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Holliston - Local Town Pages

Holliston Boys Hoop to Continue wit Rebuilding Plans

Nov 29, 2020 09:27AM ● By Ken Hamway
Mark Champagne’s rebuilding plan for the Holliston High boys’ basketball team can move forward based on the action of one State agency. Last month, the Mass. Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) announced its approval for winter sports to move forward, but the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) had yet to endorse winter sports at Local Town Pages deadline. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the two state agencies issued requirements and recommendations for the fall’s sports teams. But now, school districts were still awaiting recommendations from the MIAA, its subcommittees and its Covid-19 task force. “We’ll adjust and deal with any changes,’’ said Champagne. “We’re happy one agency has given basketball the green light, and we’re grateful for any opportunity to compete. “We’ll strive to work hard and stay humble.’’ According to Holliston Athletic Director Matt Baker, modifications for basketball likely will include wearing masks on the court and on the bench, social distancing, no post-game handshakes, crowd limits, no locker-room presence, and hand sanitizing at the scorers’ table. Champagne, who took the reins of the Panthers’ boys squad last year, is eager to get his second year of rebuilding started and to improve on last season’s 5-15 record. The 64-year-old Champagne, who led Ashland High to the Tri Valley League title in 2014, has a solid nucleus to work with this season because of six returning veterans and some promising underclassmen. “We’re grateful for the chance to play this winter,’’ Champagne said. “But, if we couldn’t, there was an opportunity to apply the life lessons that athletics teach. Lessons like overcoming adversity, looking out for each other and going outside of one’s comfort zone. What’s most important, however, is the health and safety of everyone.’’ Champagne has never had to deal with the ups and downs of a pandemic but he’s a coach whose experience and wisdom are assets that are valued in these difficult times. Besides Holliston, he’s coached at three other high schools — Ashland, King Philip and as an assistant at Taunton. His college venues are diverse. He’s been an assistant at his alma mater (UMass-Dartmouth) and also for the Boston University women’s team. His prime stint at the college level, however, was at Bridgewater State where he guided the men’s varsity for 10 years and compiled a .500 record. His coaching philosophy features a three-prong approach. “The basketball court is an extension of the classroom,’’ he emphasized. “Players must reach their potential as positively as possible and it’s imperative to develop players to be good citizens. If I foster those three things, then winning will follow.’’ Those tenets are linked to Champagne’s mission statement, and he’s never strayed from them. “I’ll stay true to my philosophy, but I also emphasize that if a kid has passion for basketball, then it’s my job to fuel it,’’ he said. “Also, athletics is a laboratory for learning life lessons, and it’s the only place where a kid can take on physical, emotional and intellectual challenges.’’ Champagne’s goals this season are to get to know his players better, make sure they develop pride in the program and understand how to contribute to the legacy of a program. “I was pleased with last year, in spite of winning only five games,’’ he said. “We worked on developing a positive culture and focused on team play and sportsmanship. Two players who will help strengthen those ideals this season are senior co-captains Spencer Mirken (5-10 guard) and Jackson Cote (6-4 forward). “Both are good leaders who have matured so much,’’ said Champagne. “Spencer is an organizer who’s positive and supportive of his teammates. A good team player, he moves the ball well and has improved his shooting. Jackson is a solid rebounder who’s competitive. He can score from the foul line in. A leader by example, he’s got a strong work ethic.’’ Three other seniors who will be major contributors are 6-3 forwards Max Penn and Jack Winston and 6-foot off-guard Colin Daly. “Max is solid around the hoop,’’ Champagne said. “A good rebounder, he’s smart and instinctive. Improved as a junior, he probably could be a doubledigit scorer. Jack is a good outside shooter, a team-oriented player. Although quiet, he has gained confidence. Colin played mostly on the jayvees last year. We have hopes he will contribute and be in the rotation.’’ Junior Cooper Sweet (5-10 guard) no doubt will be a key cog. “Cooper is strong, shoots well and can pass,’’ Champagne said. “He’s a capable all-around player with good skills.’’ Two sophomores with lots of ability are Austin Mirken (6-foot guard) and Andrei Koev (5-10 guard). They will provide depth. “Austin started towards the end of last season,’’ Champagne recalled. “He’s talented, has a high hoop IQ and plays with confidence. He’s got good range on his shot, is instinctive and has a high compete level. Andrei is tough, shoots well, has a high motor and quick hands. He’s also got a high compete level.’’ Champagne was a topnotch point guard in his playing days, averaging 13 points a game at Medfield High, Mass. Bay Community College and UMass-Dartmouth. He’s been an assistant coach at three venues and a head coach at four other stops. Those experiences obviously help him to understand and deal with the pandemic’s ramifications. “Parents and fans of Holliston’s rich basketball history should be pleased with the way kids have dealt with the virus,’’ he said. “They’re getting a great education on how to deal with adversity at their school and in their community.’’ Mark Champagne, nevertheless, hasn’t lost sight of his longrange goal at Holliston. It’s about building and winning. “When we get our foundation built, we’ll develop consistency in winning and that means qualifying for post-season playoff games in a tournament setting,’’ he emphasized