EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 28, 2013

Earthquakes and aftershocks:

Four job openings will shake up region's basketball scene

High School Basketball
Hector Longo

---- — The entire high school basketball domain in the region watches.

And everyone has their opinions.

But with four of the premier high school heading coaching jobs in the state now open, all in this neck of the woods, tremors will certainly shake through our region’s hardwood over the next few months.

“On the boys side alone, you look at the landscape and St. John’s Prep is clearly one of the top three private school jobs, and North Andover has to be considered top five in the publics, maybe even better,” said Central Catholic coach Rick Nault.

As tough/interesting as it will be to replace Sean Connolly at the Prep and Mike McVeigh at North Andover, the girls side might even be more intriguing.

Both Jim Tildsley at Andover and Kim Penney at Reading High built dynasties.

“Talk about having tough shoes to fill,” said Central’s Sue Downer. “Can you imagine coming into Andover and following Jim Tildsley?”

All four jobs will attract top applicants when opened.

Some hoop experts estimate nearly 50 viable candidates throwing their hats in the ring for each position.

“If I was a young coach, looking for a great place to land for the next 15 or 20 years, both are great spots,” said Nault of the boys openings. “They’ll get some of the top coaches in the state, people who are established, guys who’ve won a lot of games, guys who won championships, to step up and try and land of these two spots.”

At North Andover High, Mike McVeigh oozed class and competitiveness. For 30 straight years, the road to the Cape Ann League championship went through Turkey Town.

McVeigh and his 2013 club kicked down the door to the Merrimack Valley Conference this winter, sharing the large division title with Central Catholic in their first year of competition.

Yes, the Knights will ultimately struggle for a year or two as the talent pool re-stocks. But after that? The youth ranks are loaded on the travel level, though.

The competition in the MVC, plus a top caliber head coach, might keep the likes of Chris Bardwell (who returned this year as a senior), Drex Costello, Tyler Dooley, Max Burt and Max Butterbrodt from leaving town as they did in part because of the CAL in the past.

Connolly’s five-year run at the Prep has to be considered nothing short of legendary. He took a consummate middle-of-the-pack type in D1 North team and turned the Eagles into a heavyweight slugger of Tyson-esque, one that regularly traded blows with the resident beast of the East, Central Catholic, and lived to talk about it.

With Butterbrodt, Burt and Atkinson’s Ben Judson back in the fold and the plan in place, the program should stay right where it is under the proper leadership.

Keeping athletes home has never been a problem for Andover or Reading, which will be sliding up to Division 1 to slug it out come tourney time with the likes of Andover and state champion Central.

Under Kim Penney, the Rocket girls have ripped through five straight Middlesex League championships and a 2012 state title. Andover’s Tildsley Era had to be considered dynastic with its eight Div. 1 North sectional titles, seven EMass titles and four state titles.

“In both cases, you need a coach who can motivate kids,” said Downer.

“With that said, you need players. Andover has had a tremendous run. Reading had (Richmond-bound Olivia) Healey. That combination of a coach who can motivate and players that play well together can be lethal.”

Will the AD’s at the four schools hunt elsewhere? Or will they stay true to the folks at home?

At Andover, Leo Lafond has been a trusted companion for Tildsley on the boys side, while you can’t forget one of the region’s rising coaching stars, and one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, in Alan Hibino.

Dave Fazio’s top assistant recently picked up the varsity girls tennis job and has to be considered ready for girls hoop if he so chooses.

North Andover’s Ted Schruender and the Prep’s John Dullea have earned reputations as top assistants and solid soldiers.

The same can be said over at Reading where former Masconomet standout Mike Caron has paid his dues.

Clearly, there will be ripple effects, especially if a lobbyist like Nault has his way. The Raider coach is clearly behind his former assistant, Whittier Tech’s Tom Sipsey, to step into the bigtime with one of the two openings.

“If I’m an A.D. or administrator, I see there’s no better choice than a Tom Sipsey out there,” said Nault, noting Sipsey’s work with Whittier Tech.

Sipsey’s four years with the Wildcats speak volumes with a 67-25 overall mark.

Sipsey is only one of a handful young coaches who come to mind.

Would a Meghan Pinksten, assisting at North Andover, be ready to return to her alma mater of Andover?

And look at the amazing job ex-Central Catholic great Scott Hazelton has done in New Hampshire building Bishop Guertin into a Division 1 powerhouse.

Would he think about a Valley return?

“I will absolutely keep my eyes on things,” said Nault. “

With Sean there, we’ve had some great games with St. John’s the last four or five years. The back and forth in wins and state championships has quickly built a rivalry there. Our top rival will always be Andover, but Central-North Andover looks like it’s going to be right there, too.”

TOP JOBS Here's why these four basketball coaching jobs will be so sought after: St. John's Prep boys: If Sean Connolly proved anything, it was that St. John's can attract big-time talent at a level the baseball and football programs have over the past seasons. St. John's plays a high caliber schedule and now is considered one of the top five programs at any level on a statewide basis. Offering an impeccable academic reputation, it's a top option now for gifted students and athletes. North Andover boys: With the red (and black?) carpet rolled out by this year's squad, the Knights have stormed onto the Merrimack Valley Conference scene. Simply put, there is no better hoop conference in the state, and the Knights are already champions. The facilities in town are spectacular. The athletics are basketball craved. One of the best travel/feeder systems in the region exists. Also, a lucrative summer camp program would be an exceptional fringe benefit. Andover girls: In a word, tradition. Again, superb facilities and a commitment to producing championship teams lives on. Athletes in Andover are weened on hoop year-round early on. An amazing run of scholarship athletes continues at Andover High, plus the surrounding girls sports like soccer, field hockey, track and lacrosse continue to compete at championship levels. Reading girls: Simply put, they remain the queens of the Middlesex League. The five straight league titles prove that. A strong feeder system that has produced and should continue to produce scholarship athletes. Again, there is money to be made in the summer in a town that has grown addicted to basketball. HUGE SHOES TO FILL The replacement coaches at these four schools will have their work cut out for them if they expect to live up to their predecessors. Here's a look at the program, the outgoing coach and his/her record there: Program Coach Years Record Andover girls Jim Tildsley 18 378-60 North Andover boys Mike McVeigh 31 497-176 Reading girls Kim Penney 15 244-90 St. John's Prep boys Sean Connolly 5 85-24