SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 13, 2013

2013 Salem News Fall Sports Coaches of the Year


The Salem News

---- — BOYS SOCCER

DAVE MITCHELL

Masconomet

Over the past three seasons as head coach of the Masconomet boys soccer team, Dave Mitchell has put together a 58-6-6 record, made two state final appearances, earned two North titles and, this fall, captured the program’s first Division 2 state championship trophy since 1996.

This season was near-perfect as the Chieftains swept all of theirs Cape Ann League opponents and recorded just on loss to Division 1 powerhouse Somerville. As a team Masconomet had 17 shutouts, including a 3-0 victory over Danvers in the Div. 2 North quarterfinals. Under Mitchell, Masco earned its third consecutive CAL title.

The Chieftains’ biggest accomplishments came in postseason play where they defeated arch rival North Andover in the North final, then bested Walpole, 4-2, to win the Division 2 state title banner.

Mitchell played four years of college soccer at Holy Cross and began teaching history at Masconomet shortly thereafter. He was selected as the 2008 Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year as well as the National History Teacher of Year. He was the Chieftains’ freshman team coach from 1995-2005, at which time he became the varsity coach at Bishop Fenwick, leading the Crusaders to three postseason appearances in four years.

With Mitchell at the helm, Masconomet prides itself on fitness, which was made evident during the long tournament run as the Chieftains outworked every team they faced.

GIRLS SOCCER

DOC SIMPSON

Pingree

In a just three years, Dushawne ‘Doc’ Simpson has led the Pingree girls soccer program to new heights.

This fall, the Highlanders won their first New England Prep School championship in 25 years while also going unbeaten in Eastern Independent League play and taking the league title.

Simpson’s technical expertise and knack for teaching the game paid big dividends for the Highlanders. They outlasted Brewster Academy, 4-3, in double overtime to win the NEPSAC crown. Pingree also overcome some key injuries on the backline and prevailed with 14 healthy players in the regional playoffs.

“The girls had a lot of perseverance,” said Simpson, who is assisted by former Newburyport High standout Jillian Kinter. “We’re trying to create a winning tradition, and we’re hoping this is just the beginning. This year was a great foundation with some hard working, dedicated players.”

The director of coaching for the Aztec program, Simpson has led that program to state, regional and national titles and also coaches in the Women’s Premier Soccer League. He was an All-State player in Connecticut in high school and excellent at both Southern Connecticut State and Salem State in college before playing professionally both in New England and in Italy’s Serie C.

He lives in Beverly with his wife, Beverly girls head coach Kristin, and their children.

GOLF

LARRY O’NEILL

St. John’s Prep

Larry O’Neill has now won seven state titles as coach of the St. John’s Prep golf team. This season, however, may have been his finest coaching job.

The Eagles had only four seniors on the roster — Jeff O’Connor, Justin Serowik, Max Burt and Tim Tully — but O’Neill helped them combine with a talented group of underclassmen to capture the Division 1 state title at Black Swan Country Club in Georgetown. St. John’s, led by two sophomores and a freshman on that particular day, tied Xaverian with a 312, and won in the tiebreaker.

Sophomores Steven DiLisio and James Turner, and freshmen Mark Turner and Chris Francoeur, were four of the top six players for the Eagles.

St. John’s finished 16-2 this season and captured its second straight Catholic Conference title. O’Neill has now won 20 conference titles in 25 years coaching. St. John’s also won the Div. 1 North sectional title this fall, and the Eagles are set up well for next season with so many key players coming back.

VOLLEYBALL

ADAM DeBAGGIS

Bishop Fenwick

Ask DeBaggis to describe what made his Bishop Fenwick squad so successful this fall, and his answer is simple: “extremely focused from start to finish.”

No one who had to stand across the net from the Crusaders would disagree. They dominated from their first match on, piling up a school record 22 wins, capturing the program’s first-ever North championship title and reaching the state semifinals before falling. Their 22-3 overall record is tops in Fenwick volleyball history.

When DeBaggis became head coach of the team five years ago, he admits he didn’t know much about the sport. Now he’s totally immersed himself in it and that shows in how strong his program has become in such a short time. A perfect blend of enthusiasm and hard work, he said, contributed mightily to the Crusaders’ on-court success this season.

The 33-year-old from Peabody, an English teacher at Fenwick, has coached high school athletics for nine years. He thanks this year’s seniors and captains for their tremendous leadership.

FIELD HOCKEY

SARAH MERULLO

Ipswich

Second year Ipswich field hockey coach Sarah Merullo actually played in high school for the Tigers’ rival Manchester Essex where Merullo and the Hornets went to the North Division 2 semifinals three straight years and the North D2 finals her senior season.

Now Merullo is working her post season magic with Ipswich.

This past fall, Ipswich finished the regular season at 13-2-3 and reached the state tournament for the second straight season. The Tigers lost to Merullo’s former team Manchester Essex in the semifinals.

“Our successful season was due in a large part to our core group of senior leaders. Many of them were varsity starters last year and had absorbed all that I had taught them, and were able to take it to the next level this year,” explained Merullo, who teaches Spanish at Ipswich High. “The majority had played together since middle school. They were a truly passionate and driven group who strove to do the best that they could, which also meant creating and fostering an environment that encouraged younger players.”

Merullo learned a lot from her high school coach Pam Grant (now at Peabody) before Merullo continued her career at Bates College, where she was a co-captain on the 2011 squad.

Now, the 2012 Bates graduate is bringing her own style to the Tigers program.

“My goal as a field hockey coach is to create and maintain a field hockey program that is a positive environment and drives girls to be passionate, dedicated and, most importantly, have fun while being successful,” said Merullo. “Fostering the team bond and creating a strong team unit is another one of my focus points as a coach. Teammates need to respect, rely on and trust each other. That way they can hold each other accountable and push each other to the best they can be.”

FOOTBALL

DAVE WOODS

Bishop Fenwick

Four years ago, Bishop Fenwick football coach Dave Woods took a look at his freshman class and knew right away he had some impressive talent on his hands. But it wasn’t until the following year, after another talented class entered the school, when the goals started taking shape.

Over the next couple seasons, Wood cultivated the talented players in his program and turned them into an undefeated Division 5 Super Bowl champion. Fenwick thumped Northbridge, 28-0, last week at Gillette Stadium to capture the title.

This season, with Woods overseeing the whole operation, the Crusaders had arguably their best season in school history. Woods guided the team to a 13-0 record and called the plays for a crew that set a new school scoring record with 510 points. The senior class — those freshmen that caught Woods’ eye in the fall of 2010 — went out winning their final 16 games, another school record.

“This group, they’re the best team in this school’s history, no question,” Woods said after the Crusaders defeated Northbridge.

The Super Bowl victory was Woods’ third in 16 years at the helm. He also led the team to titles in 1999 and 2000. He now has 118 wins at Fenwick, best in program history, and his teams have won seven or more games in 10 seasons during his reign.

The 48-year-old Woods also served as vice president of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association.

BOYS TRACK

JOE ROCHA

Peabody

Peabody has always been either a league champion or a strong contender in the 15 years since Rocha has been head coach — and this year was no exception.

With a good mix of newcomers and veterans, the Tanners won the Northeastern Conference regular season title and league championship meet (with 6 runners in the top 11) while placing second at the Division 1 Eastern Mass. Meet (with 4 runners in the top 20). The highlight of the season was posting their best finish ever at All-States with third place.

“We had a big team (48 runners) and tried to develop the best in each individual and as a group,” said Rocha, whose son Marcelo came along even quicker than he expected, being the only freshman to finish in the top 60 at the Division 1 All-State race (31st place).

Junior Alex Greco, a transfer from Beverly, strengthened Peabody’s top group of runners while seniors Drew Fossa and Ben Braz were consistently front runners all season long. Rocha was careful not to overtrain his squad, and as a result they produced in the big meets.

Rocha is married to the former Gina Braz and lives in Peabody with his wife and three children.

GIRLS TRACK

JEN RODIER

Marblehead

Jen Rodier has had a lot of success with the Marblehead cross country program the past five years, but this was her best season ever. The team posted a perfect 6-0 record during the regular season and won the Eastern Mass. Division 4 title for the first time, blowing away second place Wakefield.“The girls came into the season stronger than ever before after working hard all summer,” said Rodier, who is a science teacher at Marblehead High and lives in Topsfield with her husband and daughter.

“They were a motivated and determined group. We also had a lot of seniors who really wanted to go places and make it happen for the team in their final year. They were enjoyable to coach, and it was great to see this hard-working team get the recognition they deserved.”

Rodier said the team’s biggest surprise was Lily Roberts, who wound up a Salem News all-star. “She gave her all at every workout and, as a team captain, was a great role model and leader,” said the coach.