SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 18, 2013

Matt Williams column: State tourney records show it was a great year to play in Danvers


The Salem News

---- — If the sports adage is true that the playoffs are what we remember most, then it was certainly a good school year to be playing for a school in Danvers.

St. John’s Prep and Danvers High, both located in the 01923 zip code, topped our annual list of the top performers by school in the various MIAA state tournaments. The Eagles’ collective athletic programs went 16-8 in postseason play, just edging out the Faclons’ mark of 15-9 for tops in the area.

This is the fifth year we’ve tabulated these results, jokingly known as ‘The Willies’ around Salem News headquarters. To do so, we add up the records of all the area schools playing in sports that sponsor a traditional state tournament: boys and girls soccer, field hockey, volleyball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls lacrosse, baseball and softball.

Then, for no reason other than curiosity and to award arbitrary bragging rights, we compare them.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how St. John’s Prep had so much success: the Eagles’ soccer and baseball teams made it to the Division 1 North final, and their hockey team made the Super 8 semifinals.

In Danvers, the drive was led by North final appearances by the Falcons’ boys hockey and baseball squads, and of course the boys basketball team’s second consecutive Division 3 state title.

The other schools with winning postseason records were Ipswich (9-6), Masconomet (13-11), Swampscott (9-8) and Marblehead (10-9). (It should be noted that to keep things simple, we put co-operative programs with their host school. For example, for girls hockey Marblehead/Swampscott counts for Marblehead, and the Ipswich players skating for the Rockport hockey team aren’t included since we don’t directly cover the Vikings.)

What is the strongest North Shore sport? This year it was baseball. The local seamheads had a combined state tournament record (all teams in our coverage area’s baseball playoff mark added together) of 15-7. That number was driven by three North finalists (St. John’s, Danvers and Masconomet) and an unprecedented six squads that won 15 games or more.

It was also a pretty good year for boys basketball (8-4), boys hockey (10-6), girls soccer (11-9), girls lacrosse (9-8), boys soccer (10-10), boys lacrosse (9-9) and boys tennis (7-7); all of which managed to have combined winning playoff records. As you can see, the 2012-13 season brought a busy state tournament season on the North Shore.

There’s certainly an element of luck in a one-game playoff, so there should be some credit just for getting to playoffs. In all, just shy of 100 teams in various sports from local high schools made the state tournament this past school year (that number is well over the century mark if you include football and all-state qualifiers in sports like cross country and track and wrestling).

The bragging rights for qualifying belong to the beautiful game. Boys soccer led the pack, putting 10 of 11 clubs in the tournament, while girls soccer wasn’t far behind with 9 of 11. Boys lacrosse (9 of 12) and girls tennis (9 of 10) also put nine teams in the postseason, followed by girls lacrosse (8 of 11) and field hockey (8 of 10), then boys tennis (7 of 11), baseball (7 of 12), girls basketball (7 of 11) and softball (7 of 10). Boys basketball and boys hockey each put five teams in, but the ones that qualified did quite well.

Girls hockey put two teams in and won the sport’s first playoff game for the area in almost three years when Beverly beat Medford. The Ipswich boys athletic program broke a two-year drought when its soccer team qualified and won a pair of games.

Looking at changes from last year’s list, the most improved school was Swampscott, which went from 5-9 in all sports to 9-8. The biggest setback went to Peabody, which dipped from 8-8 to 3-10 and didn’t win a playoff game in the fall or winter seasons.

In terms of sports, the most improved was a split between boys lacrosse, which moved from 5-9 to 9-9, and boys hockey, which moved from 5-5 to 10-6. The biggest dip in a sport went to girls basketball, which led the area a year ago at 7-5 and fell to 4-7 this winter.

It’s interesting to note that regular season success doesn’t always translate to the postseason. The only sports in which both Northeastern Conference champions (i.e., North and South or Large and Small division winners) both won at least two playoff games were baseball and boys basketball. There are a myriad of reasons, from Division placement to strength of schedule to spring games being scheduled around proms and graduation and simply having an off-game.

A great postseason can erase the frustration of a so-so regular season, and a great regular season eases the pain of a tough playoff outing. It’s nice that the street runs both ways, because it gives more athletes more positive memories of their high school days.

Next year will be the first time we’ll incorporate football into this list, and it’ll be fascinating to see what happens. The state is instituting a nearly month-long state tournament style march to the Super Bowl this coming November, so we’ll be able to track how many area teams qualify and what their records are once they get there.

A lot of folks wonder why such a thing is necessary; maybe columns like this one provide the answer. People don’t add up and compare records from conference cross-overs, bowl games or all-star tilts. They do it for the state tournament.

Simply put, people love the playoffs.

Especially if they were going to school located in Danvers in 2012-13.

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Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at 978-338-2669, MWilliams@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.