Some contend that it takes a village to raise a child.

North Andover track and field head coaches Steve Nugent (boys) and Rick DelleChiaie (girls), on the other hand, seem to think that it takes a village to build a championship track program.

They certainly have the credentials to make the point. Both the Scarlet Knights boys and girls recently completed resounding unbeaten Merrimack Valley Conference seasons and weren’t really challenged.

The closest North Andover boys meet was a decisive 60-40 win over perennial power Lowell, while the girls’ closest meet was 58-42 over a talented Andover squad..

“I’m not sure this was the best team we’ve ever had — the 2019 team had more stars and was awfully good — but this is the deepest team I’ve ever had,” said Nugent, who has been the indoor and outdoor boys coach for 10 years.

Said DelleChiaie: “I’ve been head coach for 21 years and this is the deepest, best all-around team I’ve had. No one could touch us in a dual meet and I think we would have won another Relays title.”

Those are strong statements because the Knights have been awfully strong the last half dozen years, particularly indoors.

In fact, while the recently completed “indoor” season, which was held outdoors due to the pandemic, was indeed impressive, it was really the continuation of several years of success.

The boys captured Division 2 State Relay titles in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020 while the girls were MVC champs in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, finishing undefeated three times.

Without much notice, the Knights have — at least temporarily — supplanted Central and perennial power Andover on the girls side and Lowell and Central for the boys as the royalty of MVC track.

How has this happened? Let’s count the ways.

It all starts with a growing youth program, fueled by valuable assistant Bill Varney, that has helped develop skills and technique and — perhaps more important — ignite passion in the sport.

There has also been a wealth of talented athletes who have gravitated to track, perhaps partly because success breeds success. Who doesn’t want to be involved with a winner?

There have also been huge numbers in general, an advantage that is so important in track. The indoor boys team had 105 athletes this year while the girls had 80. Both were actually less than other years, partly because of football/cheerleading being held at the same time. The boys had a whopping 150 on their 2020 team. 

But above all else, both Nugent and DelleChiaie point to their sizable staff of assistants, which includes a multitude of volunteers and add up to as many as 15 coaches. All of them coach both the boys and girls in their specialty and several are among the best around.

VALUABLE ASSISTANTS

Varney, who is also a great promoter and recruiter, specializes in the distances (he’s the top cross country assistant for DelleChiaie), Jason Guarente is the jumps coach after enjoying success at both the high school (Saugus) and collegiate (UNH) level and Conor Meehan is a highly respected veteran throws coach.

“This makes such a big difference,” said DelleChiaie. “Sharing the coaches (between boys and girls) maximizes the coach to athlete ratio and that’s the key. Every kid is getting the attention he or she needs.

“I remember in 2004, I was coaching both the boys and the girls and I had two assistants for 160 athletes. We did okay but it was so much more difficult then and tougher to develop kids.

“I give a lot of credit to Steve for this. He’s the one who goes out and gets all these coaches. He’ll take anyone he thinks will help us.”

The athletes themselves appreciate the individual attention.

Matt Palmisano, for example, doesn’t hesitate to credit Guarente for his development as one of the MVC’s top jumpers, in both the high jump and long jump.

“He (Guarante) has been the most influential coach in my track career,” said Palmisano, who has cleared 6-feet and long jumped 20-3. “He’s always there and he’s so knowledgeable, especially in the high jump.”

Similarly, Mason Semaniuk gives a lot of credit to his prowess as a shot putter to Meehan.

“He (Meehan) has been with me for four years and has been a great influence,” said Semaniuk, who has the best throw in the MVC this Fall 2 with a 49-5.

Top girls point scorer and long jump standout Ava Nassar said: “Coach Guarante has been a significant help in my progress and for many others. In addition to his extensive knowledge about field events, he never fails to make sure his athletes are proud of their achievements and effort.

“I believe this is so important when it comes to performing well. In my four years of being on the team, coach Guarante has always been the coach I turn to when I need a boost of confidence.”

POSITIVE ATMOSPHERE

The surplus of quality assistants, who work with the boys and girls simultaneously, is also one of the reasons that the track numbers are so high at North Andover — another key ingredient for building a strong program in track.

“The coaches help make it a welcoming atmosphere,” said Semaniuk. “It’s different from other sports.”

Said Palmisano: “It’s a family community. You always see a friendly face and you want to go to practice.”

The high numbers are vital for continued success. Thus, while the boys will be graduating their top five point scorers (Peter Martel, Palmisano, Paul Fernandez, Tyler Bussell and Semaniuk), and the girls are pretty much in the same boat, there is no sense of negativity about the immediate or long range future.

 “We have some talented youngsters who I’m anxious to see how they do,” said Nugent. “I like to believe we have a unique culture and the kids appreciate it. We’re set up nicely and I think we should continue to do some nice things.”

Said DelleChiaie: “I think the word has spread that track is a good place to be, so we should keep getting good athletes. I don’t think you see the personal drama that you have in some other sports. Steve likes to talk about how it’s a family atmosphere and it really is.”

And, with veteran and successful coaches like Nugent and DelleChiaie in charge, it should remain that way, which means that the Knights should stay at or near the top of their field.

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The boys captured Division 2 State Relay titles in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2020 while the girls were MVC champs in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021, finishing undefeated three times.

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“I think the word has spread that track is a good place to be so we should keep getting good athletes.”

North Andover coach Rick DelleChiaie 

 

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