---- — There are always a slew of top candidates for the Eagle-Tribune’s major annual sports awards.
It was no different in 2012. Our region boasted professional football, baseball, hockey and golf athletes. There were too many high school individual and team state champions to count and several high school All-Americans.
Records and milestones which had lasted for years even decades were smashed.
Here is a look at the best of the best from a memorable 2012.
MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Dattilo went from Derry to the pros
Bobby Dattilo wrapped up quite a four-year lacrosse career last spring at Division 1 Hobart.
The 5-7, 175-pound midfielder, a three-time MVP at Hobart, was a third-team USILA All-American (top 43 players in Division 1) and one of 76 players in all divisions named a USILA Scholar All-America.
Last spring the former Eagle-Tribune MVP from Derry was second in the country in Division I in faceoff percentage (.648, 88 of 162) and ground balls (7.75 a game).
Since the program moved to Division 1 in 1995, the biology major holds career records for faceoffs won (590), faceoff percentage (.603), and ground balls (284).
Dattilo also was one of 20 semifinalists for the prestigious national Class Award for excelling on and off the field.
A fourth round pick by the Rochester Rattlers of the MLL, he appeared in four games.
He’s achieved all this while battling Tourette syndrome.
Dattilo is now working as a physical therapist assistant at Northeast Rehab in Salem.
“He’s a blue-collar player who went to work every day,” said Hobart coach T.W. Johnson. “We loved him. He’s a true student-athlete as a biology major. It’s not like that’s an easy subject.”
Dattilo wasn’t on Hobart’s radar until Johnson saw him before his senior year at a tourney in New Jersey.
Johnson recalled, “He was playing for the New Hampshire Tomahawks. It dawned on me, ‘I don’t know if he’s lost a faceoff.’ I could tell from the first visit he was just a good person. The way he carried himself.
“Lucky for us, we got him. I knew he was good. I can’t tell you I knew he’d be a third-team All-American.”
Johnson said Dattilo played with two bad shoulders this year but still was a force due to his hand speed, stick skills and strength (he bench presses 225 pounds 13 times).
“I think he’ll be real good in the MLL,” said Johnson.
FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Whitley helps Southern Conn. to unprecedented success
Last spring as a junior, Southern Connecticut softball player Krissy Whitley of North Andover had another banner year on and off the diamond.
A nursing major with a 3.86 GPA, she was named a third-team Capital One Academic All-American (11 players made each team). She batted .380 for the sixth-ranked Owls en route to repeating as a first-team All-NE-10 selection.
The junior captain set a school record with 20 doubles and helped lead the Owls to the College World Series (Elite 8) for the first time in the program’s 40-year history.
“She has had an amazing career here,” said Owls coach Lisa Barbaro. “Since her freshman year, Krissy Whitley was the athlete you wanted up to bat in crunch time. Her passion, work ethic and drive have been inspirational to her teammates.
“Being a nursing student and a softball player is one of the most challenging things a student-athlete can take on. She is our first softball student-athlete to receive Academic All-America honors. I am so proud of her and all she has accomplished.”
GAME OF THE YEAR Boys: Central’s biggest win in history
A win could have earned them a berth in the Super 8 semifinals. So it’s no exaggeration to call the Central Catholic-Springfield Cathedral game quite possibly the biggest in school history.
It was looking like one of the biggest disappointments in school history. The Raiders gave up a goal in the first 56 seconds and they were getting bombed, 3-0, just 12:44 into the game. It looked like they were playing only for pride, at that point.
But co-captain Ryan Daigle’s goal off an early second-period turnover put a spring in the Raiders’ step. The Red, White and Blue couldn’t build on it, though, as the Panthers blanked CCHS for the rest of the period.
Things got interesting, though, when early in the third, freshman forward Christian Thompson netted just his second goal of the year. Soon after, Nick Gorski deadlocked it at 3-3.
Unfortunately, little used senior Andrew Robbins, who finished with 20 saves after coming on in relief to start the second period, finally proved human. He gave up the go-ahead goal with 7:22 left. As the final seconds ticked away, it appeared that would be the difference.
But improbably, Mike Kelleher netted the equalizer into an open net with 12 seconds left.
Yes, Cathedral had pulled its goalie because it had to win by two goals to advance.
In the extra session, Jake Donahue, who admitted to dreaming he’d be the hero, actually was the hero. With a Cathedral player draped all over him, the senior defenseman netted the historic goal 4:20 into OT. It was just his fourth career goal but one he (and the Raider faithful) would never forget.
GAME OF THE YEAR GIRLS: Whittier gym became Madison Square Garden
For the first 31 minutes and 56 seconds, it hadn’t been Madison Carroll’s day. The sophomore guard had been shut out.
Even worse, small school power Whittier was about to knock off Methuen of the powerful Merrimack Valley Conference.
The Cats’ Christina Medley scored her 1,000th career point earlier in the game and the hosts were about to get revenge for a 6-point loss to the Rangers 10 days earlier.
But the Rangers still had a pulse. A very, very faint one, but a pulse nonetheless. The inbounds play with four seconds left didn’t go as planned but Carroll got the rebound, double pumped and released the shot at the buzzer.
TEAM OF THE YEAR Boys: Ranger matmen enjoyed first perfect season in 28 years
Beating powerhouse St. John’s Prep is always a noteworthy accomplishment.
But this was in the Division 1 dual-meet state final and it was by a convincing 36-20 margin. And it capped an unbeaten season for Methuen High.
Making it still more special was the fact that it was the first state championship for a Ranger squad since the 1999 girls basketball team accomplished the feat. Also, it was the first perfect season (20-0) for the Ranger matmen since Brian Urquhart’s 1984 squad, which was led by Eagle-Tribune All-Stars Mark Jozokos and Dan McCarthy.
“I’ve been coaching for 27 years and to win this tournament and be undefeated is something special,” said Methuen coach Bill James that day. “I didn’t expect us to win (handily) like this, but the kids really wrestled well today — everyone.”
There were several big wins en route to perfection. Methuen nipped North Andover, which was then ranked No. 1 in the state, 34-33 in December. The Rangers also had a big win over Lawrence, the defending Division 1 state dual meet champs.
The hits kept on coming for the Blue and White right through New Englands, where Christian Monserrat placed second at 113 and C.J. Doherty took top honors at 145.
TEAM OF THE YEAR Girls: Pinkerton field hockey delivered in clutch
Pinkerton field hockey has always been formidable. Denise Rioux built a powerhouse and had a state-record 323 wins.
But the last title had been in 2000. Many thought the Astros would have to wait awhile after losing by a goal in the title game three times in the previous four years. And this fall they would be without graduated All-American Jordyn Hamilton.
Second-year coach Jen Resmini and the Astros, though, brought home the long-awaited title with a dramatic 2-1 win. Rachael Charewicz’ blast with 16.8 seconds left in the first overtime toppled two-team defending champion Winnacunnnet.
Nothing about the title was easy. In the semis against Exeter, Julie Saltamartini scored the sudden-death winner, about 10 minutes into overtime. It was set up by a nifty Kaylie DeCosmo feed. Jordan Dudley (11 saves) had to be flawless in net.
The Astros finished 14-1-3, limiting the opposition to just 0.76 goals a game. Chevy Collins, Saltamartini and Jess Cote were named Eagle-Tribune All-Stars and Resmini was named our Coach of the Year.
But all the accolades were a distant second to bringing home the championship plaque.
COACH OF THE YEAR (GIRLS): McNamara’s epic rebuilding job now complete
Two facts underscore how special the 2011-12 season was for the Pentucket Regional girls basketball team.
First, the Sachems’ state title was the first by a Pentucket winter sports team in the school’s 58-year history.
Second, it was the final step for a program which had done everything but win a state title in a glorious six-year run under coach John McNamara.
Few coaches in area history can match McNamara’s rebuilding job at Pentucket.
The contrast is stark, to say the least. Under McNamara — a 134-18 record, a state title, and one state runner-up season and two other appearances in the Garden in the Division 3 state semifinals. Pre-Johnny Mac, the Sachems hadn’t had a winning season in 17 years.
Of course, he’d be the first to point out, suddenly the tri-town area is producing a lot of top talent. He might not point out a major reason why is his years involved in the youth leagues.
Last year’s squad was led by Sarah Higgins, who dominated Sabis International in a 55-32 romp in the Division 3 title game. Kelsi McNamara, the coach’s freshman daughter, contributed 14 points. Of course, the Sachems’ patented defense suffocated Sabis.
McNamara, a former Tewksbury High star, might have been the happiest person in the DCU Center.
“Our saying, that was on the shirt, was ‘Win the Last Game,’” he said.
COACH OF THE YEAR (BOYS): Quite a 40-year run for Tarbox
Often when somebody coaches 40 years, the final years are disappointing. The stamina might not be there or the ability to relate to kids is gone.
That was far from the case with retiring North Andover soccer coach Bill Tarbox, whose 40th year might have been his best. The Scarlet Knight boys, who finished 18-3-2, won the conference title in their first year in the Merrimack Valley Conference and advanced to the Division 2 state semifinals.
In 22 years with the Knights he went 301-93-56 and add his 18 years at Greater Lawrence Tech and he had a career mark of 423-206-87.
The 63-year-old retired Greater Lawrence Tech teacher is a member of the Eastern Mass. Soccer coaches Hall of Fame.
He’s passed on the love of the sports to hundreds perhaps thousands including the 33 years he and ex-Andover coach Dave Amundsen ran a summer soccer camp.
One of those who picked up the soccer bug is his son Fred, who starred at North Andover and UMass Lowell and is now the girls coach at Haverhill. His daughter, Jana, also played and coached.
Never one to get too high or too low, he said after the loss in the state semis, “It was a great run. It really was. ... There is more to life than a soccer game. You guys will realize pretty soon how special this year was. I couldn’t be prouder.”
STORY OF THE YEAR: Methuen’s Furey lived the Olympic dream
It doesn’t get too much better than the hometown kid making the Olympics.
That’s the Sean Furey story. The brainy Methuen native who got a little better and a little better and a little better until eventually he was one of the world’s best in the javelin.
The 30-year-old, San Diego-based engineer threw a career-best 271-5 in the spring and that was crucial. That met the Olympic standard and allowed him to jump over a thrower who beat him in the Olympic Trials, where Furey took fourth.
The ex-Dartmouth and Methuen High All-American finished 37th in the Olympics in London with a 238-10 1/2 throw. If he had equalled his personal best throw, that would have placed him sixth.
His dedication and love of the sport are still off the charts. So don’t rule out Furey wearing the Red, White and Blue again in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
“I still believe I have great throws in me,” said Furey after the competition. “I look at guys who throw far and know they aren’t more talented than me.”
Furey was only the fourth area athlete (man or woman) in over a century to make the Olympic track and field team. The others were Lawrence marathoner A. Roy Welton way back in 1908, Salem hammer thrower Fred Tootell in 1924 and Haverhill 4x100 relay sprinter Gerry Ashworth in 1964.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: Young Granite Stater burned up the links
There was a buzz around last summer’s U.S. Junior Amateur at The Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H.
A hotshot Granite Stater was going to make a name for himself.
It did happen, but it wasn’t 2011 finalist Chelso Barrett of Keene. It was 16-year-old Connor Greenleaf of Windham.
Dominating the local scene is one thing, but the mark of a true golfing talent is someone who can do it against the elite.
The No. 36 qualifier with a two-day 74-75—149, the Windham High junior proved he had what it takes. He was one of 64 qualifiers for match play.
Even at that point, Greenleaf was by no means overmatched. The hometown favorite put up an impressive fight before falling 2 and 1 to Victor Wiggins of Gastonia, N.C. Wiggins is the No. 28 player in the Class of 2013 and will be headed to Auburn.
“I’m proud of myself already,” Greenleaf said. “I made the cut. I was 3-down and I gave him a run at the end, so it’s not like I went down 5 and 6 or anything like that.”
Later on, Greenleaf won the NHIAA Division 2 state title and was named Eagle-Tribune MVP for the second time.