Basketball: ConVal, Mascenic awarded titles after coronavirus cancellations

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team played Somersworth in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at Keene State College on Monday, March 9, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team played Somersworth in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at Keene State College on Monday, March 9, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team played Somersworth in the NHIAA Division III semifinals at Keene State College on Monday, March 9, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Mascoma Valley for the NHIAA Division III quarterfinals on Friday, March 6. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Mascoma Valley for the NHIAA Division III quarterfinals on Friday, March 6. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Mascoma Valley for the NHIAA Division III quarterfinals on Friday, March 6. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Mascoma Valley for the NHIAA Division III quarterfinals on Friday, March 6. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Mascoma Valley for the NHIAA Division III quarterfinals on Friday, March 6. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Monday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Conant on Monday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Fall Mountain Friday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The Mascenic boys' basketball team hosted Gilford on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Hanover Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Hanover Tuesday night. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Souhegan as part of the Hope for Gus fundraiser Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Souhegan as part of the Hope for Gus fundraiser Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Souhegan as part of the Hope for Gus fundraiser Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Souhegan as part of the Hope for Gus fundraiser Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal girls' basketball team hosted Kingswood on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal girls' basketball team hosted Kingswood on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kingswood on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kingswood on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The ConVal boys' basketball team hosted Kingswood on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/25/2020 4:04:21 PM

The Mascenic and ConVal boys’ basketball teams are both reigning state champions – without ever taking the court to play the final game.

The NHIAA awarded shares of the Division II and III titles to the Cougars and Vikings, respectively, after canceling the remainder of the state tournaments due to the spread of the coronavirus with several games still to play.

Players and coaches from both programs said they understood the need to cancel the tournament games, but that they wish they’d had a chance to play.

“I never imagined my final season ending like this,” said Mascenic senior Zack Barthel. “I’m proud to be a part of a great team on and off the court and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Just wish me and my boys had the chance to fight it out.”

Mascenic (19-1) was at the final stage of an already-historic season; the Vikings earned the No. 2 seed, won their first playoff game in five years and then beat Somersworth in the semifinal game to earn their first trip to the finals since 2000.

“For me, I’m upset that the kids – especially the seniors, but the entire team – they don’t get that opportunity to play in a state championship game,” said head coach Brandon Kear, who experienced that thrill four times playing at Conant and hoped his team could do the same. “That aspect kind of kills me. They didn’t have a playoff win and the amount of work of time that they put in to get past that, the rollercoaster ride of a season that they had, I feel bad for them.”

Mascenic was set to play No. 1 seed Gilford (19-1) on Friday, March 13 for the state championship. The Vikings handed the Golden Eagles their only loss of the regular season and were feeling confident in the days leading up to the school’s first title game appearance since 2000. But they’d never get the chance to prove it. As the grim reality of the spreading coronavirus set in, the NHIAA announced on March 12 it would limit the number of fans allowed into the championship game at Keene State College. On the morning of March 13, an abrupt announcement – the game was postponed indefinitely. And once the state canceled school for three weeks on March 15, it seemed clear that the game would never be played. Finally, on Monday, March 23, the hammer dropped. The NHIAA voted unanimously to award co-championships and runners-up in all the unplayed tournaments.

“While most wish the tournaments could have been concluded in their normal fashion, this compromise solution takes into account the regular season and a team’s progress through the tournament prior to the suspension of play,” said NHIAA Executive Director Jeffrey Collins. “We hope that this solution will bring some closure to the NHIAA winter season. We recognize that this decision will be a disappointment to our student-athletes, coaches, and fans; yet given the uncertain nature of the weeks to come, we feel that there is no alternative. The NHIAA shares in the frustrations of our student-athletes, yet we hope this decision will allow them to move forward and adjust to the new normal of their educational experience for the next several weeks.”

For the first time since the mid-World War II season of 1943 when the championships were left vacant, there would be no outright basketball champions crowned, nor in ice hockey and two divisions of girls’ basketball. In winter spirit, Mascenic was awarded runner-up behind Littleton based on their prior results.

In Division III, Mascenic was named co-champion along with Gilford, sharing the crown with the team they’d beaten in their only matchup of the season.

“It’s great to get co-champions but it honestly doesn’t really feel the same,” Barthel said.

“It doesn’t feel right, man,” said senior guard Dylan Vaillancourt. “This virus has taken so much away from everyone and it’s tough. It doesn’t even feel like we won. But I’m proud of everyone and I’m proud to have finished as co-champs. We owed that to ourselves and all our fans.”

“None of us know the feeling of playing in the championship game,” said senior sharpshooter Trey Shaw. “Everyone was looking forward to that. We never got the feeling from our fans, the court and celebrating which is a big part of winning a state championship. We put in work all year to get to that moment and to have it taken away was tough. I feel the ruling is fair but also feel that given the chance to play Gilford we would have beaten them like we did in the regular season.”

The whole experience left Kear and the Vikings feeling like they still have one more game to play, unfinished business left behind like a ghost in the rafters of the Mascenic gym.

“I’d love to literally just go play,” Kear said. “Doesn’t matter where. We’ll play outside at Humiston in Jaffrey or the little outdoor park here in New Ipswich. We just want the opportunity to decipher who’s the better of these two teams. Obviously it was the right move to pull the plug, but we pride ourselves on being the best basketball players we could be, and we wanted the chance to show that.”

ConVal’s season was cut even shorter than Mascenic’s; the Cougars were set for a quarterfinal home game against Oyster River the night of Friday the 13th, following a historic season that saw them earn the No. 1 seed after their second straight 17-1 finish. Just like the Vikings, ConVal’s experienced, senior-heavy squad was fresh off a trip to the soccer championship and kept that momentum rolling through the year.

“We worked really, really hard in the regular season,” said head coach Leo Gershgorin, at the helm for ConVal’s recent resurgence. “We wanted nothing more than to be able to compete with the best teams in the division across the state for the championship.”

When the NHIAA suspended play, there were still seven games left to play to determine the Division II champion, and eight teams still in contention, leading to a trickier decision when it came down to awarding the title. Ultimately, the NHIAA ruled that No. 1 ConVal and No. 2 Bow were co-champions, with the remaining six teams – Oyster River, Hollis-Brookline, Hanover, Kennett, Pelham and Lebanon – as runners-up.

The results are a bit surreal. ConVal had not been to the state championship game since 2000, a streak that continues despite the fact that the Cougars are now state champions for the first time since 1994, and they didn’t play a single playoff game to get there.

“It definitely feels different than winning it outright,” said senior big man Mather Kipka, “and I do wish we could have gotten a chance to compete and prove we were the best team. At the same time, though, I do feel like we put in the amount of work a championship team would, and it’d be tough to dispute we have a pretty good claim to being the best team in Division II this year.”

“Every coach is going to tell you, across the state, that they’re disappointed,” Gershgorin said. “Hanover or Hollis-Brookline or Lebanon, they’re all going to be disappointed. We work all year to get our guys ready to play...Our guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do, and we’ve asked them to do a lot. They’ve sacrificed a ton. My guys have done so much to earn this opportunity. It’s disappointing – but we’ll take it.”

At the same time, Gershgorin said that he and his team understand the gravity of the greater universe at this moment in history, and that the reality of the threatening coronavirus minimizes the sting of those senior seasons cut short.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that my guys understand,” Gershgorin said. “Would they have loved to play a home playoff game – especially the seniors – and then possibly play at UNH? Of course. It’s amazing to win a championship, no doubt, but there’s one thing better than being at UNH and holding the trophy, and that’s the relationships we have with the kids. I’ve already felt like a champion for the last three years.”




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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