Is there a better moment for a high school hockey player in Massachusetts than stepping on the ice at TD Garden on the final day of the winter high school sports season? That means you are playing for a state championship.
Or lacing up the sneakers the day before on the James Naismith Court at Springfield College, the birthplace of basketball? Taking the bus to the Reggie for All-State track championships? St. John’s Prep for the wrestling finals? BU for swimming? Shrewsbury for gymnastic? Berkshire East to hit the slopes?
But before the championship games and meets, there is the journey, one that this winter measured 111 days from the first day of practice on Nov. 29 till March 18, when the Waltham boys’ hockey team skated off the Garden ice with its first Division 1 trophy in 16 years. There was sweat and pain, cheers and tears, challenges and conquests, and unbridled joy and heartbreak — compelling storylines emerging every day.
Here are 10 that made us take notice.
1. In Stoneham, sadness and a salute of sportsmanship
This was a season like no other for the Stoneham High boys’ hockey program. There was heartache, perseverance, and yes, triumph, even in defeat. The first week of practice, 16-year-old James Luti died after battling anxiety. He loved hockey. His teammates dedicated their season to the junior. But as the Spartans surged to their first state final, there was pause. “Emotionally, it’s hard getting ready for these games,” acknowledged head coach Paul Sacco. “You find yourself in tears for what these kids have gone through.” In a tremendous up-and-down the ice Division 2 state final at TD Garden — colored by those seated in the Stoneham section donning white “Luti 11” t-shirts, the Spartans were denied in overtime by Plymouth South, 4-3. Postgame, South coach Mike McCosh presented the game puck to Stoneham’s captains, asking that it be given to Luti’s parents, John and Maria. McCosh knows heartache. His own brother died at 18. “That’s one of the reasons why I said I wanted to get into coaching, I wanted to help kids — not necessarily win the hockey games but I wanted to help kids . . . I just wanted to give them the game puck to give to that family — because I know the feeling,” Sacco said from the other locker room. “It’s just deeper than a hockey game.”
2. His 49-point performance in D4 final was heavenly
In a transitional season for the Pope John XXIII basketball program, Angel Price-Espada was transcendent when it mattered most. The junior guard delivered a performance for the ages, pouring in 49 points — draining 10 of his 16 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc — in propelling the Tigers past defending champion Maynard, 89-57, for the Division 4 state title. Price-Espada, along with senior captain Michael Thompson and coach Leo Boucher, made the move from St. Clement when the school closed last June. Together, they were instrumental in a 24-1 season and the program’s first championship. In the finale, Price-Espada produced a 23-point second quarter that was showstopping. “I don’t normally sit down as a coach. That quarter, I sat down and watched,” said Boucher. “In all my  years of coaching I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance like it.”
3. A kick save and a beauty, times 52, for Masco goalie
Shot after shot, and save after save, Molly Elmore would not give in. “She said ‘we are not losing this game,’” recalled Abby Gendron, her teammate on the Masconomet Regional co-op girls’ hockey team. By the end of the night at O’Brien Rink in Woburn, the confident sophomore from Newburyport had made a staggering 52 stops for a riveting 1-0 double-overtime Division 1 quarterfinal victory over top-seeded and previously unbeaten Shrewsbury High. Time after time, she denied the Colonials — and Providence College-bound juniorsniper Delaney Couture (42 goals) — with breathtaking saves. Shrewsbury outshot Masco, 52-17. But the 5-foot-5 Elmore stood tall on her skates. In the 3-on-3 double OT, sprawled out on the ice, Elmore denied Couture twice in the crease before Gendron netted the winner in transition with 59 seconds left. “Molly saved us,” said Masco coach Ryan Sugar.
4. Oosting keeps running right into record book
Suddenly, Ryan Oosting is the fastest high school 2-miler in the country. How? Because the Arlington High junior approaches every race with the determination, focus, and confidence of someone who has the mind-set of a champion. Every challenge pushes the 6-foot-1-inch, 155-pound Oosting to run faster. At the MIAA All-State meet in late February, he cruised to a four-second victory with a best-in-the-nation clocking of 9:08.34. An hour earlier, he had won the mile in 4:12.75. A week later at the New England Championships, also at the Reggie Lewis Center, Oosting — determined to break nine minutes —
5. No stopping Sampson and surging Foxborough girls
For a high school senior, your last game is inevitable. Ashley Sampson just didn’t want her finale in a Foxborough High basketball uniform to be at Woburn High, in the Division 2 state semifinals, on the second Wednesday in March. Neither did her Warrior teammates. After Foxborough stormed back from a 34-14 deficit to force overtime — courtesy of Sampson’s slice along the baseline with 2.6 seconds left in regulation — the 5-foot-10-inch Adelphi-bound guard poured in 14 of her team’s 15 points in the five-minute extra session for a stunning 58-54 victory over Pentucket. She netted all of her game-high 22 points after halftime. “She played like the [Hockomock] MVP that she is,” said Foxborough coach Lisa Downs. And in her finale, the Division 2 state final against Hopkinton, Sampson (15 points) was again the driving force as the Warriors charged back from a 27-17 deficit for a 49-41 victory, capping a 24-1 season with the program’s first state title since 1995.
6. In Super 8 final, BC High soared with the seniors
In the final minute of the season, and his BC High hockey squad in full desperation mode in the Super 8 final, John Flaherty turned to his nine-player senior class. The eight-year coach put five on the TD Garden ice, along with an extra attacker, junior Tommy Kramer, with the Eagles trailing Pope Francis, 1-0, in the Super 8 final. Milton’s Joe Dragon connected with 50.2 seconds remaining in regulation, with classmates Michael Grant and Owen Callow assisting. Then, with 1:30 left in OT, another senior, Maverick Woods of Abington, finished off a feed from classmate Timmy Kelly for the 2-1 win, and the program’s first state championship since 2007, the capper to a 19-4-1 season after a 1-3-1 start. “We had a great mix of senior leadership along with good, talented younger guys,” said Flaherty (BC High, ‘88), who called Woods “the kind of kid that you want to build a program around. He does all the little things essential for a good hockey team.”
7. Duxbury girls pooled together for greatness
Their final swim, when they teamed up for a state record-setting performance in the 200-yard medley relay at the Division 2 state championships in mid-February, came at Boston University. But in the Duxbury pool, seniors Grace Ali, Mary Buckley, and Anna Jamieson, along with sophomore Julia Ali, did more. They created a legacy beyond earning All-American status, the program’s first in 20 years. Or setting 11 school records. Or for the first three, propelling the Dragons to four straight sectional crowns and back-to-back D2 state championships. Their impact can be measured in what they created, inspiring a program-high 80 girls on the roster this winter. “They raised the bar so that now, amongst the town, they know how great [they] were,” said Duxbury AD Thom Holdgate. “Everyone could have been intimidated by them, but instead they created this great atmosphere.”
8. On the mat, 132-pound finale had all on the edge
Ramazan Attasauov and Ryan Garlitz seemingly were on a collision course on the wrestling mat all season, the Wayland High senior and the St. John’s Prep junior destined to clash in the 132-pound final. Attasauov won Division 3 Central and state titles. Garlitz took Division 1 North and state crowns. In the all-state final at St. John’s Prep in late February, Garlitz found himself scrambling for a miracle, trailing, 3-2, with less than 10 seconds left in the match. But his Hail Mary came a second too late. Garlitz appeared to have earned a last-second takedown on the edge of the mat as the final whistle blew. But officials ruled that Attasauov held on just long enough to deal Garlitz his first loss of the season, and pin down his second All-State title. The following weekend, the pair went 2-3 at New Englands, Attasauov running his record to 52-2 (105-5 for his career) and Garlitz to 59-2. A pair of winners.
9. Seeking snow, MIAA went west to Berkshire East
From Boston, Charlemont is roughly a two-hour, 45-minute trek out Route 2 West. And on back-to-back Tuesdays in late February/early March — when snow was scarce in Eastern Mass. — family-run Berkshire East served as a welcoming host for the MIAA Nordic and Alpine state meets. And mild temps did not diminish any title runs on the slopes. Less than 24 hours removed from a return trip from Alaska to compete in the junior nationals, Henry Johnstone powered the Concord-Carlisle boys to the Nordic title. And Lincoln-Sudbury sophomore Laura Appleby capped a tremendous season with a dominant performance. First-year coach Audrie Knight guided the Hingham girls to their first Alpine crown, with Weston’s Stella Alphas and Masconomet’s Faith Stanton soaring individually. Andover High junior Jason Denoncourt ruled the boys’ GS and slalom and the Marblehead boys went back-to-back for the team championship. The MIAA should consider moving both finals into the heart of February. If not, Berkshire East is open for business (including this weekend).
10. On road to a D2 repeat, Wayland swam past Prep
Under the direction of Mike Foley and buoyed by the powerful strokes of broad-shouldered senior Sean Devlin, the Wayland boys’ swim team is the two-time Division 2 state champion. But on the second Sunday in February, at MIT’s Zesiger Pool, the Warriors achieved a first by ending St. John’s Prep’s 12-year reign as North sectional champion. Twice, Prep held a 0.5 lead in the meet. But Wayland pulled out a riveting 350.5-307 win, headlined by first-place finishes from Devlin (50 freestyle) and classmate Asa Greenaway (100 breaststroke). A sixth-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay locked up the crown. “My guys have had such a focus all season long,” said Foley. “The highest we’d ever been was third. It was going to have to be a huge meet from us. St. John’s doesn’t just let anyone walk in here. They pushed us and made us better.”Craig Larson can be reached at craig.l[email protected]