THE FALL SEASON officially kicked off in searing 88-degree heat on the 19th day of August with the MIAA’s newly-instituted conditioning-only preseason football drills. The final horn sounded four months later on a chilly 30-degree Saturday evening in Foxborough, when unbeaten King Philip pranced off the Gillette Stadium turf with its first Super Bowl title . . . In between, the Watertown field hockey team extended its incomparable winning streak to 183 games with its eighth straight Division 2 title. Andover girls’ swimming (No. 16 overall) and Barnstable girls’ volleyball (No. 18) repeated as state champions, while the Eve Hewins-led Hingham girls made it a three-peat in Division 2. The Falmouth and Hanover football programs had perfect runs. And out on the trails, few were able to keep stride with Peabody’s Marcelo Rocha or Natick’s Grace Connolly. And down on the Cape, the Nauset boys had a plus-107 scoring differential on the pitch (that’s 108-1). Athletes, their coaches, their athletic directors, and yes, their parents, teamed up to produce extraordinary moments and results. Selecting 10 worthy stories from a season of hundreds of compelling storylines is not easy. Here, in no particular order, are 10 that we thought stood out.
1. Nauset nearly perfect
As the Nauset Regional boys’ soccer squad continued to pile up the wins at a rapid-fire pace, the Warriors’ dominance was stirring up chatter far beyond the Eastham town line. Junior James McCully was taking aim at his father’s single-season program record for goals (39), set during the team’s 1979 state title run. Nauset had not allowed a single goal entering the Division 2 South tourney. Finally, after 1,774 scoreless minutes, Nauset yielded a 14th-minute strike by Masconomet’s Michael Budrewicz in the state final. But McCully answered with his second of the game, his 38th of the season, for a 2-1 win and a near-perfect 23-0 season. His father, John, the team’s head coach, was able to share a title with his son. But the elder McCully still owns the scoring mark.
2. Connolly in cruise control
Grace Connolly certainly had left a footprint, or two, as a freshman at Natick. But who saw this coming: an unbeaten season, Ocean State Invite champion, Bay State Invitational champ, MVP of the Bay State Conference, EMass Division 2 champion, All-State Division 1 champion at Gardner Country Club, and then a fourth at the Foot Locker Northeast Regional competition in the Bronx. Then the Redhawk sophomore sprinted to a ninth-place finish at the 38th Foot Locker nationals in San Diego. In 60-degree weather, she covered the hilly 5K course in 17 minutes, 50 seconds. “My game plan was go easy after the first mile, and after just kind of try to pick people off one by one and pass them on the hills,” Connolly told the Globe.
3. Passing Flutie, twice
At the start of the season, Troy Flutie was the state’s career passing leader for touchdowns, both single-season (47) and career (112). The 2013 Natick High grad now shares one mark. And the other? He was surpassed, twice in a span of weeks. In a 26-19 win over North Attleborough, Duxbury senior Bobby Maimaron connected with James Miele for a 34-yard score, his 113th career touchdown pass. He finished with 122, tossing four in the Dragons’ 40-7 destruction of Shrewsbury in the D2 Super Bowl. Andover quarterback EJ Perry’s golden moment came on Thanksgiving Day, when the Boston College-bound slinger threw seven touchdown passes in a win over North Andover. The aerial explosion gave Perry 114 in his illustrious career — and 47 for the season.
4. On any given day . . .
It wasn’t Harvard-Stanford, but . . . the Medway field hockey team, the 16th seed in the Division 2 South tourney, turned more than a few heads with its thrilling 2-1, triple-overtime, first-round win over top seed Seekonk. Seniors Nikki Moorad and Rachel Tarbox put away their penalty strokes in the extra session and senior goalie Rachel Hall took care of the rest. As 46-year coach Mary Ellen Hasenfuss noted, “the girls went down there believing that they had a chance. And as I told them . . . on any given day. It’s a lesson for them.” And that made for a very happy 40-plus minute ride home to Medway. The run ended against Falmouth, but the Mustangs will always savor slaying Seekonk.
5. A Bellingham blat
Zach Levy pounded out back-to-back 2,000-yard rushing seasons to conclude his football career at Bellingham High. But one night in Swansea, in an electrifying performance, stands alone. In a non-playoff matchup at Case, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior produced the best rushing performance in state history, piling up a staggering 546 yards and seven touchdowns on 38 carries in a 48-38 victory. His total eclipsed the 34-rush, 436-yard performance by St. Bernard’s Cody Titus against Littleton on Oct. 15, 2011. “It’s probably the coolest thing ever,” Levy said. He was unstoppable. “Some nights, the back and the line are in synch, and when that happens, the results can be spectacular,” said Bellingham coach Dan Haddad.
Spectacular? No doubt.
6. Heartbreak in Hull
This fall was unlike any other for the Hull girls’ soccer program. The 14-3-2 Pirates captured the South Shore League Small title for the first time. Striker Caitlin Ryan capped her stellar run with a 40-goal season and 101 career points. On Oct. 29, however, Ryan’s younger sister, Emma, a 15-year-old sophomore, died suddenly from natural causes. Two days after her sister’s passing, Caitlin took the field for her final regular-season game wearing Emma’s number 20 jersey. She netted her 100th career point in a convincing victory. At Emma’s wake, the Pirates wore black wristbands with the number 20. Thousands lined the streets of the town, a peninsula at the southern edge of the Boston Harbor to say their goodbyes. “So many people loved her,” Hull junior Jess Delaney said. “You didn’t have to know her to have her impact your life in a positive way.”
7. Barnstable has bounce
The Barnstable girls’ volleyball squad certainly stays on script. A year ago, the Red Raiders dropped a regular-season match to Andover, 3-2, and then responded with 15 straight wins, the finale a 3-0 state title clincher over the same Golden Warrior squad. Fast forward to Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. Tom Turco’s team dropped a 3-2 nail-biter to host Newton North in a matchup of the state’s best spikers. Four days later, Barnstable clipped Falmouth 3-0, the first of yes — 15 straight victories. And the finale in the D1 final on the court at Shrewsbury High on Nov. 20? A 25-19, 25-21, and 26-24 sweep of . . . Newton North. Ingrid Murphy (17 kills, 15 digs) and Riley James (18 kills, 14 digs), the Globe’s Division 1 Player of the Year, were immense. “When someone beats you and you get a second crack, it’s motivating,” said Turco, after Barnstable (23-1) netted its 18th state title.
8. Eagle right on course
When 18 holes wasn’t enough to decide the individual Division 1 golf state champion on Oct. 31, BC High’s Nathan Ingram and three other golfers returned to the course at William Devine Golf Course for a sudden-death playoff — in front of all. Ingram knew he “had to step up with the whole gallery there,” and the sophomore from Pembroke did not disappoint. A beautifully-placed tee shot set him up to finish the hole with a par, and when the other three competitors missed their par putts, Ingram’s teammates rushed onto the green to celebrate the school’s first individual champion.
9. Reading pooled its efforts
Few schools embodied the team-first theme better than the Reading High girls’ swim team. Molly Jones, Anna Roberts, Jillian Rhodes, and Alana Loughman set the pace for the Rockets in the Division 2 state swimming & diving meet at Harvard’s Blodgett pool, teaming up for a first-place finish in the first event, the 200 individual medley. The Rockets did not win another event, either individually or by a relay, but coach Lois Margeson’s crew racked up 287 points, edging Central Catholic (261) for the state championship. “The way they work together as a team, encourage each other, just their technique. They’re just a wonderful group,” said Margeson, who guided Reading to the program’s first title in six years.
10. Running in Bill’s memory
Over the summer, Bill O’Connor would often mention the promise of his Woburn High girls’ cross-country team for the 2016 season, believing that it could be “one of the best in school history.” And as an alum (Class of 1962) with a distinguished career in coaching, O’Connor was well versed in Tanner history. At the time, he was at the tail end of a courageous eight-year battle with cancer. He was not able to witness his girls finish off a 7-0 dual meet season, and their first Middlesex League (Liberty) title in 21 years. Or capture the EMass Division 2 title in Wrentham. Or place third at the All-State meet in Gardner. O’Connor, a respected mentor to so many, passed away Oct. 16, at 72. (He was still coaching four days prior to his death).