WILMINGTON – Back in December of 2009, the Town Crier put together a 10-person panel to vote on the Coach of the Decade as well as the Male and Female Athletes of the Decade. The coach category was extremely close as Steve Scanlon edged out Jim McCune by two points. From 2000-09, Scanlon led the boys ice hockey team to a 128-71-23 record, including eight state tournament appearances and in soccer, his teams combined to go 118-54-25, making nine playoff appearances.
Fast forward ten years later, a different 10-person panel again elected Scanlon as the Coach of the Decade, and once again the race was tight as he edged out Sue Hendee by two points.
This time from 2010 to this past fall soccer season, Scanlon's accomplishments were again off the charts. In hockey, he guided his teams to a combined record of 139-68-27, with two league titles and two state championship titles, while falling one goal short of taking a third team to TD Garden. He also had three other teams lose in the sectional semi-finals. He did that, coaching in two different leagues (one year in Cape Ann League) and competing in two different divisions.
In soccer, he guided the teams to a combined record of 79-75-37, made five state tournament appearances with three teams losing in the sectional semi-finals, again competing in two different leagues, the Cape Ann and Middlesex League.
The first time around as Coach of the Decade, Scanlon combined for 246 wins and made 17-of-20 state tournament appearances between two different sports, all while competing in the Cape Ann League.
Now round two, his teams combined for 208 victories, two state championship titles and made 13-of-20 state tournament appearances.
“Just look at (Scanlon's) track record," said Drew Foley, the Town Crier's Male Athlete of the Decade, who played for Scanlon in both soccer and ice hockey. "He has been coaching for so many years in both sports and has won so many league titles and two state championships in hockey. I have nothing but great things to say about him. He puts people he believes in, in position to succeed.
"He is a very uplifting coach. He wants everyone to reach their maximum potential. He had very high expectations for us in both soccer and hockey, and I loved playing for him in both sports.”
HALF CUP FULL
In the first five years of this decade, the Wilmington High School Boys' soccer team had tremendous success, including 2011-'14, while competing in the Middlesex League. In 2010, the Wildcats finished 11-5-3 in the final year of the Cape Ann League but were eliminated in the first round of the state tournament.
Then from 2011-14, the 'Cats finished 6-7-6, 14-2-5, 17-3-1 and 11-4-6, all while competing in the much tougher league. The 'Cats lost three straight years in either the Division 2 or Division 3 sectional semi-finals. Those five years, the program went 59-22-21, including 48-17-18 in the ML.
“We had some good winning teams,” Scanlon said. “I remember the years with Drew (Foley), Cory (McGilvary) and those guys. We had some good teams and we hung right with those Middlesex League teams.”
The 2014 team was the last Wilmington team to qualify for the state tournament. At that time, it was the tenth straight year that the program advanced to the playoffs.
“That team had (Kevin) Goncalves and Evan (Raffi) and that was another real good team,” said Scanlon. “We haven't gone to the tournament since.”
Since that 2014 season, the program has indeed fallen on hard times in terms of wins and losses. Wilmington has gone 5-8-5, 5-10-3, 6-10-2, 3-11-4 and this past year 1-15-2.
“From player one through twenty, there's been a decline in the skill level the last few years,” said Scanlon. “We still have good players, but before we played in a league that was more of a fit for us as a (soccer) program. We have struggled since. The Middlesex League is loaded in soccer. Winchester just won the state title so this is the second straight year that the league has a team in the state final. All of those (Middlesex League teams) advanced pretty far in the state tournament, and facing teams like that is pretty hard for us (right now).”
Scanlon added that when it comes to competing in the Middlesex League, he believes being one of the smaller schools can sometimes really take a toll on a sports program.
“I think when it comes to high school sports, a lot of teams can go up and can do down (in cycles),” he said. “A program like Reading can just reload every year – they have the numbers. We are a smaller school, so we have the ups and downs more so than a bigger program like theirs.”
DOUBLE THE PLEASURE
Much like soccer, the first five years of the decade was pretty special when it comes to the ice hockey team. In 2009-'10, the Wildcats finished 21-1-1, finished the regular season without a loss, won the Cape Ann League, before losing in the Division 2 North Sectional semi-finals.
The following year, the first in the Middlesex League, Wilmington finished 18-3-2, again going 2-1 in the tournament and again losing in the sectional semi-finals.
Then came the 2011-'12 season.
“I knew that we had a good team going into the season,” said Scanlon. “Our strengths were in the key positions. We had an exceptional forward in Cam (Owens), we had a great goaltender in Drew (Foley) and we had the puck lugging defenseman in Brian Pickett. Our strength was up the middle and we also had a great support group.”
Wilmington finished the regular season with an 11-4-5 record and were the No. 8 seed in the tournament, one spot behind the returning D2 state champions and neighbors of Tewksbury.
The 'Cats started the tournament off strong with a 6-2 win over No. 9 seed Newburyport – a longtime rival from the CAL – before advancing to the next round to face the No. 1 seed Lynnfield, who came in at 18-3-1.
“In the third period, they were all over us. They had a couple of power plays and (Foley) just kept making all of these saves,” Scanlon said. “I remember, we were all thinking that the winner of that game, would go on to win the state championship. Lynnfield had some real good players on that team.”
The ride didn't get any easier. Wilmington then went to the sectional semi-finals to face a real tough North Andover team, the No. 5 seed, and came away with a 2-0 win behind another brilliant performance by Foley.
That put Wilmington into the sectional final against No. 10 seed Winthrop, who was coming off several upset victories of their own, including over No. 2 seed Boston Latin. The 'Cats pulled out this victory, 4-2, which put them into the state final against one of the state's all-time top programs in Franklin. There at the Garden, the 'Cats came away with a thrilling 3-2 victory, giving the program its first state title.
“Yes it is still (gratifying),” said Scanlon. “For me personally, it was cool for it to happen after all of those years. We were close in (2008, losing 1-0 to Sandwich in the state final) and we all said that we hoped and thought that one day, our ship would come in and we could win one. We were just so thrilled to have won it with that group of kids.
“We were solid in the strength positions. We had the right amount of depth. Our third and fourth lines were very good. I thought whenever we faced other teams, our third line was better and our fourth line was just as good as our third line. I think we also benefitted from playing in the Middlesex League. That really helped us because we didn't see any teams in the tournament that were better than the ones we saw from the league.”
After that state championship victory, the 'Cats returned the following November to defend their title. The team had a strong nucleus of players back, including the Big Three of Owens, Pickett and Foley, among others, including sniper Brendan McDonough.
Wilmington finished the regular season with a record of 16-3-2 and were the No. 3 seed. After a subpar performance in the first round 5-2 win against No. 14 Stoneham, the 'Cats went back to playing their game and defeated No. 6 Boston Latin, 6-2, No. 2 Lincoln-Sudbury, 6-0, in arguably the team's best post-season performance in two years, before a 7-2 victory over Danvers for the North title. That win again put the 'Cats back to the Garden and again the 'Cats defeated Franklin, but this time by a 4-0 score.
“To win it again is just so tough, the pressure and all of that, but we did it and that was certainly rewarding,” said Scanlon. “The other thing about those two teams is those kids just really loved the game of hockey. They really enjoyed each other but they loved the game. I never had to get on them at practices and stuff like that, they just wanted to play the game.”
AN 11-ROUND BOUT
The following year, the MIAA did a complete disservice to Wilmington and forced the Wildcats to play up to Division 1 for the next four seasons, saying the reason was because of the two straight titles – yet Watertown Field Hockey remains in D2 after winning 17 state titles.
Anyway, bumped up to Division 1, and still with a handful of talented players back on the team, the Wildcats continued right where they left off from their second straight win at the Garden. The 2013-'14 Wildcat team finished the regular season with a 12-3-7 record and were the No. 3 seed. Wilmington picked up wins over No. 14 Matignon, 3-2, No. 6 Medford, 1-0 in overtime, before winning a 3-2 overtime game against No. 2 Arlington. That dramatic win put the 'Cats in the sectional final against No. 12 Reading, who had knocked off three terrific teams in Arlington Catholic, Melrose and St. Mary's of Lynn.
“I remember we got some really good draws in that tournament,” said Scanlon. “Arlington upset St. John's of Shrewsbury and everyone thought that they were going to easily win the bracket. They were absolutely loaded and somehow Arlington beat them. Reading knocked off some teams too, Arlington Catholic and top seed St. Mary's. Things just went our way. We had a real good ride to the sectional final.”
For those of us who were at that game, it'll never be forgotten. The teams were tied at 3-3 during three incredible back-and-forth periods. After two scoreless overtime periods, the game had to be settled in a shoot-out.
It went 11 rounds with 22 players.
Foley made 40 saves in the game and then another ten in the shoot-out. He, like the entire team, were truly magnificent.
“I'll always remember the length of the game,” joked Scanlon. “It was a tough way to end the season, but it was a really good game by both teams. I would have rather seen it end with players taken off the ice like a 4-vs-4 or 3-vs-3, but it had to end at some point. It was a heartbreaking loss. To be bumped up to (Division 1) like that, getting to the sectional final, I think just said so much about the kids on that team.”
Reading went on to defeat Braintree, 4-1, to win the Division 1 state championship title.
Since that loss, Wilmington went to the state tournament three more times in the last five years, including another terrific run in 2017-'18 that saw the 'Cats reach the sectional semi-finals, losing to Stoneham.
“Steve's (coaching) system works,” said Ed Harrison back in the 2009 article for Scanlon's first Coach of the Decade story. “He has a plan and the kids buy into it. He's very successful. He's very dedicated and committed to getting the job done. Not only are the kids prepared, but they are respected by their opponents in both sports.”
Certainly a true statement. Even a decade later.