It was a year of ‘what ifs’ for the teams of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 2007, as several teams missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, while others lost games in the state tournament that could have turned on the bounce of a puck or a roll of the ball.
On an Island where football, basketball and hockey often hog the spotlight, the sailing, cross country, track and field and boys’ lacrosse teams all had standout seasons. Yet the biggest win of the year came in November when the football team trounced Nantucket in the annual Island Cup game.
The biggest loss arguably happened off the field in January, when the South Coast Conference unexpectedly voted to drop the Vineyard from its ranks.
With the vote, about half of the Vineyard’s sports teams — including boys’ and girls’ soccer, field hockey, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ ice hockey, baseball and softball — were left without a league for the first time in several years. School officials opposed the vote, and at one point even considered legal action against the conference, but in the end the school was left with few options.
School officials have since sent letters to the principals of the Atlantic Coast League to inquire whether there was room for the Vineyard to join the ranks of Falmouth, Dennis-Yarmouth, Marshfield, Nauset, Plymouth North, Plymouth South and Sandwich. Principals of that conference have yet to vote on the Vineyard’s request.
Just as news of the South Coast Conference move surfaced in January, several teams were making the most of their last season of league play; the boys’ hockey team clinched the regular season title early, while the boys’ basketball team built their record to 8-5 at one point to take a share of first place.
The boys’ basketball team finally wrapped up a berth in the state tournament in early February with a win over Bourne, followed by a win over Nantucket in the championship game of the Martha’s Vineyard Island invitational. In the other championship game of that tourney, the girls’ basketball team nearly overcame a seven point deficit late to defeat Nantucket.
“I’m proud of this team and what we’ve accomplished,” said coach Lisa Stewart after the loss. “We should be a very good team next season.”
Coach Stewart’s word has proved prophetic, as the Vineyarders this season already have jumped out to an early winning record and look to be a strong contender for a spot in the state tournament.
The boys’ basketball team went on to defeat Carver in first round of the state tournament in February but did not fare as well in the second round, when they faced a quicker and larger team from Scituate. While they managed to keep the game close in the first half, the number-one seeded Sailors proved too much to handle, and the Vineyarders lost the game by 30 points.
The boys’ hockey team easily defeated Mansfield in the opening round of the state tournament a week later, but also faced a number one seed in the second round in the form of old rival Coyle-Casssidy. The Vineyarders matched blows with the perennial powerhouse for two periods, but a freak goal early in the third period put the game out of reach.
“This is a game we could have won, but sometimes the puck just doesn’t cooperate,” said coach Jeff Mincone after the loss. “But overall I am proud of this team and what we accomplished this year.”
Several Vineyard teams got off to a strong start when the spring sports season started a month later. Both the boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams built winning records, while the baseball and softball teams notched early wins. The boys’ lacrosse team lost an exciting but ultimately heart-breaking double overtime game to Nantucket.
Softball standout Jackie Panek kicked off a stellar year with 13 strikeouts against Dennis-Yarmouth in the season opener. Although the softball team ended with a losing record, Panek had a banner year, which included throwing the team’s first no-hitter against New Bedford Vocational in May.
In early May the sailing team placed fourth overall among all teams from New England in the O’Day Regatta at Dartmouth.
Two weeks later, both the boys’ and girls’ track and field teams shined in the Mayflower League meet championships. The girls’ team capped an undefeated dual-meet season with its second straight Mayflower league title, while the boys won the league meet for the seventh year in a row.
For coach Joe Schroeder, the wins were a continuation of a growing legacy of excellence for both the track and field team and the cross country team, which he also coaches. “We have been fortunate to have a steady stream of talented athletes who keep joining the team every year,” the coach said.
Two weeks later, the boys’ lacrosse team lost 8-6 to Marblehead in the first round of the division II tournament to end their run. “It was a bizarre season,” said coach John Stabile of the up-and-down campaign. “But it was a heck of a ride.”
Also that week, Vineyard Haven resident Matt Hyde beat out 340 runners to win the 14th annual Oak Bluffs 5K race, while the boys’ tennis team lost to Bishop Feehan in the second round of the state tournament after qualifying for the post-season for the tenth straight year.
The high school sports landscape went dark for the summer, just as a neighborhood battle unfolded over what seemed like a simple plan to expand the baseball park at Veira Park in Oak Bluffs.
A group of neighbors successfully petitioned to place an article on the warrant of a special town meeting calling for $200,000 in community preservation funds already approved for the ballpark to be rescinded. Although that article was narrowly defeated, a group of neighbors later sued the town to block the Community Preservation Funds from being used to expand the baseball park at Veira Park.
Meanwhile, the merits of the plan were debated at several public hearings in front of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The commission has yet to deliberate or vote on the proposal.
Expectations were high for the return of high school sports as the football, golf and boys’ soccer teams jumped out to winning records. Anchored by Tony Grillo, arguably the best young golfer in the state, the golf team won five of their first six matches.
After losing 12 seniors to graduation, the boys’ soccer team defied conventional logic and went undefeated for the first third of the season, thanks to strong play from Nico Cuba, Leonardo Trindade and Jao Paul Oliveira.
The football team won its home opener against Rochester by a score of 7-0, the first of five shutouts for the Vineyarders’ defense for the season.
As the football team improved its record to 5-0 in October, the spotlight widened to include a national audience. For a week in early October, a camera crew from NBC sports traveled with the team and taped footage for a segment that later aired at halftime during the network’s NFL Sunday Night Football program.
That same week, junior angler Chris Morris won the Boston Whaler in the 62nd annual striped bass and bluefish tournament with his top shore bluefish, while Geoff Codding won a 2008 Chevy Silverado with his win in the boat bonito division.
The next week, the football team suffered its first loss of the season to Blue Hills Regional at home by a final of 8-6, a frustrating game in which the Vineyarders had numerous chances to win late in the fourth quarter. Although the loss did not knock the Vineyarders out of playoff contention, an equally painful loss to Cape Cord Tech/Harwhich the next week dashed all hopes of making the Superbowl. “We were soft and we were flat,” said no-nonsense coach Donald Herman after the loss. “I am not happy with what is going on right now.”
Despite missing the playoffs, coach Herman this season quietly moved a step closer to winning 200 games, a major milestone in high school sports that speaks volumes about the coach’s longevity and success over his 19 years in the role.
In late October, both the boys’ and girls’ cross country teams won their respective Mayflower League titles at Sacred Heart; the seventh straight title for the boys and the second straight for the girls.
That same week, the golf team finished sixth overall at the division II South Cape Cod and Islands qualifier; while Grillo — as expected — won the individual championships with a one-under par 70. Grillo would go on to finish second in the division II state championships at the Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamsatown one week later.
It was a case of deja vu all over again for the boys’ soccer team in the opening round of the state tournament in early November, as they once again found themselves in a sudden-death shoot-out against Dighton-Rehoboth after two periods of scoreless overtime. It was the third time in as many postseason games the Vineyarders’ fate was decided by a shoot-out.
Although they would prevail in that game thanks to the stellar goal tending of Nico Cuba, the Vineyarders lost in the second round against powerhouse Medfield. “We felt like we could play with anyone, and I think we proved it here today,” said a proud coach Bob Hammond after the loss.
The fall sports season came to a triumphant end the next week when the football team handily defeated Nantucket in the annual Island Cup game by an eye-popping final score of 48-6. With the win the Vineyarders set a number of records: scoring the most points ever in the storied rivalry, notching the largest margin of victory, and winning the fifth in a row against the Whalers, a first for any Vineyard team.
“The players were aware of what was on the line and they responded. This team has a lot of seniors, so it was an emotional win for the kids playing their last game ... they made history today,” said coach Herman.
The forecast for high school sports in 2008 is already bright. The girls’ basketball, boys’ basketball, and boys’ hockey teams already have jumped out to winning records, and there is no telling what upstart team may rise up and compete for a championship. Stay tuned.