Dawn, ‘what do you think? Can we try to find someone to take him? Do we take him ourselves?’” Clarkson said. “My oldest daughter, Gabrielle, was at UMass at the time so I knew we had a room if we needed it. I said to Dawn, ‘I don’t think she’ll be heartbroken to lose her room if she knows what we’re doing, bringing a kid in to live with us. Can we do it?’”

As he tells this part of the story Clarkson sounds a lot like a little boy who brings home a stray dog and asks his mother if they can keep it.

“I had actually already met Niko at this point,” Dawn Clarkson said. “He was one of the boys from the Oxford House that had volunteered to work the football camp that we hold every year for the youth program. I saw him playing out on the field and I thought it was very nice that he was out there volunteering his time.

“A couple of weeks later, Jeff said to me, ‘I think Niko is going to be leaving us.’ And I said, ‘what do you mean he’s going to be leaving?’” Dawn Clarkson remembered. “So, Jeff tells me that Niko’s social worker told him that Niko is going back to Fitchburg. Then Jeff says, ‘what do you think about him coming to live with us?’ and I was like, ‘let me talk to the kids first. I’m OK with it, but let me talk to them.’”

Dawn Clarkson said her boys – Quinn, who is now 12, and Kellen, who is 10 – were immediately on board with adding Murray to the family.

“They were excited about the idea of Niko coming to live with us,” Dawn Clarkson said. “There was no trepidation at all. There were no worries about getting along because they had met him and seen him and interacted with him during the football camp. They like him a lot. And they knew him from town playing with the other kids.

“I think my boys were just happy Niko was going to be living with us,” Dawn Clarkson said. “They were happy that he was going to be like a big brother to them. They looked up to him automatically. All the younger kids in town are like ‘Niko, Niko, Niko.’ They love him and he is wonderful with the kids.”

Dawn Clarkson said the decision to open her home to Murray was, in the end, a very easy one to make.

“Niko had built a life here in Oxford and had made friends and he wanted to stay. I think in the end we wanted to give him that opportunity,” Dawn Clarkson said. “He’d been in Oxford for two years. I didn’t want to see him pulled out of here, a place where he had made friends for two years. Jeff and I believed Niko’s roots were now in Oxford so we decided to open our home to him and give him a chance because he’s a good kid.”

With his wife and family firmly on board with the plan, Clarkson met with Mike Roy, Murray’s caseworker to discuss the possibility of having Niko become a part of the Clarkson family.

“Mike told me he would look into it and put a game plan together,” Clarkson said. “So we had a CORI check done and we started in mid-October having Niko come over for dinner on the weekends. He had Thanksgiving Dinner with us, too.

In December Murray began spending his weekends at the Clarksons.

“First it was one night, then two and then it was Friday, Saturday and Sunday and we were bringing him to school on Mondays,” Clarkson said. “Mike told us DCF was still waiting to see if he got processed out to a family looking to foster a kid, but he knew, with Niko being 16, that probably wasn’t going to happen.”

During the winter months Murray began struggling a little with his schoolwork. He was still eligible to play under Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) guidelines, but his DCF worker required him to have a grade average of 70 or higher and Murray had slipped below that.

Murray was a member of the Oxford boys’ varsity basketball team at this point, and the Pirates had advanced all the way to the Division 3 state championship game. But, because his grade average wasn’t at least a 70, his DCF worker didn’t allow Murray to participate in the game.

“Niko’s grades went even further south after that happened,” Clarkson said. “At that point I said to Mike, ‘look something has got happen here. We want to take him. What if something like this happens again during baseball season, or next year during football season, or basketball season? Sports are Niko’s life; if you take that away from him he’s not going to be receptive to anything that you are trying to throw at him.’

“It was really an effort for us to get them to let us take him home to live with us,” Clarkson said, shaking his head at the memory.

With his family on board and DCF seemingly on board, Clarkson decided he better ask Murray if he actually wanted to come live at his coach’s house.

“One day, toward the end of my freshman year, coach Clarkson was talking to me and he just asked me out of the blue if I wanted to come live with him and his family so I didn’t have to leave Oxford because my time at the Oxford House was up,” Murray said. “I had made friends here and I wanted to stay, but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do that. The more it looked like I was headed back to Fitchburg the more I was saying to myself, ‘I wish I could figure out a way to stay in Oxford. I’m comfortable here; I know a lot of people here.’

“Coach picked up on that and asked me about living with him and his family,” Murray explained. “I wasn’t expecting that, but I was happy he asked. I wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to do it. I felt like I didn’t really know him that well for him to do that, and I didn’t know if I wanted to live with my coach. But, I said yes because I really wanted to stay in Oxford.”

Murray officially moved in with the Clarksons on June 6, 2016.

“It was the last day of school his freshman year. The Oxford House packed him a bag and he came to live with us,” Clarkson said. “When I tell you it took hundreds and hundreds of emails to make this happen, it took hundreds and hundreds of emails. I feel like if I hadn’t pushed, he probably would have fallen through the cracks.”

Clarkson smiles when told that folks believe he only went to all this trouble because of Murray’s athletic ability and how important a piece of the Oxford High football puzzle that he is.

“Of course I knew people were saying that, are saying that. I don’t think it was folks here in town. But I heard the talk that was going around. People were telling me what other people were saying,” Clarkson said. “My reaction to all that is this: When the kid was a freshman, if you put a hand on him he went down. His freshman year he was good, he was not great. He was a freshman. Did I see potential down the road? Yes.

“I remember saying to Niko freshman year, ‘I talked to your DCF worker and he said to not get too attached to you. Do you know what’s going on?’” Clarkson said. “Niko said, ‘yes coach, I know what’s going on.’ So I asked him, coach to player, friend to friend, ‘what do you want?’ He said, ‘I’ve been going here since the eighth grade, I have friends, I have a girlfriend. I’ve had a lot of support here. I really enjoy being here. I’d like to stay here in Oxford. Hearing that, I wanted to help. And I’d want to do it for any kid in his situation whether they played sports or not.”

Dawn Clarkson dismissed the notion that her husband went to all this trouble just because Murray is a good football player.

“That had nothing to do with it,” Dawn Clarkson said. “When you get to know Niko, really know him at his core – his beliefs, his values – he’s a kid you want to help.”

Murray said no one has mentioned to him at any point that his getting to live with the Clarksons is some kind of star player treatment.

“No one has, and even if they did it wouldn’t bother me because I know it’s not true,” Murray said. “I think I’m bright enough to know we have a connection. Right from the beginning he told me this isn’t about football. He told me ‘if you get an offer from a better school and have a better opportunity, I want you to take it. I want you to go.’ It’s all good. I plan on being with the Clarksons until I graduate.”

None of the Clarksons – not Jeff, not Dawn, not Olivia – were worried that there would be any backlash about an African-American kid from The Oxford House going to live with an all-white family in town.

“I wasn’t worried about any of that. It’s Niko, after all,” Olivia Clarkson said with a laugh. “He’s pretty well known in Oxford; because of football, sure, but also because he’s an all-around nice person. He knows everybody in town and everybody knows him.”

Murray didn’t think twice about the fact he was moving in with an all-white family.

“I never even thought about that for one second; this is Oxford,” Murray said. “I never heard any gossip about that, either. I never feel like anyone is looking at me when we were all out together. Again, this is Oxford.”

Olivia Clarkson, who turns 14 next month, was a fifth-grader when Murray started attending family dinners at the Clarksons.

“When my mom first asked me about Niko I didn’t know who she was talking about,” Olivia Clarkson said. “But then my dad started having the football team dinners at our house and I met Niko through those dinners. We talked a little and I got to know him and he seemed like a nice guy.”

Dawn Clarkson said when she asked Olivia how she would feel if Niko came to live with them, Olivia whole-heartedly endorsed the idea.

“By then, after the team dinners and after he came over for dinner with the family a few times and after he stayed over for a few weekends, I had gotten to know him by then so I knew he was a good guy,” said Olivia Clarkson, who looks at Niko as her big brother. “We had nice talks together and we made each other laugh. I thought, at that point, it would be fun to have him around.”

Dawn Clarkson said having Murray join the family dynamic has been an adjustment for both parties.

“Niko’s had a totally different lifestyle than we’ve had,” Dawn Clarkson said. “He has boundaries and rules, and there are expectations on him around the house probably for the first time in his life. We’re very structured while he is coming from a totally different upbringing which is much less structured – if at all. So the process of ironing things out and making it very clear what’s expected and what is not OK, has taken some time.

“He’s very receptive to what I say to him when I need to say something to him and he is very respectful of me,” Dawn Clarkson said. “It’s been a big adjustment for both of us. As you would expect when having a kid who is almost 16 come to live at your house. There’s definitely been a defining of roles.”

Jeff Clarkson said there have been growing pains in his relationship with Murray – as he knew there would be – since the player came to live with the coach.

“We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs, to be sure. It’s been trying and challenging at times. I’ve had him out on the front steps a couple of nights waiting for a ride because I’m not dealing with the nonsense,” Jeff Clarkson said. “But, it’s mostly typical kid stuff that everybody probably deals with. But I do hold him to a higher standard.

“Niko is a good kid that got derailed a little bit,” Clarkson said. “But he’s not a bad kid. Sometimes you deal with bad kids and you have to walk away. Niko isn’t one of those kids. My mother, my sister, my nephew, he calls them his brother and sisters. He calls my wife mom, he calls me coach. Everybody gets along.

Through all the trials and tribulations, all the peaks and valleys, Jeff Clarkson said ft he had it to do all over again, he would.

“Just to see how well he fits in with this community I would do it again,” Jeff Clarkson said. “Just to see the friends he’s made. He wanted to be closer to them. Being at the Oxford House he had to put up a wall. But now, since he’s been living with us, I’ve seen him open up and become a responsible young man with his friends and his teammates. I would definitely do it again.”

CHESTNUT HILL – Leadership, team dedication and a competitive spirit is what the folks at Boston College look for when they annually select the defensive back worthy of receiving the Jay McGillis Award. The honor is presented in the memory of McGillis, the Eagles’ safety who passed away in 1992 from leukemia.

This year’s recipient is senior Isaac “Ike” Yiadom, the former Doherty High standout who set many personal records this season while helping to lead Boston College to a 7-5 record and a berth in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Iowa at 5:15 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 27. The game will be played at Yankee Stadium.

“I was honored and humbled when I learned I was going to receive with the Jay McGillis Award,” Yiadom said. “I was honored because the DBs that have won it before me – guys like Justin (Simmons, the 2016 recipient) and John (Johnson, the 2015 recipient) were great players here and they have gone on to be great players in the NFL. They were great people here at BC and well respected. I’m just happy to follow in their footsteps.

Connecticut Huskies wide receiver Keyion Dixon (23) runs with the ball while Boston College Eagles defensive back Isaac Yiadom (20) attempts to tackle him at Fenway Park in Boston. Lauren Schneiderman | The Hartford Courant

“I was humbled by the award because I know the background about Jay McGillis; I’m just happy that I got the chance to wear his jersey,” said Yiadom, referring to the fact that the award recipient wears McGillis’ No. 31 during the Eagles’ game on Senior Day. “He was a great dude here. This award means so much here at BC. As a senior defensive back if you receive the Jay McGillis Award it means you fill all the characteristics of being a great player and teammate on and off the field.”

Yiadom was selected to receive the McGillis Award at the conclusion of the Eagles’ spring practices back in May, but the honor wasn’t officially announced until Dec. 10 at the team’s senior awards banquet.

Boston College coach Steve Addazio said Yiadom, like those who have won the McGillis award before him, is a very deserving recipient.

“The Jay McGillis Award is a prestigious award that our kids all recognize,” Addazio said. “It’s got a lot to do with being an outstanding defensive back, but it also has a lot to do with the way the recipient carries himself and demonstrates his leadership and his character. Ike has been all of the above at an A-plus level.”

Sean Mulcahy, Yiadom’s coach and mentor at Doherty, was thrilled – but not surprised – that his former player won such a prestigious honor.

“It didn’t surprise me at all that he won the McGillis Award, and that’s a huge honor, I’m really proud of him. Isaac is an unbelievable competitor and leader. He was that way with us and he carried that with him to BC,” Mulcahy said. “As good as his talent was, he hated to lose; maybe even more than he liked to win. We saw that competitive spirit his first day of practice as a high school freshman. He practiced very hard and he hated to lose any drill that we ran in practice. Isaac was a track guy, too, so he made sure he never lost a sprint.”

Photo Courtesy Boston College Athletics.

As for Yiadom’s leadership, Mulcahy was reminded of it this past season when Yiadom came back from Boston College to be on the sidelines when the Highlanders played St. John’s in the Central Mass. Division 3 playoffs.

“First of all, I was really impressed that as a senior in college on the one Friday night that he had all to himself during the season Isaac took the time to come home and go to a Doherty game and be on the sidelines,” Mulcahy said. “And he got involved in the game right away, too. St. John’s had scored first and there was a little bit of bickering going on as our kids were coming off the field. Isaac stepped right in and got in their faces – and one of them was his brother Paul who was a junior on the team – and told them stick with it, to keep their cool, that it’s a long game. He told them all the things you want to hear from a captain or a coach.

“Isaac jumping in like that meant a lot to the kids,” Mulcahy continued. “He is a great example for our kids. Isaac is a quality kid and a great ambassador for our school and our football program.”

Yiadom received another impressive honor earlier this week when he was officially invited to participate in the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which will be held Jan. 27 at Land-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., and televised live on the NFL Network.

“I’m very excited about being invited to the Senior Bowl,” Yiadom said. “It gives me another chance to show a lot of people who I am and how good I can play. I just want to go out there and let them see what I can do.”

Addazio believes the NFL scouts at the Senior Bowl are going to be impressed by the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Yiadom.

“Isaac has great physical size and fantastic speed; a lot of guys at the next level are recognizing that,” Addazio said. “I think he is finally being recognized for his ability. Ike’s a fantastic player and he has really come a long way.”

This season for the eagles Yiadom recorded 51 total tackles, including 32 solo stops. He was in on eight tackles (six solo) against Clemson, he intercepted two passes (one against Clemson, one against Virginia Tech) and recorded seven pass breakups, including two each against Clemson and Virginia.

Connecticut Huskies running back Kevin Mensah (34) is tackled by Boston College Eagles defensive back Isaac Yiadom (20) at Fenway Park in Boston. Lauren Schneiderman | The Hartford Courant

His senior year at Doherty Yiadom helped lead the Highlanders to the 2013 Massachusetts Division 4 title with his rushing and receiving prowess. Yiadom carried the ball 37 times, gaining 420 yards (11.4 yards-per-carry) and scoring four touchdowns. He also had 42 catches for 940 yards (22.4 ypc) and seven touchdowns. On defense he recorded 107 tackles – seventh highest in CMass. – and intercepted two passes.

Also on the state title team for Doherty was Alfred Adarkwah who is now playing wide receiver at UMass-Amherst. Adarkwah finished the 2013 season for Doherty with 31 receptions for 586 yards (18.9 ypc) and 12 touchdowns, one more than Yiadom scored that year. Mulcahy said Yiadom and Adarkwah competed against each other every day in practice and he feels it made them both better.

“Isaac was very competitive in a good way with Alfred; they made each other better,” Mulcahy said. “They are very good friends but they were friendly competitors, too, in terms of just being good receivers who pushed each other.”

Mulcahy said he and the rest of the Doherty coaching staff knew early on that Yiadom would be able to not only play college football, but at the highest level of college football.

“We knew he was fast enough,” Mulcahy said, “but when we saw what a good football player he was overall, we knew he was definitely someone who was going to play at a pretty high level of football. He just kept getting better and better.

“We used him differently than they use him,” Mulcahy continued. “As fast as he was we used him as a strong safety so he could be up in the box to make tackles. We knew in college they would probably put him where he is now – left-side corner. It seems like BC’s opponents didn’t throw at him very often and when they did he was able to make plays. It seemed like he was getting very little action in terms of the ball coming his way.”

Yiadom said an opponent not throwing the ball in his direction was something he couldn’t control.

“I feel like they threw at me the same amount at the end of the year as they did at the beginning of the year,” Yiadom said. “For me making plays is just a matter of being around the ball when the ball is thrown. I just have to run to the ball and good things will happen. That’s what I can control.”

Mulcahy believes Yiadom’s decision to enroll at Boston College in January of 2014 instead of finishing out at Doherty has played a key role in his development as a player.

“Like a lot of Division 1 schools BC recommends to their incoming freshmen recruits that they enroll in January of the year before they are officially a freshman at the school so they have an extra half a year to get adjusted to the school and the routine of the football program,” Mulcahy said. “It’s a smart move by the colleges that are able to do it.

“Because he was enrolled at BC for that semester Isaac was able to get a whole year of spring ball in so when he competed in the fall he had already participated in those 16 practices where they install everything,” Mulcahy said. “Any kids that weren’t able to do what he did – and I don’t know how many kids in his recruiting class weren’t able to enroll in January – they’re arriving at BC in August and having to learn it all on the fly. Because of that Isaac was way ahead of some of his peers and was able to compete early. He obviously impressed them in preseason practices because they didn’t redshirt him as a freshman and he actually played a decent amount that year.”

Yiadom played in all 13 of the Eagles’ games as a freshman, mostly on special teams (127 plays) and finished with 13 tackles on the season. His first career tackle came against UMass in the first game of the year. He recorded a career-high (at the time) four tackles against Virginia Tech and also he also made two tackles against Colorado State. Yiadom also recorded two tackles that year against Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Yiadom enrolling early at Boston College almost didn’t happen, however.

“In Worcester the graduation requirements state a student must take four years of English, so obviously Isaac needed to take English as a senior in order to graduate. You can’t take two as a junior which I guess you can do in some school districts,” Mulcahy said. “So it looked like he wasn’t going to get the opportunity to graduate early.”

As a Doherty student Yiadom was a member of Worcester School Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone’s Advisory Committee.

“After one of their Advisory Committee meeting Isaac met with Dr. Boone to discuss the situation,” Mulcahy said. “He explained to her how he was going to be behind because the majority of the kids in his recruiting class were graduating early and would be up at BC in January and he’d still be here at Doherty finishing his graduation requirements.

“Dr. Boone looked into it and saw that this was going to be an obstacle for him. So, she allowed him take a college-level English course at Becker, a course that would finish in December and substitute it in for the year-long English course he would have taken at Doherty,” Mulcahy said. “Isaac left us in December. He came back for prom and graduation, but he left us as a student in December and was at BC in January.”

Addazio said BC’s recruitment of Yiadom began in earnest when he attended BC’s football camp the summer after his junior year at Doherty.

“We’re big on camp. That’s my philosophy. You get a guy in camp and you get a chance to coach the guy on the field,” Addazio said. “Film is a part of it, no doubt. But sometimes film on DBs is hard, especially in high school. What helped us was the fact his high school coach was fantastic and his program was great.

“When you work a guy out at camp you get a real sense of the guy. You can tell the intangibles as well as the skills. Then you go ahead and put him through all the DB drills and you watch him play man coverage,” Addazio said. “And you get to see how he takes to the coaching and can he translate that to the field. We saw real promise on film; we backed it up with what we felt was a good camp experience and we felt terrific about Ike from Day 1.

“At that time we were really into trying to get bigger corners and here was Ike, a tall corner who could run,” Addazio said. “He was raw, very raw, but he was tough and he could run. Isaac has developed every year. If you haven’t spent some time around Ike you should. He is a beautiful kid. What a guy he is. He’s just fantastic. He’s a great role model who represents Boston College in an excellent way.”

Yiadom said attending the BC camp confirmed what he already knew.

“After my junior year at Doherty I felt like I had the ability to play at the Division 1 level, it was just a matter of somebody giving me a chance,” Yiadom said. “I knew I was pretty tall, had good size for a corner and I’m pretty fast. At my position those are the things you need. So, when they gave me a chance at camp I knew it was a great opportunity and I had to take advantage of it.”

Yiadom’s strong senior season, his being the recipient of the prestigious Jay McGillis Award and his being invited to the Senior Bowl have all greatly improved his chances of playing on Sundays next year.

“I think it has,” Mulcahy said. “I’m starting to get feelers on his character from a handful of NFL teams. Several teams have sent a questionnaire to me and to Wendy Marshall, who was his track coach here at Doherty, as well as others at Doherty to fill out on his behalf.

“The questionnaires are mostly character questions,” Mulcahy said. “They ask a few football questions but a lot of it is centered around rating him on off-the-field stuff – punctuality and things of that nature. Isaac’s off the charts with that stuff. He would have gotten into Boston College as a student – not taking into account his football ability; he was that good of a student.”

Between teaching and coaching at Doherty and helping chauffeur his three nephews and niece around town, Mulcahy doesn’t get much time to just sit and watch Yiadom and Boston College play. Mulcahy, in fact, was able to actually watch just one of Yiadom’s games this season, the Eagles home game against North Carolina State on Nov. 11.

“The game had already started when I turned it on and of course I’m looking for No. 20 (Yiadom) and I see No. 31 playing his position so I’m thinking Isaac must have gotten hurt,” Mulcahy said. “So, I watched the entire game and No. 20 isn’t in for even one play. And, what’s worse is this kid, No. 31, he’s pretty good. I start thinking, ‘wow, I hope this kid doesn’t end up taking Isaac’s job.’”

After the game Mulcahy was informed that it was Yiadom who was wearing No. 31 in memory of Jay McGillis.

“I worried the whole game that Isaac got hurt and that he’s going to lose his starting spot to this No. 31 and the whole time it was Isaac,” Mulcahy said with a laugh.

“Isaac is an awesome kid, he deserves everything he’s gotten,” Mulcahy said. “Coach (Jim) Reid, BC’s defensive coordinator came through recently on his recruiting tour and he said that Isaac is by far one of the Eagles top character guys. Isaac, coach Reid said, is one of the guys that the coaching staff points to for recruits to be like.”

Worcester in general and the Central Mass. Conference in particular were well represented last year in the Central Mass. Division 1 Boys Basketball Tournament.

Central Mass. Conference (CMC) members St. John’s, Holy Name and St. Peter-Marian were the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively, in the tournament. In addition, Doherty was the No. 7 seed and North High was seeded 10th in the 11-team tournament.

The Pioneers advanced all the way to the final, beating the Naps in a semifinal-round game in the process. St. John’s lost the final, however, 67-64, to top-seeded Franklin High, which eventually lost in the Division 1 state final to Cambridge Rindge & Latin. The Pioneers finished last season 19-4; while Holy Name ended the season with a 17-5 mark.

In the other Division 1 semifinal last year St. Peter-Marian lost to the aforementioned Franklin, 54-44. The Guardians finished 15-9 last season. Doherty, which was 13-7 a year ago, was upset in its opening-round game by North, 72-63. The Polar Bears finished the season 11-11.

“The CMC, it’s a good brand of basketball; in 2012 all four teams (HN, SJ, SPM and St. Bernard’s) won at least 15 games,” said Holy Name coach Jason Chavoor, now in his 15th year leading the Naps. “SPM is good; St. John’s is good. Everyone is good right now.

“St. Peter-Marian has Shamar Dennis; he’s probably the best player in the league; he scored 12 points a game last year as a freshman,” continued Chavoor, a St. John’s graduate. “We have Devandre Edmonds back. Devandre (14.9 ppg in 2016-2017) was a league All-Star and a Super Team member last year. St. John’s has Sean Burke (leading returning scorer, 13.3 ppg), who is very good. And Doherty, since you mentioned how they were seeded seventh in last year’s tournament, has Marty Silvera (22.1 ppg last season), who is the best scorer in the area.”

So, how will these teams fare this year? Will the Division 1 Tournament in 2018 be another “Worcester Invitational” the way the 2017 season was? Let’s take a peek at each of the teams.

St. John’s

Less than 48 hours after winning the Massachusetts Division 3 Football Championship with a 35-33 win over North Attleboro on Dec. 1, Steven Bucciaglia and Hunter Gorgas joined their basketball teammates for a Sunday afternoon scrimmage against Chicopee Comprehensive.

No rest for the weary, the wicked or for members of the best football team in school history, apparently.

The Pioneers made the most of the scrimmage, opening the season Dec. 8 with a 76-46 win over Nashoba Regional. Freshman Lucas SanFratello was the surprise of the night, leading all scorers with 26 points, 18 coming off six three-pointers. Burke, a senior, added 19 points.

Other seniors on the team in addition to Burke are Bucciaglia, Gorgas, Denzel Darteh and Ryan Hardenbrook. Big things were expected from a sixth senior, Ty Mola, but Mola may miss the entire season due to a broken ankle.

Juniors on the Pioneers’ roster include: Bobby Duquette; Ben SanFratello; and John Love. Jack Carelli is the lone sophomore on the team. Rounding out the squad are freshmen Lucas SanFratello and Nathan Bangandozou.

Burke is the team’s leading returning scorer, having averaged 13.3 ppg last season. Alex Bradley, who graduated, and Mola each averaged better than 14 ppg. Lucas SanFratello, according to a media member on hand Friday night, is a star in the making. Gorgas averaged seven points a game last year. The 6-foot-7 center/forward scored eight Friday night against Nashoba.

With the win against Nashoba added to his career record, longtime St. John’s coach Bob Foley is now just eight wins shy of an eye-popping and mind-boggling 900 for his career.

Holy Name

The Naps lost their season-opener, 59-55, to Portsmouth (R.I.) High, on Saturday night.

“It was a good game; we were up by a point with a minute left and we just couldn’t close the deal,” Chavoor said. “I was happy with our effort. They’re a good team and the game was on the road. I thought it was an all-around good experience for the kids.

“We started playing them two years ago in the Barrington (R.I.) Holiday Classic,” Chavoor said of Portsmouth High. “I made a connection with their coach (Joseph Occhi) so we decided that we were going to try and play every year. They came up here last year and we beat them by eight points and then yesterday we went back down there and lost by four.”

Portsmouth won the first meeting of the team, in 2015, by nine points.

Chavoor said the Naps are finding their way right now in the early going after having lost their top three guards – James Trottier, Dhalyn Sanders-Dyer and Sam Adusei – from last year. Trottier and Sanders-Dyer graduated and Adusei, who would be a junior this year, transferred to a prep school.

“That’s a loss of about 35 points a game from last year’s team,” explained Chavoor. “James and Dhalyn each averaged 14 points a game and Adusei averaged nine points per game.”

Chavoor is hoping he Naps can fill the void with the play of Edmonds, freshman Tommy Dunn and junior Alvin Kouassi. Edmonds scored nine points against Portsmouth Saturday night while Dunn added 11 and Kouassi led the way with 12. Junior Elieser Ortiz added 10 points.

“We’re hoping Dunn can put the ball in the hoop for us a little, Edmonds can add a couple of points on to his average from last year and that we can get consistent contributions from Alvin and Elieser.”

Edmonds led the CMC in scoring last year with a 13.9 ppg average.

Rounding out the Holy Name roster are seniors Louis Davolio, Manny Raymond, Nick Cariglia, Sam Ampofo and Ryan Prosser, junior Varum Nathan, sophomore Max Lucas and freshmen Christian Rivera and Logan Talbot.

The Naps opens the Massachusetts portion of their season at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 12 at South High.

St. Peter-Marian

Dennis leads a returning 6-man nucleus for the Guardians that combined to score about 45 points a game last year.

“Shamar is a very talented young man; we’re very excited about his potential,” St. Peter-Marian coach Marcus Watson said about the sophomore, who averaged 12.2 points per game last season.

Also back in the fold for Watson and the Guardians are: senior Shamar Simms (9.2 ppg last season); juniors Bobby Letourneau (8.7 ppg); Jeff Sullivan (7.8 ppg); Quion Sneed (4.5 ppg) and senior Matt Dumphy (4.1 ppg).

Watson said Demarr Langford Jr., who averaged 8.3 ppg last year as a sophomore, has transferred to the Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy and Bam Bam Brima, who would have been a junior center on the team, has moved to Philadelphia with his family.

Rounding out the St. Peter-Marian roster this season is senior Josh Pace, juniors John Butler, Aaron Fannoh and Owen Leary, sophomore C.J. Holmberg, freshman Cody Smith and eighth-grader Alex Karaban.

The Guardians have complemented their local schedule this season with a trip to Florida where they will play two games in a tournament in Naples. St. Peter-Marian will play Lely High of Naples in the first game, who Watson said won the Florida equivalent of the Central Mass. Tournament last year, and First Baptist Academy of Naples, a national program that features a 7-foot center.

“While we’re down there we will also do some community service,” Watson said. “We’re bringing down donations we’ve collected and we will be distributing them to hurricane victims. We’re about a little bit more than basketball.”

Watson wasn’t surprised to learn that the CMC was so well represented last year in the Division 1 Tournament.

“It’s a good league,” Watson said. “When you’ve got a coach like Bob Foley in your league, a man who is closing in on 900 wins; it raises the level of competition for everyone else. He, and St. John’s, is the benchmark that everyone else shoots for.

“Central Mass. basketball doesn’t get the credit it deserves,” Watson continued. “When people think about basketball in Massachusetts they think about Boston teams; teams like BC High and New Mission, and teams in the Merrimack Valley. But, as people around here know, there is a very good brand of basketball being played in Central Massachusetts.”

St. Peter-Marian will open its season at 7 p.m., Dec. 15 against Tantasqua Regional in the first round of the Bishop Reilly Tournament. The Guardians CMC schedule gets underway with a game against Holy Name at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 19. St. Peter-Marian will renew its rivalry with Doherty High at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 21.

Doherty

The Highlanders dropped their season-opening game Friday night, losing to Boston’s New Mission High School – the defending Division 2 state champion, 71-66.

Silvera, a junior guard, picked up against New Mission where he left off last season, pouring in a game-high 28 points. Senior center Norberto Nader added 20 points and sophomore forward Alex Momo chipped in with 17.

New Mission, which featured a balanced attack – six players scored at least 10 points, led, 28-21 at the half.

Rounding out the Highlanders roster are: seniors Connor Bisnette, Steve Chivallatti, Corey Clark, Patson Pierre, Noah Waterman and Kevin Skilja; junior John Forson; sophomores Malikai Delgado and Tyrone Adams-Davis; and freshman Noah Callery.

Doherty will be back in action at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 12, when it hosts Algonquin Regional.

WORCESTER – When Peter Bogren stepped away from coaching a decade ago, he truly believed his career as a high school varsity girls’ basketball coach was over.

In this world of second chances, however, Bogren, in fact, got another opportunity to patrol the sidelines – this time at Notre Dame Academy – and he has made the most of it, winning 112 games the past seven seasons, including the Central Mass. Division 2 Championship in 2016.

“I had a family situation where I was needed at home while my son was in high school,” Bogren said. “Doing what I had to do at home was taking away from my coaching which meant it was taking away from me providing the best possible experience for those high school kids. It was time to get out. I had to do that to take care of some stuff at home.”

Bogren had just finished his eighth season as the girls’ varsity basketball coach at his alma mater, Wachusett Regional, when he turned in his whistle, clipboard and scouting reports after the 2006-2007 season.

Coach Bogren with Kate Smiley (left) and Ellie Potvin (right)

For Bogren – a 1982 Wachusett graduate – it was the end of a coaching career with the Mountaineers that began in 1988 when Jim Gately, Wachusett’s varsity girls’ basketball coach at the time, hired Bogren to coach the Mountaineers’ freshman team. During the time Bogren coached at Wachusett he was also a successful AAU girls’ basketball coach.

“I didn’t think I would coach again after I left Wachusett,” said Bogren, who will turn 54 next month. “At the time I told people I was only going to take a couple of years off, maybe three, and then I would be back, but in my heart I believed I was finished.”

Change was the theme of Bogren’s life back in 2007. He not only retired from coaching, but he changed careers, too, taking a job in sales after many, many years as a sixth-grade math teacher in the Spencer-East Brookfield School District.

“A parent, whose daughter I coached in AAU, recruited me to come work for him as the vice-president of sales of a company that provided facility services,” Bogren said, “lawn mowing, office cleaning, that sort of thing. It’s a big company.”

Bogren didn’t completely leave the game of basketball, however. He kept his hand in it by serving as a teacher of individual basketball skills for boys and girls, primarily in Paxton – where he has lived his entire life. It was some of these individual workouts he conducted that led him back to the sidelines.

“One of the kids I was working with, Jackie O’Connor, was a former student of mine, and her father (Pat O’Connor) was her AAU coach,” Bogren explained. “Pat asked me one day if I would help him at one of his AAU practices, and then he asked me to come to another one and another one. It turns out he was also the junior varsity coach at Notre Dame.

“Pat tells me one day in the spring of 2010 that the varsity basketball coach at Notre Dame is not returning and I told him he should apply for the position, that I thought he’d do a great job as the varsity coach,” Bogren said. “He told me he was definitely going to apply, but only so he could get an interview and in the interview tell Patty Provost, the Athletic Director at Notre Dame, that she needed to hire me.”

Coach Bogren with Ellie Potvin (left) and Kate Smiley (right)

O’Connor wasn’t the only one promoting Bogren for the job. Several of his AAU players reached out to him, urging him to apply for the job. A handful of former Wachusett players also contacted Provost and urged her to hire Bogren.

Bogren decided, after all the urging he received from O’Connor – as well as his former players, to apply for the job. He did his due diligence before putting his name in however, having heard over the years that Notre Dame Academy was maybe not the easiest place to serve as girls’ varsity basketball coach.

“I knew they had gone through a few coaches in a few years and I was told that this was a tough school to coach at,” Bogren said. “But I knew some of the kids that were here then, too, and they really wanted me on board. I remember thinking, ‘these are great kids and the parents are great parents.’ So, I decided to give it a shot.”

And he did so with no reservations.

“I figured if I was going to go in, I was going to go in 100 percent,” Bogren said while sitting courtside in the Notre Dame gymnasium. “And it’s all worked out great because this is such a great place to coach. I’ve been here for eight years now and it’s been a dream the whole time.

“Patty is super supportive and the parents have been nothing but supportive, too. I haven’t had a single parent issue in eight years; find me five other coaches in Central Mass., that can say that,” Bogren continued. “And the kids, the kids have just been outstanding. They come in ready to work every single day and I work them to the bone.”

Juniors Kate Smiley and Ellie Potvin, who were freshmen on the Central Mass., title team and will serve as co-captains of this year’s Notre Dame squad, quickly agreed with their coach’s assessment that every Rebels’ practice is hard work.

“Every practice is a competition,” said Potvin, whose sister Abby was a senior on the Central Mass., title team two years ago with Smiley’s sister Allie, who was also a senior during the 2015-2016 season. “You’re working as hard as you can to get minutes on the court. You’re trying to prove yourself every single practice.

“My sister was constantly telling Kate and me freshman year before basketball started how much hard work we were going to have to put in, but I don’t think we really took it seriously because we had played travel ball and AAU and had a ton of coaches,” Potvin said. “I remember thinking, ‘we’re fine; we’re prepared.’ I think we were a little shell-shocked after that first day, but once we got into it, once the season started, we were OK.”

Coach Bogren with Ellie Potvin (left) and Kate Smiley (right)

Smiley attested to how tough a Bogren practice can be by sporting a fat lip at practice earlier this week. The injury was compliments of a head butt from a teammate as she was setting a pick during an offensive drill. Smiley said her older sister warned her when she was a freshman that playing for Bogren was going to test her.

“She tried to prepare me a little for what I was in store for by telling me how intense practice could be,” Smiley said. “She was right, too; the intensity level at practice is always high and it’s high for the whole two hours. But, no matter how intense the practice gets, we know coach is fully supportive of us.”

Kate Smiley and Ellie Potvin are friends as well as teammates and co-captains. As seventh-graders they would come to Notre Dame games, sit together and watch their sisters play.

Like all good coaches, Bogren doesn’t go it alone. He relies on a deep staff that includes Courtney Macaruso, Stephanie Baruth, Joe Kusz and David Fiske. Macaruso and Baruth played for him.

“I first started coaching Courtney when she was 12. She played for me at Wachusett, I coached her in AAU ball and she has been here all eight years that I’ve been here. She is awesome,” Bogren said. “We added Stephanie last year. She is a former student and a former AAU player for me.”

Bogren said Kusz, who has been part of the staff for five years, will miss some bench later time this season in order to have knee replacement surgery. Because of that, Bogren explained, David Fiske has joined the staff. Fiske played at North Brookfield in the early 1970s and led the nation in assists one season.

Bogren is the only Notre Dame coach other than Provost who has won at least 100 games while coaching the Rebels. He bristles when the topic is raised.

“I have not won 100 games. I don’t care what Patty told you; it’s just not true,” Bogren said. “Coaching is about the players, it’s about teaching the game. Nicole Weldon, Taylor McVeigh, Danielle Gaudette, Molly Terry, Allie Smiley, Abby Potvin, Kate Smiley, Ellie Potvin – all the girls – they’ve won the 100 games. I haven’t hit a layup yet.

“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you how many wins I have. The only thing that matters to me now is that these girls are hopefully going to be 1-0 in two weeks,” said Bogren, whose team will open the season at home Dec. 18 against St. Bernard’s. “I just want us to win our next game. I want us to be 1-0 after our next game – that’s it.”

Not surprisingly, when Bogren made the move back into coaching full-time at the high school level, he also returned to the classroom, again teaching sixth-grade math in Spencer.

“Being a teacher helps me be a coach,” Bogren said. “After all, that’s what coaching is, teaching. I’ve been coaching since I was 18. I never get sick of it. I can’t wait to come to practice every day. Every day is different.

“I just love my kids,” Bogren continued. “These kids I coach are like daughters to me. I have two sons, but this is like having 13 daughters every single year. And I look forward to it. We didn’t have practice on Monday and I missed it.”