Every night, Lisa McKenna heard the thumping of a bouncing basketball as she tried to fall asleep. Her son, Nick, senior captain of the Danvers boys’ basketball team, and his five teammates spent endless nights in the McKenna yard.
Nick McKenna and seniors Nick Bates, Eric Martin, Jake Cawlina, Duncan D’Hemecourt, and Evan Eldridge all live within two blocks of one another. In McKenna’s backyard, their hoop dreams were crafted on a blacktop half-court with a basketball net at each end.
“They would come over almost every day and play basketball all the way through eighth grade,” Lisa McKenna said. “Although they ate us out of our house and home, they also helped carry in the groceries, clean up the yard, and carry the lawn furniture.”
Together, the six seniors forged a bond that followed them from McKenna’s backyard, through Great Oak Elementary School, and into the Danvers High gymnasium. Last Saturday, their dreams culminated with a second consecutive Division 3 state championship title when they beat Smith Academy, 66-50, at the DCU Center in Worcester.
“It’s good to go away like this,” McKenna said after scoring 20 points in the final. “You win your last game as a senior with your best friends and the people you’ve been with your entire life. It’s definitely something you take with you.”
Growing up, the six friends spent the warm summer days playing a wide variety of basketball, football, and Wiffle ball games, and always cooled off with a back flip into the pool.
“It was a lot of fun because all of our friends were there and we always played a lot of different things,” said Cawlina, a guard for the Falcons.
One of their favorite things to do was lower the hoop and try to dunk on the short rim and imitate their favorite superstars — that is, until Cawlina jammed home an alley-oop pass and broke the basket.
“It never got fixed,” said Cawlina, who added that he broke the rim sometime during the seventh or eighth grade.
“He just caught it and with two hands brought down the entire hoop and broke the back hinges,” McKenna said. “It just completely came down; it was pretty ridiculous. We’ve always talked about it as the most ridiculous dunk we’ve ever had there.’’
In this year’s Division 3 North sectional final, Danvers was tied with Wayland at 52 with just 1:30 to play. Down the stretch, Cawlina buried a 3-pointer that broke the tie and lifted Danvers to a 57-52 victory.
Danvers coach John Walsh called it the most important basket of the tournament.
The starting lineup of McKenna, Bates, and Martin, along with senior forward Dan Connors and sophomore Vinny Clifford, carried the Falcons to a 23-2 record this season, 45-6 over the last two seasons.
After last year’s defeat of St. Joseph’s in the state title game, Walsh, in his third season with the team, had the task of replacing All-Scholastic center George Merry and guard Jon Amico.
But Walsh was confident the bond and work ethic shared between the six seniors would spread to the team and help overcome the obstacles of defending a state championship.
“They knew each other really well,” Walsh said, “and by playing with each other and knowing each other for so long, you develop a camaraderie where you’re not going to sit and watch someone else work harder than you because you owe it to them to work as hard as you
possibly can. That becomes contagious, and everyone, not just those six, worked as hard as they can and that was a huge factor.
According to Martin, a three-year starter, the bond doubled as a close connection between the players and Walsh’s coaching staff.
“Even at practice when he’s yelling we’re all making jokes, but you have to, to get through the long season,” Martin said. “The bond we have with the coaches and assistant coaches is not like many out there. For us to be this close — there’s nothing like it in sports, especially when we move on.”
In the fall, the six teammates will take their own paths. McKenna is aiming to play basketball at Springfield College, Martin will play soccer at University of Massachusetts Lowell, and Bates is fielding basketball offers from Salve Regina and Keene State. D’Hemecourt, Cawlina, and Eldridge are still undecided.
But even as they embark on their own journeys, nothing can take back the years of friendship and pair of state championships they acquired.
“We’re going to have this for the rest of our life,” Bates said after winning the state championship.
“And this will all settle in one day and well be able to look back at it and always have this. We always played together and developed chemistry over the years, and felt this bond can’t be broken.”
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.