Belmont High Boys’ Tennis Grind Out 5-0 Playoff Win Over Marblehead; No. 1 Duxbury Up Next

Photo: On to the Elite Eight for Belmont High Boys’ Tennis

While the score line might read Belmont High Boys’ Tennis pitching the 5-0 shutout of Marblehead High in the Sweet 16 of the MIAA Division 2 state tournament, for much of the day, the action at Belmont’s Winn Brook tennis courts resembled a street brawl.

“I called it a boxing match,” said Belmont Head Coach Dave Benson as the 8th-seeded Marauders (13-6) has reached the Elite Eight for consecutive years. “Some punches to the face, then back with some body blows, and finally some knockout punches. So it was an impressive showing against a really good Marblehead (16-4) team.”

The prize for its second shutout performance will be meeting the Division 2 number-one seed and 20-1 Duxbury on Saturday, June 10, at 5 p.m.

“That’s a fabulous opponent. We’re honored to play them, the first seed. I’ve got them circled on my draw,” said Alek Karagozyan, Belmont’s senior co-captain and the program’s talisman for the past three seasons. “I’m excited for what we have to offer them.”

In the match in which the top singles and doubles were forced to battle it out in their respective matches, the Marauders relied on its lower-tier players to provide the needed early edge in the contest. Third singles Julian Wong was having a grand ol’ time running the court with sophomore enthusiasm against his 10th-grader opponent.

“I just came in thinking I’m just gonna play my game and play how I know how to play,” said Wong, who won in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2. “I had some trouble in the first set, but after I figured out the weaknesses of his play, it helped me a lot.”

Second doubles, made up of youngsters Henry Moriarty and Soyam Pokharel were on the front foot the entire match, although it got a bit squirrely finishing off the first set as Pokharel’s serve went south. “I got a little bit nervous, but we won the set, and that’s what counts,” he said.

“Coach has been motivating us to stay strong no matter how close the game is. Always stay positive, play our game. I think we did pretty well today, and we capitalized at the end,” said Pokharel as he and Moriarty won in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1.

But for the top-line matches, it was anything but a romp as the three were more akin to the battles depicted in “Game of Thrones.” On the left side of the Winn Brook court, Belmont’s top two singles were in for grinders against tough opponents as they showed their contrasting styles on the court; Karagozyan’s street fighter persona with his emotions out there (“Oh my gosh!” “Come on!” followed by his trademark fist pump) while the quiet Osborn took a more Zen-like “living in the present moment” approach to his match.

Karagozyan’s Marblehead opponent forced Belmont 1 to generate nearly all the power strokes in rallies that averaged in the double digits as the two-setter lasted well more than 90 minutes.

“I used to play like that, so I know what kind of mental effect it has on an opponent, and I have to give full credit for really making me doubt myself a little bit sometimes,” said Karagozyan. “But I forced myself to put my head up, and convert my serve and my forehand under pressure.”

The cumulative impact of Karagozyan’s shot selection and power strokes beat down his Marblehead opponent as he collapsed with cramps in both legs at 5-3 in the second set. During a delay for treatment that lasted 20 minutes, Osborn quickly took his third set decider.

“It was tough because I could play a good point and he would hit like an insane shot. Then I’d play a bad shot, and he’d have a bad return. He just got kind of annoying to deal with because neither of us got into a rhyme,” said Osborn, who won 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. Karagozyan would win the two final points to take the W, 6-4, 6-3.

But it was first-doubles – comprised of Belmont’s two Bens: senior co-captain Packard and junior Trost – that earned the title “True Grit” for its marathon. The pair admitted their first set was “terrible,” with more unforced errors than you could find in an unforced error factory. “I was really kind of tense the first set, and it showed,” said Trost. After dropping the first set 3-6, the decision was made at the start of the second set to throw away the playbook and revert the match into a point-by-point grudge match.

“In all honesty, that second set, we just grinded it out,” said Trost. “We just stepped in our shoes and stuck it out,” said Packard, ending into a long tiebreaker in which Belmlont gutted out the win, 9-7. The third set saw Packard and Trout break twice and survive, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1.

Belmont will have a quick turnaround before spending the day traveling down to the South Shore to take on the Dragons.

Belmont High Girls’ Hockey Tripped Up By Malden Catholic, 4-1, In First Round Of D2 Tourney

Photo: Belmont Lola Rocci (4) reacts to the Marauders’ tie the game vs. Malden Catholic

After being in the wilderness since its last tournament appearance in 2018, Belmont High Girls’ Hockey’s return to the MIAA Division 2 playoffs was a short one as the Marauders fell short against a quick team from Malden Catholic, 4-1, in a first round matchup on Wednesday night, March 1, held in Malden’s Valley Rink.

While more than holding their own against the team that beat Belmont, 4-3, earlier in the season, Malden Catholic were just a step faster on both ends of the rink, taking a 2-1 lead late in the second period on a freakish goal where the puck wobble its way through Belmont four-year starting goalie Bridget Gray’s stick and pads.

“Unfortunately our MO has been playing from behind in the third period all season,” said Belmont Head Coach Ken Murphy. “You can do that right up until you can’t, because you’re gonna come up short one time and tonight was that night.”

“They played as hard as they could tonight and they played so they would be in the right place where they would get the shot to tie it up. But it just didn’t go our away tonight.”

Belmont’s Bridget Gray with one of her 30 save in the playoff game vs Malden Catholic.

Gray – who would end with 30 saves adding to her more than 2,000 career saves – was her stellar solid self in the first period as the Lancers held the slight edge keeping Belmont’s first line defenders Katyla Pisuk and Alex Townsend busy. The Marauders’ had the better chances to break the deadlock with a pair of Mackenzie Clarke solo rushes against Malden Catholic’s goalie Daniella DeJon, the second a clear breakaway. Clarke’s wrister barely missed the left post, which the first-year left wing slammed her stick in frustration. Just before the period ended, Belmont’s Charlotte Wright came close on the near side left post followed by an open shot from forward Sadie Taylor on the same shift.

The Lancers took the lead midway through the second all with their speed, intercepting a clearing pass that resulted in a Samantha Crowley in close shot that beat Gray. It took Belmont only two minutes to knot it up with a long-distance blast from Pisuk, assists from Mia Taylor and Euey Long. It appeared that the game would enter the third tied but then came the wafflier from Alyssa Jankowski that lucked its way into the net.

Less than five minutes into the final period, MC put the game on ice as Mikayla Holland snapped a shot from a face-off that found the net by Gray’s right pad. Jankowski would earn the brace with an open netter in the final minute.

“That they put every effort they can into it,” said Murphy. “And they did. So we’re happy with what they did. We wish we went a little further, but all in all, I think they had a good season.”

With the loss of a handful of seniors, Murphy’s young team will have valuable playoff experience when they regroup in November.

“We have an exciting, fast group of freshmen coming up. We will have to fill in on defense [especially with the Gray graduating in June] but even with that need, Belmont has a good program coming next season,” said Murphy.

Belmont Playoff Bound: Three Marauder Teams Start Their Tournament March This Week

Photo: Belmont High Girls’ Ice Hockey four-year starter Bridget Gray will backstop the Marauders as they take on Malden Catholic in the first round of the MIAA Div. 2 tournament on Wednesday, March 1

Three Belmont High winter sports teams will be playing their first games in the 2022-3 postseason beginning Wednesday, March 1, and running through Friday, March 3. And the middle game will likely be the scholastic farewell for the town’s long-standing skating rink.

On Wednesday, March 1, the 23rd Belmont High Girls Ice Hockey (8-8-3) team will travel to Malden as the Marauders take on 10th-ranked Malden Catholic (9-9-2) in the MIAA Division 2 tournament. The puck will drop at 7:10 p.m. at the Valley Forum in Malden. How to get to the rink? Just get on Route 60 (Pleasant Street) and keep going east; the roadway will deposit you in the facility’s parking lot.

The 10th-ranked Belmont High Boys Ice Hockey (13-6-3) squad will officially end high school sports at Belmont’s Viglirolo Skating Rink on Concord Avenue with a home tournament game as the Marauders welcome the 23rd-seeded Chelmsford High Lions (11-6-3) to the “Skip” on Thursday, March 2. Faceoff will take place at 6:30 p.m.

The Belmont High Girls’ hoopsters (13-9) finished the season as the 16th-ranked team – and the last position to secure a first-round home game – in Division 1 and will host a familiar rival in 17th-ranked Central Catholic of Lawrence (8-12) at the Wenner Field House. Tip-off will be at 6:30 p.m. Fans will remember Belmont losing to the Raiders in consecutive Division 1 North finals (2018-19). The winner will likely meet the number 1 seed Andover next week.

Marauder Hockey: After ‘Skip’ Finale, Belmont High Boys’ To Host Playoff Opener While Girls’ Will Likely Cruise To The Vineyard

Photo: Skip Viglirolo (right) with Belmont High Assistant Coach Bob Shea at the final league match at the namesake rink

In the final regular season matches ever to be held at the “Skip” – that would be the Skip Viglirolo Skating Rink on Concord Avenue – on Saturday, Feb. 18, the Belmont High Boys’ and Girls’ did the double with the boys’ winning in a workmanlike effort, 4-1 over Woburn High, while the girls’ recent lack of a needed finishing touch left their all-star goalie stuck with a 2-1 loss to the Tanners.

Even though the games honored the team’s seniors and the doubleheader ended more than half a century of high school games played in the rink – the girls’ team began playing there a little more than 30 years ago – supporters barely filled the stands, likely due to the start of February school vacation the day before. The day’s highlight was the presence of the rink’s namesake. Skip Viglirolo, his family and friends took in the boys’ game knowing it was likely the last time they would have a chance to see the old arena.

The Belmont Select Board recently declared it would not authorize the approximate $200,000 needed to repair critical infrastructure into the dilapidated structure. Town voters will have to opportunity to approve a $29 million debt exclusion to construct a new 40,313 sq-ft rink at the annual town election in April. Residents voted down a $35 million exclusion on an earlier rink design in November 2022.

The Boys’ were looking to right the ship Saturday – having gone 1-4-2 in the run-up to the game – with a victory as it prepared for two non-league post-season games in Springfield against juggernauts Pope Francis and Central Catholic [Update: Belmont would lose, 8-3, to Francis on Tuesday, Feb. 21, and defeat CC, 3-2 with senior co-captain Cam Fici earning the brace and senior co-captain Peter Grace putting in the third] to prep for the playoffs.

The game started with little urgency, as both teams were sparing to probe where they could take advantage of their opponent. However, by the second period, Belmont would strike three times, including a spectacular short-handed goal from – who else? – Fici, who deked and put the puck between the defender’s legs before rounding the goalie to put Belmont up, 3-1, at the end of two. Senior forward co-captain Shay Donahue would finish the scoring with a brace, and Fici picked up his third assist.

“It’s great to see what the seniors accomplished over four years including the shortened Covid season,” said Belmont Head Coach Tim Foley before the game.

In the finale, the Belmont girls came out and dominated the first two periods against a Tanner team playing for pride after missing the playoffs. But despite a flurry of chances, only first-year standout Mackenzie Clarke could send the puck into the netting with a second-period tally, while Belmont senior captain Bridget Gray was solid between the pipes throughout the opening two stanzas.

But the Tanners took advantage of Belmont’s propensity of finding the penalty box in the second and third to reverse the momentum and twice find the back of the net. The first came off a deflection when a Marauder defender attempted to knock down a shot that skipped by Gray, followed by a Woburn breakaway that Gray appeared to cover only to see it breakthrough. Belmont could not muster a challenge for the final 10 minutes to leave the ice empty-handed for the last time.

“I wouldn’t call that lack of scoring a problem this year,” said Belmont’s Head Coach Ken Murphy who noted that most of the team’s wins were in low scoring games as Gray and the back line led by junior Alex Townsend were the keystones of the defense.

“At the end of the season we didn’t have that one person who could score, and I don’t want to have that players, to be honest. I like three or four on the ice that work together to set up a good shot,” said Murphy, who has a good feeling about the upcoming playoffs.

“Coming from one of the strongest leagues out there, I feel good about anyone we go to see, that we’ll have a good chance because we are a solid team. We are three lines deep and a lot of teams can’t say that. We are solid with [Gray] so we are looking to make a mark in the playoffs,” said Murphy.

In the next to last MIAA power ranking of the season, while both teams are comfortable in the post-season, each just missed out of more favorable schedules. There are slim chances that due to other teams not releasing updated scores or late recalculations the rankings could change by the time the playoff pairings are announced this weekend.

Currently, 9th in Division 1, the boys (13-6-3) are one spot out of securing a pair of home games at the “Skip” which will close its doors one last time in early March. With the current standings, Belmont will host 24th-ranked Chelmsford (10-6-3) next week.

After missing the postseason last year with a 6-10-2 mark in 47th place, the girls were on the right side of the 16th seed, guaranteeing a home fixture in the first round. But a late-season falloff in scoring saw the Marauders limp in at 0-4-2 down the home stretch to finish the season at 8-8-3 in 18th in the Division 2 power rankings.

Last week, Belmont appeared that they would be driving and taking a ferry 100 miles and three hours (one way!) to Oak Bluffs to take on Martha’s Vineyard Regional. And as if it by destiny, as Belmont dropped a spot in the past week, the Vineyarders (12-6-2) rose one place to 15th, clinching a home game against the Marauders next week to be played at the YMCA Martha’s Vineyard Ice Arena in Oak Bluffs.

Belmont’s Butte Powers To State Div. 2 Championship in 50 Free Sprint

Photo: Belmont High’s Sophia Butte with her Middlesex League champions banner from 2017 which she finally received in September.

In her final high school meet, Belmont High’s Sophie Butte goes out a state champion as the senior co-captain out-touched the two co-favorites to capture the 50-yard freestyle sprint at the MIAA State Division 2 Swimming and Diving Championships held at Harvard on Sunday, Nov. 18.

Seeded third, Butte completed the up-and-back race at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool in 24.59 seconds to edge out Wellesley High’s junior Nellie Thompson (24.68 ) and number-one seed Reading Memorial High’s senior Alana Loughman (24.79) to win the title in the “splash and dash.” Butte took more than 2/10th of a second off her time (24.80) finishing third in the North Sectionals last week at MIT.

After winning the 50, Butte returned to the pool to finish fourth in the 100-yard freestyle in 54.40, showing the best improvement over her seeding time of 55.08 of all the finalist. 

Just as impressive as the 50 individual was, Butte topped her effort in the first event of the day, the 200-yard medley relay (with teammates Angela Li, Luisa November and Samantha Fogel) where she anchored the Marauders home swimming the final 50-yard leg in 24.19, the fastest sprint time during the meet, as she overtook two teams to take eighth in 1:57.14.

Butte ended her night leading off the 400 free relay (with Chloe Park, Anna Bauerle and Li) with a 55.13 split to set the team up to finish seventh, the Marauders best relay performance. 

Co-captain Li was also a two-time scorer in individual events. She stayed in contention for third in the 200 individual medley until the final 50, finishing in fourth in 2:14.42. She would come back to repeat in fourth in a Belmont specialty, the 100 breaststroke, nearly catching Natick’s Helen Zhao in the run in only to be out touched, 1:10.20 to 1:10.21. Alicia Lugovskoy (1:12.27) and Katarina Chen (1:12.61) gave Belmont three in the top 10 as they finish 9th and 10th.

The team of Park, Meredith Chasse, Lugovskoy and Mayura Thomas took 10th (1:47.43) in the 200 free relay. 

Belmont’s trio of sophomore divers showed promise through the rounds as Marina Cataldo (359.25), Sophie Cormier (359.05) and Sarah Firth (345.85) finished in 12th, 13th, and 14th. 

Under second-year head coach Gretchen Turner, Belmont finished in 7th with 153 points, trailing Reading which won its third consecutive D2 title with 402.5 points.

Sports: Belmont Swimming’s Final Goal, Winning a State Championship

Photo: Belmont High Swimming and Divings captains, (from left) Sara Noorouzi, Sarah Steward, Jessica Blake-West, Emily Quinn, readies for the state championship on Sunday at Harvard.

At the beginning of each swim season, the Belmont High Swimming and Diving’s senior captains come together to set a team goal.

Train harder, chase pool records, take home the Middlesex League title, those are the common aspirations made every year.

On Aug. 25, the four senior co-captains – Jessie Blake-West, Emily Quinn, Sarah Stewart and Sara Noorouzi – set the team’s target to a level not sought by past leaders.

Let’s win the state championship.

“We have never said, as long as I’ve been on the team, said our goal is to win states,” said Stewart on Thursday, Nov. 20, after the team was feted at the Belmont High School Athletic Awards Night. 

“So for us to even vocalize that to the team and to think of that goal ourselves is huge,” said Stewart.

On Sunday morning, Nov. 22, at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool, the final step in that goal will be taken when the Marauders take to the water in the MIAA Division 2 State Championship.

“It’s what we’ve been seeking since August, and we have given ourselves that chance,” said Stewart. 

Three teams will battle for the Championship: Belmont, fellow Middlesex League team Reading Memorial and two-time defending state champions Bishop Feehan. In the Shamrock’s past two victories, Belmont placed second each time.

But long-time Head Coach Ev Crosscup and the team’s expectation were peaked this past weekend at the MIAA North Sectionals where Belmont finished fourth behind Andover, Acton-Boxborough and Reading.

But it wasn’t the team’s placement that sparked all the hubbub, but the times recorded, which broke or matched season bests.

“We were asking, ‘where are these times coming from?” said Crosscup, pointing to the 200 Medley Relay. Those kids dropped four seconds,” said Crosscup.

Leading the way were freshman Nicole Kalavantis in the 200 (rated the best time coming into the meet according to the “Psych Sheet”) and 500 yard freestyle (in which she is considered the odds-on favorite to win the event), Quinn in her speciality the 100 breast where she cut four seconds from her season’s best to rank first, and senior diver Cynthia Kelsey who has registered a rare “10.0” on a dive this season.

But when you talk about the leader of the Marauders in the pool, it is Blake-West. Her 54.67-second 100-yard butterfly win at the North Sectionals earned her National Scholastic All-American honors.

“First time I’ve ever had an All-American in over 20 years,” said Crosscup. “I’ve had some real good swimmers, but no one has ever qualified for All-American automatically. Jessie’s very special,” he said.

Going into the pool for the last time for her school on Sunday, Blake-West said Thursday she’ll come to the pool “centered on my races and not get caught up in the meet.” 

Blake-West, who has committed to swim at Brown next year, said she’ll be chasing the state butterfly record – 53.56 set by Andover’s Rachel Moore in 2011 – and will be seeking a new title, in the 50-yard freestyle rather than defend her 200-yard individual medley.

“That was a tactical move so that I’m fresh for the relays,” said Blake-West.

“I think I have some good times still in me,” she said.

Crosscup believes the girls have not peaked despite the big time gains at sectionals. 

“We haven’t got the team fully tapered, so that’s why I think we have something left in the tank,” he said.

“But we’ll have to show up and swim become Bishop Feehan, and Reading are all within 10-15 points of each other,” he said.

But the captains’ goal of holding the state championship plaque poolside on Sunday afternoon is attainable, said Steward.

“Every day we work hard. We are in the pool and Ev pushes us and doesn’t hold back, and that’s really important,” she said.

“With all the freshmen, we’ve added to the team, and how they are swimming, we are looking really good and I am excited for Sunday,” Steward said.

For Crosscup, who has been forced to take a step back from coaching due to a serious lung illness, his team “will be in the hunt. It will be a lot of fun.”

“Even if we don’t make it, I couldn’t be prouder of this group of girls and how hard they have worked. Probably one of the strongest group of swimmers I’ve had in my career,” said Crosscup.

“I told the girls I’m going to do nothing but smile on Sunday regardless of what we do.”