BROCKTON ─ When the Monomoy boys basketball team stepped onto the court in Brockton for their Div. 4 South final game against Cathedral, they knew they’d be in for a tough battle. Though the Panthers cruised to a 100-44 victory, the Sharks took it in stride, knowing they’d already made history.
The moment Monomoy reached the finals, not only had they become the only Cape team to make it that far in tournament play, they also became the first boys basketball team in school history to reach the finals, much to the quiet delight of head coach Keith Arnold.
“The game on Friday, I felt in hindsight, was actually a culmination I think of the season,” Arnold said. “We talked early in the season about who were we, how do we get there. We ended up in an environment, at a venue that these kids will never forget. To go against a team like that, that talent, and to try and compete with them, they’ll never forget that.”
Though Monomoy certainly came out fighting, it was clear early on that Cathedral had the upper hand as the Div. 4 team brought some seriously Div. 1 play to the game, taking a 25-8 lead after one, and a 49-19 edge at the half.
“They played well,” said Arnold. “The way they moved that ball and hit those perimeter shots was just something else.”
But that doesn’t mean Monomoy threw in the proverbial towel. Although Cathedral had control over the game, the Sharks remained determined, battling for every shot and each point.
Isaiah Stafford led the way with 22 points overall, including a beautiful buzzer-beating three-pointer sunk in the final second of the third quarter, which set his teammates cheering.
Chris Mazulis had eight overall, followed by Nick Meehan with five, Sam Reed with four, and Christian Blakely and Tommy Graham with two each.
Fueling the team was a huge gathering of fans, many of whom had made the trip on fan buses organized by Monomoy teachers. Clad in red, white and blue attire, they shook the rafters in the Brockton High gym with their cheers.
“The kids coming up on the fan buses was incredible,” said Arnold.
The team was also treated to a police and fire escort courtesy of Harwich Police and Fire personnel upon arriving in Harwich after the game.
When the season first started with Arnold at the helm, the new head coach said he had no idea what his team was capable of.
“Any coach that comes in at the high school level, you just don’t know where you’re headed,” he said. “The goals were to get better every day, to get better every game. It wasn’t all ice cream and candy. There was a lot of work going on. It took them a while to understand the way we were doing things. They weren’t used to the way I was coaching. Then it started to take hold.”
Arnold said when his team defeated Nantucket at Nantucket, that provided a huge boost.
“When we went to Nantucket it was a long day,” Arnold said. “I still don’t think the kids understood where we were. That game there, on a Saturday, and then to beat them again on Tuesday at home, once that occurred a light went on and these kids went, ‘Whoa. This is pretty good.’ They gained confidence and started to play a little bit differently.”
As the regular season neared its end, Monomoy’s momentum picked up and the team posted wins against Sturgis East, St. John Paul II, and, as mentioned, Nantucket. An air of determination infused the team.
“That’s another thing I think these kids came a long way from,” said Arnold. “Winning helps, but the longer we got into it, winning some close games, they started to feel that anything was possible.”
Their team chemistry also became more apparent, and that, along with some of their best game play of the season, carried them through a first-round victory against East, a quarterfinal win against Southeastern Regional, and a semifinal defeat of Old Colony to reach the finals.
Arnold feels that the experience, even for the team’s seniors, will prove lasting.
“We went out there, like we did for most of the year, fighting and clawing and scratching, and they never quit,” Arnold said. “That press. You’ve got to be on the court to experience what the press is like. [Cathedral is] very good at it.”
When it was clear that Cathedral had the game wrapped up, Arnold seized the chance to put in players that will shape the future of Monomoy boys hoops, including Graham, Jason Masiello, Blakely, Riley Varner, Claude Butter, Chevar Shakespeare, and Chris Hall, along with the familiar faces of Kyle Charlot, Mazulis, Eli Nickerson, Jake Wisniewski, Reed, Meehan, and senior Ryan Lacerra.
Arnold gave high praise to his entire team.
“I always told them, ‘Go with your strengths, stay away from your weaknesses.’” He said. “It’s the end of the season and every single one of them, from 1-15, was an integral part of it. The kids who didn’t play much were an integral part because of what they bring to practice. I just think that every single one of them deserves a shoutout because they stayed with it, they hung tough.”
Arnold also recognized the immense impact of his fellow coaches.
“[I want to] mention freshmen team coach Jon Bennett, and Dan Taylor (JV) for the work they put in working with their teams. Special recognition to Dan. As a varsity assistant he attended 95 percent of all varsity practices, as well as all of his JV practices. He scouted almost all teams in the Div. 4 tournament. His knowledge, commitment and passion for the game is unmatched. If this was a college team he would have title of associate head coach.”
For the overall program, the stellar season was a shot in the arm.
“I think it’s something we can build on,” said Arnold. “Let me use a line that I used during my interview – I believe the resources at MRHS, the potential of MRHS is there. Now it’s a matter of giving it a different direction. I think that kind of says it. That’s what we did.”
Arnold is already looking toward the future, and is glad his 2016-2017 team has something to look back on.
- “I think they’re proud of exactly what took place in the past three months,” he said. “That’s something nobody will ever take from them.”