There was a hurricane, a nor’easter, and even a historic playoff vote. The fall season had its share of headline events. But if the fall is the start of a year-long marathon, then we’re off to a great start. As the winter season begins, schools such as Andover, Barnstable, and Bishop Feehan have an early lead thanks to teams that brought home state championships in swimming, volleyball, and cross-country. Now it’s time to hand off the baton. Coaches understand there’s work to be done. They teach and encourage, prod and push, trying to turn teenagers into champions. For some, such as the Needham boys’ soccer team and the Watertown field hockey team, the payoff is huge. Nothing can match the celebration enjoyed by a handful of teams and individuals this fall. Selecting 10 worthy success stories from a season filled with candidates isn’t easy. Here, in no particular order, are 10 we thought stood out.
1: Picture this, Rocha on historic run
Most family photo albums are private. But the Rocha photo album is there for all to see on page 13. Catarina Rocha, one of the most accomplished runners in state history, is joined by her father and coach Joe, a combo that’s been pretty much unbeatable. We can’t tell you how the Peabody star did in San Diego Saturday at the national championships. Blame it on pesky newspaper deadlines. But on courses this fall there was Catarina . . . and the battle for second place. An EMass title was followed by a state title, followed by a Foot Locker Northeast Regional title, followed by a trip to the nationals in sunny California. Can’t wait to see the pictures.
2: For Calabria, a goal to remember
First and foremost, if you’ve seen Nico Calabria on the soccer field for Concord-Carlisle, one thing is clear: the kid can play. Calabria was born with one leg but this fall he proved to the world the cards he was dealt at birth were no reason to settle for second-best. On Sept. 19 he displayed his amazing athletic skills to score a goal against Newton South. Caught on video and posted on YouTube he became an instant rock star. “What’s really remarkable about it, from a technical standpoint,’’ said coach Ray Pavlik in a Globe story, “is the combination of core strength and athleticism involved . . . I don’t care who you are, that’s a goal you remember the rest of your life.’’
3: Hey, where’s everyone else?
In the biggest swim meet of the year, the Division 1 state championship at Harvard, Billerica’s C.J. Khoshabjian won the 100 breaststroke. He also finished last. The rare double was accomplished because Khoshabjian was the only swimmer in the pool. Last fall a storm erupted when boys competed in the girls’ sectionals and state finals. The solution was to allow the few boys who competed in the fall to swim their own mini state meet. And when Khoshabjian was the only boy to qualify for states, he was set up to win . . . and lose. “I’m sure everyone was like, “Wait, there’s only one kid swimming?’ It was weird, for sure.”
4: But meet belonged to Andover . . . again
A Billerica boy may have been the buzz, but the headline on the Division 1 girls meet belonged to Andover, which won its 13th state title in 14 years and fourth straight for a talented group of seniors. Maggie D’Innocenzo was one of the 14 seniors on the roster and the Southern Cal-bound swimmer led the way for coach Marilyn Fitzgerald’s talented group, winning two events. “Today is very emotional, especially with 14 seniors,’’ said Fitzgerald after jumping into the Harvard pool in celebration. “In four years time you get really close to these kids. I’m overwhelmed.”
5: Results are in . . . a change for football
It may not have beeen the biggest vote taken this fall but the decision by the state’s MIAA-member schools to dramatically change football’s postseason was a huge step. No longer will 19 teams say, “We’re No. 1.” No longer will Super Bowls be spread across the state. No longer will Tuesday night semifinals frustrate school administrators, parents, and yes, even journalists. Will it be a good thing? Will it hurt Thanksgiving rivalries? Time will tell. But the 161-131 vote means the majority think it is worth trying. “Excellent day for high school football,’’ said Xaverian athletic director Charlie Stevenson after the vote.
6: Four of a kind for Watertown
The four straight state Division 2 field hockey championships are impressive enough. But what stands out even more is that the seniors on the Watertown roster never lost a game. The Raiders’ 92-game unbeaten streak included a 23-0 mark this fall and just two ties. “I feel like I’m on Cloud Nine,’’ said senior captain and All-Scholastic Lauren Sutherland. With many new faces, coach Eileen Donahue wasn’t so sure the season would end as it did. “It’s a wonderful feeling. I’m very proud of the girls to be able to pull this off. From preseason the way we looked and the way we finished is just amazing.”
7: Lowell streaks to matching EMass titles
On a busy November Saturday one of the most impressive performances was turned in by runners in Lowell. The Red Raiders won both the boys’ and girls’ Division 1 EMass cross-country team titles, a feat never accomplished in Division 1. The boys placed four runners in the top 10, led by senior Patrick Coppinger’s third-place finish. The girls had four in the top 14, led by senior Bryanna Allison’s fourth-place run. “I think we ran relaxed today,’’ said Lowell coach Phil Maia of the pressure his runners felt. We’re not sure what that means but it clearly worked.
8: Golf’s best weather visit by Sandy
If golf is your sport of choice in the fall, you quickly become an expert on the weather. Sure, September is nice, but by late October little things like a hurricane can spoil a good walk. Despite all the postponements, one thing is clear, Massachusetts has some good golfers. Take Needham’s Jake Shuman. The junior’s round of 70 won the South sectional. His 72 a week later won the state title on a cold, gray November day. And the most important part of his game? He understands fall golf. “I’ve played enough golf in New England to know when it’s this cold, the ball doesn’t go as far and it’s hard to compress.” And don’t forget to dress warm.
9: Everett takes the back road to top
Has the Everett football team experienced a stranger year than 2012? Sure, the end was the same, a Super Bowl title and a final No. 1 ranking. But along the way injuries took their toll, taking the first-, second-, and even third-string quarterbacks down. Then there was Thanksgiving, a day off for the Crimson after Cambridge decided it would no longer play the Crimson on the holiday. John DiBiaso called teams across New England but could find no takers. Even the Patriots we’re booked that day. “I’m emotionally, physically, and mentally drained,’’ said DiBiaso after his team beat Barnstable in the Super Bowl. “I’m just happy we came out of here with a win.”
10: Overnight success for Upper Cape
Back in September, what Cape school did you see hoisting an MIAA football trophy on Dec. 1? Barnstable? A good choice. Maybe defending champions Bourne or Dennis-Yarmouth? How about Upper Cape? Did you see that coming? The tiny Division 5 school didn’t waste any time moving up the football ladder. This fall the Rams went 10-1 to win the Super Bowl in just its second year as a varsity program, beating Dorchester, 22-8, in the title game. “It hasn’t really hit me yet but I’m sure it will hit me soon,’’ said Jon Dumont, who ran for 120 yards and scored twice against Dorchester.