Nick Stauskas and Eli Lubick did not always get along so well.
They met - where else? - on a basketball court, going head-to-head in an AAU game, and the trash talk was rampant. Nearly each trip up the court, Lubick remembers, they jawed at one another.
Motivated by the back-and-forth, Stauskas went off. He played so well that Eli’s father, St. Mark’s School basketball coach Dave Lubick, asked the sharpshooter after the game about his high school plans - with Eli reluctantly in tow.
Stauskas had already committed to another private high school. But a year later, at a time when Stauskas was looking for a change, he ran into the Lubicks at a tournament in New York, and brought up the idea of transferring. Eventually he landed at the Southborough school.
“I always tell Nick,’’ Eli Lubick said, “that he would have never ended up here if we hadn’t gotten so mad at each other in that first game.’’
As their relationship grew, they helped form the core of a group that may not be the most talented to ever play for the St. Mark’s, but perhaps was the best “team,’’ in the truest sense of the word.
In the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council’s Class AA championship last Sunday, St. Mark’s toppled Tilton, one of the most talent-laden programs in the country, 59-53.
Despite going up against players like Nerlens Noel, a 6-foot-10 center considered one of the nation’s top three recruits, and Georges Niang, who is heading for Iowa State, St. Mark’s captured its fifth title in Lubick’s 15 years as head coach.
There were contributors up and down the roster for the Lions.
The 6-6 Stauskas, who led the way with 19 points against Tilton, is bound for Michigan; 7-foot center Kaleb Tarczewski is headed to the University of Arizona; wing Eric Green will play at Holy Cross next season; the 6-3 Lubick is undecided but plans to play at the Division 3 level; and point guard Jaymie Spears is headed to Amherst College to play football.
St. Mark’s (27-1) closed out the season with 22 straight wins.
“All the recruiting gurus would have said we were a lesser team,’’ said Lubick, whose older son, Nate, is a sophomore forward at Georgetown University. “But we were by far a better team than we were in years past . . . We had five seniors that had played together for three years and started together, and it was really something to watch them play together.’’
Roughly a 20-minute drive to the east, Bob Pipe guided the Rivers School girls (22-3) to the NEPSAC Class B title after a 36-21 win over Tilton last week.
“This is the best team we’ve had, without a doubt,’’ Pipe says. “This senior class has gone 83-17 overall in four years. We have more talent than we’ve ever had, and they came together really well. It’s a good combination of skill and toughness.’’
The program has been improving at a steady rate over the last five years. Clare Sullivan, now a freshman at Holy Cross, helped to get things rolling. She spread the word about Rivers to some of her AAU teammates on the Bay State Jaguars. Now, several Jaguars players are helping the Weston school’s program continue its success.
Megan Kerbs, a senior from Natick, will play at Union College next season. Junior Emilee Daley, an all-New England selection, has already received multiple Division 1 scholarship offers, and her younger sister, freshman Kristen Daley, also contributed this season. Sophomore 6-3 center Jen Berkowitz transferred to Rivers from Wayland in the fall after winning co-MVP honors in the Dual County League’s Small Division last year. The all-New England selection is attracting Division 1 interest as well.
Add senior Tayra Melendez, the Independent School League MVP who signed up to play for the University of Rhode Island, and senior Brooke Brennan, a Weston resident who will play at Clark University, and the third NEPSAC title for Rivers in the last four years seemed to be but a formality.
“The girls really saved their best for last,’’ Pipe said proudly.
Another 10 miles to the east, at the Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, they too have realized that success breeds success.
In coach Juan Figueroa’s three seasons on the bench, he has turned what was a middling boys’ program into the best in the Eastern Independent League. Last week, Beaver Country Day (26-2) won its first NEPSAC Class B title under Figueroa by beating Rivers, 60-56.
And with all five starters returning, the Mariners appear as though they’ll have a chance to repeat. Senior forward David Jacquet, an energy player, will be lost to graduation, but the rest of the roster remains essentially intact.
On the perimeter, junior Joe Connolly from Brookline will be returning with his feathery shooting stroke, as will talented sophomore Jeff Spellman and freshman Jordan Scurry. Junior forward Maurice Taylor, at 6-foot-6, and his younger brother, 6-9 sophomore Jacquil, will also be back.
“We had our expectations because it was a very talented team,’’ Figueroa said. “But I didn’t expect this kind success so early when we were adding some new kids to the team: Jacquil, Maurice and Jordan were all new,’’ he noted.
“We thought it would be an adjustment for them, maybe take a year to make a run. It was a great bonus for us to make it to the finals and win.’’
The Rivers girls’ team is also built for the future.
Behind Berkowitz and the Daley sisters, they will have go-to players in place. They’ll also get help from promising Rivers eighth-grader Vanessa Edgehill, a Franklin resident.
St. Mark’s will graduate its entire starting five, but also has a foundation set for next season.
Two freshmen, 6-foot-8 Aaron Falzon of Newton and Aaron McLean of Hudson, both made significant contributions during the team’s tournament run. Roommates during their introductory year as boarding students, they helped each other get accustomed to their new lives away from home. They also helped each other hone their games as they tried to adhere to the example set by their older teammates. They know that championships are not won on talent alone.
“I got better at just playing tougher,’’ Falzon says. “From watching the guys and the intensity they brought in practice, I learned a lot. They really helped.’’
Arlington Catholic senior Bob Wesoloski notched his 1,000th point in the Cougars’ win over Newburyport in the Division 3 North quarterfinal . . . Dean O’Connor’s Franklin boys’ team won 19 of their last 20 games before falling to Madison Park in the Division 1 South semifinal on Wednesday, 63-60 . . . The Natick girls advanced to the Division 2 sectional final for the first time in school history after beating Hopkinton last week, 56-45.