St. Mary’s captures Spartan Classic title
By Cary Shuman
If all goes according to form, St. Mary’s and Archbishop Williams will meet at the Boston Garden next month for the right to play in Springfield for the Division 3 state championship.
Coach Jeff Newhall’s Spartans certainly look like the team to beat in the North sectional after winning their own Spartan Classic, besting tournament-bound Wilmington, 49-47, in the championship game Monday at the Tony Conigliaro Gymnasium.
Olivia Nazaire, who is winding down an outstanding career in the program, was named the tournament’s most valuable player after putting in an excellent all-around effort with four points, 13 rebounds, and six steals in the final.
“I think Olivia did a great job defensively,” said Newhall. “Their defense was collapsing on Olivia and that opened up stuff for the guards.”
Gabby Torres, who has taken her game to the next level in her sophomore season, had 12 points while earning a spot on the All-Tournment Team.
Another rapidly improving sophomore, Olivia Matela, one of the team’s best outside shooters, had 10 points.
Pamela Gonzalez, the program’s newest 1000- point scorer, was at her best in the fourth quarter, finishing off two drives to the basket and also hitting her free throws. Gonzalez, who has fit in nicely with her new team, led St. Mary’s with 13 points.
“Pam really asserted himself in the fourth quarter,” said Newhall.
Freshman Nicolette D’Itria and sophomore Christina Nowicki also played well for the Spartans.
The Spartans finished the regular season with a 17-6 record while playing one of the state’s toughest schedules. The Spartans were the only team to defeat Northeastern Conference champion Lynn Classical this season.
“When you look at our record and the big picture, that’s an excellent season,” said Newhall. “We have a chance to make a run in the State Tournament, but we have to play a lot better than we’re playing right now.”
Newhall said Wilmington, who had a 13-6 record and plays out of the tough Middlesex League, was a good test for his team heading in to the postseason.
“We’re going to be tested in the tournament – there are no layups,” said Newhall.
The State Tournament pairings will be announced Friday.
A Banner Season
Classical girls basketball team claims NEC title with a perfect 15-0 record
By Cary Shuman
Fifteen up, fifteen down.
The Lynn Classical girls basketball team is the undisputed champion of the Northeastern Conference after defeating all 15 opponents in its path.
Coach Tom Sawyer, in his twelfth season, is excited about his team’s perfect run through the conference, and understandably so. Going undefeated, especially with the team’s injuries and obstacles along the way, was a major-league achievement.
“I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment by this year’s team to go undefeated in the league,” said Sawyer. “We had some really big wins during the year. Beating Revere at home was huge. Beating Danvers and Beverly on the road in their gyms were big wins.”
When Sawyer gathered his team on the first day of practice, he believed that with six very capable seniors, it could be a contender for the title.
“I thought we would be competitive,” said Sawyer. “I thought the kids put in the work in the off season to put ourselves in a good position. But then you have to have a little bit of luck along the way and we had to deal with injuries along the way. The kids who stepped up to fill the voids created by injuries played really well and were unable to sustain the level of play to get us those 15 wins.”
Classical’s success starts with its seniors, Paris Wilkey, Jeylly Medrano, Tyarah Horton, Irianis Delgado, Maryah Chandler, and Damilola Abraham. All told, the senior class was a part of more than 60 victories and three State Tournament appearances. Classical had tourney wins over Beverly and North Andover.
“The seniors really set the tone and the underclassmen filled in their roles, which they did in terrific fashion,” said Sawyer.
Wilkey led the team in scoring at 15 points per game. The 5-foot-10-inch forward scored the 1000th point of her career this season and is heading to Franklin Pierce. She is a candidate for the conference’s MVP award.
Delgado made tremendous strides in her game and became a surefire NEC All-Star. Her steal and layup in the final seconds against Revere (a 49-47 victory) in a showdown for first place was the play of the year.
“Irianis was an unbelievable force in the league this year,” credited Sawyer. “She was our second leading scorer and our leading rebounder – a player who did whatever we asked her to do to help the team win. She made leaps-and-bounds improvement from when she started in our program to last year to this year, which has been her breakout season.”
Medrano was the Rams’ highly effective floor general, averaging five assists per game. “Jeylly has the basketball in her hands 95 percent of the time,” said Sawyer. “She has been one of the hardest workers and has one the highest basketball IQs that has been in my program.”
Tyarah Horton, who excelled in a returning role in the starting five and a junior, Jazzmine Masse, were also major contributors.
“Jazz was very much improved from her sophomore year,” said Sawyer. “She’s a steady ballhandler and a good defensive player. She also improved on her outside shot.”
Helping the Rams in reserve roles were sophomores Chloe Kebreu and Jean Gupton, and junior Skyler Crayton.
While Sawyer has built a powerful program – one that goes beyond the basketball court to such activities as an annual field trip to a college basketball game and holding a youth basketball instructional clinic – the coach is quick to credit junior varsity coach Rob Smith, and freshman coach Frank Deluca, “for providing opportunities for kids who want to work on their games.”
Assistant coach Helen Ridley, one of the program’s greatest players in history and a former captain at Division 1 Quinnipiac, drew special commendation from Sawyer.
“Helen Ridley is an unbelievable asset to the girls basketball program,” said Sawyer. “She does a tremendous job with the kids, not only with their basketball skills and knowledge, but counseling them on their academics. I’m very lucky to have the support and staff that I have.”
Classical (19-1), whose only loss of the season was to St. Mary’s in the Boverini Tournament, will compete in the Division 2 North Sectionals. This will be Classical’s eighth tournament appearance in 12 seasons under Sawyer. Because of its high seed, Classical will host a first-round game.
Nikolakopoulos will play soccer at Division 1 Sacred Heart University
By Cary Shuman
St. Mary’s High School soccer star Mia Nikolakopolous faced a lot of adversity in her career but she has reached her goal of playing Division 1 college soccer.
Nikolakopolous, who missed her entire junior season of soccer and the final month of her senior campaign due to injuries, signed a national letter of intent to attend Division 1 Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
Nikolakopoulous joins former standout Amanda Webster, who played at Santa Clara University and Providence College in the elite category of being a D-1 college player from St. Mary’s.
“I just want to thank everybody who supported me and pushed me throughout my four years in high school,” said Nikolakopolous. “I know I’ve had a lot of injuries and I honestly didn’t think I was going to get to this point but I’m just glad I didn’t give up and I’m really thankful for everyone who made sure I didn’t.”
Nikolakopoulos had also considered Bryant University and Stonehill College before Sacred Heart presented the best option for a spot in its program.
Nikolakopoulos was particularly grateful to her coach, Jim Foley.
“Coach Foley has just been so supportive during my four years,” said Nikolakopoulos. “He’s always trusted me such as being a team captain in my junior and senior years. He was so supportive during my injuries. And our new coaches, Maggie Carey and Sam Charest, really helped me out a lot in my senior years.”
Nikolakopoulos said during a visit to Sacred Heart she met Athletic Director Bobby Valentine, who is the former manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Mia’s parents, Taso and Linda Nikolakopoulos, and her brother, George, were on hand for the milestone moment in her career.
“I’ve been playing soccer for 14 years and my parents always believed in me and were always there to encourage and support me,” said Mia. “They told me from the beginning, especially my dad, that I could play D-1 soccer even when I didn’t believe it. They’ve been so supportive for my entire career.”
Principal James Ridley, whose daughter, Helen, played Division 1 college basketball, said Nikolakopoulos will be a great representative of St. Mary’s in college.
“It’s very exciting, especially knowing her dad for a long time, to see someone like Mia who worked so hard and who overcame injuries, to have this accomplishment,” said Ridley. “It says a lot for St. Mary’s and the soccer program to have a Division 1 college player. Most importantly, she’s going to receive an outstanding education at Sacred Heart.”