THP #41: Fatherhood

December 7, 2022 – Auburndale, Massachusetts
Lasell vs Trinity
Women’s Basketball

This is my last stop for a while. I got a daughter coming any day now. As I write this my wife is in her 39th week of pregnancy. I am over the moon about having a child.

I waffled for a few years. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want a kid. I didn’t know how I was feeling. My emotions ran the gamut. Honestly, after a crazy first season of this project I wanted one more year of full-on chaotic running around and I think I would have been good to go. Get that bit of dirtbagging out of the system.

COVID burned that season and last year we got a dog and were settling into our new house. This year I went buckwild this first month of the season and loved it. I got to mentally scratch that itch that I couldn’t reach, and I feel much better about everything. Maybe it’s the Lexapro helping, who knows.

Raising a puppy certainly helped too. I called raising Bella preseason for raising a kid. I’ve gone through weeks of no sleep, crying on the toilet when I have a moment of solitude, full blasts of anxiety at the thought of getting out of bed to pee at night lest I rustle the dog and ruin our sleep.

I’ve had those realizations that the dog isn’t gonna die if it eats a leaf and the eureka moment that she’s ok to be on her own after I finally got six straight hours of sleep at night

Having a kid means those timelines will be way longer, and I’ll experience those feelings again. I survived raising Bella. My life adjusted and I went about living with this awesome new furry buddy in my life.

With my daughter, my life will adjust and I’ll go about living with this awesome daughter in my life.

I’ve openly bristled at older relatives making a show saying things like “oh, your life’s never your own anymore” or “You know you can’t run around like you do now for sports.” The first line ticks me off because it frames kids exclusively, in my view, as a negative. My life isn’t changing, it’s being added to. I’m excited to add to it.

And as for the second line: yeah, I know. I’m not gonna do a triple shot in Northern Maine over a weekend. Doesn’t mean I can’t take a small handful of Saturdays and hit some local spots. There’s 30-35 schools within a 90-minute drive of the house, I’ll be fine in that regard.

It goes back, again, to the negative framing. Was I wanted? Was anyone? My daughter, especially when she’s a newborn and a potato, will be a huge change, and each phase of her life will be an adjustment for everyone. I’m excited to make those adjustments and hopefully raise a well-rounded, self-assured woman alongside my wife.

Quick aside, and my wife hates what I said but I think it’s hilarious and want it saved for posterity. A few years ago she was showing me pictures of a friend’s baby all adorable and swaddled in their crib. In my head, I said “look at the cute little burrito.” However, what came out was “oh wow, a flesh taco.” Still makes me chuckle.

I wasn’t a “boy or bust” guy when my wife got pregnant. The day she tested positive, after the hugs and smiles, I said, in the most matter-of-fact way, “Great, we’re having a daughter.” Just knew. How? No clue, but I did.

And now little baby Claire is on the way. I can’t wait to meet her. It’s gonna be college hoops, cartoons, and dinosaurs for her. And reading Calvin and Hobbes to her. And watching her and Bella pal around.

This will be an exciting journey, and I’m looking forward to starting it.

And speaking of my favorite fuzzball, here’s a moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Auburndale is one of the 13 villages of Newton, a city of just under 90,000 that borders Boston to the west. The village is on the western edge of the city and borders Waltham.

Outside of Lasell, Auburndale is almost exclusively residential with many houses on the National Register of Historic Places.

But located a mile from Lasell, up Lexington Street, is Depasquale’s at Night Cap Corner.

A small eatery serving pizza and sandwiches, it was bright and welcoming inside.

I kept it straight up and simple. I got a chicken salad wrap with fries, drink, and in-house chocolate chip cookie. I had the cookie while waiting for the sandwich and it was a thick chonk.

Look at the size of those chocolate chunks.

It was a good cookie. A bit too thick for what I’m really looking for, but the chocolate was quality, and the bake was good. I’m in the area with some regularity and I could see myself heading over to grab a cookie as a snack for the ride home again.

The sandwich was exactly what I wanted it to be.

It was a quintessential chicken salad sandwich. No cranberries. No walnuts. My wife loves that, but I just want well-seasoned chicken with mayo and celery, maybe onion. That’s exactly what I got.

And look at how full of chicken the wrap was. So so good. Add in the crunchy water AKA iceberg lettuce, and each bite had a satisfying crunch. Chicken salad, while not a deli meat in construction certainly is in spirit, and is always an underrated gem when I can find good varieties.

The fries? Excellent. I’ve spent plenty of blog space putting over the necessity of quality fries, and this place made a fry that was the perfect compliment for the sandwich.

Lasell University

A small college with just 1,650 undergrads, Lasell opened in 1851 as the Auburndale Female Seminary. It was founded by Edward Lasell, a chemistry professor at Williams College in Western Massachusetts that wanted to invest more personally in women’s education.

His untimely passing soon after the seminary opened brought on a name change a year later to the Lasell Female Seminary.

It would change names multiple times until it began offering four-year degrees and took the name Lasell College in 1989. Male students followed in 1997, and the college became a university in 2019.

The campus is a mix of historic houses used as dorms and admin buildings along with more modern buildings as well.

Dining hall

Academically, Lasell is known for its fashion program which includes three majors: Fashion Communication & Promotion, Fashion Design & Production, and Fashion Retail & Merchandising.

It’s one of the few schools with fashion programs where underclass students can showcase their work at the annual undergrad fashion show.

The Game

The home of Lasell basketball is known simply as the Athletic Center.

You enter from above and descend down to courtside to sit in the bleachers. There is a short running track above the court where you can post up and watch the game as well.

It’s the only college venue I’ve been in that has featured temporary aluminum bleachers to help boost seating. In fact, the majority of the seats here are temporary.

A small wall of plaques commemorates past athletic success for all Lasell sports.

A neat feature was the speaker on the bench side of the room. It was encased in a mesh that was Lasell branded. Never seen that before.

Also up around the track are banners of past successes for basketball and volleyball. Volleyball has an august, regal banner.

Basketball, men and women, has the ignominy of being the only program I’ve ever seen to have their accomplishments immortalized in comic sans.

Woof.

A rarity for D3, the mascot, was there for the game. Now, Lasell is known as the Lasers. Lasell is the only NCAA school known as the Lasers. Irvine Valley College goes by the same nickname but it’s a non-NCAA community college in California.

The mascot, Boomer, graced us with his presence. What exactly does a Laser mascot look like? First, here’s where the Laser name comes from, direct from the Lasell website.

“From our earliest beginnings in the nineteenth century when the lamp of knowledge was emblazoned on our University seal, to the one hundred and fifty years of Torchlight Parades, light has been a part of Lasell’s rich history. It is in this tradition of light, and the pursuit of knowledge and excellence, that our athletes bear the name LASERS. Lasers are by definition a source of intense energy. Therefore, like a laser, our athletes are fast, focused and intense on the fields and courts of athletic endeavor.”

You can read the full explanation here. And now…..here he is.

Thanks for the pose Boomer. Onto the game.

The Lasers were hosting the Trinity Bantams, last year’s NESCAC regular season champions. However, the two-win Lasers were up to the challenge early and gave as good as they got it.

Trinity led by as many as seven in the first, but the Lasers found answers and were led by Juju Nealy. The sophomore led Lasell with eight points in the opening period.

And the Lasers ended it with a flourish and went into the break tied.

The partisan crowd was feeling it after 10 minutes. And they kept feeling it as Lasell maintained the pressure and pushed into the lead. This jumper from Brenna Graber made it 28-27 Lasers.

But the Bantams found their groove as the second quarter continued on and quickly retook the lead.

The Bantams went got some much-needed breathing room before intermission thanks to this three from Tori Varsamis. She finished with 11 points, one of four bantams to score at least that many points.

Trinity went into halftime up 37-32. And the Bantams blew the game to smithereens in the third. A precise, diverse attack overwhelmed the Lasers.

These two buckets by Hannah Marzo helped key a 16-4 quarter for Trinity. Marzo was the only Bantam to score more than two points in the period as they moved the ball effortlessly and turned the Lasers over five times.

Defensively they shut down Lasell and Nealy. Nealy finished with a game-high 14 points but only had four in the second half.

Varsamis put a bow on the proceedings with this three.

Trinity 68, Lasell 51. Final
Player of the Game – Tori Varsamis (Trinity) – 11 points, 3-6 from 3, 2 rebounds, assist, steal, 9 minutes of action.
Time of Game – 1:35:27

And that’s a soft wrap on season 4. Nine stops, all three divisions, and three states. I’ve really grown an affinity for Connecticut this year. There’s a lot to go in the Nutmeg State, and there’s a ton of amazing food. It’s a win/win every time I hop on Route 84 or 395 to go south.

With 41 stops in the can I am now 36% of the way done with whatever this is supposed to be. And I’ll have one or two more before the season once tournament time comes around.

But now, it’s off to fatherhood and laying the first bricks of raising my daughter. She’s not here yet but she’ll be here any day, any hour as of the time of publishing this. I’ve led a charmed life in my first 31 years, and having a kid will be the perfect bow on this chapter of it.

We all live multiple lives. For many around me, I’m simply going to be Claire’s dad, and I’m ok with that. For me, I get to see everything fresh again. I get to experience so many firsts again that I haven’t done in decades. What a wonderful trip it will be.

And, in honor of those temp bleachers at the Athletic Center, here’s one for the road:

THP #40: Nuclear Basketball

December 6, 2022 – New London, Connecticut
Mitchell vs Westfield State
Women’s Basketball

What happens when a conference dies? Where does everything go? Why does it fade away into the ether? Well, that very thing will happen in New England this summer when the New England Collegiate Conference ceases to exist.

And I mean fully disappear. No, this isn’t the Big 8 becoming the Big 12 or Atlantic-10 football “disappearing” but really just rebranding as the CAA. This is like the Southwest Conference: a whole conference competing this year and then simply not the next.

Mitchell, a private school with just 508 students, is my final stop in the NECC. There were only three others. Mitchell is lucky and already has a home locked down for the future: The Great Northeast Athletic Conference.

The Red Barn, an event space on the Mitchell campus.

“It’s been up and down. We’ve tried to not really think about it in terms of our team,” Mitchell women’s basketball coach Courtney Burns said. “Our administration worked really hard to get us in a position to get into the GNAC, and we trusted that they would.”

The GNAC is a perfect fit but hold up Mike: four schools? In a whole league?

Yeah. That’s been the NECC’s existence for the last several years. I’ve been to them all.

That’s it. Burns has seen the league fall apart since taking over in New London back in 2017. That year the Mariners opened the conference slate against Lesley. After that, three of their next five conference opponents no longer exist (Newbury, Southern Vermont, Wheelock) and one stopped sponsoring basketball (Bay Path).

Keep going down the schedule and there’s Becker College, which closed after the 21-22 school year, and there’s Elms & Dean, which are both now in the GNAC. Even before Burns got there, Daniel Webster College shuttered unexpectedly in 2017.

“We had, unfortunately, some of those smaller New England schools that closed down,” Burns said. “You don’t want to worry about having to add another team or be on a probation period this year. You want something that’s stable. You shouldn’t have to worry about your conference closing and competing for an NCAA bid. That should be something you shouldn’t have to worry about as a coach.”

The league had maintained its auto-bid for a probationary period but now that’s up, and the schools needed to find new homes. Mitchell and New England College will join the GNAC together next year.

It’s a great fit, in my opinion. The GNAC is a large conference that will have 15 schools next year, and it’s full of similar colleges to Mitchell and NEC. It’s a league of small, private schools across New England. It’s one of two conferences that have schools in all six New England states.

Some of the dorms at Mitchell.

“Getting into the GNAC helps with recruiting. It’s a more competitive conference,” Burns said. “I think it’ll help, when we win championships, to get a better seed in the NCAA tournament. I think it’s a great move for our program. I think it’s a great move for our school. It gives us, as coaches here at Mitchell, peace of mind because we have a conference and we’ll be able to compete for championships.”

As for the rest of the NECC, it’s not settled. Lesley has found a home in the North Atlantic Conference, which is a league of teams in the North Country of New York and Northern Maine. It’s not a great fit for a small school located basically across the street from Harvard.

And Eastern Nazarene? They don’t have a home yet. And looking at the landscape of New England, if the GNAC doesn’t extend an invite to go to a full 16, I don’t know where they land.

Watching the NECC wither has been sad to watch. Hopefully, ENC finds a place to call home in the future. For now, though, the ball goes on and the games get played.

And before we hit Southeast Connecticut, enjoy a moment with Bella.

Lyman Allyn Art Museum

New London is a lovely city. With a population of just under 28,000, the city has a long, illustrious history with the sea. A former whaling port, New London today is on the rebound after losing much of its manufacturing might in the last century.

On historically Pequot land, New London sits on Long Island Sound and is just a 20-minute drive from the Rhode Island border.

There will be two more stops in the city in the future, and it had been a minute since I’d been to a good art museum so I started the day at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum. Sitting in the shadow of Connecticut College, the museum looked great even against the backdrop of a miserable gray day.

The museum passes the first test for me: making art accessible. I despise how art is framed as this pastime for the rich and elite. With admission ranging from $5-$12 anyone can have an afternoon at the Allen so if you’re in the area make the time to check this place out.

Established in 1926, the Allen features a variety of works with many centered around Connecticut and New England artists.

History of the Museum

One of the first exhibits was one dedicated to artists from the Nutmeg State. While there were many portraits of colonial folk in petticoats and tunics, which you can miss me with, the more modern works of art were excellent. Any museum that has works from the Hudson River School artists gets a big thumbs up from me. And they had blog favorite, Winslow Homer, on display.

Shepherdess by friend of the show Winslow Homer. Painted on a ceramic tile.
Abigail Dolbeare Hinman by Daniel Huntington

This painting has a hell of a story as it tells the tale of Abigail Hinman during the burning of New London in 1781. That’s her staring down Benedict Arnold. I’ll let the museum description tell the rest.

There was the good weird too with the surrealist “The Jugglers Dream of The Trio Begins and Ends” by George Marinko taking up a good chunk of my time. Just so bright and saturated, there are so many ways to take in this work

I really liked Circling Back by Pamela Zagarenski. Such a fun, thoughtful work.

There was a whole exhibition dedicated to Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of Charles Lewis Tiffany of Tiffany & Co. fame, and his, and his studio’s work, in stained glass.

This pair of lamps showed the intricate detail and crafting that went into the pieces released by Tiffany and his studio. The 12 Lily Lamp on the left featured blown glass flower blossoms and a bronze construction. The original piece won the grand prize at the International Exposition of Modern Decorative Art in Turin, Italy in 1902

The Dragonfly Table Lamp, which I love, was designed by Clara Driscoll and won a bronze medal at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition. Driscoll worked with Tiffany Studios on and off for two decades, and this lamp became one of the company’s best-selling forms.

What I loved most about the Lyman Allen was how it didn’t overwhelm. Some of the bigger museums in the region, like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, are just so gigantic that it can be sensory overload to go and try and see as much as you can.

You can lazily see everything in the Allen at your own pace and be in and out in around 90 minutes. I love that. A great way to spend an hour or two in the afternoon. I can’t recommend this museum more highly.

The Good Eats

As darkness descended and game time approached I needed to find something to eat. I needed to recover.

Luckily, on Ocean Avenue, there was The Recovery Room.

A family-style Italian restaurant with a bar, it was warm and familiar.

Known for its pizza I took them up on it and ordered a BBQ chicken pizza. And folks…it may have been the best single pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

Just look at this wonderful, edible journey.

What. A. Pie. This may have been the best pizza I’ve ever had. Yes, I said htat in back-to-back sentences because it was warranted.

What did it was the chicken. It was simply cooked chicken and not breaded and fried. That kept the whole meal lighter and brighter than if it had been fried. Sure, it wasn’t as crunchy, but it was so so good.

Eat here.

The Game

Burns has done a phenomenal job in building the Mariner program. Small enrollment be damned, she’s put together a team that features players from all around the region and even far-flung locales like Seattle and El Paso.

“Last couple of years we’ve really kind of branched out. We tried to cast a really wide net to make us competitive,” Burns said. “Six years ago we cast out that net and had a lot of success in New York that was a start in the change in culture. I think being able to get kids from Texas and Seattle and Maryland allows us to compete in the Northeast where there are some really good basketball programs.”

Burns’ club calls the Yarnall Athletics Center home.

It’s, well, it’s fine. It’s what you’d expect from a small D3.

Trophy case
Banners of past success

One thing that gets a big thumbs up from me was the vending machine downstairs. Yes, there was a small concession table at the gym selling popcorn, candy, and the standard drinks, but I rolled the dice with the machines in the lobby.

And…I got….an AHA seltzer AND peanut butter M&Ms, the best of all the M&Ms. Hell yeah.

Hell yeah.

The gym itself was small and creaked with decades of use. I love rooms like this.

I love gyms that still have these old scoreboards. They’re becoming more and more rare so any time I see one I feel good. Not everything needs to be an LED HD board.

Now this game was radioactive. This was a form of basketball rarely seen, and to interact with it you should wear personal protective equipment lest the glowing shrapnel sticks to your skin.

The ball was tossed in the air, and it was immediately clear that Westfield State was here to break what we think of as modern basketball and turn it into a bubbling geyser of glowing, radiating, radical rock. Don’t believe me? Take a look.

The Owls had one speed: manic. Get back in the halfcourt after your opponent gets a defensive rebound? Nope. Run an offensive set? Nope. Pure, refined mania.

However, even with the mania, the Owls were down 18-10 after a quarter thanks to sharp shooting by the Mariners in their halfcourt offense.

For the vast majority of the game, until deep in the fourth quarter, Westfield would do full five on, five off line changes every 90-150 seconds of game time. This led to 11 Owls playing at least 11 minutes.

When the Mariners were able to breathe and run their offense they were incredibly effective. Yasmine Santos effortlessly cuts to the bucket for two here in the second to open the gap back to seven.

Santos would finish with 21 points on 8-10 shooting and 11 boards.

The Mariners kept giving it to the Owls and not letting the pulsating defense affect them. Amina Wiley goes in here for a strong layup and deserves a spotlight.

Wiley is a program-changing player for the Mariners. The New Rochelle, NY native is the first player in program history to snag 1,000 rebounds and will graduate as the school’s leading female scorer and has a good chance of breaking the men’s record too.

She was NECC rookie of the year in 2019, NECC player of the year last year, and simply does it all for the red & black.

“She just continues to grow every year. She’s a dominant presence inside,” Burns said. “There aren’t many players with her skillset and her size at our level. There’s not a lot of players that can defend her. Even when she’s not scoring she draws so much attention which opens things up for other players. She’s that complete player for us.”

Even with Wiley as a force, Westfield continued to chip away at the lead by the Mariners kept finding answers.

But again, the Owls reached into their bag of suffocating tricks to manufacture points. This time Morgan Berthiaume finishes with a textbook layup.

The chaos wasn’t enough though for the Owls as Mitchell went into the halftime break up five.

The third opened with a bang as the Owls cut the gap to a single possession but Mitchell found answers. Olivia Hadla had a three for Westfield here, part of her game-high 24 points.

I was in awe of the Owls. They kept coming and coming at a breakneck pace. It was a pace I thought they couldn’t maintain but they kept coming in waves.

And late in the third they took the lead. I didn’t even realize it but suddenly they poked a steal and finished the bunny, and the Owls were up six.

But the strength of the Owls defensively was their weakness offensively. There was little rhyme or reason when they had the ball and the Mariners were able to exploit that.

First, it was Santos. Then it was Sam McKenna.

Mitchell had a chance to tie or take the lead heading into the fourth. The ball found McKenna.

McKenna finished with a team-high 23 points.

See those people in the bottom corner jumping for joy? Those are Burns’ parents. You love to see family support.

There was still 10 minutes to play and the Mariners held the slimmest of margins. But they were able to extend the lead. Jermia Dumas finishes a putback to open the gap to four.

The Owls had their one gear and kept up the pressure. Eventually, Hadla would be left open for a corner three and tie it.

Back-to-back layups by Hadla would give Westfield a three-point lead with 90 seconds to go. Who do you call here? Amina Wiley.

She missed the free throw to keep it a one-point Westfield lead. All the Mariners had to do was get a stop.

But Olivia Hadla…

Westfield State 86, Mitchell 82. Final
Player of the Game – Amina Wiley (MC) – 21 points, 22 rebounds, 4 blocks
Time of Game – 1:55:28

What a crazy ballgame. Getting into the numbers shows how weird it truly was.

You just don’t see teams lose when they outshoot opponents 56.1%-38.8%. You don’t see teams lose when they outrebound opponents 51-24. Westfield State made one more field goal than Mitchell (33-32) despite having 28 more attempts (85-57).

What was the difference? It was that nuclear defense. Mitchell turned the ball over 48 times. That’s 1.2 turnovers a minute. It was absolutely bonkers but it worked. The 48 wasn’t even a season high for Westfield. The Owls turned Mount Holyoke over 50 times in November.

That’s the beauty of college basketball. Under the cold, damp New England sky there could be basketball so peerless as to take your breath away.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road.

 

 

 

 

THP #39: KenPom Hell

December 3, 2022 – Worcester, Massachusetts
Holy Cross vs Central Connecticut State
Men’s Basketball

I have no desire to see the best sports. The best sports are boring. I don’t need to see the most talented players or fastest plays.

I want great television. Theater that would make Broadway blush. I want a show.

Modern sports frustrate me with the endless, ruthless quest to be correct. It takes the theatrical spectacle out of it all.

Replay is a pest that does nothing but erase millions of collective minutes from our lives and push the games I love further down the hole of becoming more equation than entertainment event.

Sports are contested by humans and humans mess up. It happens. It sucks when it goes against your team but it happens. It’s the glob of paint on a beautiful canvas. Sure, it’s a wart that sticks out but it makes the whole the whole.

Just because we have the tech to “get everything right” doesn’t mean we should, especially because they don’t even get it right all the time. No one knows what a catch is in football anymore, hockey has gotten marred by plays getting called back by minutes-old offsides, and out-of-bounds plays in this fair sport have gotten down to the microscopic level to see who it went off last.

The spectacle I fell in love with gets punted aside in the misguided quest to optimize everything to hell because of the thought that correct = good. I don’t want everything to be pinpoint correct. I want it to be fun. To be frustrating. To tell a story and make a memory. That’s what sports are to me.

And now here’s your moment with Bella

The Good Eats

Are donuts breakfast or dessert? For that matter, is it correctly spelled as donuts or doughnuts?

No matter your thoughts on the matter, we can all agree that donuts are delicious wonderful treats of heavenly goodness. And man, am I lucky to have high-quality donuts right here in town at Rocco’s.

It’s a tiny shop. It’s really just a small space to stand, a register, a merch shelf, and a large kitchen. There are two other locations in nearby Millbury and Westborough, both of which aren’t much bigger.

The thing with Rocco’s is that when the donuts are gone for the day they’re gone. There’s no second batch coming and no back room keeping them warm. I’ve walked in two hours before close to be told all the donuts are gone.

Today though I was lucky because I was able to get a whole meal in one shot. It was a maple bacon donut for the proper meal (because bacon is meat and meat must mean its a meal) and a classic chocolate frosted to close the show. These donuts are thick and beefy and amazing.

And I got to pull out my milk cup. It’s a cup. Only for milk. Why? I don’t know; life just worked out that way. Maybe because it’s from a minor league baseball giveaway in 1997 so I try not to beat it up too much.

Are donuts baked goods? They’re fried, at least the good ones are, but I’d still consider them within the baked good universe. Cake donuts aren’t donuts. They are wheel-shaped cake. Nothing wrong with being wheel-shaped cake, but fuck outta here with your donut nonsense.

If you’re passing through Central Massachusetts in the morning stop by Rocco’s and get a donut: a really, really good donut.

The Game

It’s got a mouthful of a name: The Hart Center At The Luth Athletic Complex. We’ll just call it the Hart Center, and it is as wide-ranging a building as I’ve seen in New England.

For starters, there’s a statue of basketball legend Bob Cousy illuminated on the walk into the building.

And inside there is every bit of Holy Cross athletics. There’s the pool and the rowing tank and a gym excusively used for volleyball matches. Across from the basketball arena is the hockey rink.

Every team’s offices are in the building as are locker rooms for everything from hoops and hockey to lacrosse and track. Oh, and there’s a full indoor football field within the building too.

When you walk in the lobby is big and bright and welcoming, always a good thing to have.

And the Hart itself is one of my favorite arenas in all of New England. With the ability to cram 4,000 people in it’s not too big, not too small, just right for basketball.

And the Crusaders have a long history of success on the court. It’s one of only 16 schools to have won an NCAA championship and an NIT title. The banners hang proudly on opposite sides of the arena.

Even in the 21st century, Holy Cross has found great success in the sport. Both the men and women have won multiple Patriot League titles since 2000 but only one (men in 2016) since 2007.

The game itself? Well, it was something. The Crusaders played host to Central Connecticut State in a game featuring #350 in the KenPom rankings hosting #340.

Still though, these are D1 athletes, and CCSU showed it early.

It was back and forth early as neither team could get more than five or six ahead. Play was energetic and the vibes were strong from both teams.

Led by eight points from Gerrale Gates, the Crusaders went into halftime up a bucket.

Holy Cross being the Crusaders, the last Crusaders in Division I, means they don’t sell concessions. They sell…..

Back to basketball, and let’s talk about Gates a bit. He’s the star of this Holy Cross team and has had a Quixotic journey through college basketball. The Charlotte native played his first two years at the University of New Orleans where he averaged 8.4 points over 61 games for the Privateers.

He transferred to Worcester going into the 2020-2021 season and has been an awards machine. Third-Team All-Patriot League that year and second-team last season.

He’s well on his way to joining the 1,000-point club for the Crusaders and plays like this help.

The jumper put Holy Cross up four with 13 minutes to play. We’ll see Gerrale more in a bit.

The second half saw the Crusaders maintain a lead but only a slim one. It never got bigger than six as the Blue Devils kept finding answers but couldn’t turn the corner.

Of course, at one point in this game, the KenPom-ness of it all would show itself and show itself it did with this sequence midway through the second half.

Caleb Kenney had just four points for the home team, but this nifty layup extended the lead back to half a dozen and brought the bench to its feet.

But the Devils persevered, and Kellen Amos was the engine. The junior from Houston came to life in the second half, and this big three cut the gap to three with six minutes to play.

The final few minutes of the game were beautiful chaos. Both teams desperately wanted to get that first D1 win and played with an energy above and beyond what I’d expect from early December basketball.

Amos kept upping his play. He had 16 of his 20 points in the second half. This jumper cut the gap to a single point.

But I did say we’d check back in with Gates. And the possession after Amos made that jumper the North Carolinian stepped up and did what top guys do: make big shots.

Gates’ bucket gave the team some breathing room but the game was still up for grabs. In the final 90 seconds though, the Crusaders put it to bed. Kenney capped it with his final points of the game.

Holy Cross 61, Central Connecticut State 55. Final.
Player of the Game – Gerrale Gates: 22 points, 10-17 shooting, 7 rebounds
Time of Game – 1:40:43

This was such a fun time. Both teams brought it hard, and the crowd was deep into the action. And a 100-minute game? Hell yeah.

I love supporting the local teams. Sure, I could make the drive down to UConn, but why? Supporting the local teams makes me feel closer to my home city and part of something bigger than just a hoops game. Sometimes the cool thing is right under your nose and it was for me on a cold Saturday night.

Oh, and the on-court kids game was a delight too.

Not sure what’s better: TV timeout kids basketball contests of little kid hockey on the ice at intermission.

But yeah, up next is the big 4-0, and trust me, it gets weird. Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road.

THP #38: The Heights

November 27, 2022 – Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Boston College vs Rhode Island
Men’s Basketball

I covered my first game 5,603 days ago. I was 17 covering Methuen-Haverhill hockey for the Eagle-Tribune newspaper in Northern Massachusetts. A year earlier I got an internship with the paper answering phones and putting together box scores. I was 16 and living the dream I had had since I was 10 years old.

Now I’m 31 and a whole lot has changed. I’ve covered everything from little league to the NBA. I’ve done countless NCAA tournaments across sports. I was part of a documentary film production. I’ve eaten far too many sub-standard chicken tenders while covering state championship games. It’s been a charmed life.

And I’m no longer pushing for professional success. I’m no longer chasing the dream of becoming the next Cris Fowler, Beth Mowins, or Dan Shulman.

Why? Because as fun as this job is it can be brutally debilitating.

You dream of covering the big games and being in the thick of the action, and I have been. You don’t think about the days when you’re sitting in a Dunkin Donuts in Greenland, New Hampshire chilled to the bone after covering high school football on a raw, cold day filing a story on deadline and thinking “what the fuck am I doing?”

You don’t think about the countless thousands of miles and late nights out away from your girlfriend, away from family, away from the boys covering state soccer playoffs in some town you will never go back to.

There have been games in far-flung towns with names like Penacook and Turners Falls and Weare. All of them I had never been to before. To all of them I will never return.

In an interview after his career, pro wrestler Kevin Nash summed up his business in one perfect sentence: “there’s only two things real in this game: the money and the miles.” And that line has kicked around in my head many times when I’ve been on the road.

I remember intensely covering the winter tournaments for ESPNBoston about a decade ago and I spent, from what I recall, 14 of the first 16 days of March at the Tsongas Center in Lowell covering hockey and basketball playoffs. So many long nights. So many mediocre chicken tenders. I made $1,000 that month freelancing at $50 a game story. That was a long one.

I have loved working in sports, and I will continue to for as long as my services are welcomed by schools across the region. I still have goals. I want to broadcast a game on national television. I’ve done ESPN streaming and regional broadcasts, but I want something my aunt and uncle can watch in Florida and my brother can watch in D.C.

Maybe I’ll get it; maybe I won’t. But I’m happy with where I’m at. I grew so bitter three years ago whenever I went out for an assignment. I had a quick trigger when it came to getting angry at a game for going even a minute longer than I expected. It wasn’t fun. Bitching to my friend Paul, he said something so simple: “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”

It was the kick in the head I needed and I started dramatically pulling back on game assignments. I invested more time into making my broadcasts as entertaining as possible and making The Hoops Project as fun as possible. It’s been far more fulfilling living in the business that way.

I made it. I’ve been in the game for 15 years. Thousands of people come out of school with broadcasting and sportswriting dreams and wind up out of the field four years later due to poor pay, poor job prospects, or a crowded field of applicants. But I made it. I’m still here. I’ve never worked full-time in the business in my life. I’ve always been a freelancer that’s found ways to stay around. From the tens of thousands of miles driven to the thousands of stories filed, I’m still here.

To anyone in a job they dreamed of but now are miserable about, please heed this advice: stop letting dreams of a past you hold the you of today hostage. It’s ok to change your dreams. If anyone gives you shit about it, fuck ‘em.

My dream in sports now is to get that national TV game and keep evolving with this ridiculous blog, but I have bigger dreams.

My dream is to be the best possible dad I can be for my daughter. My dream is to be the dream man my wife married that she deserves every day of the week. My dream is to make the best life I can for myself and enjoy it as much as possible.

And none of that involves a Dunkin Donuts in Greenland, N.H.

But you know what is always a dream? A moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Chestnut Hill is a part of Newton, a large, wealthy suburb that borders Boston to the west. With a large city comes a large variety of restaurants. None I like better than Johnny’s Luncheonette.

Located in the heart of Newton Centre, this retro diner has all the old-timey nostalgia elements and great food to bring it all together.

When you first walk in it’s a lot to take in.

My fraternity brother and I snagged a booth and hunkered in under a blimp? A general flying machine? A sculpture? You decide.

But the menu is a classic Jewish deli all the way down to the description of the matzo ball soup as penicillin with or without a matzo ball.

I got me a bowl of that delicious soup, and it lived up to the hype. Nothing messes up a soup like underseasoning, but this was salted perfectly and stuffed full of noodles and veggies to go with a baseball-sized matzo ball.

For my main it was a deli classic: the turkey club. I’m a simple man that loves a simple sandwich. Done right, it is excellence, and this one was magic.

I’ve said before that meal can be elevated or destroyed by the quality of its french fries. Boy howdy, did the fries send this one to the moon. If you’re in Newton, going to BC, or just craving a Jewish deli you need to stop at Johnny’s.

Just a short walk up the road was Tatte bakery. A higher-end bakery that looked the part and sold a wide range of baked goods.

In my quest to find the best chocolate chip cookie in New England I ordered one, but it wasn’t a regular chocolate chip cookie: it was a halva chocolate chip cookie.

Halva is a traditional West Asian treat made from tahini, sugar, and spices. Added to a traditional chocolate chip cookie it gave a rich depth of flavor I had never experienced before.

This wasn’t a cookie; this was a portal into a new way of thinking. Move aside Fork & Spoon from Bangor and Fratelli’s from Quincy: there is now a new #1 chocolate chip cookie in New England.

The Boston College Campus

Boston College is one of the most well-known schools in Massachusetts. A famous Jesuit institution, the college has 9,500 undergrads and another 5,100 postgrads.

The campus is stunning and headline by Gasson Hall, the first building built on the Chestnut Hill campus. The imposing Gothic structure opened in 1918 and was originally known as the Recreation Building. It was eventually named for the college’s 13th president.

The Burns Library and St. Mary’s Hall also show off the college’s Gothic architecture.

Burns Library
St. Mary’s Hall

However, the modern building on campus also look nice but don’t have the august look and feel of the older structures.

O’Neill Library

The Game

Conte Forum is the home of Boston College hockey, basketball, and volleyball.

Much maligned by fans in the area due to poor sightlines in many parts of the building, I’ve always enjoyed coming to Conte (which is known as Kelley Rink for hockey games) even though I’m only here once every 2-4 years.

The seats toward the ends of the building definitely aren’t conducive to watching basketball in the 8,606-seat arena, but we were able to move around when we wanted thanks to the low turnout.

Underneath it’s about what you’d expect from an arena of this size and caliber. Standard arena food and amenities aplenty.

For lunch I got two pizza/two soda combo to split with my friend Akil. Now, on the board it said $25, which seemed fine by arena standards, but at the register it rang up just $13.

The guy at the counter said that all food purchased before the game is half-priced. There’s no signage saying that in the building, but it is an excellent tip to know. And the pizza was pretty solid.

No, I did not eat all this food in one afternoon. The cookie and meal at Johnny’s were a few weeks prior to the game.

At one end of the arena there is an extensive trophy case dedicated to all things BC sports. National championship trophies for men’s hockey and women’s lacrosse highlight, but every sport has its moment to shine.

I just miss this era of the Big East and really love the logo

Banners aplenty hang from the walls and ceiling of past successes. The national championship hockey banners shine brightest.

The game allowed me to do something I don’t get to do often: over-invest emotionally. I was cheering on my Rhode Island Rams, which I hadn’t seen live in a few years, with new coach Archie Miller.

And it started well.

That was Brayon Freeman taking the long way around for two. We’ll check back with him later.

The first half was a battle of two teams trying to turn a corner programmatically and fighting hard for a local non-conference win. Did the points come? Eh, not really, but it was damn entertaining.

Rhode Island had the chance to hold for the last shot of the first half, and the partisan Rhody crowd wanted the Rams to go into the room with a flourish.

28-28 it would be going into halftime.

If you’ve been to a sporting event you’ve no doubt seen a t-shirt toss promotion where cheerleaders or team staff throw shirts into the crowd.

But here at BC not only do they have the t-shirt toss but they have the…

Yup, they threw wrapped packages of chicken tenders into the crowd. Just when you thought you’d seen everything the world of sports unearths a new gem.

The second half was just as close and just as much of a rock fight as the first. Neither team could break away on either end of the court.

The teams traded buckets. The pressure built. I started making noises of unknown origin when Rhody would score.

With the game tied at 44 with five minutes to go let’s check in and see what Brayon Freeman was up to.

47-44 Rhody.

But there was much left to play for and the Eagles would find answers. It took some time but BC found a way to pull ahead with just over a minute to go on this backdoor bouncer to Devin McGlockton that I did not appreciate.

Under a minute we went and the Eagles led by two. Rhode Island then somehow found a fascinating way to not score a basket.

Ish Leggett would split his free throws to cut the gap to one.

A made BC free throw made it a two-point game and Rhody had a chance to tie or pull ahead.

McGlockton would make his free throws and that was all she wrote from Chestnut Hill.

Boston College 53, Rhode Island 49. Final.
Player Of The Game: Brayon Freeman (URI) – 21 points, 9-20 shooting
Time Of Game: 2:05:35

Tough result but always nice to get to the Heights. My first time here was back in March of ’99. I was two months shy of my eighth birthday and my father and I stupidly trekked through a brutal snowstorm to see our new favorite hockey team, the Merrimack Warriors, play the Eagles.

It also ended badly for us that night, a 7-2 BC win, but ever since then I’ve been back at BC once every 2-4 years. It’s always strange getting back because I can easily mark how much time has passed and how I’ve changed as a person.

Last time I was here was back in February, 2019 for a hoops game against Notre Dame. I was unemployed. That was compounded by the call I got pulling onto campus from a producer at a college in another state asking why I wasn’t at my broadcast. Why they didn’t immediately fire me I’ll never know. Thanks Ben.

Now I got a good job, and far more importantly I have a wonderful wife, great dog, and will soon have a daughter. Time shakes things up and just staying with it matters so much. And now I was back at BC with a new friend and a whole new chapter of life about to begin. Felt good.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road.

 

 

THP #37: A Comprehensive Review Of Leo D. Mahoney Arena

November 20, 2022 – Fairfield, Connecticut
Fairfield vs Michigan
Women’s Basketball

The Leo D. Mahoney Arena is the new on-campus arena at Fairfield University. The quick review is as follows: Leo D. is great.

Is it perfect? No, but the issues are minor and do not take away from enjoying a fine two hours of basketball. However, before we get into it let’s enjoy some steamed hams.

The Good Eats

A week before the game I was down in Connecticut with a friend and knew we had to stop at Ted’s in Meriden. Traveling south to Fairfield, it’s about 40 minutes north of campus but only a brief five-minute detour off Route 91.

And yes, you’re reading that right: the burgers are steamed. There’s nary a grill in sight when you walk into this incredibly tight and cozy eatery.

The custom steamer boxes sit stacked behind the counter. The burgers and cheese are both steamed. Each burger and hunk of cheese sits in its own little tray and steams away.

Jay, the cook, held it down and was a real one. It’s a neighborhood spot at its core and has the familiar feeling even for someone like me who had only been there once before way back in 2008.

As Jay said, the burgers are just big enough to make you think you want a second but having two is too much. You can get them With all sorts of toppings, and the fries complement the beef perfectly.

The steamed cheeseburger is a regional quirk that doesn’t exist outside of a small stretch of Route 91 in south-central Connecticut. I can’t recommend this more highly if you’re passing through. Hell, make a trip out of it.

The Review

The Leo D. Mahoney Arena was built to replace Fairfield’s old Alumni Hall. It sits right in the heart of the campus, which is just a mile off Route 95 in southwest Connecticut.

For years the men’s team played games at Total Mortgage Arena, a 10,000-seat arena in Bridgeport, six miles off campus.

This was just the second game in the building’s history after having been opened just two days prior with a women’s win over Stonehill.

The exterior is beautiful and feels right at home on campus, and it’ll look even better in the future when the landscaping around the plaza fills in.

After walking through the main doors you are immediately on the main concourse overlooking the floor. Everything has an industrial look without feeling cavernous, which I like. You can see the pipes and the underside of the balcony.

There’s ample room to walk around, and you have a 360-view of the court no matter where you are in the building. It’s so damn open. You’re always in the action unlike most other arenas of this caliber where going to get a soda means actively separating yourself from the playing area.

And hey, speaking of soda, let’s see the concessions.

The stands are easy in, easy out. There are three: one in two of the corners on the main level and one on the balcony. They sell a variety of sandwiches, standard arena fair like chips and soda, candy, and even a few bottled alcohol options.

The prices seem pretty fair and standard as far as arena food goes. There was no room for media/staff with a pregame meal, but I did get a voucher for a freebie at the stand and got to try it out.

I went with a chicken caesar wrap with chips and a water, and I added a candy bar.

The sandwich was quite good. For a prepacked meal I figured it would be airport quality, but it was significantly better than that. And those chips, man do I love me a good kettle-cooked chip. I will always hype a place that invests in quality chips like Deep River instead of going with the salty sandpaper that Lays makes.

There are displays at one end showcasing the history of Fairfield basketball and old Alumni Hall.

“The idea of either renovating or replacing Alumni Hall, which has its own history, has been talked about for a long time,” Fairfield athletic director Paul Schlickmann said after the game. “When I arrived they had conceptual plans, and then we just kind of kicked it into high gear not just from a planning and design perspective but from a fundraising perspective.”

Leo D. was built at a cost of $51.5 million and was almost exclusively donor funded, a point of pride for Schlickmann.

One of the things I like most about the building is how much natural light it has. Modern arenas don’t have that, so to see the room splashed all over with natural light was a delight.

With an abundance of natural light, the building feels much bigger in the afternoon and will feel different for night games. It’s two different types of home-court advantage for the Stags.

“Centerbrook Architects was the architect for us. We and they were very big on the glass aspect of it,” Schlickmann said. “It’s just such value added to not just the [exterior] aesthetics of it but inside as well.”

Underneath the seating bowl are the locker rooms and offices galore. No stone was left unturned. The room for watching film is luxurious.

Some quick hits:

There is a small team shop just off to the right side of the entry area. Small, yes, but certainly full of a variety of Fairfield merch.

The center-hung video board is a good one and sized perfectly to the building.

The game production studio is in a room right on the main concourse so you can get a live look at how the game and in-arena entertainment is produced, a true rarity in D1 athletics.

And Lucas the Stag is a cool dude.

I did have two critiques of the building, one bigger than the other.

The smaller one is the cup holders in the front row of the balcony. Every seat in the balcony has a cup holder, which is good. The back rows have a holder discretely placed behind the chairback in front of them.

The cupholders in the front row though are on the arms of the seat. This narrows the seat slightly and can be a bit abrasive if you reset your position in the seat. Again, a very minor issue.

This photo is the best I had showing the difference in cup holders. It also showcases the banners of past Fairfield successes.

The second is more specific and something a bit bigger. There’s almost no space for working media. There was one table tucked between two railings that sat four people and was packed with student writers from the Michigan Daily.

My seat was at the drink rail that surrounds most of the court at the top of the main level just a few feet away from the main media table.

The drink rails

The rails are comfortable, which is great, but I was just sitting there out with the crowd. It wasn’t a problem on this day because this blog is different from traditional reporting, and I was roaming around. But if I was with the Hartford Courant or Connecticut Post or New London Day, and that table is full, what do I do?

Do I just leave my laptop and notes right there where someone who gets a bit too tipsy can easily grab? Where do I plug in my laptop to charge so I can make deadline? There was a media workroom underneath the main arena and it was also quite small.

I hope there’s a plan for when Fairfield hosts a big game or a conference final because otherwise it could become a real problem for the people there covering the game.

Overall, Leo D. rocks. I really can’t say enough nice things about this building. So much thought and care went into the planning and execution, and you see it from the moment you enter the room.

I’ve said for a long time that the best 21st-century arena in New England is the Ryan Center at my alma mater, URI. Leo D. might surpass it or at least make it a 1A, 1B situation. The teams and students at Fairfield are incredibly lucky to call this place home.

The Game

The Stags welcomed the nationally-ranked Wolverines to town in a showcase game, and the hosts came out of the gate hot.

Fairfield didn’t crumble under the moment and led early. Of course, Michigan leaned on their experience to weather the early storm and ended the first with a flourish thanks to Laila Phelia.

That put the Wolverines up five after the first 10 minutes. The Stags kept it close though and wouldn’t let Michigan put their foot down.

This triple from Izabela Nicoletti Leite cut the deficit to two.

Phelia and the Wolverines, though, had answers and plenty of them. She would finish with 17 points.

Michigan pushed the lead back to six in the final minutes of the second quarter and then the Stags came alive.

That three from Lauren Beach made it a one-point game and had the home crowd rocking.

And then the floor fell out.

This bucket from Emily Kiser put Michigan up five.

The Wolverines went into halftime up 34-25. The third quarter was all about quashing any possibility of an upset on a cold Connecticut afternoon.

By the time the third quarter ended it was a 16-point lead for the Wolverines. Fittingly, it was Emily Kiser who put a bow on this one with a textbook layup.

Michigan 69, Fairfield 53. Final.
Player Of The Game – Emily Kiser (UM): 20 points, 5-7 shooting, 3 steals
Time Of Game – 1:53:36

One of the best moments when I was a kid was getting to go onto the field and play games between innings or on the court or rink during a timeout in the game.

I remember being a kid at UMass-Lowell hockey when I was 11 or 12 on the ice cleaning up the foam pucks from the chuck-a-puck promotion in the second intermission. I thought it would be fun to throw the pucks back into the crowd. I was removed from the ice by the assistant athletic director and the crowd booed in support of me. Was a formative experience.

Sure, it’s silly but it meant something. And I hope for the two young girls who got to play the game at the break after the third quarter it’ll be something to remember for years to come. Sports are supposed to be fun, and this left me with a big smile.

Thanks for reading. Go see a game at Leo D. Here’s one for the road.

 

 

 

THP #36: A Little Slice Of Home

November 18, 2022 – Worcester, Massachusetts
WPI vs Tufts
Women’s Basketball

My daughter is coming soon. I need an adult.

But I am the adult. It’s so weird to think that I will soon be the one looked at for advice and guidance and to provide a steady hand in tough times. I’m confident I can handle the challenges as they come. It still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t feel like the adult in the room, and my wife feels the same way.

I still feel like a kid. Every time I get off a work call I do something silly to wash my mouth out of having to be professional. All-hands Zoom meeting at work? No thanks. Babbling at and scratching the dog? Yes, please.

The thing is that I don’t need to sell myself out as a father. I’m still gonna be that guy and I’m going to keep loving being that guy. Will things change as a parent? Yes. Will I change myself fundamentally? No.

Something that’s frustrated me as my wife’s pregnancy has progressed is all the bad attempts at humor/life advice I’ve gotten from older family.

“Oh you think you’re tired now….”

“Just you wait. Once she’s born your life is never your own again.”

“Everything’s going to change and it won’t be like it is now.”

Of course it won’t stay exactly the same. My life is going to be better. I get to live the charmed life I’ve been lucky enough to have so far AND have a kickass daughter to bring into the world too.

All of that shitty advice is all cloaked in this sense of negativity and that hurts to hear. I’m still gonna be here blogging. I’m still going to play Wordle at night with my wife. We’re still going to go apple picking in the fall.

Now I can bring Claire to games with me and show her the New England that I love. And now we can help grow her vocabulary with Wordle. And my wife is going to love helping Claire pick her first apples.

My life is still wholly mine and it will become much richer once my daughter is born. I don’t think parenting is going to be that hard. Try. Show up. Be present. Listen. Don’t lie to your kid. Do those five things and everything else falls into place.

Damn, maybe I am ready to be the adult in the room.

Even with a daughter on the way, there’s always time for a moment with Bella.

The Good Eats

Worcester is an excellent food town. There are so many great places to get a bite and few are better than the Miss Worcester Diner. Located at the intersection of Quinsigamond Ave and Southbridge Street, the diner is an icon of the city and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

The diner shares a lot with an old brick textile mill that opened in the 1870s. Today, the walls of the mill are covered in extensive, beautiful graffiti art.

The vibe of the diner starts with the front door which, like the rest of the place, is covered in stickers.

The stickers are from everything like bands and sports teams and colleges to random brands and trade unions and tourist stickers people have picked up on their travels. Every inch of the interior is covered in stickers including the ceiling.

It’s a tight, cozy place with the grill out in the open for everyone to see. I love places like that.

The wife and I scooted into a booth for breakfast and I went with something completely different: the Polynesian. My wife got an egg combo with french toast because she’s a high-class woman.

The Polynesian was eggs, toast, home fries, but instead of bacon or sausage it was Spam, which I had never had before. Oh, and I added a chocolate chip pancake like I always do, which was big and fluffy and amazing.

But the Polynesian, that was the real stuff.

Spam gets a bad rap. It’s great. It’s a spiced, emulsified ham that has a silky mouth feel and picks up a nice crunch when you sear it on a pan. It perfectly filled in the gaps of my eggs and home fries. The crunchy toast was the cherry on top. If you’re in Worcester, come here.

There’s a reason this is a staple of the city. The food is great and the vibe is even better. Don’t skip Miss Worcester when you come to Central Massachusetts.

Another food icon of Worcester is George’s Coney Island.

This hot dog joint is absolutely beloved around town. When we moved to Worcester multiple people kept telling me that we had to go here. As lovers of hot dogs, the missus and I finally made it.

Hot dogs have been served here since 1929 and inside the history oozes out of the walls.

You can see the line of the left of the photo; it’s always busy here.

One of the signatures of Coney Island is the endless amount of scratch graffiti chiseled into the walls and booths of the restuaurant.

They even sell merch at the counter including postcards and even a book documenting its history.

The main event of course was the hot dogs. I got all of their special dogs: the MRO (mustard, relish, onion), The Works (chili sauce, mustard, onion), and The Garden (MRO toppings plus ketchup).

One ding off the top was the inability order fries, only chips. I love fries with my dogs, but they had Wachusett chips which are local and high quality.

Here’s the thing though: the dogs themselves?

They were flabby steamed dogs that didn’t taste of much. The chili sauce was fine but nothing special. It just made me want to take the drive south to Providence and get some New York System. All the hype I got on this place and for me it was just a really nice neon sign lighting the way to a forgettable meal.

The Game

Worcester Polytechnic Institute was founded in 1865 by tinware manufacturer John Boynton and Ichabod Washburn, owner of the world’s biggest wire mill. Today, The Boynton is a popular watering hole for students just down the road from campus. Washburn also is the namesake of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Their teams are called the Ichabods.

Today, WPI has an undergraduate enrollment just over 4,000 and is one of the country’s preeminent scientific research institutions. U.S. News and World Report ranks it 66th academically in the country.

Athletically, the Engineers play in the plainly, yet charmingly, named New England Women’s And Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC), and basketball is the school’s marquee sport.

Despite being nicknamed the Engineers, the school’s mascot, as seen in the photo atop the piece, is Gompei the Goat. In 1891 the sophomore class stole a goat to use as a mascot. Gompei Kuwada tended to the goat because he was the only student with G.K. initials (same as goat keeper). The modern mascot was named in his honor.

And the home of WPI basketball is Harrington Auditorium.

It’s a beautiful old barn in the heart of campus. Inside it eschews the bells and whistles for a straight-up experience.

The entryway has a nice trophy case and that’s it. No table for snacks. No table to take tickets. Admission is free at WPI.

And the gym is spectacular. If walls could talk the stories they would tell of all the hardwood classics played in the Auditorium since it opened in 1968.

To get the bathroom and I vending machine I had to go underneath the stands and down a hallway through a door. It opened up into an area that overlooked the swimming pool and had a sign pointing you to a place that could only really happen at a place like WPI.

The Game

It was actually a doubleheader on this Friday night. The men opened against Maine-Farmington. The WPI men might be New England’s best chance of winning a national title this year. Preseason #8 in the country, the Engineers never trailed against the Beavers.

Sophomore forward John Adams was the national newcomer of the year last season and a preseason second-team All-American this year. It’s easy to see why.

What’s better than having an All-American on your team? Having two. John Lowther was preseason fourth-team and is just as in control on the inside.

This play by Adams and WPI was just really cool. The men beat Farmington, which had preseason third-team Terion Moss, 67-46.

The women closed the show against #11 ranked Tufts, and the Jumbos came to town anchored by junior preseason second-team All-American Maggie Russell.

But the Engineers went 19-5 last year and were ready for the Jumbos. And early on, it was a tit-for-tat kind of game.

Tufts got the better of it early and took a three-point lead after the first quarter.

But WPI was ready and battled back in the second quarter. The Engineers kept finding answers for the Jumbos.

Melanie Presseau’s bucket in the final minute gave the Engineers a five-point lead at intermission.

The third quarter started and the upset was clearly in the cards. The Engineers forced the issue and played their game at their pace and there was nothing Tufts could do.

This triple from Alice Kelly put the hosts up 11 points.

And the party kept going with Kelly at the center of it. She and the Engineers could do no wrong as the lead ballooned to 16 midway through the third.

And then the national title contenders showed up. Tufts chipped away at the deficit. Sixteen became a dozen because nine became five.

The Jumbos held WPI to just two points the final 5:46 of the third quarter and held the Engineers without a field goal for a stretch of 8:01.

Sarah Crossett cut the gap down to two early in the fourth.

But I did mention Maggie Russell, and she saved the best for last.

That jumper tied the game at 44.

She was immense for the Jumbos in the fourth quarter. She had a dozen points in the final eight minutes of the game and carried Tufts every step of the way. She wanted the ball, and she made moments every time she got it.

Her points kept the Jumbos apace with the Engineers and helped Tufts pull ahead in the final minute. But WPI still had a chance.

And look who got the key rebound. Russell would hit both of her free throws to open a three-point gap for Tufts. All the Jumbos had to do was defend for six seconds to pick up a signature road win.

Tufts 60, WPI 57. Final
Player Of The Game: Maggie Russell (Tufts) – 25 points, 8 rebounds
Time of Game – 1:34:59

The basketball was excellent at Harrington. However, the beating heart, the soul, of WPI basketball is the pep band.

I’ve seen a ton of pep bands over the years. Most are fine. Few are exceptional. The WPI band is either the best or second-best pep band I’ve seen in New England. The only other one that would even be in the conversation would be at Northeastern.

They provide fun color throughout the game and bring the energy and support for the home team, but when the horns go up their star shines the brightest.

A good hockey or basketball game is made infinitely better by a good band, and pep bands are basically non-existent at the D3 level. So to have one of the best here in Worcester is a real treat.

Thanks for reading. I know the pep band brought it in a big way, but I’ll still send you out with one for the road.

THP #35: Shoveltown USA

November 14, 2022 – Easton, Massachusetts
Stonehill vs Buffalo
Women’s Basketball

The day I started writing this post was the same day my wife and I assembled our daughter’s crib.

She’ll be here shortly, could be just a month or so, and I couldn’t be more excited. When we found out my wife was pregnant I very casually said “Wonderful, we’re having a daughter.” How did I know? I didn’t. But I did.

It still doesn’t seem real. We’re both still working and living our lives. I’m still dirtbagging around doing this blog. Bella is still being a lovable pest around the house.

We’ve gotten plenty of bad parenting advice and shitty jokes from older relatives. Our friends with kids have been incredibly supportive, insightful, and help calm the nerves.

You’ll see Bella shortly, but I can’t stress how much having her got me ready to be a dad. Yes, a dog certainly isn’t a baby, but raising a puppy and raising a kid do have many similarities. I call it preseason for parenting.

When we got Bella we had a few weeks of sleepless nights, total confusion, anger, resentment, love, fear, all of the emotions. The first time Bella didn’t follow me into the bathroom after we had had her a few days I sat on the toilet and wept at the relief of having space for myself.

With our daughter coming I hold onto those feelings and memories from a year ago. Each day was a tiny bit easier than the last. Each problem my wife and I got through together. Every event and incident was a learning experience for all of us.

And then all at once, and without realizing it, I was an absolute sap and a mush for this dog and can’t imagine life without her. With our daughter the length of time will be much longer, but I reckon it’ll feel the same. I got through that storm once, and I know I can do it again.

I already love you Claire. Please be good sleeper.

And as promised, here now is a moment with Bella

Stonehill College

Donahue Hall
The Ames Mansion was the first building at the college. It is now known as Donahue Hall, home of Stonehill’s administration offices.

Stonehill is located in Easton, a town of 25,000 people about 25 miles south of Boston. It’s more notable neighbor, Brockton, is a city of 105,000 and was the home of world champion boxers Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Rocky Marciano.

Stonehill is one of just three colleges in Bristol County, and the second stop of the project in the county after UMass-Dartmouth.

Founded in 1948 by the Congregation of Holy Cross, Stonehill is a small school with just 2,500 students. However, it offers a wide suite of 47 majors and 51 minors for the student body.

One of the centerpieces of campus is the MacPhaidin Library. With over 600,000 square feet of space, more space than my local mall, it is the heartbeat of campus and houses more than a quarter million volumes in its walls.

Library

The architectural vibe of the campus is meant to work in synergy with the famous look of Donahue Hall that stands atop the hill overlooking the grounds.

School of Arts and Sciences built in 2018
Donahue Hall from street level.

But the real showpiece for me was in Cushing-Martin Hall. Take a walk up the back stairs and down a long hallway, and it opens up into a brightly lit lobby and this monster of a case is staring at you:

The Oliver Ames Company display for the Centennial Exposition: Philadelphia, 1876.

Welcome to the shovel museum.

Stonehill Shovel Museum

Technically it’s a part of the Stonehill Archives, but that’s not a fun name.

The shovel museum is part of a larger collection dedicated to the Ames family. Remember that mansion atop the hill? That was the home of Frederick Lothrop Ames. He was the great-grandson of Oliver Ames (aka Old Oliver) who founded the Ames Shovel Company.

Frederick’s father, Oliver Ames Jr, was president of Union Pacific Railroad when the company was constructing the first transcontinental railroad in the country.

The Ames family is a dynasty of Easton and has had a hand in much of the town’s growth. Old Oliver’s grandson, also named Oliver Ames, is the namesake of the town’s high school. Another of Old Oliver’s sons, Oakes, was the president of Ames Shovel Company.

Letters and correspondence from many members of the Ames family.

Now everything I learned about shovels I learned from archivist Nicole Casper, who was a delightful tour guide. I dubbed her the Shovel Queen of New England, and, since I know she will read this, I really think that should go on her business cards.

She gave me the whole history of the Ames family and company. Oliver Jr. and Oakes saw the company rise to prominence during the California gold rush and the construction of the Erie Canal. Their shovels were so wanted that they were used as currency.

By the end of the 19th century, 60% of all the world’s shovels were made by the Ames Shovel Company. At its height, the company had a factory in Easton and one in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

I was also lucky enough to get a photo with Oakes himself.

Speaking of Oakes, he was a U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts. But, his work on the transcontinental railroad brought him some acclaim in the Midwest. So much so in one Iowa town that they named it after him. Long story short, Iowa State is a New England school and this project got a lot harder.

Just off the atrium with all the Ames family letters was a forgettable metal door. Behind it though…

Big shovels. Small shovels. Long shovels. Short shovels. Shovel materials. Shovel handles. There were 783 shovels all made by the Ames company from various eras in various styles.

The oldest shovel in the collection was dated from 1774, which would have been made by Old Oliver’s father John in his shop in nearby West Bridgewater.

The oldest shovel.

Nicole said that the shovel does not move. If people want to film it they shoot it where it stands and that’s it.

One of the showpiece shovels was also my favorite because it was designed to harvest one of our planet’s greatest foods: potatoes.

Ames Malleable Iron Potato Scoop

The aisles kept going and going. There were shovels made for pretty much every war in American history. There were shovels under all sorts of different brand names. Those shovels from the beginning of this section? Yeah, those are silver-plated in such a way that they never tarnish. Nicole said they still don’t know the composition of the alloy and why it maintains its shine. The shovels made by Ames were, and are, quality bits of kit.

In 2002, the school looked to change its name from Chieftains to something different. Shovelmakers was an option. I can only dream of what the mascot would have looked like.

There is no room in New England quite like what’s behind that non-descript door.

Sitting in a glass case in the library is the senior class shovel. Nicole explained to me that it’s tradition for the senior class president to pick a shovel that is then displayed all year in the library.

However, there are some rules. The shovel can’t have been chosen already. The shove has to fit in the already-made display case. And, of course, you can’t use the oldest shovel.

This year’s shovel is a regular ole spade with the extremely minor tweak that instead of a handle it has a full pickaxe at the other. Nicole said it’s her favorite shovel.

It’s shovels all the way down at Stonehill. I was even given a gift on my way out: a shovel-shaped pencil.

Thank you so much for the hospitality Nicole. It was a perfectly strange way to spend a Monday afternoon.

And if you’re interested in seeing the shovels yourself it’s totally free, you just need to email Nicole and the archives department to set up a tour.

The Good Eats

Nicole recommended I go to a local pizza shop for dinner. However, it wasn’t open on Mondays which is a fault of the restaurant and nobody else. One day I’ll get there.

Instead I went to Maguire’s, a nearby Irish pub. Inside and out it looked the part.

Now I pride myself on keeping this a positive site. It’s basketball, it’s food, it’s fun. However, sometimes you have a meal that, well…I’ll have someone better than me describe the food.

I mixed it up and got Jimmy A’s Favorite, a thanksgiving sandwich.

A sandwich not worthy of being in focus

The sandwich was alright turkey, cranberry sauce, mayo, and homemade stuffing. I’ve had plenty of stuffing in my day; I’d bet the life of my mother that it was Stove Top in that sandwich. That’s fine, I love Stove Top. I keep it in the house year round. Just don’t tell me you’re serving me something you aren’t.

The fries were fine, the Diet Coke was good, and that was that. We have friends that live a town over; next time we go visit we’ll go to Nicole’s recommended spot. Not like I’ll be coming back here.

The Game

From the outside, Merkert Gymnasium looks like any other academic building, and it kind of is.

Merkert Gym

There were active classes going on when I walked in. I was told by staff that the classes are from a variety of different disciplines.

When you walk in the door you’re greeted by a lobby that’s, well, a lobby. There’s a ticket table, a small stand with snacks, standard stuff.

Merkert lobby

The actual gym is down a set of stairs.

It’s not a big gym, with a capacity of just 1,560. It’s tight and cozy. All of the seats are just purple bleachers. No seats have chairbacks.

On one wall are a slew of banners dedicated to the program’s D2 success in the Northeast-10.

One odd quirk of Merkert is the scoreboard. The colors of the numbers change based on which team is leading, and the color of the time changes based on I’m not sure what.

I’ve probably been to more than 500 basketball games in my life across a few hundred gyms. Never have I seen a scoreboard like this.

The game itself featured the Skyhawks hosting the reigning MAC champions, the Buffalo Bulls. Buckets fell early, but good lord was it anything but easy.

The second quarter in particular was a brutal stretch for both teams. The squads shot a combined 42.1 % during the period and combined for seven turnovers.

The Bulls led for the majority of the first half, but the Skyhawks kept finding answers. They would go into halftime tied at 25.

The Bulls were anchored by fifth-year Zakiyah Winfield. The Pennsylvanian found ways to get it done on both ends of the court. This block helped the Bulls stay ahead.

But even with Winfield doing great things, Maureen Stapleton and the Skyhawks retook the lead midway through the third.

Stonehill found ways to respond. But Buffalo had Zakiyah Winfield.

Winfield was partnered by a great 16-point performance from Jazmine Young off the bench, and Buffalo grew an eight-point lead after three quarters and seemed primed to put the game away.

They didn’t.

That three from Maddie Loder put Stonehill ahead with five minutes to play in the game. The crowd there for the Skyhawks home D1 debut was percolating.

And then finally, after 35 minutes, the Bulls finally made that run. And who got the mojo going? Who do you think?

Sophie Glidden put the Skyhawks back ahead on the next possession, and then Jazmine Young took the long way around.

Then Winfield to extend it to three.

And finally, Hattie Ogden stepped into a three.

Buffalo 62, Stonehill 56. Final.
Player of the Game: Zakiyah Winfield (UB) – 12 pts, 10 rbds, 3 stl, 2 ast, 1 blk
Time of Game: 1:39:43

After the game, I had a chance to talk with Trisha Brown, the 22nd-year head coach of the Skyhawks. Her resume is sterling with more than 400 wins, six Northeast-10 championships, three Sweet 16s, and an Elite Eight appearance in 2018. The move to D1 just kind of happened as it was announced in the spring with very little buildup.

“It was pretty sudden,” Brown said. “When it was announced in the spring we were going right away. They did say they were researching it and were going to put the bid in, but that happened very quickly.”

The one thing she kept going back to was how excited the players were. Having the chance to compete for the school in its first year as a Division I program was a point of pride.

“Our goal right now in terms of the whole season is to continue to get better, but I feel like if we can measure our success by improving then ready to compete when the NEC season comes around,” Brown said.

Brown specifically noted fifth-year players Emily Bramanti and Sophie Glidden, who could have left the program after four years but chose to come back to help guide the Skyhawks into the NEC.

The big goal is to compete and, hopefully, win the league like the Merrimack men, also formerly of the NE-10, did in their first year in the conference in 2020.

“They could have made the decision to not have back,” Brown said. “I love their attitude about it is that this is a historic year, and they’re going to be a part of a historic change in our program. I know we’ll be ok.”

A week after the game against Buffalo the Skyhawks picked up their first D1 victory: a 62-35 win over Hartford. Glidden had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Bramanti had 11 points and tied for the game-high with three assists.

Thanks for taking the time to read. This was definitely one of the more fun stops of the project. If you live somewhere in southern Massachusetts I highly recommend getting over to Easton and catching a game.

And before you go, here’s one for the road…

 

 

 

 

THP #34: On Friendship

November 13, 2022 – Rindge, New Hampshire
Franklin Pierce vs Jefferson
Men’s Basketball

I had never met Scott before we sat down together for lunch on this cold, dreary Sunday. Never seen him. Never heard his voice. Nothing.

We met in the comments section of Defector.com, an oasis of joy on an internet of thundering skies. We went back and forth in a comment thread and decided to meet for lunch and hoops on a Sunday afternoon.

We had a blast. The lunch was in a neat spot and the basketball was great especially in such a small, spartan gym.

I fight hard to maintain my friendships and try to grow new ones. I’m 31. I got a daughter on the way. For many in my position the concrete has set and cured when it comes to finding friends. Sure, there will be some folks that pass through as our daughter gets older but those can be fleeting and hinge a lot on the path our daughter blazes for herself.

I also read about the endless trail of lonely men who feel friendless once they graduate from college and people go their own ways. It’s why I’m so adament about making myself available to people to hopefully find a connection.

It was the reason why I was so excited to meet up with a guy I knew nothing about for basketball. We’re both college basketball people. What’s the worst that happens? He’s a bit dull, we have a fine afternoon, and then we pleasantly go our separate ways.

Instead he was a fascinating dude. A lover of the arts, he played D1 soccer and spent years working for a club in the top flight of Scottish football . He knows German and is close with his two siblings, both in spirit and in geography. His sister was a record-breaking volleyball star at a local D3.

We traded stories of games and museums we’d passed through on our travels. We both bitched about the uncaring wooden bleachers of the gym that made us watch the last 20 minutes of basketball standing in the entryway. We talked about the weird way we’d met through the comments section a sports/culture website.

Connecting with someone new is one of the best feelings. I remember when I felt a connection with my now wife. I remember when I felt the first bond of friendship with the people I invited to our wedding. It’s such a fulfillig feeling and it deserves more appreciation because as we get older it happens fewer and fewer times.

My little Claire might be able to make a friend in school because they both wore blue socks one day, but so many societal and institutional systems make that harder as we get older.

But at least for one rainy afternoon in southwest New Hampshire, I got to make a friend thanks to nothing more than college basketball and wanting to try something new.

Before heading off to Rindge, take a break and enjoy a moment with Bella.

Around Rindge

Rindge is small in all the ways that small towns in New England are small. Its population is around 6,500. There’s no high school in town.

The most southeast town of New Hampshire’s most southwest county borders such charmingly named towns as Fitzwilliam and New Ipswich in the Granite State and Ashburnham & Winchendon in the Commonwealth.

But sitting on Rindge common, on Old US 202, sits the Second Rindge Meeting House. It’s a staple of many small towns in New England to have the colonial-era meetinghouse be the prominent building on the town common. It’s no different here.

Rindge meetinghouse
Second Rindge Meetinghouse

What makes this noteworthy is how un-American the building is. Now that’s certainly a controversial line and it’s true because inside its walls there’s no separation of church and state.

The meetinghouse is home to the Rindge town offices and also a congregtation of the United Church of Christ. Built in 1796 it handled all the duties it does today, but when the state mandated the separation of church and state the folks in charge of the meetinghouse came to a unique decision.

The building would be owned by the town and the church would lease the space it desired. And 202 years later the agreement endures, and the church runs services in a small, cozy room on the second floor.

church room
The sanctuary for the church congregation in Rindge

The meetinghouse was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1979.

The Good Eats

I met Scott about a mile from campus at the Hometown Diner. This could not have looked more the part. If you called Movie Props R Us and asked for a diner set they might just tell you to come here.

Inside it was the good kind of cramped. It was cramped with everyone excited for their eggs and burgers and pancakes.

I went with a classic: a veggie omelet with home fries and wheat. Now the omelet was one of the best I’d ever had. I’m a stickler for balanced portions. Don’t give me a five-egg omelet with a half pound of veggies in it. Have it make sense. And it was done perfectly.

The home fries though? Mid. Just fine. The toast was grilled, which was good, but was soggy and soft, which was not good.

Overall though, it’s a good diner. Scott liked his burger and there’s plenty on the menu that will satisfy.

Franklin Pierce University

DiPietro Library
DiPietro Library

By New England standards, Rindge is pretty remote. It’s 50 minutes from Worcester, 70 from Manchester, and 90 from Springfield. Keene is the closest city and that’s still a 30-minute drive. It’s just a small town on route 202 on the state border. It does have a Wal-Mart though.

The campus, like the town, is quite small. The university enrolls around 1,800 undergrads today as well as just over 600 post-graduate students as well.

The school was founded in 1962 as a college and was named for the 14th president of the United States, the only one to come from New Hampshire. It became a full-fledged university in 2007.

A quirk of campus life is the Franklin Pierce Fire Company. The FPFC is one of the only fully student-run fire companies in the world. It has four student fire officers and works in conjunction with the Rindge Fire Department. It handles every fire-related emergency on the 1,200-acre campus.

Architecturally, the campus is a mishmash of styles of building materials with a few odd little bits on the grounds as well.

The heart of the Franklin Pierce campus
One of the campus dorms
What is this table in the middle of campus? Why is this table in the middle of campus? Cozy in a post-industrial sort of way.

The Game

Athletically, Franklin Pierce shines bright in two sports: soccer and basketball. Women’s soccer won five D2 national championships between 1994-1999, and the men’s team won the title in 2007. Both have won countless Northeast-10 titles and played in dozens of NCAA tournaments.

Sodexo Field sits just off the road behind the baseball diamond. Sodexo is home to FPU soccer, lacrosse, and football.

And the Ravens have found success on the hardwood with both the men’s and women’s teams having made Elite Eights in the past. Last season the men’s team made the Northeast-10 championship game.

Their home gym is simply called The Fieldhouse and it’s, well, a fieldhouse.

The Fieldhouse

In the entryway, there are trophy cases for past successes and there’s a hall of fame room that doubles as a conference room. The lobby is, well it’s there.

The Fieldhouse lobby

The actual arena was either jarringly tiny or lovingly homey depending on your perspective. Regardless, the one side of bleachers sat maybe 800 or so people.

The gym had, without question, the strangest video board I’d ever seen. It was on the front of the scorer’s table and just cycled through a hand full of graphics and promotional ads for the school.

I took one photo of the board, and it encapsulated how wonderful and weird it was.

Modern Art

The game was the back end of a doubleheader. Holy Family defeated AIC 63-60 in an excellent game, and the cross-conference battle between Franklin Pierce and Jefferson started off the same.

It was a staring contest throughout the first half. With a few brief exceptions, neither team was able to get ahead by more than three.

The Rams fed big man Antonin Kemkeng, and the Frenchman ate.

And while Jefferson pounded the paint, the Ravens glided across the floor.

This three from Eric Timko put Jefferson up three with less than two minutes to play in the half.

But it would be the Ravens that would go into halftime with the 31-30 lead thanks to four straight points to end the half from Antonio Chandler including this pair that beat the horn.

And the staring contest continued into the second half as neither team could figure out the other enough to put together a big run.

But then about five minutes into the half cracks began to show for the Rams. And the duo chiseling away was the sophomore backcourt duo of Mohamed Traore and Jarnel Snow-Guzman.

Just like that it was a 48-39 game with 14 minutes to go. Of course, Jefferson would not go quietly into the cold New Hampshire night. Ahmed Barba-Bey hit a long two as the shot clock expired to pull the Rams back to within four.

The game fell into a new rhythm with the Ravens pulling out leads of seven or eight points and the Rams finding ways to get it back down to four. Jefferson couldn’t turn the corner, but the pressure was on.

That was until the bottom fell out and the Ravens pecked a hole in their face.

Snow-Guzman hits a long two to make it an eight-point game.

A Sean Bresnan putback extends the lead to 10.

Snow-Guzman and Sean Trumper run a nifty play that ends with the Brit finishing at the cup. Lead now 12.

And it just kept going. Franklin Pierce had cracked the game and were just having fun on the court. The lead kept growing, and the defense completely shut off the Rams. Jefferson had five points in the last 8:56.

Mo had the last word on this one.

Franklin Pierce 81, Jefferson 60. Final.
Time Of Game: 1:40:54
Player Of The Game: Jarnel Snow-Guzman (FPU) – 17 points, 6-9 shooting, 4 assists

I don’t know what the meaning of life is, although I don’t think there is an intrinsic one. I do what gives my meaning life, and that’s making stories. They don’t need to be pen to paper, but making stories is what makes us who we are, and those tales act as the glue that binds us to ourselves.

This cold Sunday was a story. I met a new person who I now call friend. I went someplace new and returned with memories and stories of good basketball and average toast and a place called Pizza With Attitude that I drove past on the way in. What even is pizza with attitude? Does the cashier kick you in the face after ordering?

Stories are humanity. I’m happy I get to make some here.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road…

 

 

 

 

THP#33: The Neighborhood

November 8, 2022 – West Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford vs Sacred Heart
Men’s Basketball

College athletics is a money loser at all but a few places. In reality, it’s a marketing arm of the college designed to get the school’s name out in the public eye to hopefully bring new students to campus.

So when the University of Hartford announced it was transitioning its sports from Division I down to Division III due to financial reasons it, on paper, made sense. Here was a small private school competing in a league with flagship public universities and barely keeping up, and now they had decided to take their medicine and make the drop.

Except this news came a month after the men’s basketball team had just won its first America East title and played eventual national champion Baylor in the NCAA tournament. So why, now of all times, would Hartford want to do this?

Let’s introduce Hartford president Gregory Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard.

As reports began to rumble about the pending decision to drop the department down in the spring of 2021 there were more questions than answers. However, Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, didn’t have time to answer those questions because he was busy colluding with other higher-ups on campus building a propaganda campaign to get the necessary ducks in a row. All he wanted was to “let me and the spin doctors do the numbers” and make everything happen.

Luckily for Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, he had a board of regents full of people he had nominated so without much second-guessing the Carr report that claimed athletics was losing $13 million a year they approved the drop down to D3.

In reality, athletics at Hartford cost around $3.5 million a year, and the big number only happened due to a “double count error.” Again, the regents could have asked for a second audit from Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, but didn’t. And now, with D3 sports coming, the costs are still slated to be around $2.6 million but without an ESPN conference media deal and opportunities to play in big, nationally-televised tournaments and nice apparel contracts and the like.

Thank god for Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, for having the forethought to drag his school’s name through the shit like this and for what? To be the safety school for arts kids that can’t get into Berklee School of Music?

But let’s talk more about the aloof Greg Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard. Did you know he’s also a liar? Shocker of the century but he lied about his college athletic career.

During a radio interview, Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, said that he was in his high school’s athletic hall of fame and played a year of D1 soccer at Villanova.

He did not, in fact, play D1 soccer at Villanova because there were no divisions at the time he played. Hey, honest mistake. Nova is a prominent D1 program today so we can chalk that up to a vocal misstep.

What about being in the hall of fame at William H. Hall High School?

“There is no Hall athletic hall of fame (nor is there one at Conard), and we have no records of there ever being one,” West Hartford superintendent Tom Moore said. “I’m not sure if there ever was mention of one, but there is nothing for at least 30 years.”

Ouch. Yikes. Sorry Greg, but you’re a liar AND a spineless bastard? Man, if you tried to swing your weight around and intimidate people you felt superior to you’d have a hell of a hat trick.

Oh yeah…right.

Let’s see how that turned out for him at commencement:

 

And for the past two years the Hawks’ athletic programs have drifted listlessly in the wind. This year they are a team without a conference as they are no longer in America East and will play as a D1 independent in all sports before dropping to the Commonwealth Coast Conference. 

The saga seemed to have reached its end until November 7, just a day before the season started, when head men’s basketball coach John Gallagher abruptly resigned. This was the man who had built the hoops program into a league champion and now he was gone. The man who had created what was lovingly known as “The Neighborhood” no longer lived on the block. Why?

Because Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, is also a cheap, uncaring little man.

The team played a scrimmage at Dartmouth and the school didn’t send an athletic trainer. Additionally, the school allegedly denied a credit card application used by the director of basketball operations to buy meals for the team at road games, without an alternative plan.

The safety of the kids didn’t matter. The well-being of the kids didn’t matter. The athletes who represented the school that Woodward, who in my opinion is a spineless bastard, is paid to lead didn’t matter. This is how the Neighborhood dies: with a limp and a grudge.

Greg, when you were a kid was this what you dreamed of being when you grew up? Non-rhetorical question; you can email or tweet me your answer.

That got intense. Let’s chill for a minute and have a moment with Bella.

The Game

The main entrance to the Pvaillion

The Reich Family Pavillion is the center of Hawks’ athletics. The locker rooms, offices, and training facilities are all inside the building that was named for some longtime donors to the program.

The building looks nice from the outside with the high domed roof and inside houses the basketball arena and volleyball gym.

Inside it’s fine. Nothing major of note good or bad. Sometimes that can be an excellent thing.

The spacious lobby is bare bones but functional

The Chase Family Arena, also named for a pair of donors with a long history with the university, opened in 1990 and has been home to Hawks basketball ever since. Sitting 3,507 with a variety of seating options it looks unlike any other gym in New England.

Hartford has a strong basketball tradition, mostly on the women’s side, with the women’s team making multiple NCAA tournaments in the 2000s, with six tournament bids between 2002-2011.

The Hawks pulled off upset wins over Temple in 2006 and Syracuse in 2008

The women’s banners hang proudly over the team benches

The men’s team won the America East title in 2021 in the feel-good story of the year, and that has been the best men’s team the school has produced. But best player? That’s four-time all-star Vin Baker. Baker and former NL MVP Jeff Bagwell are the most prominent athletic alumni to come out of Hartford.

While those are the most prominent, the other banners hanging for the men’s team are for a CIT berth in 2013 and four straight D2 (then called just the College Division) tournament appearances in the 70s.

On the day the Hawks were hosting intra-state rival Sacred Heart which made the hour drive up the interstate for the game.

Early on it was fun and close as the teams stayed within five for much of the first. Neither could muster a run.

Both teams played flowing, free basketball and got up and down in transition. This sequence ends with a layup from Nico Galette to put the Pioneers up a deuce.

Coming out of the timeout Sacred Heart found some good juju and raced out to a seven-point lead and looked on the verge of making that pre-halftime run to put the Hawks down a bit even before intermission.

Enter Briggs McClain.

Poke. Run. Bucket. That was his game from the jump. The junior from West Virginia was the offensive engine for the Hawks with a game-high 24 points.

But even with McClain doing things like that, the Pioneers kept finding ways. Raheem Solomon got some home-rim help, even on the road, in the final minute of the half on this triple to put SHU up seven. The Pioneers led by nine at the break.

The halftime entertainment was the campus dance group Fenomena. I thought it would just be a 30-60 second performance, but the act kept going. And it was excellent.

The second half began with a punch and a kick from Hartford as the Hawks opened the half on a 9-0 run to tie the game. This putback from Pavo Pavlidis squared the game at 44.

From there we fell back into the rhythm of the first half with the game on a knife edge. Sacred Heart got the better of it but couldn’t find a way to break away. Joey Reilly snuck out the backdoor for a layup to put SHU up seven.

But the Hawks kept coming and wouldn’t go away. Even down by seven again Hartford figured out a way to fight back. Down five? Why not get three.

Knock Knock. Guess who? Briggs McClain. One-possession game.

The staring contest was back on. Nip and tuck it went. Hartford stole the lead with 7:45 to go on a pair of free throws from Kurtis Henderson.

Two minutes later the Pioneers had the lead back and were up five. The Hawks huffed and puffed but in the end…

Nico Galette fought through to get the two points to put Sacred Heart back up five in the final minute. He finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, and that layup was enough.

Sacred Heart 77, Hartford 70. Final.
Time Of Game: 1:49:20
Player Of The Game: Briggs McClain – 24 pts, 10-17 shooting, 5 rbds, 3 steals

Even with everything going on with the athletic department, and the horrible president pulling the strings on it all, it was lovely seeing such a large student turnout at the game.

At the end of all this, when the dust settles, there will still be basketball and students supporting their classmates, which is what the heart of college sports should be.

Oh, and here’s a pic with three different Hartford logos. I didn’t know where else it fit. I just thought it was neat.

Thanks for reading. Here’s one for the road:

 

THP #32: Time

March 6, 2022 – Waltham, Massachusetts
Bentley vs Franklin Pierce
Northeast-10 Championship Game
Men’s Basketball

I don’t feel time passing. I don’t think any of us actually do. I know time’s gone by when I can triangulate myself with a point in the past.

I was at Bentley for the final stop of the season and felt the passage of time in a major way.

Looking up at the rafters I saw the 2007 and 2008 Elite Eight banners. I remember being in the gym with my father at those games when I was a teenager. I remember the stifling energy of the room. I remember guys like Jason Westrol stealing the show.

That was 15 years ago. In my head, I don’t realize that 15 years have passed. I’m trying to live my best life today, but seeing those banners brought back the memories and made me take a step back and realize just how much time had gone by since then.

Time is infinite, but college basketball is finite. Players get four years to wear their school colors and then they’re off to the rest of their lives. But the sport keeps plugging along. Each year a new roster. Each year another crack at a championship.

I traverse the roads of New England so I can mark myself in time. Each stop is a moment in my life I can go back to and remember and think about where I am today by looking at yesterday.

Everyone has anchor points in their life. College basketball is one of mine.

The Campus

When I first went to Bentley it was a college, but it 2008 it became a university. Specializing in business disciplines, Bentley is one of the top business schools in the region.

It was founded in Boston in 1917 as a school for accounting and finance, and today is a university with 4,200 undergrads in Waltham, 13 miles west of Boston.

With a fresh snow on the ground, the campus looked lovely. The school is split into upper and lower campus with Beaver Street acting as the separator. Upper Campus, which plays up to its name by being located on a moderately steep hill, houses the academic buildings and the dorms while Lower Campus is home to the athletics facilities. There is also North Campus, a short drive up the road, which is just dorms.

And there was one singular construction motif: brick.

Bentley Library, which is on the school’s official logo.

The Student Center

The Rauch Administration Center

Abutting Beaver Street is the Bentley Arena. Opened in 2018 to house the Falcons Division I hockey team, the arena is one of the greenest sports venues in America.

With a capacity of just under 2,000, and built on land that was formerly just six tennis courts, it makes for a cozy atmosphere for hockey.

Bentley Arena on opening night 2/16/2018 – Credit: Me

The Dana Center

The Dana Center is unlike any other college basketball venue in New England. Home to the basketball and volleyball teams, the Dana Center is also the home to all the offices of the athletic department along with multiple classrooms, weight rooms, and other facilities.

But where it stands out from every other venue in New England across all the divisions is that there’s a damn restaurant in the lobby.

Immediately on your left when you walk in you see a jumbotron hanging over a seating area. The screens play ESPN and other sports channels.

But within is a Currito, a burrito chain with 24 locations in seven states. When I first came to the Dana back in 2007 my mind was blown to smithereens. There were no oversteamed hot dogs and potentially stale bags of lays, there was a real damn restaurant right here.

Back then there was also an A&W burger restaurant but that’s long gone, replaced by a GrubHub pickup station for Currito.

So when in Rome, or Waltham, you have a damn burrito before the basketball game.

I’m more of a bowl guy these days and treated myself to the steak. Currito is far and away my favorite of the fast-casual Mexican chains. Having mix-ins like caramelized onions and cucumbers will instantly make me a fan of you.

It was delicious from start to finish. Add in a chocolate chip cookie, one of the top-three chain cookies with Arby’s and Wendy’s, and you have a damn fine if unusual pregame meal.

Before we jump into the game let’s take a quick break and have a moment with Bella.

The Game

Bentley has long history of athletic success, especially in basketball. That’s evident by a trophy case just for the sport.

The Dana Center is also the first venue to feature a national championship banner for the 2014 women’s team that went 35-0 and won all but three games by double figures.

With a max capacity of 3,920, the Dana Center is the largest lower division venue in New England by max capacity.

It also features a center-hung scoreboard which makes it feel just a little more big-time than a standard gymnasium.

And it was a big game with the Northeast-10 title on the line. For Bentley, it was a chance to win an 11th conference title. For Franklin Pierce, it was a chance to win its first.

The host Falcons got the better of it early, jumping to an 11-4 lead four minutes into the game.

Eventually, the Ravens found a way to plug the leak and cut the gap to three four minutes later.

The game then fell into a pattern of the Falcons finding ways to stay ahead while the Ravens gave chase. Bentley couldn’t break away Franklin Pierce found ways to make key shots.

This three from Max Zegarowski made it a five-point game late in the half.

Mohamed Traore cut it to three just seconds later thanks to a steal and a dime from Isaiah Moore.

Isaiah Moore, only a junior, is one of the top players in all of Division II. He is sixth nationally with 23 points a game and 18th in the country with 5.4 assists a game. He’ll finish this one with 20 points.

But Bentley kept finding ways to respond and went into halftime up 40-34 thanks to 10 points each from Jordan Mello-Klein and Colton Lawrence.

Out of halftime the script flipped. Franklin Pierce came out and smacked the Falcons hard for six minutes. When Isaiah Moore flashed by his defender for this layup the Ravens led by four.

And so a rock fight ensued. Gritty, intense basketball. Bentley retook the lead but the Ravens went shot for shot with the home team. It was thrilling.

Bentley opened up a six-point lead. Franklin Pierce stayed with them.

Down the stretch the game grew more claustrophobic. There was no floor artistry. It was all about brute force trying to put the ball in the bucket. Pete Blust punched the ball in to put the Falcons up eight with three minutes to play in a play emblematic of how difficult the game had been.

But then Moore hit a three to cut the gap to five to set up the final two minutes with a conference title on the line.

 

Mello-Klein hit his free throws to put a bow on a win and a conference title.

Bentley 68, Franklin Pierce 62. Final
Player of The Game: Jordan Mello-Klein – 23 points, seven rebounds
Time of Game: 1:30:31

Before the game started I saw a guy walking across the court and could have sworn I knew him. Watching him find his seat I realized I did know him.

I walked on up to where he was sitting. It was the first time I’d seen Don and Al in a couple of years. Ever since I was a young kid I’d been seeing these two at games. They’re constants in an ever-changing world.

When I was younger going to games with my father, Don and Al were always there but we never talked with them. Eventually, probably 10 or 12 years ago we introduced ourselves and have been friendly ever since.

Time goes by but Don and Al stay the same. Both are from the North Shore. Maybe Beverly. Maybe Marblehead. I don’t remember. I don’t know their last names and we have never exchanged phone numbers. We only ever talk when our paths cross on the road.

Don’s a self-important asshole, and I say that with love. Always wearing a Frozen Four hat and a black and gray and blue knockoff starter jacket he probably bought before I was alive, Don always has “very important opinions” about everything from the pros to the refs to every minute aspect of the games.

Al is much more my speed. A gentle, kind man who just wants to enjoy a night out at the gym or the rink with friends. He always make sure to tell me that the Chicago Bears, my father’s favorite team, are terrible. That never fails to get a smile out of me. It’s a small inside joke that remains after all these years.

I’ve run into these guys in New Hampshire at the NCAA hockey tournament, college basketball all across eastern Massachusetts, the Beanpot, and high school hockey.

My relationship with Don and Al is the most freeing relationship I have with any people I know. It’s eternal and never changing. We bump into each out at a game, chat sports and enjoy the show for a few hours, and then we go our separate ways with no expecations. Maybe we see each other a week later, maybe it’s four years later.

Whenever I see them I can forget that time has passed for those few hours. I’m a teenager again talking sports with some local townies who enjoy the game the same way I do. I hope everyone has a relationship like that in their life.

And that brings an end to season three of The Hoops Project. Ten games, four states, three divisions. It was a fun, chaotic season. A lot happened since I walked into Bryant back in October, and I’m grateful to have been able to document the journey along the way.

If you’ve read any of these pieces, thank you. This project is a deep passion of mine, and I love sharing the sport I love and the region I love.

I’m already got plans for season four and it includes a whole lot of miles and a whole lot of weird. I hope you’re around to share the journey with me.

And with that, one last time this year, here’s one for the road…