In a word, this season was electric. New Hampton School’s Men’s Varsity Basketball team claimed a title unachieved in the last eighteen-years of our school’s history in an intense game against Brewster Academy on Sunday, March 8, with a final score of 98-91. Each side battled with high energy, trading three-pointers, dunks, and aggressive defensive tactics, ultimately landing the Huskies and Bobcats in a heated overtime. The victors, in the end, were the Huskies after an incredible week of commitment, focus, and teamwork in the annual NEPSAC tournament.
Building a team
The journey of this season may not be picture-perfect by the numbers, and with a coaching change between this season and last, many wondered how this year would go. “We were not highly regarded in the preseason, and people thought that we were going to be a middle of the pack team,” shared Coach Andrew Gale. “These athletes didn’t have to come here, but they were committed to this school and me, even with the coaching change. They believed in me, the staff, and the program.”
With 34 years of history in the Class A/AAA level, the school’s team has been competitive, to say the least. Director of Athletics Jamie Arsenault notes, “We play in the most competitive league in the country and every game is a battle. I feel we have built the program with great kids who play a major part in the New Hampton School community.” Many exceptional players have gone on to compete in Division I, II, and III collegiate athletics, become professional basketball players in the NBA and other national leagues, and excel in careers such as coaches and trainers.
Following in the steps of former coach Nick Whitmore, who departed at the end of last season, Gale was honored to take the lead as a first-time Head Coach. With four years of experience at the University of Vermont as a lead student manager and Graduate Assistant Coach for the Men’s Basketball team, plus one season as an Assistant Coach under Whitmore, Gale was not unaware of the weight of the task ahead of him. “Being so young and taking over a storied program has a lot of expectations attached to it.” Early wins and strong tournament performances in December gave the team momentum but the team struggled in early January. Five losses in a row saw their record tilt to 8-8.
From an overtime loss to a game where they were hit with a 20-point blowout, the Huskies sought to regain their footing. Gale reflects, “Our guys could’ve quit, but they used that stretch as a motivator. It allowed us to come together as a team and develop a hyper-focus on how to get better. We started using the term ‘refuse to lose’ when we were in tight games.” Gale and the team embraced a growth-mindset, moving onward, learning from their missteps, and battling through the remainder of the season to land a 9-3 record within the league. As a result, they locked in the second seed position and homecourt advantage for the first round in the NEPSAC Class AAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The road to the title
Even as the number two seed, the tournament set them against a challenging set of matches. Namely, the highly talented teams of Vermont Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon, and Brewster Academy. Northfield Mount Hermon [NMH] and Brewster had each traded wins and losses with the Huskies this season, and each holds numerous titles—NMH was the defending back-to-back champion.
With homecourt advantage for both the quarter- and semi-finals, New Hampton’s Frederick Smith Gymnasium was packed with standing-room-only crowds and the spirited Husky Howlers, a student-organized cheering section. Much of the team and the coaching staff shared their appreciation to the fans who came out to each game, often sending thank yous and shout outs on social media and within the school community for the support shown. “The fans were the difference in all of our wins at home and even on the road. As for the Husky Howlers, they were amazing. They always brought energy, enthusiasm, and a swagger that gave our guys energy. I would argue that we have the best student section in all of NEPSAC because of them.”
After sealing their trip to the championship, the team traveled to Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts—a neutral court to tip-off against longtime league rival Brewster Academy. With only two home game losses this season, the team knew that going on the road was going to be hard. The Huskies worked the court, utilizing every member to their best advantage, with tournament standout performances from many players including championship game MVP Alex Karaban ’22, Jahmyl Telfort ’20, Evan Guillory ’21, Kerem Ozturk ’20, Christian Davis ’20, and others. It truly was a team effort.
Momentum on their side as they pulled ahead in overtime, the team played hard through to the final seconds. Then, with a rush onto the court from their fans and classmates, they celebrated a championship title to bring home.
Achieving a place in history
In addition to the fans that joined them in person, alumni, parents, former coaches and players came out to congratulate the team online. From Gale’s connections at UVM to former coach Whitmore, the support for the team was buzzing on Twitter and Instagram. Arsenault shares, “This year’s team showed all the characteristics that the New Hampton School Basketball culture was founded on: toughness, teamwork, enthusiasm, and positive attitudes.”
Gale expresses his gratitude for the team, as well as all of the outreach. “I want to thank all of the kids for the hard work they have put into the program. They made not only their family, friends, and coaches proud, but they represented all of the alumni from this program that came before them. I received several calls, texts, and emails from alums following our win. They were jumping with joy. I even had former head coach and basketball alumnus Pete Hutchins ’01 text me sharing: ‘The 3 words I would use to describe this team: unselfish, connected, and confident. I do not know if there would be a better three words to describe a team.’ That, to me, was the icing on the cake.” Hutchins is currently Assistant Coach for the men’s basketball team at George Mason University.
With many great players and coaches lining the pages of history before this team, the title secures a rarified place within our school’s basketball history, and one that we look forward to watching evolve over the coming years. For our soon-to-be graduating class of 2020, this milestone will hold its own important place in their memories. As for next year, we look forward to the continuing story of this team. Arsenault remarks, “We have some key players coming back, and I am sure we will add new talent that will be exciting to watch Coach Gale mold into another competitive team!”
Please join us in congratulating them as well as team manager Nora Kent ’21, and coaches Andrew Gale, Keon Burns, and John Scheinman. Congratulations, Huskies!