March brought sports fans more than the arrival of spring


For most high school students March can be the longest month of the year.  But for basketball enthusiasts, those 31 days mean March Madness.

Not only did Wachusett’s girls and boys basketball teams play in the MIAA D1 state tournament during the first few weeks of March, both teams earned rankings in the top 11 of their respective brackets. 

Senior Emma Blomquist said that the outcome of the boys team should be celebrated. 

“The boys are done. I went to the game in Andover. It [the boy’s final game, a loss in the Elite 8 on March 12th versus third seeded Andover at Andover High] was tough,” said Blomquist. “But they went far, farther than I think people expected, especially with their upset in the Sweet Sixteen versus Taunton [sixth seed in tournament, played at Taunton on Wednesday, March 9th].”

Even with his team’s elimination in the Elite 8, varsity boy’s basketball head coach Tom Gibbons said he remains proud of how his team performed.

“Every kid on the team put the team first, gave their max effort, allowed themselves to be coached, and showed up to practice every day. We controlled what we could control with this new format, and unfortunately we didn’t get the win,” said Gibbons.

According to Gibbons, his time in the gym in his younger years inspired him to coach at the next level. 

“I want to make playing high school basketball a fun experience, what we teach boys as freshmen plays a role in their transition to adults  when they are seniors. I grew up in the gym. My dad coached me when I was younger, which led to my love of coaching that began here 22 years ago. It [the basketball court] is not a bad place to grow up.”

Assistant varsity boys basketball coach and former Mountaineer, Jackie Boffoli, expressed similar ideas. 

“It [coaching at The Regional] is awesome to play at Wachusett and then coach and then watch how the program has grown so much. I think a lot of teams want to beat us and I can tell that’s a lot of pressure. But the players come to practice every day and get better and make sure they continue the Wachusett dynasty,” said Boffoli. “They [Wachusett athletics teams] need to have the mentality that each game is a championship game. They [the boys team] made sure to win 10 games and acknowledge that they needed to win by ten points or more to get a better ranking in the tournament.”  

The girls program’s undefeated streak ended at 23 games, their one loss to Springfield Central in the Final Four on Tuesday, March 15th. 

Sophomore varsity girls basketball player Hannah Best said she embraced her spot on the team, even with the change in the MIAA Tournament.

“When you are young, normally Districts is what you hear about. It [new MIAA tournament format] is a great opportunity to play new teams, and I am proud of how we have adapted to many different things. We focus on the next game, and try not to get in our heads,” said Best. “We were excited to prove that we deserved to be in the tournament.”

According to administration, student athletes should know that the school will always come together for their teams – win or lose.

“Both basketball teams have represented the school and student body very well during these challenging times, especially with COVID,” said principal William Beando. “They are extremely competitive, athletic, and play solid fundamental, hard-nosed basketball. Our athletes are good kids, who play strong competition with tenacity and sacrifice.” 

When The Regional’s run in the MIAA Tournament ended before St. Patrick’s Day, focus shifted to the 64 team NCAA March Madness bracket.

Gibbons played collegiate basketball at Clark University and was an assistant coach for the Holy Cross men’s basketball team.

“You grow up with NCAA and fall in love with it as a kid, and then as you get older you fall in love all over again. Then when I was coaching at Holy Cross, the win or go home energy was intense,” said Gibbons. 

Freshman Brenna Patenaude also said that the NCAA tournament has brought excitement during the month of March.

“It’s a tradition in my family to watch. Even though my mom is not as into sports as my dad, my brother, and myself, it gives us something to bond over. Watching and previously playing basketball has given me a new perspective when I am participating in my current sport,” said Patenaude.

English teacher Melissa Zingarella said the March competition centers on the the love of the game.

“It [the tournament] is that amazing moment for that one kid. That one kid who shoots basketballs in her/his driveway and hoped for an opportunity to be on that stage someday. Just like that everyone is watching and we all know their name,” said Zingarella. “Everything that they worked for comes to that – right there win or lose – I imagine that moment is worth working a lifetime for – for the athlete and their family who supported them along the way. That is something special, magical.”

March Madness also means that professional basketball enters its home stretch. The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

“The Celtics could go far,” said senior Will Pehl. “But they have to play as a team to do so.”

For some Mountaineers, basketball transcends televised games.

“It’s not just a sport or a pastime. Basketball is an escape from reality,” said sophomore and junior varsity basketball player Tommy Rovezzi. “No matter how stressed you are or how much is going on in life, just picking up a basketball and playing allows you to escape and just play, without worrying about anything else.”