Profiles of three Cape Cod teams that completed championship seasons last fall
In the fall of 2016, the Barnstable High School girls volleyball team bumped, set and spiked its way to yet another state championship. In the same time period, the Falmouth High School football team won the MIAA Division 2 Super Bowl, going undefeated in the process and winning the final game at Gillette Stadium. Meanwhile, the boys soccer team at Nauset High School in Eastham not only won a state title to complete an undefeated (23-0!) season, they allowed just one goal for the entire year. One goal! The Warriors’ final goal differential was a whopping 108-1.
Now that’s some serious success! In this article, we interview the coaches of these three teams as well as some of the team members who participated. Congratulations to all involved, and best wishes to every Cape and Islands team that takes the field, court and course this fall. – Matt Gill
Community rallies behind team in triumph and tragedy: Falmouth High School Football
Just a few weeks after reaching the pinnacle in high school athletics—a Super Bowl title won in front of family and friends at Gillette Stadium—the Falmouth High School football team and the entire Falmouth community were rocked when two members of the team died in a car accident on December 22. Owen Higgins and James Lavin, who also played for the Clippers’ hockey team, died in a crash while driving home from hockey practice.
“Those two kids were just such special young men,” says Falmouth High football coach Derek Almeida. “For that to happen, it was just devastating. It probably hit me harder than anything else ever has in my life, and it hit the players just as hard. I don’t think everybody is over the hump yet.”
Zach Murphy, a linebacker on the team, says Lavin and Higgins were two of his best friends. “They were great teammates, great guys,” Murphy says. “They could bring a smile to your face no matter how you were feeling.” Nick Couhig, the Clippers’ quarterback, offered a similar sentiment. “They could make anyone laugh. They were really special kids.”
Following the tragedy, the team has been buoyed from the support received from many in Falmouth. Love, encouragement, and the idea of someone being in your corner—these are feelings the team’s members are used to, though, as the community backed the team through the entire football season. “There’s a lot of tradition here and lots of people that really care about Falmouth football,” Almeida says. “People really showed up and supported us.” At the games, Murphy says fans always spurred them on. “They kept us riled up,” he says. “They were a big factor in everything that we accomplished.” Couhig adds that parents contributed in many ways, including making sure the team always had food for the long bus rides after away games. “They did a really great job of taking care of us and supporting us,” he says.
On the field, the Clippers completed an undefeated 14-0 season in 2016, culminating with a win over Marblehead in the Division II Super Bowl. It was the first such title in the school’s history. After the game, Falmouth Police met the team’s buses at the Bourne Rotary to provide an escort home. The contingent drove through town and along Main Street, and fans were waiting for them along the roads and at Fuller Field. “Everyone in the stores came out and they all cheered us on,” Murphy says. “It was so cool.” –Matt Gill
Season for the ages ends with a state title: Nauset High School Boys Soccer
To win a league title is one thing. To win a state title is another. To complete a run like the Nauset High School boys soccer team did in 2016 is an accomplishment of such prestige it may be decades before another Bay State team comes close to matching it. Last fall, the team completed a 23-0 record while outscoring all opponents 108-1. The first goal the team allowed came in the last game—the state title game against Masconomet. Nauset returned to Cape Cod victorious, winning 2 to 1.
“Our goal at Nauset has always been simple: win the league, make the tournament, and challenge for a state title,” says head coach John McCully. “That’s always the goal. Once the season was going on last year, we knew we had something special, but anything can happen in the tournament. We took it day by day.” McCully credits the leadership of last year’s captains, Ben Mulholland, Hayden Yakola and Jake LaBranche, and the hard work the entire team put in during both the season and the off season. “To be part of our program you have to make a commitment, and you need to make some sacrifices,” McCully says. “This is a special group of kids. They played for each other, they worked for each other, and they believed in each other.”
Following the season, the accolades rolled in. Nauset was named the top high school team in New England and ranked ninth in the country according to USA Today. LaBranche and then junior James McCully, the coach’s son, were named to The Boston Globe’s All Scholastic Team, while McCully was voted MVP of both the state tourney and the state title game—and nearly bested his father’s school record for goals in a season (39). He finished with 38.
LaBranche was also named Gatorade’s Player of the Year for Massachusetts, and he will play soccer this fall at Middlebury College. He commented on what made the team click. “We were all friends, and we had good chemistry,” LaBranche says. “Everyone seemed to come out of their shell when we played soccer.”
Incredibly, Nauset graduated just three starters from last year’s squad and looks to be strong once again in 2017. As interviews for this story were conducted in July, 41 Nauset High players were at a soccer training camp at Keene State College. The theme continues: commitment, practice and hard work.
What does it mean to be a state champion? “What it means to me is that Nauset High School is on the map,” Coach McCully says. “Not only everyone in Massachusetts and New England, but also nationally—everybody knows where Nauset High School is now.” –Matt Gill
Goal-setting is key for volleyball powerhouse: Barnstable High School Girls Volleyball
The girls volleyball team at Barnstable High School is legendary. With 18 Division 1 state titles, numerous undefeated seasons, and a head coach who’s in the Massachusetts Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame, the Red Raiders are a dynasty on the court. So what’s the secret to their success? For head coach Tom Turco, it all starts with a book by Pat Riley, coach of the successful Los Angeles Lakers teams of the 1980s. It’s called The Winner Within.
Every year since 1994, Turco has held 12 classroom sessions—one for each chapter in the book—in which he asks his players to explore how the lessons presented in the book apply both to themselves and the team. One lesson covers goal setting. At the start of each season, the team’s seniors lead a meeting with the rest of the players—without the coaches—and decide as a team what their goals are for the season. “You can have a talented team, but unless you have a together team, it won’t work out,” says Turco. “I believe that players should take over the destiny of the team. What drives the engine is player-oriented goals, not coach-oriented goals.”
In 2016, the Barnstable team set a goal of winning a state title—and that’s exactly what they did, sweeping Newton North 3-0 in the finals after losing to the team earlier in the season. “It’s an incredible atmosphere to be around,” Turco says, “because the girls understand that everything they’re doing is to get them to their goals. All 18 state championships—that’s all them, because they accepted the fact that achievement takes planning, setting goals, focus and sacrifice.”
Ashley Atkins Keating, who played for Barnstable High from 1997 to 2000, credits the team’s success, on the other hand, to Coach Turco. “He sets very high expectations and instills this unbelievable work ethic that’s just very hard to find anywhere else,” Keating says. “For example, you don’t walk anywhere, you run. I swear that mentality has helped me become the person I am today.”
For senior Caroline Brodt, who in 2016 was ranked as the #1 setter in the state, every season is a new start, and this year is no different. “Metaphorically looking at it, it’s a seed that you plant,” Brodt says. “Last year we started with a seed and we ended with a huge tree. We just have to start right at the beginning again, and that’s going to take everyone’s effort. We have this saying, ‘16 deep,’ so everyone has the capability to step up at any time.” –Haley Cote