Basketballs thumping the floor. Hockey pucks clanging off the dasher boards. It can only mean one thing -- winter sports are back.
With that being said, half of the coaches who we had come to respect in the area are no longer on the sidelines. Let's start with Bromfield, which will have both a new boys and a new girls basketball head coach this season.
Legendary and most victorious hoops coach in school history, Tom Hill found out during the fall that his contract as boys basketball coach would not be renewed. While the back story behind the school's decision is unknown, the reality is the Trojans program now belongs to Ryan Kilian. Kilian is a school teacher from Concord who has worked as a sportswriter covering the high school preps scene for ESPN Boston.
For the last three seasons, Kilian has coached at Concord Academy and welcomes the challenge of coaching at the Div. 3 public school level. Kilian looks to bring an up-tempo style of basketball to the Trojans this season. It will be interesting to see what other changes Kilian will install in his first-year as head coach.
Last year, Bromfield finished its season with a 6-14 overall mark and 4-8 in the Mid-Wach D League.
Staying in Harvard, the girls basketball team at Bromfield will have a new face commanding its sidelines this season. Mike Davidson, a long-time local AAU coach and North Middlesex assistant to head coach Pat Murphy, netted his first head coaching job after the departure of Mike Dube, who took the head coaching job at West Boylston. Davidson inherits an overall successful Lady Trojans club that won back-to-back Mid-Wach D League Titles under Dube. However, with the exit of leading scorers Montana Burke and Casey Magrath, who really knows what the new season will have in store for Bromfield. It could be a rebuilding year, but nevertheless, Davidson is ready for the challenge.
Just around the rotary at Ayer Shirley High School both the boys and girls basketball programs are looking to build on playoff appearances last season. The boys, coached by Justin Carlson, fell in the opening round of the Div. 3 playoffs at Quaboag.
The big question heading into the winter for Carlson is how he is going to fill the permanent void of losing his leading scorer, Tyler Gaetz, to graduation. Well, it won't be with point guard Zak Walker. At least not for the first two weeks of the season. The six-foot-two senior is currently nursing a knee injury he suffered in the Panthers' loss at Narragansett.
For the Lady Panthers , Pete Page looks to build on his team's playoff appearance last season.
The Lady Panthers return their leading scorer in senior Gabby Hebert who averaged around 12 points per game last season. After defeating Nashoba Valley Tech in the opening round, Ayer Shirley fell big at Quaboag to conclude its season at 12-12.
Both of the North Middlesex basketball teams missed out on the postseason last year -- but, not by much. Long-time girls basketball head coach Peter Murphy led his team to a 10-11 record, but a loss to Oakmont on the final day of the regular season all but shattered the Lady Patriots' hopes at a playoff berth.
North Middlesex returns its leading scorer and rebounder in senior Mackensey Farina. Farina creates a mismatch down in the post with her back-to-the-basket skills and toughness.
For the North Middlesex boys, head coach Erik Dellasanta graduated a pair of his key contributors in Francis Philips and Ryan DeLuca. However, look for five-foot-10 senior Tyler Thomas to shoulder the brunt of the Patriots points in the 2013-14 season. Thomas is coming off a Mid-Wach A All-Star game appearance where he scored 10 points.
There is a new boys basketball head coach at Groton-Dunstable and his name is Greg Gillette. Gillette is a graduate of Groton-Dunstable and has worked with the JV and freshman hoops programs in previous seasons for the Crusaders. Gillette takes over after long-time head coach Keith Woods announced his retirement at the end of last season. The Crusaders went 5-16 under Woods in his final year, but in 2013, Groton-Dunstable will look to sophomore Corey Romich for his rebounding and scoring prowess.
Lady Crusaders head basketball coach Mark Hennelly enters the 2013-2014 season with a puzzling predicament -- how does he replace Rachel McCarron who netted over 1,000 points in her career. Look for Lindsey Werner to pick up the slack for Groton-Dunstable with her speed and dribbling skills in the open floor. Werner was a junior captain for the girls soccer team this fall, and there is no question she is an exceptional athlete.
Let's switch over to the hockey rink. North Middlesex qualified for the playoffs with a 0-0 tie against Oakmont on the final day of the season. What the Patriots will do under Mike McCarthy in his second-year at the helm is unknown, but North Middlesex fans can only hope that they continue to trend on an upswing.
Groton-Dunstable enjoyed a magical first-year under head coach Phil Rowley who helped lead the Crusaders to a 16-2-4 finish in the Roy Conference.
The Crusaders won the Roy Conference and advanced to the Div. 3 Central Mass Finals, where it fell to Wachusett. Groton-Dunstable will be young, but there is no question that the Crusaders will be a resilient bunch like they have notoriously been.
Get your hand-warmers ready, the winter sports season is upon us. Best of luck to all the local teams as they prepare for another fun-filled sports season.