Warriors seek to compete for league title, tournament berth once again
Published in the December 15, 2015 edition
By DAN BYRNE
WAKEFIELD— Boys’ basketball is back and the season kicks off for Wakefield Memorial High School on Tuesday evening as the Warriors head to Lexington to take on the Minutemen.
A new backcourt will be running the show for the red and white, as last year’s all-star combo of Chris Calnan and Brian Dickey has graduated and a new group looks to stake out a place on the floor for the Warriors.
Head coach Brad Simpson is back on the sidelines once again. He is joined by assistant varsity coach Bryan Sweeney for his fourth season. John Amentola will lead the JV team as the head coach and fellow WMHS alumni Dan Looney will assist him. Joe Leahy and his brother Tom will be in charge of the freshman program for their sixth season.
“We have a Wakefield High School graduate at every level, which is kind of nice,” Simpson said of his coaching staff in a recent interview.
The story for the start of the season for the Warriors is injuries and illnesses. Last season, injuries forced some younger players into action early and that looks to be the case once again. Fortunately for the Warriors, last year’s experience looks to be set to pay off for a young group of talented players.
“We’re looking to return to the tournament and hopefully if not get a piece of the Freedom division title like last year,” Simpson said of his expectations, “Maybe win it outright.”
Wakefield posted a 10-10 overall record and 9-7 record in the Middlesex League Freedom division. The Warriors defeated Lynn Classical in the preliminary round of the state tournament before losing to eventual Div. 2 state champion Danvers which had a perfect season in the first round.
Those might be some lofty expectations but the coach has good reason to be optimistic. He’s got a versatile group of players who will challenge every opponent and they’ll push each other for playing time.
The team is guided by some important senior leadership but some key aspects are missing due to injury.
“We have five seniors but unfortunately only three are healthy at the moment,” Coach Simpson said, commenting on the impact of injuries on the roster.
Chief among the wounded Warriors is captain Jon Miller. Miller tore his ACL playing basketball in the summer. An August surgery date has the senior looking at a late January return at the earliest. Simpson is prepared for Miller to be out potentially until the postseason.
Senior Paul McGunigle missed last year’s season due to an injury suffered during football season so he was unavailable. He’s back this year, but is currently recovering from an illness, however, and will be out for the first week or two, according to Coach Simpson.
Of the senior players still healthy, Tighe Beck and Andrew Auld, look to get big minutes in the front court.
Beck is one of the captains of the team along with Miller. Auld led the WMHS boys’ varsity soccer team in the fall to the Div. 3 North finals as a team captain. According to Simpson the 6’6’’ Auld has, “Looked solid in the preseason.”
In the back court, Corey Imbriano looks to be staking claim to the starting minutes at the point guard spot. Imbriano impressed with his defensive energy coming off the bench last year in his junior season and Simpson hopes he continues to provide a spark for the team in a starting role as a senior.
Juniors Kobey Nadeau, Alex McKenna and Zach Price all proved they had the ability to play at the varsity level at one point or another last season as sophomores.
This year they’ll be in competition for playing time in the off guard/small forward roles.
Simpson has positive feelings about each of their abilities as players saying, “Kobey is our most versatile player. He can play the post, he can play the wing and he can actually play a little point guard. He’s played a little point guard for us too, so he’ll be on the floor at any position at some point.
“Alex McKenna, he’s a veteran, he played last year as a sophomore,” Simpson said. “Alex got hurt in a scrimmage last week, so he’s a little bit behind but he’s certainly going to be on the floor for us quite a bit.
“Zach Price is another who played big minutes for us as a sophomore,” Simpson said. “Zach, again looks good. He had an injury in a scrimmage from last weekend and missed a couple of days of practice and the scrimmage against Chelsea during the middle week but he’s back and healthy. He’s certainly going to be on the floor for us a lot.”
Ryan Murray is a first year varsity junior.
“He’s a combo guard and his main asset is that he’s a pretty good defensive player and he fits in our defensive system pretty well,” Simpson said of Murray.
However, Murray is another player battling for fitness as his ankle was hurt in the Chelsea scrimmage on Wednesday and he’ll miss the game Tuesday due to the injury.
With so many key players fighting to get back on the court, Simpson will once again rely on some players that haven’t seen the floor at the varsity level before.
One player Simpson feels has shown he is ready to play at the highest level is junior John Evangelista.
“The biggest surprise for us in preseason has been the development of John Evangelista,” Simpson said.
Evangelista played JV last year but he’s looked very good in practice and the scrimmages. He’s a very athletic wing player that can shoot the three and get to the rim while playing good defense.
“In the three scrimmages he’s led the team in deflected passes on defense,” Simpson noted. “If he’s not a starter he’ll be one of the first guys off the bench. He’s established himself in the first few weeks as one of our top players.”
According to Simpson, Evangelista may have the inside track to being the fifth starter tonight. Due to his impressive preseason coupled with the rash of injuries and illness depleting the choices for Coach Simpson, Evangelista will see a lot of the floor early in the season.
Warrior junior Andrew DeLeire is out long term as he recovers from a head injury. DeLeire took the year off in 2014-15 but hopes to be back in contention for some playing time by the time the postseason arrives.
“As a freshman he was one of the top six or seven players,” Simpson said of DeLeire.
The team features some promising sophomores including Jon Miller’s brother Andrew and JV standout Joseph Smith. Both Smith and Miller played JV as freshmen due to their advanced skill level.
Of Smith, Simpson said, “He might be one of our most athletic players. He’s also very skilled. He’s showed the ability to play very good on the ball defense and he’s a pretty good scorer. He can score the ball. The only thing holding him back is he needs time to learn our system.”
On Miller Simpson remarked, “Andrew has been playing a lot of point guard for us but I envision him playing a little off guard. He’s just an excellent shooter and a very good free throw shooter. Again he just needs more time learning everything we do in our system and that’s about the only thing keeping him back.”
Another sophomore, big man Patrick Redmond, is a bit behind the rest of the team as he recovers from an ankle injury suffered in the Thanksgiving Day football game against Melrose.
“Patrick is a very strong post player and he has the ability to carve out a lot of space on offense,” the coach said. “He’s been back to full speed the last couple of days. He’s still quite a bit behind.”
Senior Alex Fils-Aime, who has been in the program for the past few years, has been helping out, filling in while some players are out injured. Fils-Aime was originally onboard as the team manager but injuries and illness have left the Warriors short of bodies and he has been there to help the team.
Two weekends ago, the Warriors scrimmaged three times. On Friday they scrimmaged North Andover. Then Saturday they faced off with Lynnfield. On Sunday they had a tri-scrimmage with Beverly and North Reading.
“We had 19 candidates for the varsity and I was looking at all of them so most kids played two scrimmages and sat out one. After Sunday I reduced the varsity roster down to about 13,” Simpson said. “My sense is that we’re going to be a lot better in three or four weeks than we are right now. We have too many key people sick or hurt,” the coach said. “(The) Main thing is, especially because we’ve had injuries and illness, we got better in the Chelsea scrimmage (on Dec. 9) than we were in the scrimmages over the weekend. We’ll be competitive on Tuesday.”
Though many teams throughout the Middlesex League lost key players to graduation just like Wakefield, this year will no doubt provide exciting competition.
“We need to get healthy and we need to get everybody on the same page, playing together,” Simpson said as he looked at the season as a whole.
Things kick off tonight at 5 p.m. when the Warriors head to Lexington to take on the Minutemen at Ralph Lord Gymnasium. The home opener is Dec. 21 at 5 p.m. at Charbonneau Field House when last year’s top M.L. team, Arlington, comes to town.