The Mansfield Hornets are more than just a basketball team, they are a family.
At the third practice of the season, junior Kevin Conner coined the word ‘family’ as Mansfield’s slogan. It’s printed on the back of their warm-up T-shirts, it’s how they break their huddle, but more importantly it symbolizes the devoted group the No. 2 Hornets have become.
Mansfield’s leading scorer, Brendan Hill, is a sophomore. The 6-foot-5-inch forward, who played 22 games his freshman year, is averaging a team-best 14 points per game. Junior point guard Rocky DeAndrade has been another key contributor, averaging 11 points, 4.5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. Then there’s sophomore Ryan Boulter or junior Kyle Wisnieski, other consistent scorers for the Hornets.
“I think the team chemistry is something that has gone unnoticed,’’ said coach Mike Vaughan. “This year I’ve been very fortunate to have underclassmen play up. There are a lot of teams out there where seniors resent sophomores, but not here.’’
Why not? Because seniors such as Greg Romanko and Zach Wisnieski have bought into the family concept.
“The kids all get along, hang out, go places together. They might have their individual battles in practice but as soon as that’s over its about being a team,’’ Vaughan said. “They all realize that they need each other. Brendan needs Greg and Greg needs Brendan to accomplish what we are trying to do as a team.’’
So far the Hornets have fulfilled their first two goals — get to the tournament and win the league title. In a physical, 45-41 victory over Taunton Thursday, Mansfield (17-1) clinched its third Hockomock Kelly-Rex title in the past four years. That’s not enough for the Hornets, though. Their third goal is to finish the season with the highest seed, and the fourth is to win tournament games.
“We have to continue to play at a high level and keep our eyes on the prize,’’ Vaughan said. “I don’t want to walk off the floor disappointed.’’
Up to this point Mansfield appears on track. After a heart-breaking, 66-61 loss to Franklin in last year’s South Division 1 tournament, the Hornets preparation began immediately in the offseason and has led to great success on the court.
They started the season 5-0, including a win over sixth-ranked BC High and Amityville (N.Y.) before losing their first game to New Mission. When asked what he learned from the loss, Vaughan said it showed the team that they were beatable.
But since Dec. 28 they haven’t lost again.
Mansfield, which is on a 12-game winning streak, has cemented itself as one of the best teams in the state with its tough defense and depth. This will be the sixth consecutive trip to the tournament for the Hornets. Before Vaughan arrived nine years ago, Mansfield only made the tournament four times in a stretch of 25 years.
“To me its about trying to put kids in a program that they enjoy playing in,’’ said the coach. “I’d like the kids to come back when they graduate and say, ‘thank you.’ To me it’s just another thing they could leave here and say they had a positive experience.’’
For some, this experience is just the beginning while for others this is the final run, but it has been enjoyable for all and has the potential to be even more gratifying.
In its 22d year, the IAABO Board 27 Comcast Classic could be one of the best with a who’s who of top teams. The tournament begins Sunday at Babson College and concludes with the title games Monday. The girls’ field features Reading, Billerica, Archbishop Williams, and Natick. The boys’ field has Danvers, BC High, Brighton, and Newton North. Sunday’s schedule starts at 1 p.m. The girls’ title game is at 2:30 Monday with the boys’ is at 6:30.
Games to Watch
In a competitive Merrimack Valley race, Central Catholic will play both North Andover and Andover this week . . . Hingham has a couple of important games this week, too, against Whitman-Hanson Tuesday and Silver Lake Thursday, which will play a significant role in determining the winner of the Patriot League title.