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Pandemic dominates sports headlines in 2020

The year 2020 will certainly send shudders through many years from now when the they look back on it.

For the local sports community, it will go down in history for many reasons. But there was certainly some good things to remember with the bad.

It’s pretty easy to choose the top story for the year, and it will certainly top a lot of lists. But after that, the many good things that happened in 2020 will be recalled in one writer’s very subjective list.

Here is the look back at one scribe’s personal Top 10 local sports stories of 2020:

NO. 1 THE PANDEMIC

DOMINATES THE LOCAL SPORTS SCHEDULE,

CANCELLING WINTER HIGH SCHOOL

TOURNAMENTS AND THE SPRING SEASON, A SUMMER REVIVAL AND SHORTENED FALL

It began in March, just before the home stretch of the local high school tournaments. The state hockey finals, the Division I-1I girls basketball seminfinals and finals, as well as the Division I-II boys hoop tournements were cancelled with co-champions declared. The only title team to come out of that were the Bishop Guertin girls basketball team, which was slated to face Bedford in the semis. The Cards were the top seed, while Goffstown was the next highest remaining seed at No. 6, and thus the two shared the crown.

Of course, then came the spring, and the NHIAA held out as long as it could, finally pulling the plug on any potential spring sports season, even if it were only going to be for a few games.

“This decision was not made lightly given what athletics mean to the participants, parents, and communities across the state,” the NHIAA said in a statement. “While it was our hope to salvage some portion of the spring season, the fact that schools will not reopen their doors to students this year and the uncertainty surrounding when or if social distancing guidelines will be lifted has made us face the stark reality that playing high school sports this spring is simply not an option.”

“Definitely disappointed, but I get it,” Nashua North baseball coach Zach Harris said. “I totally get it. … The last thing you want to see is everyone go back to things as normal and then have this (virus) come back and we have start with this all over again.”

High schools weren’t the only ones impacted. Rivier University hasn’t played an athletic contest since mid-March, as the spring season was cancelled, as was the fall and the GNAC said no to winter.

Still, there was summer baseball, as Souhegan coach Tom Walker organized the NEIBL and, after Legion baseball was cancelled, Nashua Legion coach Tim Lund organized the NHCBL (COVID Baseball League). It was the start of athletes getting back out there.

And, after allowing summer workouts, in early August the NHIAA announced it would have a fall season, so good news finally here. Practices weren’t allowed to begin until Sept. 8, and seasons didn’t begin until mid to late September. But they were pretty eventful.

Then finally, in late November and early December, most winter sports were approved by area school districts, including in Nashua.

NO. 2 NASHUA NORTH

CAPTURES DIVISION I

FOOTBALL TITLE

In a normal year this would be Numero Uno. But still, it was history made on the good side. The Titans, due to the pandemic-shortened season and a couple of cancellations for safety sake, actually played more playoff games (four) than regular season games (three), but won them all to finish 7-0. North survived a tight 33-28 semifinal scare vs. Salem but then went on to blow Goffstown away 49-21 for the school’s first football title and the first for a Nashua public school since South won it in 2008, and first in the city overall since BG in 2011.

Of course Curtis Harris was the star, scoring four TDs vs. Salem and rushing for 202 yards, then scoring three TDs in the title game. In between he committed to Holy Cross. A season to remember for so many reasons.

NO. 3 NASHUA SILVER KNIGHTS WIN THE FCBL CHAMPIONSHIP

All spring the hierarchy of the Futures Collegiate League stood pat, patiently waiting to gauge the pandemic landscape.

Their patience paid, off, and Nashua Silver Knights fans were treated to a spectacular summer of July-August baseball, with the Knights capturing their fifth FCBL title in a down-to-the-wire, three game series with what we call sibling rival Worcester (same owner, John Creedon, Jr.).

Late season additon Kyle Bouchard was the Finals MVP. Kyle Jackson was the league’s Manager of the Year, GM Cam Cook the Executive fo the Year, both in their first years on the job. Another great Holman Stadium moment when Brandon Dufault fanned Worcester’s Tyler Patane with the tying runs on base.

“It was a team effort,” Jackson said. ” You can’t pick one kid that didn’t do something for the team.”

But the league and its fans were the real winners. They got a season, where other summer college wooden bat leagues did not.

NO. 4 NASHUA GIRLS BASKETBALL COACHING LEGEND JOHN FAGULA PASSES AWAY

The toughest story of the summer. Fagula, the legendary Panthers girls basketball coach who went out on top with Londonderry a half dozen years ago, had been battling health issues for awhile. His former players all made sure to let the community know just how special the experience of playing for him was. He left behind a girls basketball coaching legacy that will likely never be matched.

“He was such a big part of our lives,” said Stephanie Kane, who played on the 1987 team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. “He was a special man that was definitely over and above. More than just a coach. He shaped our lives.”

NO. 5 JAMES PLEAT CAPTURES AN EVENTFUL STATE AM GOLF TITLE

This was one of the best local – and historic – moments of the year. Once golf was allowed to resume in May, the State Am at Nashua Country Club was all systems go for the first full week in July. And what a tournament it was when James Pleat fulfilled a lifelong dream of joining his father, Phil, and grandfather and great grandfather Thomas Leonard and Thomas Leonard, Jr. in capturing the covented crown. He won it on the 35th hole over Bishop Guertin alum Cam Sheedy, who entered the event on a whim and played some fabulous golf as well. “A pretty wild week, honestly,” James Pleat said. “It was a week I’ll never forget.”

Neither will anyone who witnessed it.

NO. 6 SOUHEGAN CAPTURES DIVISION II FOOTBALL TITLE

It was championship Saturday, a day the area got not one but two state football crowns. Sabers head coach Robin Bowkett did what a good program builder does – he won a championshp with his first full class, a senior dominated team that ralled to beat Plymouth on Riley Lawhorn’s big TD run, 26-21, in a game for the ages. The Bobcats had rallied for a 21-20 lead after trailing 20-7 at the half. Bowkett’s team finished the season a perfect 8-0, so between them and North the area had a 15-0 domination.

NO. 7 RIVIER ADDS MEN’S AND WOMEN’S HOCKEY FOR FALL OF 2021

This was big news for the local university – and hockey community – in the midst of a pandemic that has seen their teams basically practicing only with no competition. It’s a big undertaking, but the school took advantage of the fact it would be able to secure Conway Arena , and the whole idea was to expand the student body through its athletic program. Good idea. Now the work begins with recruiting, and the expectations competition will return in time for full seasons, etc. The winter season of 2021-22 just got a little more interesting around here.

NO. 8 NEW LOCAL ATHLETIC

DIRECTORS AT THE HELM

The moves were made in the late spring/early summer. Bishop Guertin AD Pete Paladino, who had been on the job for just about a decade, stepped aside to take an alumni affairs job at the school. Enter former St. Thomas AD Ryan Brown, now at the BG helm.

Meanwhile, at Souhegan, AD Dan Wyborney stepped down and the school made history in hiring its first woman AD, the very capable Kelli Braley, who still coaches field hocke and girls ice hockey for the Sabers.

NO. 9 HOLLIS BROOKLINE CAPTURES DIVISION II GOLF TITLE, MILFORD AWARDED GIRLS SOCCER CROWN

We’ll combine these two as the other championships of the fall. For the Cavs, who had to settle for a runnerup spot a year ago after the state tourney was rained out,, it was all-out redemption and a great statement.

As for the Spartans, this was a different situation. Milford was set to face Merrimack Valley in the finals before MV had to forfeit due to virus concerns. The pandemic struck again.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Milford coach Russ Matthews said. “(The players) were disappointed. I think we thought we were going to win it, but this was not the way we wanted to do it.”

The Spartans did finish the season at 8-0, including three tournament wins. And as one local coach said, “They were the best team.”

NO. 10A NASHUA’S KELSEY HOGAN NAMED UNH WOMEN’S BASKETBALL COACH

This was huge news. Hogan, the former Nashua North standout, had been a fixture at the University of New Hampshire for the better part of the last 10 years as a player and an assistant coach, interim coach, etc. Finally she got the permanent gig and her first career win in that capacity a couple of weeks ago. Good things happen to good people.

NO. 10B BG’S WRESTLING AND BOYS SWIMMING TITLES A HUSBAND-WIFE AFFAIR

The winter wasn’t a total loss, right? Paul Rousseau’s Cardinals wrestling team won the Division II crown, the first outright wrestling state title in school history. The school shared the title with White Mountains in 1982.

And while the Cards swim team earned a threepeat, it was coached by none other than Christine Rousseau, Paul’s wife. They were won within a week of each other.

We’re really proud of the kids,” Christine Rousseau said. “Both sets of kids were just a great bunch, and that made us feel really, really good.”

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