Prior to the baseball and lacrosse scrimmages that took place on April 9th, Phillips Academy's last interscholastic competition was on March 8, 2020. On that date, just after spring vacation had started, the girls' varsity hockey team skated in the championship game of NEPSAC's first-ever "Elite Eight" girl's hockey tournament. In front of a raucous Big Blue crowd at Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center, the team came up just short in an exciting, fast-paced contest. Just a few days later, many of those in attendance heard the term, "contact tracing" for the first time and a new normal comprised of safety protocols and radical life changes was upon us.
This past year and a half, Andover athletes and coaches proved resilient and innovative in finding ways to train and maintain team bonds despite the time apart, the distance between them, and the constraints that safety during a pandemic necessitated. From bonding over Zoom to training in the "Big Blue Bubble", the spirit and manner in which Andover athletes adjusted to the challenges were impressive and inspiring (hear several of this spring's captains share those stories here). The sports staff of the school's entirely student-run paper, The Phillipian, did series of features on our captains that were a must-read for anyone curious about not just athletic training during the pandemic, but also the mindset of Andover athletes.
While the 2020 girls' hockey final might have been the last interscholastic game that any Andover athlete had competed in, spring season teams hadn't seen the field, court, track, pool, or river since Memorial Day weekend of 2019. They certainly made the most of the opportunity to return to competition this spring, not just in terms of wins, but also in enthusiasm and appreciation. Many Andover athletes competed with full knowledge that some of their former teammates, now on college teams, were not being afforded the same opportunity.
The pandemic prevented Girls' tennis (6-0) from making its eighth straight New England Prep finals appearance last spring. Andover defeated Hotchkiss to take the crown in 2019, and the canceled 2020 season meant that the squad entered this season as technically still the defending New England champs. Their play this season proved the crown was right where it was supposed to be.
After a slow start in the opening 6-3 win over Deerfield, Big Blue found their rhythm, never dropping more than two match points in their next five straight victories. Coach Deborah Chase cited the win in the final match of the season vs. Exeter as the 2021 highlight. "Winning that match meant we went undefeated this season. We had been treating the match as a capstone and building our skills and competitive edge for that match in particular. And, we shined, sweeping the doubles 3-0 and winning 1-4 singles", shared Chase.
The coach pointed the importance of senior leadership in this shortened season. "Senior captain Reimi Kusaka once again led the team on and off the court. She played at the 1 and 2 singles positions and at the 1 doubles position (with co-captain Nicole Lee '22) throughout the season. She was undefeated in her singles matches and lost only one doubles match early in the season against Deerfield. She finished her PA tennis career with a stunning comeback to win her singles match against Exeter 11-9 in a tiebreaker for the third set. Senior Sofia Poncel was one of the strongest doubles players on the team and also dropped only one match, also against Deerfield early in the season."
The future looks bright for the program as about halfway through the season lower Ananya Madduri '23 took over as the #1 singles player. Madduri finished undefeated in singles and at #2 doubles, with Sara Coddington '23.
Andover's Ultimate team (6-0) joined girls' tennis in being undefeated this spring. While head coach Scott Hoenig was pleased his team met the goals they set prior to the season, "Try our best, have fun, get to know each other, improve, have a positive team culture - all achieved!", he had to also enjoy winning all their games, right? "Hoenig responded, "Winning less important than playing well - playing well led to winning games."
Anyone who had the chance to see "Blue Steel" play this season knows they did so not just "well", but also with great enthusiasm and sportsmanship. Hoenig highlighted his senior captains, Kam Saalfrank and Cory McCormack for their role in the team's positive attitude. "Leaders and role models in 'Spirit of the Game', enthusiasm, hard work, skills, and executing strategies during games.", he said of the co-captains.
Coach Hoenig was also pleased with how his team adjusted to COVID testing protocols and their potential effect on the schedule. "I think the more challenging aspect was the mental component - trying not to focus too much on things that were beyond our control. So much was beyond our control... But I was pleased with how the team responded - it didn’t impact their approach to practices, how hard they worked, or how enthusiastic they were at practices. The lack of a final tournament was also something beyond our control - and a final tournament usually motivates players and teams to improve. We didn’t have that, yet the team still worked just as hard and still committed to the goal of playing our best at the end of the season... Despite all the challenging conditions and circumstances, we still improved in all areas: skills, strategy, mental toughness, knowledge of the rules, athleticism - and we had a ton of fun in the process."
All that, and a layout slip-n-slide practice!
Baseball didn't have a Central New England Prep Championship to play for this spring (due to COVID), but that didn't stop them from putting together yet another strong season full of highlights. Big Blue finished with a 13-1 record and ascended to the top spot in the New England Baseball Journal Coaches Poll for the third consecutive season, and as high as No. 18 in this year’s national high school rankings (according to Perfect Game). The team’s 0.98 earned run average was particularly noteworthy, with seven victories coming by way of shutout.
When asked about notable contributions from his senior captains, head coach Kevin Graber shared some names and numbers, "L.J. Keevan ’21 emerged as the team’s top hitter with a robust .447 batting average, while Jack Penney ’21 cemented his status as the top shortstop in New England, batting .405 to go along with sparkling defense. Matt Sapienza ’21 paced an outstanding pitching staff with a 5-1 record, 0.30 earned run average, and 42 strikeouts in 29.2 innings – all team bests."
Graber echoed what other coaches shared regarding the lack of a post-season due to COVID not hindering motivation and attitude. "With no championship to play for, the team prepared for and treated every game like a championship game, with energy, enthusiasm, and a competitive spirit that hopefully exemplifies Andover athletics."
Boys' tennis (8-1) also only had one smudge on their 2021 record. Other than a marathon match vs. Roxbury Latin which resulted in their sole loss, 3-4, the squad was dominant. Four of their eight victories were sweeps, including two over Exeter.
The senior trio of senior captains Hudson Elegant, Aidan Burt, and Mac Katkavitch all finished their Andover careers in style at Exeter last Saturday. Head coach Leon Calleja described the scene following Elegant's early win, "This left the two other senior co-captains finishing their matches off to end their Andover tennis career: Aidan Burt overcame his opponent’s lead in the second set to win 6-2, 7-5 and then all three boys’ teams cheered on Mac Katkavitch who pulled out a tight 7-6, 6-7, 1-0 (10-8) victory to complete the full sweep."
Softball (7-5) got off to an uncharacteristically slow start this season, but once their offense got into gear, it never slowed down. Big Blue tallied 118 runs in just 12 games. The offensive output included 10 home runs by Kiley Buckley '23. The season culminated with a 17-5 win vs. Exeter and head coach Lindsay Maroney '07 was pleased to report that her sole senior, captain Katie Morris, "finished her softball career at Andover on a high note with a pair of walks and 3 runs scored, as well as solid defense at first base."
Boys' lacrosse (4-3) used the shortened season to showcase a much-improved program in head coach James Beaudoin's first season on the Andover sidelines. The team's 4-1 start shot them into the New England Lacrosse Journal's top ten and they provided an overtime buzzer-beater highlight in a home win vs. Pingree that won't soon be forgotten.
Girls' lacrosse was also much improved since their 2019 campaign. Head coach Heidi Wall shared, "We finished the season 5-3. And a big improvement from a 4-13 2019 season. Notable wins were against Deerfield, Governor’s, and Exeter (we dealt them their only loss all season.). When asked about her seniors, Wall replied, "Kennedy Everson '21 was a star in net recording a 57% save percentage. Isabela Miller '21 was our leading scorer with 29 goals and 10 assists. Captains Abby Ryan '21 and Lily Rademacher '21 helped to lead the defense and midfield transition contributing greatly to our draw controls, ground ball pick-ups, and cause turnovers. Lucy Lasater '21 helped to spark our attack in the Exeter game by scoring the first goal of the game."
With the fall season, when girls' volleyball competes, canceled due to COVID, Andover adjusted and formed an all-gender volleyball team for the spring. Head coach Alex Svec reported on the season, "PA's first all-gender volleyball season was a huge success! Despite a losing record, courtesy of 5 time consecutive reigning champion Exeter, Andover fielded what is likely the strongest, most talented team in the history of the volleyball program. Guided by the leadership of senior captains Jerry Shu, Colin McNamara-Bordewick, Violet Enes, and Brooklyn Wirt, phenomenal play by uppers Caleb Blackburn-Johnson and Alex Mitchell, and incredible contributions by the team's only underclassmen Michelle Brunetti, Sam Rodgers, and Wendy Wang, PAVB had an unforgettable season. A special shout out to the team's two PGs, Zane Olmstead and Luke Gordos, who in their first-ever volleyball season, became irreplaceable members of the team on and off the court."
Despite the truncated season, golf head coach Brian Faulk shared the common refrain of appreciation among Andover coaches, "I would say a highlight was simply being out on the golf course this spring — we were certainly worried that our athletes would go two seasons without being able to compete. Our athletes really seemed to enjoy the connections they made with Deerfield and Exeter golfers (we played each school multiple times). Co-Captain Griffin Hout ’21 earned the Golf Cup as the squad's top golfer, led by a terrific 76 in our one medal play tournament at Crumpin Fox, and Nolan Sun ’21 had an undefeated season. We were very impressed with the leadership of Co-Captains Hout and Kyle Simard ’21 in what can only be described as a challenging year."
Track & Field, led by its captains, had a robust training schedule all year long, even when remote, but was only able to compete in three meets this spring. Two of the meets were with Exeter, during which the 9th and 10th graders split from the 11th and 12th graders for consecutive home and away competition with the Big Red. In their only full-team meet, both the Andover girls and boys teams defeated Deerfield.
Crew also managed to pull off a busy team training schedule in 2020-21 despite the pandemic. The program favored intense practice, and getting as many boats in the water as possible this spring, over hard-to-come-by formal competition. Big Blue raced with traditional foe Exeter as well as Hingham and BC High.
Water polo didn't have any interscholastic play but, like volleyball, sought to include the players who'd lost their fall season by training as an all-gender squad. The program's captains were excited to be back in the pool, and practiced together all spring, including three formal intersquad, "blue-white" clashes. Cycling was also not able to compete against other schools but did train and take advantage of the extra time on campus to introduce the sport to some newcomers.
It was certainly a year, and spring, like no other. While sports were certainly not a priority, given the safety restrictions necessary to responsibly navigate a pandemic, the physical and mental benefits that athletics can offer, even when practiced remotely or socially distanced, were a welcome respite for so many in the Andover community. When the opportunity to safely compete as in-person teams returned this spring, the appreciation of the privilege to once again participate was evident on the faces of Big Blue athletes and coaches. The non sibi spirit is alive and well.