Their quest started on the third Friday in August, the first official day for MIAA preseason football conditioning drills. A splendid 81-degree day in Boston. The ultimate goal? To still be putting on the pads on the first weekend in December. The fall season starts and ends with football. And no team flexed its muscles with more authority than Everett High in its dominant 11-0 run to a Division 1 repeat. The Undefeated, a football fraternity in 2017 that also included Dennis-Yarmouth, King Philip, Lawrence Academy, Mashpee, and Melrose. But greatness, and winning, and overcoming all odds are not limited to perfection. Ashley Wang persevered through pain to lift the Newton North volleyball squad to the state crown. The resilient Brockton boys’ soccer team erased a 2-0 halftime deficit in the state final. In Watertown, No. 184 is now history, making a ninth consecutive D2 field hockey championship sweeter than ever. There are hundreds of compelling storylines each season, fall, winter, and spring. Here are 10 that made us take notice.
1. DiBiaso tackles retirement
John DiBiaso’s 26-year tenure as coach of the Everett football program ended in a fashion worthy of the big screen. The DiBiaso-led Crimson Tide flummoxed every opponent they faced, capping an undefeated season with Everett’s second straight D1 Bowl win. Along the way, he became just the fourth coach in state high school history to accumulate 300 career wins. Yet DiBiaso leaves behind a legacy that transcends mere win totals and hardware mantels. The softspoken, sly man in the red and white hoodie took over the program in 1992. With quickness, DiBiaso righted the ship, not only improving the Tide’s actual standing but also increasing morale and helping cultivate a community that claimed Everett football as its identity. DiBiaso’s graciousness was lauded by those who played for him, and his shrewdness by those he opposed.
2. Boy, a sticky issue
The Somerset Berkley field hockey team registered a whopping 145-7 scoring margin this fall in a stellar 21-1-0 season. But it was the 34 goals — to go along with 33 assists — off the stick of sophomore Lucas Crook that stirred up the most attention. The headliner was his overtime strike that catapulted the Raiders past Canton, 3-2, in the Division 1 South semis. Canton coach Christine O’Connor was not OK with her squad being eliminated by a squad featuring two males, claiming the game was too physical. In her 22nd season on the SB sideline, and second with her son, coach Jen Crook was annoyed by the magnified attention. SB was denied by King Philip in the South final. But the issue will persist until there is a resolution that satisfies both genders.
3. Winning with Wang
Ashley Wang is a game-changer on the volleyball court. On Oct. 6, minus their gifted 6-foot-3-inch outside hitter/setter due to a stress fracture in her back, the Newton North girls were swept by two-time defending Division 1 state champion Barnstable, 25-13, 25-22, 25-15. In the rematch five weeks later in the state semifinals, Wang’s 14 kills and 14 assists propelled North to a stunning 25-16, 25-22, 25-22 victory. Three days later, coach Richard Barton’s Tigers (20-1) swept Hopkinton for its first crown since 2015. North did not drop a set, 33 in all, after the Barnstable loss. The Tigers persevered in that state final, surviving the first-set loss of All-Scholastic Miska Legatova (torn ACL) and once again following the lead of the hobbled, but unflappable Wang (13 kills, 11 digs, 9 assists, 5 blocks).
4. Red Raider run in D1
Now this was a long and very fulfilling run. Seventeen years an assistant to Phil Maia, his former coach at Lowell High, Scott Ouellet (Class of 1997) took the helm of the Red Raider cross-country program this fall for his recently-retired mentor. The excellence continued with two more Merrimack Valley Conference crowns. And at the EMass. Division 1 meets in Wrentham, it was a Lowell sweep across the finish line. The boys followed the lead of Colin Fitzpatrick (8th) and Jadial Pinales (10th) to nudge Newton North. Olivia Sheffield (2nd) and Lindsey Ahern (9th) paced the girls past Lexington. Lowell also pulled off a sweep in 2012 and 2013, a feat no other Division 1 program has achieved once, never mind thrice.
5. She’s a winner to a tee
Emily Nash submitted the low score at the Division 3 Central boys’ golf tournament at Blissful Meadows. The Lunenburg High junior, however, did not return home with the medalist trophy. Understandably, there was a resounding backlash against the MIAA from all corners . . . including legends Pat Bradley and Annika Sorenstam. But in the aftermath, Nash, with humility and character, has prompted change, emerging as a graceful winner. In November, she was presented with an unprecedented achievement award from the MIAA. Earlier this month, the association’s Golf Committee invited input from three experts on gender equality issues. They formed a new Blue Ribbon Task Force to study changes to the MIAA Handbook. And they made a recommendation that girls be allowed to declare if they wish to be entered into the boys’ individual tourney. Now that’s a hole-in-one.
6. Boxers get off the mat
The Brockton boys’ soccer team galvanized a city in its march to the program’s first Division 1 state title. Nearly 200 fans traveled to Worcester State for the 5-3 comeback win over Longmeadow in the final. The Boxers faced a 2-0 halftime deficit before storming back via a three-goal, two-assist performance from junior dynamo Leonardo Teixeira, who arrived stateside from Cape Verde last spring. Celebrations ensued, but several Brockton players went out of their way to console Longmeadow players whose high school careers’ came to a bitter end. Furthermore, the D1 title came with second-year coach and Brockton alum Herminio Furtado directing from the sideline.
7. What a shot for Danvers
The Danvers girls’ soccer team waited 14 years for another shot at a state title. And when the opportunity came in their Division 2 match at Fitchburg State University against Medway, Jim Hinchion’s squad made the most of it. “We wanted this for us, but we also wanted it for everyone who’s put on the Blue and White jersey,” said the 19-year coach of his squad’s riveting 3-2 victory. “We wanted to do it for the program.” A back and forth, extra-time affair culminated with senior Lydia Runnels delivering the winner in a PK shootout that lasted seven rounds, sending the Falcon sideline into jubilance. Sacred Heart University-bound senior Hannah Lejeune, who scored the first goal for Danvers, paced the 19-2-1 Falcons with 25 goals and nine assists this fall.
8. Final splash for Hu
Every Wellesley swimmer and coach soaked in the moment at MIT’s Zesiger Pool in mid-November when the Raider girls captured the program’s first South/Central crown since 1990. But Stella Hu was truly beaming. The senior swam the third leg of the victorious 400-yard freestyle relay (school-record 3:40:82) that allowed Wellesley to surge past Bay State Conference rival Newton North by 44 points for the crown. An illness kept her out of the pool part of her sophomore year. But unrelenting back pain, the result of an extra vertabrae, sidelined Hu a year ago. A continuous physical therapy regimen allowed her to compete this fall. “Winning it, for her, was validation,” said Wellesley coach Jennifer Dutton. “She thought she was never going to swim again, but she [fought] with everything she had.”
9. KP: 25 and counting
There wasn’t an inkling of doubt at the beginning of the fall season that the King Philip football team had what it took with a group of veteran players looking to repeat as state champion, and possibly extend the program’s winning streak to 25 games. When sophomore Cole Baker’s 30-yard field goal snuck between the goal posts at Gillette Stadium with 1:36 remaining in the Division 2 Super Bowl, providing the decisive points in a 10-7 win over Lincoln-Sudbury, it was the culmination for a coaching staff and group of players who have put a once overlooked program on an elite level. “Our coaches’ preparation, nobody works harder than my staff,” said KP coach Brian Lee after the game. “I love them. They give so much and are so loyal. We just are so lucky here.” And after back-to-back 12-0 seasons, what can the Warriors do for an encore in 2018?
10. Yes, Watertown again
Their national-record 184-game unbeaten streak history with a 3-0 loss to Middlesex League rival Winchester on Sept. 11, the Watertown field hockey team simply followed the lead of their forward-thinking, even-keeled, three-plus decade coach, Eileen Donahue. The Raiders were ‘on to Arlington.’ But first, highly-motivated, they got back to work 24 hours later in practice. ‘Work’ being the word for the day. A 4-0 shutout of Arlington followed, triggering a season-closing 21-game winning streak, culminating with a 5-1 win over Oakmont Regional for the program’s ninth straight Division 2 state title. “We’re going to treasure this . . . It took us awhile during the season to get to this point,” said Donahue, who has now won 18 state championships. “But isn’t it great that they were able to get there for this?’