At first glance, it seemed to be stunning news: Reading High captured the Super 8 title. In so doing, the Rockets became the first public school to finish first in the 18-year history of the tournament, and, the first public school to grab the top prize in the state in 30 years. In retrospect, maybe we all should have seen this coming. The Rockets had only lost one game all season, and that was a loss to defending Super 8 champion BC High early on in the year.
Still, there were other public schools through the years that produced impressive regular-season records, but crumbled in the Super 8. It was clear though, that the gap between the public schools and the Catholic schools had narrowed, as Weymouth’s magical run to the finals proved just last year. The Wildcats were stopped short of a title by BC High, but their trip to the championship electrified high school hockey fans across the state.
So the stage seemed to be set for a public school to break through. It was fitting that the Rockets would be the program to do so. Reading has always been a traditionally strong team under coach Peter Doherty, and had qualified for the Super 8 several times. This year’s edition was particularly strong, and opened the tournament by avenging its only loss in the regular season by beating BC High, 2-1.
The fact that Reading continued to roll was not surprising, but the ease with which they did certainly was. The Rockets pounded No. 1 seed CM, 5-2 in the next game, then wrapped up round-robin play with a 4-1 win over Waltham.
In the semifinals, the Rockets won again by a score of 5-2, this time over Xaverian, to set up the state final against Malden Catholic. The Lancers would serve as the fourth Catholic Conference opponent that Reading would face in the Super 8. The result would be the same as the previous three, with the Rockets coasting to a 3-0 win.
When it was over, Doherty did his best to sum up becoming the first public school to win in 18 years.
“It’s amazing it’s been that long,” said Doherty. “Eighteen years? That’s unbelievable. I mean, the private schools are good, but still…”
His voice trailed off, almost shaking his head in disbelief that another public school did not win in any of the previous years. But Doherty had learned something that perhaps the other public programs are just now beginning to understand.
“You have to play the Catholic schools in the regular season,” said Doherty. “It’s great to go 20-0 or 19-1, but what good does it do if you’re not playing the top teams.”
Senior Rob Toczylowski agreed.
“It’s huge for us,” said Toczylowski. “We came into the tournament knowing we’ve had success against these teams. We had to take on every Catholic Conference team. When you do that, you know what you’re seeing in the tournament.”
Toczylowski and fellow seniors Pat Kiley and Mike Lozzi were a formidable first line for the last three years, but saved their best for last.
“It was like second nature playing with them,” Toczylowski said of his linemates. “We all knew where we were going to be on the ice… Going 5-0 in this tournament, and 25-1 overall, it’s just amazing. It’s huge. It means everything to this program.”
Raiders under the radar
Despite losing just three games all season, not many people were talking about the Wellesley girls' basketball team when the Division 2 tournament started up. Sure they qualified for the tournament the year before, and they expected to build on that experience, but rolling all the way to the state championship? That was precisely what happened to the Raiders.
“It was very intense from Game 1,” said Wellesley coach Kristin Cieri. “When the pairings came out, we felt like it was anyone’s bracket to win, but we knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
The Raiders knocked off previously unbeaten Bishop Feehan in the South sectional semifinals, then won a defensive battle over Bay State Conference foe Walpole, 48-44, in the sectional title game. Wellesley kept up the defensive pressure in the EMass finals against defending state champion Lincoln-Sudbury, jumping out to a 10-2 lead after the first quarter, and leading 15-9 at the half. The Raiders advanced to the state finals by holding on for a 38-32 win.
“It’s the old saying, ‘Defense wins championships,’” said Cieri. “I think those last few games subtracted a year from my life.”
Cieri would not have those concerns in the state finals against Millbury. The Raiders were in control from the very beginning and rolled to a 65-44 win. The game was close for the first half as the Raiders led, 31-26 at the break. They would pull away in the third quarter though, as the offense came alive.
Led by sophomore guard Mary Louise Dixon, Wellesley’s offense put on a passing clinic, rotating the ball until they found the open teammate, who would then calmly drain a jumper. The barrage culminated in Blake Dietrick’s three-pointer at the buzzer of the third quarter, putting the Raiders up, 48-32.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” said Dixon. “We knew it was going to be a really tough road, but we stayed focused.”
The Crying Game
It started off as a joke, but then reality struck for the Archbishop Williams girls' basketball team shortly after winning a second straight state title. As the girls celebrated in the locker room, one of the players jokingly asked coach Jim Bancroft what time he wanted them for practice the next day.
“I think I’ll give you the day off,” said Bancroft, playing along. But the players soon realized that there would be no more games, no more practices. Their time together as a group was essentially over, and so it was that they filed into the media room teary eyed, despite having won the title.
“These kids liked spending time together,” said Bancroft. “Both on the court and off the court. Away from school, they would go out together, have sleepovers or pasta parties. They became close and really respected each other."
The Bishops will lose senior forwards Meghan Black and Casey Capello, point guard Christine Duffy, and guards Jill LaFond, Sarah McDonough, and Courtney McNamara. Duffy and Capello each reached 1,000 points this season and have played together in high school and on various AAU teams.
"Nobody realized that we were never going to be playing together again until that moment," said Capello. "The games are so intense and go by so fast, you almost don't enjoy playing at the (TD Banknorth) Garden or in the (DCU Center) until it's over."