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HHS Athletics: Solid Past & A Bright Outlook Ahead

Baker In 8th Year As Panthers’ A.D.

Staff Sports Writer 

Matt Baker, who’s beginning his eighth year as Holliston High’s athletic director this month, was pleased and proud of the results and achievements that student-athletes turned in during the 2021-22 school year.

The Panthers’ list of successes included six Tri Valley League championships and two state titles. Baker also was delighted that three of the school’s teams advanced into the round of eight in tourney action.

The TVL champions included boys soccer, girls cross-country, girls winter track, boys and girls swimming/diving and softball. The girls cross-country team and the girls winter track contingent won state championships. Advancing to the “elite eight’’ were field hockey, girls lacrosse and girls volleyball.

“It was great to see all of our student-athletes’ hard work pay off,’’ Baker said. “The athletes competed intensely and the coaches deserve credit for their leadership. The two state title teams got a police escort back to town and that was special for the school and the community. The memories for those teams will always be wonderful.’’

Baker emphasized that the six league crowns are very meaningful achievements because “they not only speak to the athletes’ talent and effort, but also to the strength of the TVL.’’ Baker called the TVL “as good as any league around.’’

Holliston also had two individual state champions — Carmen Luisi (cross-country and spring track) and Anthony Touchette (wrestling). “Carmen won the all-state meet in cross-country and topped the field in the two-mile event in track,’’ Baker noted. “And, Anthony was the Division 3 champion at 106 pounds.’’

The 43-year-old Baker indicated that about a dozen student-athletes will be competing at the collegiate level. And, he singled out Katie Crews and Brennan Ibbitson, who captured the Panther of the Year Awards.  Crews played soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse while Ibbitson competed in football and indoor and outdoor track.

“Katie was steady and solid throughout the year,’’ Baker said. “A terrific leader, she was a two-time captain and a key component on all three teams. Brennan was a captain in all three sports and one of the area’s top shot put and discus throwers. He set a school record in the discus. A quiet leader, he provided great effort and set a great tone in all three sports.’’

The role that high school athletic directors play once had some glory and glamor linked to the position but nowadays it’s all about scheduling games and practice times, coordinating transportation, hiring and evaluating coaches, maintaining fields and facilities, monitoring pandemic regulations, overseeing registrations, physicals and eligibility, communicating with the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), dealing with complaints, and ensuring that referees and umpires are assigned. 

“In the past, providing transportation and getting referees was automatic,’’ Baker said. “But, because of the pandemic, those two areas have become complex problems. There’s a shortage of bus drivers and refs and it just means paying more attention to details.’’

Three areas where Baker saw quality results were in participation, the hiring of new varsity coaches and the school’s fields and facilities.

“Participation in sports increased by 10 percent over last year,’’ Baker said. “And, we’ve got about 350 students competing in each of the three seasons. Our highest turnout is in the fall. The numbers have bounced back and it’s very rewarding to see more students participating. That’s why we’re in business. Our objective is to ensure that students enjoy a positive experience no matter what level they’re at.’’

Four new varsity coaches and a new trainer were hired for 2021-22. They include: Julie Harrington (swimming/diving), Derek Bedard (boys hockey), Jay Dupuis (boys tennis), Joel Bernstein (girls tennis), and Whitney Howe (trainer).

“Julie is the recreation director for the town of Medway and she did a nice job leading the boys and girls swimming/diving teams to a league title,’’ Baker said. “Derek was a hockey player at Holliston and also was an assistant coach. Jay coaches boys soccer but took the reins of the boys tennis team while Joel Bernstein, a teacher at the high school, directed the girls tennis squad. Whitney has been a trainer for 12 years, the last five at Milford high. All did a great job and I hope they’re with us for the long haul.’’

Baker had two varsity coaching vacancies occur and he’s filled both (boys basketball and girls volleyball). 

“Chris Vanesian, who’s a middle school math teacher in Holliston, will be coaching basketball,’’ Baker said. “He’s been a jayvee coach at Holliston and Medway and was an assistant at Lasell College in Newton. He’s got a lot of familiarity with our program and should relate well to the players. Bob Scumaci will coach girls volleyball. He was a member of the Franklin High volleyball coaching staff last year and will be a great addition to our program.’’ 

Baker is delighted with the upgrades at two of the Panthers’ fields. New turf was installed at the football field and the baseball field has undergone a needed lift.

“The turf at the football field was replaced a year ago, so that’ll be a big plus for field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, football and frisbee,’’ he said. “And, thanks to a partnership effort of youth baseball and the recreation department, our baseball field got a nice upgrade. They spent $15,000 on the infield, so our home games have been moved from the middle school to the high school. Last spring was only the second time baseball was played at the high school since I’ve been the A.D. here.’’

Baker likes the state of Holliston sports and he has high hopes for the year ahead. 

“We had our share of success last year and we hope that will continue for the year ahead,’’ Baker said. “We’re pleased that participation has returned to pre-pandemic levels. There were less covid-19 restrictions last year and it was great to get back to state tourney competition. We had three teams (baseball, boys lacrosse and tennis) with sub-.500 records qualify for the playoffs. Because of scheduling strong opponents they qualified. I’m also excited to see how our new coaches will do and my primary hope is that we adhere to post-pandemic standards.’’

Attributes that so often enable an athletic director to be successful are patience, being calm under pressure, able to prioritize daily tasks, able to relate to students, coaches and parents, and providing support for athletes and coaches.

“What I like about being an athletic director is the day-to-day interaction with students and coaches,’’ Baker added. “It’s also a plus to have support from our administration, teachers and parents. During the two years of covid, I told our coaches to be patient and adapt.’’

Words of wisdom that no doubt led to success last year at Holliston High.