TEWKSBURY — On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Charlie Baker announced that all Massachusetts Schools will be closed for the remainder of the school year, due to the COVID-19 virus, thus ending any kind of hope of a spring high school sports season.
The Town Crier sent out an email to Athletic Director Ron Drouin, emails to all of the spring varsity coaches and asked on the Town Crier's social media sites for senior athletes to weigh in on their thoughts and of having their season and careers come to an abrupt stop. Below are the responses we received upon our deadline.
"This is an unprecedented time (for everybody)," said Drouin. "I feel horrible for all our athletes, their families, and our coaches. I know how hard our athletes and coaches prepare and look forward to each season. My heart breaks for them. I am hoping to do some creative things to help honor our seniors — lots of moving parts."
The TMHS Girls Tennis team was coming off the best season in program history, finishing 13-5 overall, which included winning the Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 Championship, while coming away with its first ever state tournament win over Somerville, before losing in the second round to Marblehead. The Redmen were returning three of their seven starting players and were optimistic that another successful season was there for the taking.
"The news that schools are cancelled is not a surprise but it is extremely disappointing," said head coach Mary MacDonald. "I look forward to the ten weeks I spend with the tennis team very much and I will miss it. More importantly seniors are being deprived of a special time of their lives, usually filled with wonderful memories and much happiness. I had three returning senior starting varsity players this season, all captains, and they would have played an integral part in reaching the season goal of repeating as MVC Division II champions.”
The three returning senior starters include Alexia Chesbrough and Sydney Crowley (I'll miss calling her Sydney Crosby) and Lizzy Taggart.
Chesbrough said this is a very tough pill to swallow.
“It is really devastating because we all worked so hard for this season,” she said. “I know myself and a few other girls on the team are on a club team and have been practicing since September. Mary has been an incredible coach. I’ve had her teaching me since I was eight years old, and I’m very grateful for everything she has taught us. I’m glad we ended off last year with a great season. We made history at TMHS and couldn’t have done it without her.
“Although everything is really sad, I know it’s for the best. I’m forever grateful to have been part of such an amazing team with amazing coaches. Tennis is such a fun sport and I've made so many amazing friends. I wouldn’t take back the past few years for anything.”
Five other seniors also lost out on a chance to play one last time, and that group includes Caitlin Hickey, Rachael Strangie, Arianna Raso, Erin Ciampa and Nicole Desmond.
“This group of seniors are a very nice, hard working, capable group,” said MacDonald. “We have had a lot of fun on the courts and it is very sad they won't complete their high school careers on the courts with their teammates.”
On the boys side, they too made history last year, qualifying for the state tournament in just its third year as a varsity program. Tewksbury finished 8-8 overall, including a 5-0 defeat to Winchester. While most of the varsity line-up had graduated, head coach Rick Keene wanted the challenge of revamping a roster and developing the inexperienced kids, but he understands the decision that was made is the correct one.
“Although it is a big disappointment ending the school year early, I believe the decision is what’s best for the safety and well being of the students, teachers, faculty members and their families,” he said. “Whereas I am not an employee of the school each and every year I really look forward to seeing the kids in the spring. I often tell my family and friends how fortunate I am to have the honor and privilege to coach my players. What will make this year more of a disappointment, Is not being able to coach and be a part of the last year for my three graduating seniors, Zachary Hines, Dominic Cohen and Michael Fowler.”
The track programs took a major hit with this news as both the girls and boys programs have large amounts of seniors, the most out of any spring sports team. Fran Cusick, who has been the girls coach the last few years, was also slated to take over the boys team this season. He, like all of the other coaches, is just devastated for the kids.
"It goes without saying that shutting the season down is the right choice," he said. "From a public health perspective, it’s a no-brainer. There’s not many debating the wisdom of cancelling, yet my heart goes out to the seniors. You only get one chance to be a senior in high school and it’s a pretty magical time.
"For this group of kids to get spring sports, prom, graduation, taken away is devastating. Beyond these marquee events, the simplicity of hanging out with your friends after practice, goofing around at meets or on the bus, the good natured complaining that is part of being a high school athlete, to have it lost like this is difficult to handle.
“So, for everyone who has been a part of the Tewksbury track team, I am sorry it had to end this way, but hopefully you can use the resiliency and grit you’ve gained as an athlete to put it forward into whatever your next endeavor is. I hope you remember the good times you had and do not allow a less than ideal ending to put a damper on your career.”
Cusick pointed out five seniors who have made been impacts with the program over the years including Meghan Ostertag, Sophie Eskenas, Faith Mazzapica, Sarah Polimeno and Ryan Quinn.
“Meghan Ostertag has been the heart-and-soul of our distance squad since her freshman year. Few kids I’ve coached have faced the gauntlet of injuries she has; yet she never quit, always kept coming back. Just an amazingly gritty kid.
“Sophie Eskenas is just such a great teammate. Always positive, always lifts up others, she can get along with anyone.
“Faith Mazzapica on the throws end of things has been one of the best in the league since her freshman year, particularly in the discus. Beyond her performances, she’s a lot of fun as a person and did a great job as a leader of the throws crew.
“For Sarah Polimeno, it’s not easy to be in the shadow of one of the best TMHS athletes ever in (her sister) Lauren Polimeno. Sarah carved out her own identity and although she battled injuries last spring was a very important member of our team.
“Last spring Ryan Quinngave us just about everything we could have asked for. Track is probably her third favorite sport, and she was coming off a hockey season that stretched to the beginning of the spring season. But she kept at it and ran a critical leg on our 4x4 team at the D3 State meet to help us secure second place as a team.”
The other senior members on this year's team includes: Gianna Bourassa, Danielle Bain, Casey Stevenson, Tammy Varnum, Shannon Crowley, Kylee Araujo and Angie Carew.
Cusick then shifted gears to chat about the boys team.
“On the boys end, I actually hadn’t coached the boys but I obviously am around them all the time and thus can speak to some of the seniors:
“Zach LaLonde is one of the best hurdlers ever to come out of TMHS. Also a phenomenal relay leg. Watching him get the baton in the 4x4 on the anchor leg with the meet on the line is exhilarating. He’s someone who has really worked to improve himself and he got a lot better each season.
“Thomas Barinelli is an incredibly versatile athlete who is really underrated on our team and in the MVC at large. He’s a very unassuming person, but he’s a great competitor and was one of the best multi-athletes in the league. I’m really glad I got the chance to know Thomas, Zach, Ethan Exilhomme and Colby Wilson a lot better at outdoor nationals last year. Great group of kids.
“Out of all the kids here, I’m probably most devastated for Chris Nguyen because he is primarily a pole vaulter — which is not offered in the indoor season in Mass — and did a ton of work to get ready for this spring season. There’s a platitude in sports that you get out it what you put in, and while that’s not always true, Chris really exemplified it last year when he went from basically a JV athlete to scoring at the league and state meet in the vault.
“From all of my interactions with Liam Cafferty, I can tell you he is focused and takes what he does seriously. He’s a hard worker and a great person who grew a lot as an athlete over the last four years.
“Gustavo Tizotti is one of the hardest working athletes in the program. He’s the type of kid that is a grinder and loves to train. In between the winter and the spring, I probably saw him at the HS every day, heading out for a run. And that hard work paid off, as he was steadily getting better as a distance runner each and every season.”
The other senior members include: Bricen Boudreault, Shane Aylward, Robert Chisholm, Will Andella, Joseph Branchaud, Zach Daigle, Jake Nordstrom, Tyler Paulding and Patrick Killion.
Last year Erin Murphy became the fourth coach in five years of the program. The team took some lumps record wise, but continued to grow. She was looking forward of carrying that momentum into this season.
“I was incredibly optimistic about what we could accomplish. Last year we improved our record by 100 percent from the 2018 season and was hoping to keep that momentum alive. While we lost a number of talented seniors last year, we still had a group of girls with strong skills and incredible determination. In addition, we had over a dozen new players eager to join the team and learn the sport. It is my hope that these girls will have this same feeling next year despite missing one year.”
Slated to have led the team this year included two returning seniors, Molly O'Neill and Morgan Woodman.
“My heart goes out to my two seniors. Molly and Morgan have been with the team since their freshman year as well as being members of Tewksbury Youth Lacrosse. These girls have worked incredibly hard over the last three years. Molly and Morgan were instrumental in getting our girls to play in off season leagues, the tip of the iceberg of what I know they would have brought to the team as captains.
“Molly was such a strong force on the field and I don’t think she even knows it. Playing primarily defense while on varsity I always had the utmost confidence in her. Molly has great field awareness and defensive skills that allow her to protect our goalie and minimize opportunities for our opponent. Off the field Molly is just as excellent. It's hard to remember a time at practice or a bus ride to a game that Molly wasn’t smiling or joking around with her teammates.
“Next year Molly will be attending Plymouth State University to study sports management and also intends to play lacrosse. I am beyond proud to have her represent our team at the collegiate level and look forward to seeing her compete against other alumni from our program next season.
“Morgan was a great utility player for us. She came to us her freshman year with a solid set of skills that she carried with her through the program making her very versatile. Morgan created multiple scoring opportunities for her teammates and some for herself. One of my favorite things about Morgan as a player was her enthusiasm during practice. Whatever drill I gave the team she was, without fail, the first player to find a position in order to increase her number of reps.
“Morgan is still undecided about where she will be attending school next year but having known her for the last four years as both her coach and teacher I am confident Morgan’s future is very bright.
“Both Morgan and Molly will be greatly missed by the entire team and coaching staff. I feel terrible that their senior year was cut short but want them to know their place on this team and as captains will not be forgotten.”
Towards the second half of last year, the TMHS Softball team had made some big strides. The team lost just one senior to graduation and really thought this was the season, in terms of wins, to turn things around.
“The news that we got today was very difficult to hear as an Educator, Parent, and a coach,” said head coach Brittany Kannan. “My heart goes out to the seniors. Especially the ones that got their spring season taken away from them. This is what you play for in high school, your senior year. I was really looking forward to see how this year played out for them, we have been in the rebuilding process the last two years and they saw that through. It was their turn to be the role models and have their senior night and leave it all on the field. They have given me 110 percent since I walked in and they were the foundation of this rebuilding period.”
Kannan said that this year's team had five 'amazing seniors who will grow up to be amazing women'. The five include co-captain Jessica Smith, co-captain Gianna Ragucci, as well as Emma Demos, Mikaela Enax and Alexa Harrington. Smith will be attending Worcester State for Early Education, Ragucci will be attending Boston College but is undecided on her major, Demos will attend St. Anselm College to become a nurse, Enax will study biomedical engineering at WPI and Harrington will be going to Merrimack College to pursue a criminal justice degree.
“Most of them are not playing softball in college, but they are all looking to play club,” said Kannan.
The Tewksbury High Boys Lacrosse team had a tremendous turnaround last season under the direction of first year head coach Zach Jacobs, going from a winless season the year before to a 7-11 campaign in 2019.
Jacobs and the Redmen have been working hard in preparing to follow up last seasons success with an even better record this season, and with a large group of returning seniors coming back to the squad, it looked like the state tournament was a very realistic goal. So, when word came down that the season had officially been canceled, it was a tough pill to swallow.
“It has been tough not knowing when the season was going to start, but we never gave up hope that it would. I have been in constant communication with the team and the captains,” Jacobs said. “Many of them have been working out at home to make sure they stayed in shape for the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, we have been told by the governor that there will be no more school this year, which means the lacrosse season has been canceled. I want to take a second to thank all of the seniors that we had in this program for all they have done for me in the past two years I have been their coach.”
The projected seniors for the Redmen this season were Ryan Day, Pat Rosemond, Owen Gilligan, Connon Charron, Kyle Scrooc, Patrick Letourneau, Colby Brown, Riley Auth, Michael Dell'Orfano, Brodie Tyrell, Patrick Fleming, Jack O'Neal, Matt Brennen, Matt Rosemond, Nick Iannacci, Sean Fahey and Mike Woodford.
“These 17 guys showed me last year that they will buy into the program and hold each other accountable to lead this team in the right direction, not only right now but for the future of the program,” Jacobs said. “My assistants and I looked forward to coaching such a great group of guys and it pains us to know they cannot play in their senior year.”
The TMHS Baseball team took a giant hit with this news, as ten returning seniors will not have the opportunity to play this year, which will leave next year's roster filled with many inexperienced players.
Head Coach Kirk Monbleau said that he will certainly miss these seniors as well as hanging around the ballfields.
“Since the fall of 2007 and the spring 2008 I have been a teacher in a classroom and on a baseball field,” he said. “Every class I have taught and every team I have coached have had people and moments I will always remember. The same goes for this group of baseball players. You always hear both coaches and players talking about 'embracing the grind' or 'enjoying the journey'. It's all of the stuff you do that leads to important games or whatever the goal is. Those are the things I'll miss this year. Hitting fungos, going over situations, throwing batting practice.
“I think most of my guys, especially the seniors, feel the same. They were itching to get on that diamond and play for their high school for one more year. I had many players in the classroom and talks of the season always crept into the lesson somehow. They enjoyed the journey. They have been cheated on the last stretch of it and the coaching staff Scott Callanan, Joel Mignault, Greg Marshall and I, feel awful for them. I hope when this clears, the players look back and can talk about the memories they have made. I hope they can remember the positives and realize that they have teammates and coaches that will continue to be there for them — whatever it is.”
The ten returning seniors include: Garrett Kingston, Nolan Timmons, Tyler Keough, Chris Antonelli, Alex Lacerda, Rob Evangelista, Max Cummings, James Kochakian, Matt Ferreira and Jacob Bragg.