NEPSAC WNEC Preview
Of all the prep school leagues in the region perhaps none is as wide open as the Western New England Conference. The WNEC, which splintered off from Class B last year, plays host to 18 teams, of which only 8 make the post-season. With more contenders then there are spots, every game will be a big one this season.
Loomis Chaffee – Windsor, Connecticut
The defending champions will be looking to go two for two in the opening years of the conference. Experience will obviously be in their favor as they return a number of players from last years squad including big man Edward James Baker. They also welcome four new post-graduates to the mix including seven footer Andrew McCarthy and sharp-shooter John Nielson. McCarthy will step right in for his big brother, Sean McCarthy, who went off to NJIT after leading Loomis to a title last season. Nielsen will provide the outside compliment with his shooting stroke as he isn’t just a good shooter, he’s a great shooter. Ultimately, the faces may be different, but this year’s team has a lot of similar pieces to last year’s group.
Wilbraham & Monson – Wilbraham, Massachusetts
Chris Sparks returns for his second year at the helm of the Wilbraham program and has a squad that could make some noise in the WNEC. Wilbraham opened the season with a good win over Proctor Academy but has since fallen to Cheshire and Ocean Academy. Ultimately, we expect this team to be at or near the top of the WNEC all season long. They have great depth and balance at all five positions and a number of players capable of filling up the scoring column. Naofall Folahan, Peter Rakocevic, and Grozden Vukojevic give the team more size up front than most; Eric Dortch is a scorer and defender who can fill it up on the wing; Milan Drecun and Mitch Amelio two shot makers; and Andrej Pajovic, Phil Spottswood, and Chris Williams three dynamic playmakers.
Kent School – Kent, Connecticut
It all begins inside for Kent as Theodore Boyomo returns for his third and final year at the school. Boyomo is arguably the most imposing defensive presence in the league and can change the game with his shot blocking and rebounding. He is also much improved offensively and more than willing to showcase his new skills by dominating the often times smaller, weaker, and less athletic competition he finds inside the paint. But Boyomo will not be alone as there are lots of new faces in Kent. Gary Ricks Jr. will be relied upon to make a quick impact in the class of 2010 along with Darian Hooker. But head coach Jason Coulombe is also building for the future with guys like Sean Sampson, Nick Pendergast, Henry Pendergast, Joshua Kingsley, Stefon Williams, and Travis Berry.
Taft School – Watertown, Connecticut
Taft returns the core of last year’s team in point guard Jared Jackson, power forward Greg Nicol, big man Keefer Rafferty, and young forward Kevin Trotman. Additionally, they have added four new important pieces to the puzzle beginning with Sacred Heart bound guard Chris Evans. The Stamford (CT) graduate is a flat out winner who gets it done at both ends of the floor. He has great power and athleticism, an infectious work ethic, and a willingness to do whatever is necessary to lead his team to the win. Transfers Alex Kershaw (Tilton, NH) and C.J. Moss (Westport, MA) provide the team with two other talented and super tough players while post-graduate Jeff Tagger is yet another playmaker and shooter in the backcourt.
Choate Rosemary Hall – Wallingford, Connecticut
Choate entered last season’s WNEC tournament as the sixth seed but scored road victories over third seeded Deerfield and second seeded Salisbury to advance to the finals before falling to Loomis Chaffee. Only three players return from that team in Luke Matarazzo, Nick Ramsey, and Jordan Massey. Matarazzo will team with newcomer Stevie Rogers, a post-graduate from Texas who was previously committed to Rice University before recently opening up his recruitment, to form a dynamic backcourt. Zac Messinger, Sebastian Lubic, and John Papale provide three frontcourt players who will look to make up for their lack of size with their perimeter skill sets.
Salisbury School - Salisbury, Connecticut
With the first seven players from last year’s 20-7 team having graduated, Salisbury School will look to rebuild with a new cast. Only 6”6” senior center Mark Miller and 6’2” senior guard Michael O’Connor saw meaningful minutes a year ago, so the Knights will be relying on several talented newcomers to extend their three-year playoff run. 6’5” senior Will Tye may be headed for the football field upon reaching college, but he promises to be a terror on the hardwood this season. Division I recruit Zaid Hearst will provide solid play on the wing while 6’4” Australian import Lachlan Magee will stretch the defense with his shooting range. Point guard Brian O’Toole (committed to Harvard for lacrosse) and 6’6” freshman wing Chris McCullough also will be important contributors.
Cheshire Academy – Cheshire, Connecticut
Fairfield bound guard Jamel Fields will be the engine that makes this team go. He is as tough and hard nosed as they come and makes those around him better by lifting the level of competition on a daily basis. No one will benefit from Fields’ presence more than junior big man Eric Katenda who has already improved by leaps and bounds from the talented but raw forward we saw a season ago. Skilled 6’6” face-up four-man John Boyatsis is one of the best kept secrets in the league, and 6’8” center Jason Chornyei provides a solid man in the middle. Add to this core foursome a series of strong and athletic football prospects doubling as basketball players and it’s easy to see why Cheshire will be the most improved team in the league this year.
Suffield Academy – Suffield, Connecticut
Last year was a rebirth of sorts for Suffield Academy as first year head coach Jeff Depelteau led the team to 14-7 record, claiming more victories than any Suffield team in the last eight years. This year’s squad returns leading scorer and team MVP Xavier Pollard who is a threat to break down opposing defenses at anytime. But Pollard is just the beginning of an explosive backcourt as post-graduates Allen Harris and Nate Vernon, along with sophomore Jamel Torrence all join the mix. Together the foursome gives Suffield a little bit of everything with Pollard and Harris attacking the defense and making plays for themselves and others, Vernon spacing the floor and draining deep three-point shots, and Torrence steadying the ship as a pure point guard.
Deerfield Academy – Deerfield, Massachusetts
Kyle Kager returns for his junior season giving Deerfield one of the league’s true offensive stars. A great athlete with good size and length, Kager is an exceptionally skilled player who is perhaps even more dangerous from the perimeter than he is in the paint. His supporting cast will consist of post-graduates Connor Arnold and Will Hall. Arnold is a six-foot-four jack of all trades who is coming off a terrific career at Andover High School where he was known for his toughness and winning ways. Meanwhile Hall is a six-foot-eight big man who comes to Deerfield by way of Great Britain where he played on one of their junior national teams.
Avon Old Farms – Avon, Connecticut
Avon returns only three players from last year’s squad, but one is sophomore Tafari Whittingham, a versatile six-foot-six forward who had a breakout summer on the exposure circuit and appears poised for similar results this season. Joining Whittingham will be another player who made a name for himself this summer, post-graduate Latif Rivers. The New York native is dynamic and explosive, able to take the game over for spurts at a time and put the ball in the basket in a number of different ways. Put together, Whittingham and Rivers form a lethal inside-out punch capable of leading Avon to big things this year.
Trinity Pawling – Pawling, New York
O.K. so they might not be from New England but they will nonetheless challenge in the Western New England Conference. They are well coached under Keith Zalaski and have a formidable roster including the likes of Mike Celestin, John Kalin, Ciaran O’Sullivan, and Todd Kirkpatrick. They will be disciplined, well schooled, and a threat to beat anyone on any given night.
Keep an Eye on
• Berkshire (MA) will be much improved this year while building towards the future with junior guard Ahmad Reid and freshman Diamonte Zarba.
• Aziz Dieng returns for his senior season at Pomfret (CT) and he will have some help from newly arrived point guard Cam Bell.
• Gunnery will be improved this year with good athleticism and playmaking in the backcourt led by Northwest Catholic graduate Uzoma Orchingwa.