Winter season was hot at Brooks School, with all of the season's sports in championships and many clinching titles.
Basketball, ice hockey, squash and wrestling each enjoyed winning regular season matches before the season ended on February 24, but even more exciting competition kicked off in post-season play.
Brooks' wrestling team started the school's winning roll toward the end of their season at the Graves-Kelsey Tournament at Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass., on February 9. Kelvin Griffin '22 won his 120-pound weight class and the team came in third place, proudly capturing trophy for "Most Improved." Then, it was on to "New Englands," the New England Independent Schools Wrestling Association championships at Green Farms Academy in Westport, Conn., on February 15-16.
Nine Brooks wrestlers qualified for the tournament. "Last year, we only had three kids qualify," said coach Patrick Hitschler. "So, that was huge for us to have nine this year. We basically switched places from 2018 when we had three players qualify and we finished ninth place at Graves. This year, we came in third place at Graves and had nine players qualify for New Englands. The numbers reversed, which was fantastic! And considering that we only really had one athlete who came into the school with wrestling experience ... and we didn't place last year and we placed this year, it was cool. Our athletes worked hard."
At the tournament, Brooks faced 44 teams and ultimately came in 13th place. But that wasn't the end. Three athletes' performances qualified them to compete in the Prep School Nationals Wrestling Tournament at Lehigh University on Feb. 23: Griffin, Anthony Burnett '19 and Corey Gaffney '22. And in a Brooks School first for a wrestler in the third form, Griffin's eighth-place finish in his 113-pound weight class won him the honor of being named a Prep School All American!
Meanwhile, that same weekend, Brooks' squash teams were competing too, in The New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Tournament.
Boys squash headed down to St. George's School in Middletown, Rhode Island for their playoff which ended in another smashing success. The squad finished first out of 14 teams and won the New England Class B championship.
"All of our players needed to play some of their best squash of the season to secure the title," said coach Doug Burbank. And they did. Jose Victorino '20 and Marty Graham '19 won individual championships at #4 and #5, while Nick Carabatsos '20 and Tobey Smith '20 were both runners-up at #2 and #3, and Deven Kanwal '19 finished in third place at #1.
The majority of Brooks players finished placing higher than their seeding, shared Burbank, who noted that the team's performance showed how far they have come in the sport. Just three years ago, three of the winning players played on Brooks 3rd team and one had begun in the instructional program. "This speaks volumes about the coaching they received from the 3rd, 2nd and instructional team coaches," he said. Not to mention the athletes' determination. "I'm very proud of the way the team competed on the court," Burbank added. "They played an intelligent, gritty, and patient game of squash using all three dimensions of the court beautifully."
At the same time, girls squash celebrated an impressive NEPSAC tournament showing at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn. Following their Division III Runner Up finish at the U.S. Squash High School Team Tournament on Feb. 3, the team (seeded 14) placed 11 out of 16 in the NEPSAC Class A tournament.
One player in particular squashed her competition: Christy Lau '21, who won the championship at #1, beating the 2017 U17 U.S. Jr. Open champion and #2 seed.
"I was extremely pleased with how our girls played against other teams in Class A," said coach Kihak Nam '99. "Despite entering the Class A tournament as #14 seed, an improvement from winning last year's class B tournament, and missing a player due to injury, we finished in 11th place, and on almost every occasion, our athletes won against players to whom they had previously lost during the regular season. I was thoroughly impressed by how focused they were."
Just three days later, Brooks boys basketball began their NEPSAC tournament play. Seeded #3 in Class B, the team — undefeated in the Independent School League for the fifth straight year — faced #6 St. George's School on February 27 at home.
A 65-43 win advanced them to the semi-finals versus #2 Hamden Hall Country Day School, away in Hamden, Conn. on March 2.
"Unfortunately their season came to a close ... against a very talented #2 seed Hamden Hall 62-65," coach John McVeigh shared following the game. "The team can be very proud of their undefeated ISL title and by how well they represented their program and school in the NEPSAC tournament." He certainly is.
"I'm really proud of our team, and particularly our group of seniors," McVeigh said. "In a year in which I think some people thought we might struggle, they have been terrific leaders on and off the court."
Across the hall in our Athletics Center shortly after the boys basketball team played their NEPSAC quarterfinals on February 27, the top-seeded Brooks girls ice hockey team kicked off their NEPSAC playoff, versus #8 seed Vermont Academy.
Brooks' squad kept their 19-win season going strong with another victory (4-3) that advanced them to the semi-finals. At home again for that faceoff, on March 1 against #4 seed Worcester Academy, the athletes triumphed once again: 6-2.
For the March 3 NEPSAC tournament finals, the squad traveled to the Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center in Worcester, Mass., and took the rink with #2 Rivers School, who clinched the win 3-1. "A huge congratulations to our girls hockey team and their coaches on a tremendous record-breaking season," Director of Athletics Roberta Crump-Burbank wrote in an email to the Brooks community following the game. "Although today's result is not the one we hoped for, we are immensely proud of their accomplishments on the ice and by how well they represented Brooks throughout the winter. We will be talking about the success of this team for a long time!"
She's not alone, either. Since the tournament, honors have kept coming for the team's athletes, including goalie Caroline Kukas '19, recently named U.S. Hockey Report (USHR)'s Girls Prep Post-Season Awards Goaltender of the Year and Honorable Mention Player of the Year, as well as NEPSAC Division II Player of the Year (for the second straight year), 1st team All-NEPSAC and 1st team All-ISL. Kudos, too, to Caroline Cutter '19, USHR Honorable Mention Defenseman of the Year, and All-ISL and Honorable Mention All-NEPSAC, alongside teammates Quin Healy '20 and Caroline O'Keefe '19.
Boys basketball and girls ice hockey "were understandably disappointed not to win their tournaments, but I could not have been more proud to be associated with such terrific competitors and winners," Head of School John Packard wrote in his latest e-letter to parents. "The manner in which our student-athletes represent the school all year long is a source of pride. I know our spring teams are eager to have great seasons of their own when we return from the break."
Until then, players are already working on their game. Spring break training trips are either underway, or about to begin, for baseball, crew, golf and lacrosse.
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