---- — The drive to 2015 has begun in Andover.
Yes, the Warriors went through their mourning period after the loss to Central Catholic in the Division 1 North title game. And then came the anger.
Now, all that’s left is the will to finish the job.
“Believe me, there was no moral victory,” said Andover junior David Giribaldi. “It was great being under the big lights. We know what it feels like to lose there. It was a lot worse than any other loss we’ve had. But I also think we learned what it takes to win there.”
There is no secret that Andover, the choice of some in D1 North this year, will be a pretty clear favorite when tryouts open again next fall on the first of December.
You don’t return a trio like All-Scholastics Giribaldi and Connor Merinder, plus fab frosh E.J. Perry IV without accepting the label as “team to beat.”
“Since we got to Andover High, Connor and I have always thought we have to do it our senior year,” said Giribaldi.
Finishing this year at 19-5 and coming so close has only sped up the preparation process for the Warriors, who seem to be focused and fixed on the next primary target.
“We lost the Central game because at the very end, for a six-minute period, we stopped playing defense,” said Giribaldi, who will play Boston Warriors AAU this spring.
“You can’t let that happen there. Every team that you can play there is just too good. It’s going to take a lot of concentration and focus.”
As talented as Andover appears and as good as the Warriors could be, Giribaldi noted he expects Andover trademark effort from Day 1.
“Everyone wants to beat Andover, so we will come with the same tenacity we always do,” said Giribaldi. “I’d love to see us and Central there again (in the D1 North title game at Tsongas Center in Lowell). But right now, I’m only worried about one team. And that’s us.”
WHAT ABOUT CENTRAL ANYWAY?
Let’s just say, for the first time in the Rick Nault Era, Central Catholic won’t be spoken of among the favorites for a state title.
But should anyone shed a tear for the state runner-up?
Up front, the Raiders will be loaded with questions.
Junior Pat Sullivan looked like the ultimate Raider role guy, the ego-free sixth man good for 6 points and 6 boards on any given night. But can he step into a lead role?
Big Sam Lara, the beefy freshman, is a tenacious competitor but he lacks experience.
There are younger big men in the program, but again this is a team that has seen a run of All-Scholastic types like Adrian Gonzalez, Carson Desrosiers, Jimmy Zenevitch and Nick Cambio — with all but the last a scholarship player.
In the backcourt, the Raiders most likely return to that old-school, relentless pressure set of guards, a usual Nault trademark.
Freshman Kevin Fernandez showed some flashes of brilliance in the tourney run — highlighted by a huge 8-point, 8-assist night at the Garden.
Alex Santos, at the point, will score more than the 6.3 points a game he averaged this year.
Sophomores A.J. Pettway and Alec Buresh have a year in the program.
And again, the Raiders are deep and talented in the younger ranks, so it might be a matter of Central being better as the season rolls on.
One is a complete newcomer, the other a son returning to the Merrimack Valley fold.
Still, there was plenty to like and to be positive about in the first seasons at the helm for Anthony Faradie of Methuen High and Paul Tanglis of North Andover High School.
Each introduced himself to the faithful with authority early in the season, meeting in the finals of the Commonwealth Christmas Classic.
The victory plus a post-Christmas tourney shocker at Central pronounced Tanglis’ lightly-regarded band of Knights as ready for prime time.
And the emergence of sophomore Wabissa Bede on the point had North Andover folks reinvigorated — not just for the distant future but for the present.
“This is where we want to be,” said Tanglis of the MVC large division late in the year.
If any doubt lingered whether Tanglis could fill the gigantic void left by the retirement of Mike McVeigh, he answered them in his rookie campaign.
FARADIE’S CRUNCH TIME
Meanwhile, as the Knights persevered and rolled into the Division 2 North tourney, Methuen unsuccessfully fought the battle toward .500, finishing at 8-14.
You have to figure the Rangers are in a bit of a “now or never” mode under Faradie, coming in 2014-15.
This Class of 2015 has made up the bulk of the roster over the past two seasons.
Tim Galloway-Burke is a prolific-scoring big man, who comes off a 20-point-a-game season.
The supporting cast he been there, and Jon Paulino opened the year showing flashes of brilliance.
One key, for certain is the health of point guard Cooper Hammel, who struggled with hip issues this year. It was certainly costly to the Rangers’ cause.
Like Tanglis at North Andover and pretty much any coach at any public school, the key for Faradie will be to keep the athletes at home.
Methuen has a successful feeder system, but if all the players end up somewhere else, it’s not going to matter.
Faradie spoke early in the year of the importance of diving into the youth ranks and developing relationships there. Let’s see how he does.
BETTER LUCK FOR TROVATO
One coach who certainly has immersed himself into the youth ranks within his city is Haverhill High’s Mike Trovato.
A year ago, Trovato’s hard work and dedication to the younger kids paid huge dividends in an MVC small division championship in 2013.
Trovato has never been one to put his program ahead of what’s best for the athlete.
The treatment and ground work he set for Noah Vonleh has the Indiana frosh on the precipice of the NBA lottery.
And again, Trovato knew what was best for Saul Phiri, even though it may have cost him his season as he helped Phiri’s transition to Worcester Academy before this season.
The loss of the frosh Eagle-Tribune All-Star was huge, and when the reigning MVC small MVP Anthony Dionne left the team early in the year, it crippled what might have been another title season.
The good news? Younger guys like Matt Fenderson, Avery Cerow and Navin Cruz got minutes they might never have expected. And with a couple of deep classes in this season’s freshmen and sophomores, Trovato’s crew should bounce back pretty well.
NEXT UP NEPSAC?
There is no doubt that Bradford Christian Academy is looking to be a bit of a mover and shaker in basketball circles.
A.D. Troy Gabrielle says after six years, he likes where his boys program is sitting.
Behind talented frosh Eric Rodriguez, BCA went 13-10 and took second in the New Hampshire Small Private Athletic League.
“We’re kind of looking at this as a faze-in type of year as we try to land a playoff berth in the NEPSAC Class D playoffs,” said Gabrielle. “It’s a lofty goal, but it’s one that we can attain.”
BCA has now put two straight seasons above .500 in the books.
IMPACT DECISION COMING
The immediate future of the Pinkerton Academy boys program is hanging in the balance as the prep schools have recruited sophomore sky-walker Luke Rosinki mighty hard in the past few weeks.
Rosinski, if he transfers out, would not re-classify. He’d move to a junior year on the prep ranks.
His dad and coach Pete said the decision looms very soon. Should Rosinski, the player, move on, would dad return to Pinkerton Academy, as some parents might want to follow the player around?
“Oh yeah, I’ll be back,” promised Pete. “He’s got to go out and stand on his own two feet.”
PROGRAM TAKES ON COACH’S IMAGE
Nate Stanton learned early as a player for E.J. Perry in his Salem High days that team comes first, player second.
So, in his first head coaching job at Londonderry, Stanton made it a priority to drive that same point home this year.
He had to understand the mission was accomplished by midseason when one of his standouts, second-team all-stater Drew Coveney laid his health and season on the line, diving for a steal against Bishop Guertin.
“He separated his shoulder,” said Stanton.
“And that is Drew, putting the team in front of himself and doing whatever it takes to win. Luckily he was able to come back three weeks later to lead us to get the four-seed going into the playoffs.”
Stanton is off to a superb start.