DEVENS — A select group of high-school athletes, coaches and athletic directors from five area schools turned out for the eighth annual Nashoba Publishing Sports Night.

Held at the Devens Common Center last Thursday night, three local businesses sponsored the event. The premier-level sponsor was Workers’ Credit Union, with 66,000 members in area communities. Other sponsors were Gervais Ford and TenBroeck Insurance Group.

The brainchild of Nashoba Sports Editor Ken Blanchette, who acts as emcee every year, Sports Night is not just another awards ceremony, nor does it follow an “all star” format.

Besides celebrating their talents, Sports Night awards recognize personal challenges some of these young athletes faced and the unique attributes that make them special, spotlighting their performance on the field and off, as leaders, students and role models.

When making his picks, Blanchette seeks input from coaches, athletic directors, teachers and guidance counselors at the five covered schools — North Middlesex and Groton-Dunstable Regional High School, Ayer High School, The Bromfield School in Harvard and Francis W. Parker Essential Charter School on Devens. But the calls are his alone. His first test is simple, pass or fail. “I have to like you,” he said.

From the award categories to appreciative sketches attached to each one, Sports Night shows an enthusiasm for high school sports that is both elevating and unpretentious.

The Awards


Dan’s Place and Jim Canning

Blanchette defined a special contributor as “someone who remembers his roots, continues to contribute to the town he grew up in and the school he attended in a variety of ways.”

This year, one of the award-winners was a place.

Dan’s Place is owned by Dan Civitarese and Karyn Baldino. Located at Devens Plaza, not far from where Civitarese grew up, the small Ayer eatery hosts “an important fundraiser on football’s homecoming night,” Blanchette said, and the owners have put in “effort, time and resources” to make the event a success every year. The donated dollars are needed even more in an era of “dwindling funds,” he said. Adding more “local flavor,” a number of “local athletes” have worked there over the years.

Civitarese has been head coach of the Ayer girls’ softball team for over 10 years, while Karen keeps score from the sidelines. She is an official scorekeeper for the basketball team.

Jim Canning was coaching Pepperell Little League when Blanchette first met him. “His passion for the game of baseball and teaching it to kids” stood out, he said.

His teams were amazingly successful over the years, but it was how Canning handled the flip side of winning that impressed him most. “Jim used positive reinforcement,” he said, and the kids kept smiling because he did. “He stressed that the worst day on a baseball field is better than being anywhere else,” Blanchette said.

Now, he makes it a point to sit next to Canning at North Middlesex baseball games, Blanchette said. Not only to learn from someone who knows “far more about the game than me,” but in hopes that some of his perpetual optimism will rub off.


One recent rainy day, Ayer High School track athlete Andrew Stiling was out “long after everyone else had gone home,” Blanchette said. He didn’t run in the rain to show off, he said, but out of pride, because he wants to do his best. The only award recipient in the category this year, if the phrase “unsung hero” were in the dictionary, Stiling’s picture would be next to it, Blanchette said.

A “coach’s dream” because he can be trusted to do the right thing, Stiling was a “rock solid defender on the soccer team, Blanchette said. No flash, just sound, smart play, using his skills as a team player. A good student, he is respected for his “quiet, effective style.”

On the track, Stiling runs “two grueling events,” the mile and the 800-meter and also throws the javelin. He is a role model with an “unflinching work ethic,” Blanchette said.

Ayer assistant track coach Joe Scunziano called him a “leader” whose attitude and performance are consistent day-to-day. “He is a leader who will address a teammate’s effort level, which only works when you outwork everyone else,” Scunziano said.


Isaac Cohen, Bromfield, and Corinne Kraemer, Groton-Dunstable

When Blanchette asked the assistant boy’s lacrosse coach how Isaac Cohen was doing, his response was classic. “Isaac did what captains are supposed to do yesterday,” Blanchette said, quoting the coach. “He…volunteered to move back and play defense.”

Cohen captained both the boys’ soccer and lacrosse teams this year and is “everything a school could hope for” as a representative, Blanchette said. “He values team before self and sportsmanship before the need to be noticed.”

A “responsible captain,” he understands and respects his opponents and “looks you straight in the eye when he speaks to you,” Blanchette continued. “He is pure class.”

Corinne Kraemer has been an “integral part” of the Groton-Dunstable girls soccer and lacrosse teams and captained both, earning the admiration of teammates and coaches for her drive and leadership, Blanchette said. Captains set the tone, lead by giving 100 percent, and Kraemer seems to get that, he said. “She managed to be a positive presence whether she scored goals or not, “by playing the game right.”

Her soccer coach, Sue Hilbrunner, called Kraemer an “exceptional captain,” who is mature and focused and her number one goal was for the team to excel. “With Corinne, it is all about team,” she said.

“That is the recipe for winning a captain’s award, ” Blanchette said.


Ryan Bota, Ayer; Katherine Friedrich, Bromfield; Chase Lundgren, Groton-Dunstable; and Meg Flatley, North Middlesex

Ryan Bota is a “gamer,” Blanchette said, a word that coaches love. A “maximum effort soccer player whose motor never stops running, “Bota’s work ethic is “second to none.” That’s why he’s become a leader at school, and well-respected by his peers. He has also been a pivotal member of the Panthers’ potent boys track team.

Ayer track and football coach Jamie Lamoreaux, “who doesn’t toss bouquets around lightly,” had high praise for Bota’s “courage and character,” Blanchette said. The coach cited a race a couple of years ago when Bota finished running his heat in the 4 x 100 relay despite a serious injury.

“That’s what extra effort is all about,” Blanchette said.

Katherine Friedrich won the award for her talent and team-oriented style. She made a “big impact” during her Bromfield sports career as a field hockey and tennis player, Blanchette said.

Coach Sue Silver said Friedrich is a versatile field hockey player who would willingly play wherever needed.

Blanchette called her “the total package” of size, stick skills, a strong hit and heart.” Combining skill, intensity and energy, she was a vital part of the Lady Trojan’s “best-ever” 2010 season, he said.

In a “pivotal season” for the Groton-Dunstable hockey team, with a mix of veterans and younger players, captain Chase Lundgren made a difference on and off the ice, Blanchette said.

A right wing on the first line, Lundgren was the team’s leading scorer, a swift skater whose hustle and work ethic were consistent in each period and every game.

“His play made teammates around him better,” Blanchette said.

Meg Flatley has been a “cornerstone” of the field hockey and lacrosse teams at North Middlesex, a quiet but productive leader who will be missed “in a big way,” Blanchette said.

She made a lasting impression on his son, Derek.

Derek helps his dad cover the local sports beat. Generally unflappable, he called from a North Middlesex field hockey game to rave about a goal Flatley had just scored.

Blanchette told his son he wasn’t surprised she’d done “something spectacular.”

“Meg is the most exciting field hockey player I have ever covered,” he said. “There were times watching her when I wanted to call someone.”


Will Nocka, Bromfield

New this year, Will Nocka earned this award as the athlete Blanchette decided had improved the most from his junior to senior season. “He enjoyed a decent junior season but was a wall as a senior,” he said, calling him the “backbone of the district champion Trojans soccer team.

He played with confidence, increasing soundness and showed growing maturity, physically and mentally,” Blanchette said. “He played well throughout the season, but came up huge in the district final win over Sutton.”

Soft spoken and humble, Nocka became a player teammates could trust to rise to the occasion at big moments, proving that actions speak louder than words. “Bromfield and Sutton both learned that where’s there’s a Will, there’s a way,” Blanchette said.

LEADERSHIP AWARDS: Elizabeth Smetana, Bromfield; Jess O’Sullivan, Groton-Dunstable; and Mackenzie Sharp, North Middlesex

“No matter when or where you see Elizabeth Smetana on the Bromfield campus” it’s apparent she relishes “everything about high school life,” Blanchette said. She’s always smiling, enjoys her classmates and teammates on the field hockey, swimming and girls lacrosse teams.

Athletically, she is a fierce competitor who was a “major factor” in the annual success of the field hockey team, which had its “best ever” season in 2010. She seemed always in the thick of the action and was a “thorn” in opponents’ sides because of her relentless play.

Field hockey coach Sue Silver said Smetana knows how to lead “in a nice way,” a skill she showed by pulling the team together after a district loss when she was a sophomore. Credible because she works so hard, Silver said the girls respect and listen to her and try to rise to her standards.

Jess O’Sullivan is a leader whose career numbers speak for themselves: more than 500 strikeouts, including more than 200 this season, plus 12 shut-outs. With more than 30 pitching wins, she has carried the Groton-Dunstable girls softball team “deep into post season play,” Blanchette said.

“She has clearly become the best pitcher in school history and a household name in Central Mass softball circles.”

Coach Derek Asadoorian echoed that assessment, attributing her success to talent and her work ethic. “She has put thousands of hours into her pitching,” he said, gaining “great velocity, control and poise.” With a variety of pitches she can use “any time,” O’Sullivan continues to improve every day and year, he said. As a captain, she is like “another coach on the field,” he continued. Disciplined and “highly coachable” she has been an asset in the classroom and on the field, he said.

When teams are winning, players show up with sunshine in their hearts, for practices and well as games. But when a team isn’t doing well, seasons seem longer, practices get tedious. Games don’t promise rewards. “Any high school athlete can play in the former, but in the latter scenario, “only the very special ones” stay the course, Blanchette said. “Mackenzie Sharp is one of the special ones.”

She played on the North Middlesex girls soccer and basketball teams, and never got a taste of post-season play, but was diligent and hard-working. “That showcased character traits that bode well for the future, “Blanchette said. “The inner strength she showed by continuing to compete in trying times” will lay a foundation for success,” he said.


Zak Keeley, Ayer; Jeff Yates, Bromfield; Sarah Hilton, Groton-Dunstable; Jake Reed, North Middlesex; Matt Hotaling, Parker School

Zak Keeley was the “single unluckiest athlete I covered this year,” Blanchette said. After putting in hard work and commitment, he was deprived of the reward by a couple of shoulder injuries during the Panthers’ “outstanding soccer season.” But he bounced back big time in spring track and helped his team capture a MidWachD championship.

A “superb athlete,” Zak is arguably an even better kid, Blanchette said. Team-oriented, modest, affable and polite, he is well-respected for his achievements and attitude on the playing fields and in the classroom.

Assistant track coach Joe Scunziano said Keeley genuinely seems to enjoy what he does.

Guidance counselor Kim Sweetland said he can “light up a room.” Number seven in his senior class, he is “extremely bright,” a hard worker and easy to work with.

A testament to his leadership was the Panthers’ soccer game at Clinton, when he suffered his first injury. He went back into the game, scored a goal and told one of his teammates to “go to the bench and shut up when it was needed most,” Blanchette said. Those actions “forever won me over,” he said.

“One of my biggest surprises this year was learning that Jeff Yates lives in Groton,” Blanchette said. After sitting at 70 or 80 Bromfield versus Groton-Dunstable soccer games, “I didn’t think anyone in either community could cross the line and play for the other,” he said.

But Jeff did so, seamlessly, capping a “sensational academic and athletic career with a memorable senior year” in which he led the Bromfield boys basketball team in rebounding and scoring and was named MVP of MidWach D. He is also at the top of the graduating class of 2011.

According to his guidance counselor and his coach, Jeff excelled in both arenas. He’s headed for Dartmouth College next year.

Her name makes people’s eyes light up on the campus at Groton-Dunstable, where Sarah Hilton has enjoyed a full high school career, Blanchette said. Teachers, guidance counselors, coaches and the athletic director all cite her maturity and her attitude is appreciated by everyone she interacts with at school.

A “point-scoring machine for the girls track team, she was also a “dangerous wing” on the soccer team and a leader in both programs. She also carried a full slate of extra-curriculars. Vice president of the student council and the National Honor Society, she is a four-year member of the leadership team and teaches Sunday school. She is one of the top three students in her 228-member class.

“I don’t know if I have ever seen a kid accomplish more in school, on the athletic fields and in the community,” guidance counselor Mark Hennelly said.

“In both fishing and high school athletics, you always hear about the one that gone away,” Blanchette said, “but North Middlesex landed a big one” when Jake Reed moved to town. His athletic and academic efforts have been “exceptional.” Ranked 17th in his 282-member graduating class, he has become the go-to athlete on the indoor and outdoor track teams. “Jake can run anything from the 200 meters to the mile, although his two main events are the 800 and 400,” said track coach Ralph Wolfendale.

With speed, stamina and endurance, Reed was the team’s leading scorer this year.

Parker School athletic director Ben Benoit presented the student athlete award to Matt Hotaling. “I enjoy seeing the elite group of athletes assembled in one room” at Sports Night every year, Benoit said.

Hotaling helped “tiny Parker” become the first charter school in Massachusetts to qualify for district soccer championships, he said. “I’ve never been so proud.”

While building the program “from scratch,” Hotaling was one of the best captains he’s ever had, Benoit said. As a student and an athlete, he sets lofty goals for himself and inspires others to do the same.

Hotaling will attend Worcester Polytech Institute next year to major in environmental science. “He was a great role model in math class,” Benoit said.


Katie Poitras, Tory Sowizral, Francesca Coveno, Scott Cavanaugh, Jackie Irwin

Justin Lamoreaux of Ayer presented the A.D. award to Katie Poitras. He called her a great role model. She played varsity soccer, basketball and tack and lettered in all three, he said. She captained the basketball and track teams and helped them through a “difficult period,” he said.

An all-star in all three sports, Poitras also tallied up a long list of academic high marks, Lamoreaux said. She plans to attend Westfield State college next year, where she’ll continue to play soccer.

Bromfield coach Pam Alexander gave the A.D. award to Tory Sowizral.

She is a talented athlete with the right attitude and a drive to better herself, Alexander said of Sowizral, a field goalie on the girls soccer team for three years.

She went on to describe team triumphs during Sowizral’s tenure, including a championship in 2008. They made it to the finals this year, Alexander said.

A hardworking league all-star her senior year, Sowizral played for four years on the varsity field hockey team. “She has been the glue that keeps the team together,” Alexander continued. She has a positive outlook, shows compassion for teammates and is a “dedicated and enthusiastic” player who’s into the “team process” even more than winning. “It gives her joy,” she said. “Winning is just the icing on the cake.”

Groton Dunstable’s Steve Kleeman gave the A.D. award to Francesca Coveno. He chose her because she embodies the ideal of a student athlete, he said. She played soccer in the fall of her freshman season and track in the spring, where she developed a love for running. Coveno is an accomplished runner this year as a senior, he said, emerging as the “number one leader” on the team this year.

A student in his chemistry class, Kleeman said Coveno is a top student as well as an accomplished athlete, carrying five Advanced Placement courses. Praising her “flawless worth ethic,” he said Coveno helps her peers. She’s in the top 10 students in her class and has been accepted at Boston University for the fall.

“I hope my daughters turn out like Francesca Coveno,” Kleeman said.

Tim McCormick of North Middlesex presented the A.D. award to Scott Cavanaugh.

A gifted athlete with plenty of school pride, Cavanaugh is a “great young man with a tremendous attitude,” McCormick said. And he helped turn the sports program around.

“He knew his role, doesn’t take himself too seriously and helped his team qualify for the Districts for the first time in 10 years,” demonstrating to his teammates what “perseverance is all about.”

Cavanaugh is one of the best student leaders the school has ever had, McCormick said. His “unwavering leadership” is a model for success. He’s going to the University of New Hampshire next year.

Ben Benoit, of the Parker School, said it might have been an “agonizing decision” to pick someone for the A.D. award, but not for him this year. Jackie Irwin was the obvious choice, he said.

She was “absolutely excellent” on the basketball court and always makes it to practice, despite traveling from Princeton to school every day, a 50-minute commute. Since Parker has no gym, that sometimes means scheduling practice as early as 6 a.m., Benoit said.

She gets there on time and obeys the speed limit besides. “That’s commitment,” he said.

Sketching her “legacy,” Benoit said Irwin helped Parker win a lot of games during her four years on the team. In her freshman year, during a game that was not going well, she said, “I’m going to do something about this,” Benoit said. And she did. “She started to lead and helped create a team to be proud of,” he said. At the same time, she became a better player. Once, with six minutes left, she pulled out a victory, he said.


Sarah Megan, Ayer; Emma Rothkopf, Bromfield; Peter Georges, Groton-Dunstable; and Matt Foley, North Middlesex

Two “crucial” things Blanchette said he targets for these awards. First, “I have to like you.” Second, bring him snacks (Dr. Pepper and Ring Dings) as he watches your games from his personally parked lawn chair. Just kidding, of course. In reality, his criteria are more solid, but just as individual. For example: Show up prepared for practices and games, be “coachable,” team-oriented and earn your teammates respect.

As a four-year starter on the girls basketball team and a two-year starter on the girls soccer team, Sarah Megan “brought the same positive traits to both,” Blanchette said. Consistent in effort and performance on the court, she showed her ability to “do the little things that make a difference,” he said.

Megan also made “an immediate impact” when she started playing soccer as a junior, with “solid defensive skills, athleticism and an aptitude for the game.”

Emma Rothkopf’s performance ties into an axiom Blanchette said he learned at the first soccer game he covered: “It’s all about the play at midfield.” She proved that point as a driving force on the successful Bromfield girls soccer team over the past few seasons, he said. Sketching the midfielder’s responsibilities, he said she was “willing to mix it up” to get possession of the ball while showcasing her “numerous skills.”

Affable, polite but competitive, Rothkopf was also a veteran member of the girls track team.

Coach Ray Dunn described her as a leader who is coachable and reliable.

Blanchette said he enjoyed getting to know Peter Georges, starting when he was manager of the Groton-Dunstable girls basketball team. “Coach Mark Hennelly was able to concentrate on the task at hand because…Peter was there” to perform behind-the-scene duties, he said.

On the field, Georges “made his mark”as a “rock-solid defender” on the Crusaders’ soccer team, which had an outstanding 2010 season, Blanchette said.

Georges showed leadership as senior class president and athletic director Steve Kleeman’s “right hand man,” Blanchette said, dubbing him a multi-talented go-to guy. In the latter role, Georges “shared the bumps and bruises” of a season besieged by bad weather, possibly the worst ever for high school sports, he said.

While watching a North Middlesex soccer game, a player he didn’t recognize scored a goal. “I asked the bench” who it was and a player ready to go in told him it was Matt Foley. “Unfortunately,” his informant was Foley, Blanchette said. The scenario later repeated itself at another game, but by then he was wise to the joke. “The moral of the story” is that Foley understands “playing sports should be fun,” a trait his teammates and coaches appreciated. “I did also,” Blanchette said.

As the tallest kid on the soccer team, he worked hard to refine his skills, “to grow into that body,” Blanchette said, noting Foley’s ready smile and the “game face” he puts on when he’s ready to “get the job done.”

As a key member of the resurgent boys basketball team, Foley was a “warrior inside the paint,” no matter how many “big men” he faced on the opposing side. Some nights, he “carried the team with guts and determination,” allowing the talented perimeter players to “do their thing,” Blanchette said.

Showing a measured mix of fun and competitiveness, Foley had the “perfect combination of mischievous eyes and eyes of the tiger,” he said. The crowd gave Foley one of the several standing ovations award recipients got that night.


Bromfield field hockey, Ayer volleyball, North Middlesex boys basketball

The Bromfield field hockey team captured a MidWach C championship and posted a 16-1-1 record, the best in school history. The team was built around a solid nucleus, supported by a strong bench, and was a potent combination of underclassmen and seniors under the guidance of veteran coach Sue Silver.

The Ayer volleyball team captured a MidWach C Championship, and remained unbeaten until a loss in the District finals to powerful Millis. Blanchette cited the quality of both the girls and the ability on the team, and talked about the team’s ability to come from behind against quality league opponents the caliber of Leominster, Fitchburg and Hudson.

The North Middlesex boys basketball team finished with a 16-6 overall record and made a run at a league championship in tough MidWach A. Blanchette talked about the cohesiveness and chemistry of the team and how the players blended their talents toward a common goal under the astute leadership of coach Erik Dellasanta.

None of those three teams were able to capture District championships, but each enjoyed a “special” season.


Brynnan Farrington, Ayer, and Mimi Narbonne, Bromfield

Brynnan Farrington displays a “joy-to-heartburn ratio” that her coaches appreciate, Blanchette said. She’s also a pleasure to work and be with, he said, noting her “enjoyment of the high-school experience” and personality and leadership traits that made her a “beacon to teammates.”

Farrington was a “superb student” and four-year member of the volleyball, basketball and track teams. She was an “intimidating force” in volleyball, a strong two-way center in basketball, a “state-caliber shot putter” and a top-notch discus thrower.

As a shining star among stars on a girls track team that has “enjoyed a wealth of success” through the years, Bromfield runner Mimi Narbonne was a recognized go-to athlete whose name was recognized statewide, Blanchette said.

To say she had a “full high school career” would be an understatement, he said. “Brilliant” sums it up better. Adjectives mounted as he described Narbonne’s successful resume, including district and state championships and school records.

She is a “talented, tough, competitive and relentless runner,” he said.

Add to her “deep credentials” a pleasant personality and can-do attitude. And, according to her coach Ray Dunn, she is also an outstanding mentor to younger girls on the team.


Shane Penney, Groton-Dunstable, and Drew Dion, North Middlesex

Absent a “catchy phrase” to describe what makes Shane Penney the student-athlete and person he is, Blanchette said it succinctly: “He gets it.”

As a fullback and linebacker on the Groton-Dunstable football team, Penney knows that “individual efforts are crucial” but “the team concept is paramount,” Blanchette said.

Penney respects the contributions of his teammates and coaches and his opponents’ effort and motives and gets the “total concept of high-school sports,” including the price of excellence and the commitment it takes to achieve it, Blanchette said. Despite his numerous accomplishments, including achievement in the classroom, he is humble, too.

“Nothing pleased me more this year than to get to know Drew Dion better,” Blanchette said. Having made the wrong call about him early on, he now has a better understanding of “who he is and what he means to North Middlesex sports.”

His teammates were “in awe” of his ability, in Blanchette’s view. He’s quick and adept on the soccer field and the basketball court, but doesn’t “flaunt” his gifts, he said.

“Like most great athletes,” Dion makes it look easy, natural, but Blanchette said that’s not an accurate assessment. “The ultimate team player,” his talent comes as a “package,” with equal parts “desire and heart” plus focus and drive, he said.

Dion’s teammates and coaches praise him highly and sincerely, Blanchette said, and he’s seen him mature in every way this year.


Bromfield girls indoor track team

Sketching his pick for this award, Blanchette posed a rhetorical question: How can a small school program continue to defy the cycles all high school sports programs experience? “I honestly don’t know,” he stated. But this team is “living proof” it can happen. Listing a roster of accomplishments, including wins and championship efforts, he said the team shows “depth,” a term not typically associated with high school sports.

One secret for the team’s success could be that the girls get into it early, as seventh and eighth -graders, according to coach Ray Dunn. “These girls run in big races and are comfortable and confident,” he said.


Groton-Dunstable boys golf, Bromfield boys soccer, Groton-Dunstable hockey

The question is often asked, “Is golf a team sport?” Blanchette said. The answer is yes.

It takes individual commitment, dedication and hard work to make any team a success, and golf is no exception, he explained. It is different, though, with nobody standing beside a golfer about to make a key putt or hit a drive.

Strong teams are made up of individual players, each of whom must show up every day, continue to improve and encourage teammates to do the same, Blanchette said. “That was true of the Groton-Dunstable boys’ golf team this season.”

“The key to any regular season is to qualify for post-season play, and that mission was accomplished,” he said. Playing against “quality opposition,” plus the experience gained from a “tough regular-season schedule and competing with each other every day added up to a team that was “primed and dangerous” on the Central Massachusetts circuit, he said.

The Crusaders earned the Central Mass Division 2 championship this year.

In a year that was deemed to be the “year of Sutton,” the Bromfield boys soccer team upset the Sammies in the District final to claim coach Tom Hill’s 18th District championship. The members of this year’s Trojans did what their predecessors did, answered the challenge with the largest target on their backs in Central Massachusetts sports.

Once again, the Trojans proved to be at home in the Central Massachusetts finals. They have been frequent flyers at Nashoba Publishing’s Sports Night and earned a place again there with a big effort at crunchtime.

Last season, the Groton-Dunstable hockey team returned to post-season play and the question was what could the Crusaders do for an encore? They did plenty.

The Crusaders captured the Russell Conference Championship for the second straight season and picked up wins over Assabet Valley and Fitchburg to secure a Central Mass. Division 3A championship.

“There is a feeling in place that this may just be the beginning,” said Blanchette. “That the year under the belts of the younger players, the trip to the State finals, and the tone set by the graduating seniors have provided a rock-solid foundation that will be paying off for years to come. One season of progress has now become a trend.”