Inexperience Will Be Medway Boys Quintet’s Toughest FoeDec 30, 2020 01:03PM ● By KEN HAMWEY
Eric Copeland is in his third year as the Medway High boys basketball coach and if it’s anything like his first two campaigns, then maybe the Tri Valley League will have to break up the Mustangs.
All the 46-year-old Copeland achieved in his first two years on the job was two winning seasons that propelled Medway to a pair of TVL Small Division championships. To duplicate that success, however, won’t be easy. The task could even be labeled as “Herculean.’’
Copeland, who was an assistant at Medway and Franklin for 20 years, is acutely aware that his team lacks experience and must create depth in a hurry.
“We graduated 10 seniors from last year’s 17-5 squad and we’ve got only three returnees with varsity experience,’’ he said. “We’re inexperienced at all three positions and we’ve got a big learning curve. But, our returnees and the players up from the jayvees are athletic, coachable and possess a strong work ethic. We’re working with a brand new group and that means going forward will be a big unknown for us.’’
The Mustangs no longer have point guard Drew Plunkett, power forward Ryan Johnson or off-guard Kyle Regan. The graduated seniors were an impactful trio. Plunkett was the TVL’s MVP his last two years and Johnson was a league all-star twice. Regan was consistent and competitive.
Copeland gets results because he sets expectations high. That hasn’t changed but this year’s journey will be different. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association to modify some of the rules for winter sports. There’ll will be no Sectional or State playoffs and because basketball is in a high-risk category, there are new protocols.
Masks must be worn on the court and social distancing will be required on the bench. Other changes include: no locker-room presence; limits on crowd size; no handshakes after games; no jump ball to start the game; only four players allowed in the lane for free throws; and all in-bound plays must be on the sideline. The are no halftimes and rosters must be no more than 12. Also, disinfecting the game ball between quarters and hand-sanitizer usage by each player before entering and exiting the game are mandatory.
“We’re glad we have the chance to play,’’ Copeland said. “Any normalcy for the kids is huge. We are adjusting to all the changes and we will control what we can. I am pleased that the changes for basketball don’t drastically alter our game. What is important, however, is our priorities. We want health and safety for everyone, and mental health also must be considered.’’
Copeland’s three returnees are all guards and they include juniors Liam Harrigan and Christian White and senior Ben DaFonte.
“Liam has some experience,’’ Copeland said. “He’s smart, can pass, and understands our offensive and defensive strategies. This is his second year on the varsity and we’re hoping he’ll be a consistent scorer and get assists. Ben is in his third year. He gets to the basket and can get the ball out fast in transition. He’s quick, has speed and we’re hoping his offensive game will be a plus. Christian is a second-year player who has got good shooting potential from the perimeter. He’s a high-quality athlete who’s defense-minded. All three are unselfish players.’’
Two jayvee players, who were called up last year during the Sectional Tournament, are juniors Oliver Magliaro (guard) and Darias Banidias (forward). “They got the feel of being on a varsity team,’’ Copeland noted. “They are coachable, hard-working and excellent teammates. We are looking forward to them contributing.’’
Other jayvee players who will be competing for playing time are seniors Andrew Benedetto (forward) and Brady McNamara (wing), and junior wing Shea O’Neil. “All showed flashes of success as jayvees,’’ Copeland said. “It’s our hope their success at the jayvee level will be repeated on the varsity.’’
The experience that Copeland gained as an assistant coach no doubt has been extremely valuable in his head-coaching role. He also has quality credentials as a player. He was a TVL all-star in basketball at Medway and he also played soccer. At Western New England College in Springfield, where he majored in criminal justice, he played three seasons at guard and was a two-time captain. Copeland currently is a sergeant for the Franklin Police Department.
Medway’s corps of assistants this season are jayvee coach Steve Linehan, varsity assistant Shane Jackson, and freshman coach Andrew Tiernan.
Competing in the TVL Small Division is always a challenge and Copeland views two squads — Bellingham and Dover-Sherborn — as the teams to beat. “They both have experience and talent,’’ he said. “They’re also skilled and athletic. Dedham also will be in the picture with TVL all-star Joe Powers returning. They could surprise everyone.’’
Medway may not be on opposing teams’ radar as a formidable foe but don’t discount the Mustangs’ tenacity. Copeland’s competitive philosophy is another plus.
“I strive to help the kids sharpen their skills and I challenge them with high expectations,’’ he emphasized. “I also want open communication with the players and it’s imperative that we build trust that goes both ways.’’
Medway’s basketball team may be young and inexperienced, but two things are obvious — the program is in a healthy place and so, too, is its winning tradition.