SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 31, 2012

Year in Review ... The top 10 stories of 2012

By Gianna Addario
Staff Writer

---- — There are far too many moments, memories and milestones to count on just one hand from this past sports year. From state titles to Super Bowl victories and everything in between, 2012 has been one of the more entertaining and exciting years the North Shore sports world has seen.

With all the accomplishments this year and the accolades that go along with them, here’s a look at the top 10 stories that captured our attention in 2012:

DANVERS BOYS WIN FIRST STATE BASKETBALL TITLE: The Falcons finished with the best record (21-4) in program history and capped it off with a 59-41 win over St. Joseph Central of Pittsfield for the Division 3 state title in March.

Down by double digits with approximately two minutes left in its North semifinal contest against Wayland, Danvers pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind, overtime victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Falcons received contributions from up and down the bench throughout the tournament, but it was senior George Merry’s 23-point performance against Wayland that caught people’s attention. The 6-foot-8 Merry became one of the main focal points on the team, averaging 18.2 points and more than 10 boards in the five postseason games.

BOXFORD’S CHRIS KREIDER TURNS PRO WITH NEW YORK RANGERS:Chris Kreider went straight from winning an NCAA championship at Boston College to the NHL playoffs with the New York Rangers.

At BC, he led the team in scoring with 23 goals and 45 points in 44 games, before joining the Rangers in the playoffs that same season. In April, Kreider signed a three-year, entry-level contract with New York.

As a rookie with the Rangers, Kreider’s first two NHL goals were game-winners, never having scored in the regular season.The 21-year-old made history again as he ended the 2012 playoffs with five goals, an NHL record for most playoff goals without having played a regular season game.

MARBLEHEAD’S KAYLA HARRISON AND SHALANE FLANAGAN COMPETE IN SUMMER OLYMPICS: Kayla Harrison became the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in judo at the London Olympics in August. She took the women’s 78-kilogram title after defeating Britain’s Gemma Gibbons in the final.

The 22-year-old Harrison is originally from Ohio, but currently lives in Marblehead and trains in Wakefield under two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jimmy Pedro.

Marblehead native Shalane Flanagan finished 10th in the Olympic marathon in London. Flanagan ran her second-best marathon time in 2:25:51 and even led the pack for the first three miles of the race. Flanagan, who was participating in her third Olympics but first competing in the marathon, was the top American finisher.

PEABODY GIRLS SOCCER RANKED NO. 1 NATIONALLY:In early October, the Tanners weren’t just ranked No. 1 in the state, they had transcended into national status as the top team in the country, voted by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Even with star forward Hayley Dowd sidelined with injury, Peabody managed a 10-0 record by the beginning of October, outscoring its opponents 46-2. The Tanners held off strong Northeastern Conference opponents in Beverly and Revere as they won 38 straight games from 2011-12, before losing only to Acton-Boxborough once in the regular season and in the Division 1 North tournament.

The Tanners were even awarded the No. 1 seed in the Division 1 tournament for their 17-1 regular season record, but another bout with A-B in the first round cost them a shot at another state title.

PEABODY FOOTBALL COACH SCOTT WLASUK STEPS DOWN: Peabody’s Scott Wlasuk resigned in early October in the middle of his fifth season as head coach. The Tanners were coming off a 49-0 loss to Beverly and fell to 0-5.

Offensive assistant Matt O’Brien took over the position on an interim basis. O’Brien, a 1992 Peabody High grad, had been on Wlasuk’s staff for several years. The Tanners finished the season winless (0-10) for the first time since 1958.

Wlasuk was named head coach prior to the 2008 season and took over a program that had gone 2-19 in 2006-07. He won four games his first season and finished with a 17-31 record in 4.5 seasons.

BEVERLY GIRLS SOCCER WINS FIRST NORTH TITLE: No one could’ve predicted the type of success the Panthers would have in the Division 1 tournament, not even head coach Kristin Simpson. After taking down powerhouses like Concord-Carlisle and Westford Academy, Beverly defeated Central Catholic in penalty kicks for the Division 1 North title.

Beverly scored on all four of its penalty kick attempts to beat Central Catholic, 2-1. The Panthers (18-4) were down 1-0, but overcame the deficit to win the program’s first North title crown.

A fairly young squad, the Panthers were led by junior striker Caitlin Harty, who became Beverly’s all-time scoring leader with 90 goals and 119 total points. Harty’s scoring surge through the regular season got the Panthers into the tournament, but it was keeper Casey Cook who posted two postseason shutouts to keep them there.

BEVERLY FOOTBALL RECORDS UNDEFEATED SEASON AND WINS SECOND SUPER BOWL IN THREE YEARS: Perhaps this 2012 Beverly football season will go down as one of the best in program history.The Panthers finished a perfect 13-0 and capped it off with the best prize of all — the Division 2A Super Bowl championship.

It was Beverly’s second Super Bowl title in three years, having won in 2010, as well. The Panthers took down a strong Burlington team in the playoffs to advance the Super Bowl at Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium. Head coach Dan Bauer went with what got Beverly there in the first place, an efficient running game.

Senior captain Brendan Flaherty totaled 175 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, junior Isaiah White added 87 yards on 11 carries, while captain Kenny Pierce finished with 71 yards as the Panthers offense totaled nearly 350 yards for 28-21 victory over Natick in early December.

ST. JOHN’S PREP WINS DIV. 1 SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIP:It was only fitting that head coach Jim O’Leary got his 200th career win in the same season that his team won a Super Bowl title. The Eagles cemented their spot in program history, going 11-1 this season, with their only loss coming against Everett.

It had been 15 years since their last Super Bowl triumph, but the Eagles dominated in all three phases of their 48-28 victory over Brockton for the Division 1 Super Bowl crown. The night belonged to Prep, as they scored twice in the first two minutes and 51 seconds. The Eagles offense accounted for four touchdowns, the defense had one and special teams added two more.

After the loss to Everett in late September, the Prep went on a nine-game win streak, including the playoffs. The Eagles dominated league play, with wins over Xaverian, BC High and Malden Catholic during the regular season.

PEABODY GIRLS CROSS COUNTRY WIN STATE TITLE, ROCHA 2ND AT NATIONALS: Peabody High’s Catarina Rocha capped off a magnificent senior season, as she helped the Tanners to their first team title since 1978 in November. Rocha finished first overall with a time of 18:06.12 and took the individual championship, while teammates Heather MacLean and Lauren Barrett added top-20 finishes, as Peabody was first with 108 points.

Rocha also earned her second straight All-America honor at Foot Locker’s Cross Country Championships earlier this month. The Providence College-bound Rocha finished second in the national finals with a time of 17:29. Rocha earned the bid to nationals after winning the Foot Locker Cross Country Northeast Regional Championship.

O’NEILL, COSTA, JANE HEIL HIT 500 WINS:Salem State men’s hockey coach Bill O’Neill earned his 500th career win in an 8-2 victory over Framingham State last February. His son Andrew, who graduated from SSU in 2007, is now one of the program’s assistant coaches. O’Neill, now in his 32nd year as head coach, started in 1981, when he was just 25 years old. O’Neill is just the third hockey coach in program history.

The best part of Manny Costa’s milestone was that his sons were there to share in the memory. Costa has been coaching the St. John’s Prep wrestling team for the past 23 seasons and has racked up an impressive 502-129-5* record. The Eagles (15-1*) swept the Christmas Eve quad meet, which gave Costa his 500th career win.

Peabody’s Jane Heil has led the girls basketball program since the late 1970s. Heil has coached the Tanners to 17 Greater Boston League titles, 26 tournament appearances and one very significant state title in 1985. Peabody’s 48-25 win over Everett on Thursday night earned Heil her 500th win, which only added to her already accomplished career.