Shepherd Hill boys look to make a deep run this winter
By CHRISTOPHER TREMBLAY Staff Sports Writer
In the recent past the Shepherd Hill Regional High School boys’ basketball has had much success, capturing 3 Mid Watch League Championships (2012, 2013 and 2016) and a District Title in 2018. The program then ran into a couple of tough years before bouncing back last winte,r going 19-4 and earning a spot in the Division 2 State Tournament.
The Fighting Rams were seeded 15 going into the tournament where they defeated East Longmeadow before falling to Mansfield in the round of 16. This winter Coach Mike Rapoza is looking for his squad to once again finish with a decent record to get into the State Tournament, but this time with a deeper run.
“Last year we definitely had high expectations coming into the season and really didn’t expect to accomplish as much as we did in year one,” the now second-year coach said. “The kids bought into the system we were showing them and they executed it to a high level and we were successful.”
Shepherd Hill lost five seniors, three of whom were starters, from last year’s resurgent team that got back to having success on the court, but according to the coach the team has a solid foundation of athletes returning that should be able to fit into the vacant positions and be just fine.
Conference MVP Ryan Brooks will be back for his fourth varsity season to lead the Rams onto the court and hopefully back into the tournament this winter. The senior forward averaged 18 points and 12 rebounds per contest for Shepherd Hill last season. Brooks will be headed to Keene State in New Hampshire to play basketball next year.
The only other starter returning this year will be starting point guard Nick Veronis. The senior not only can distribute the ball and gets the Rams offense moving down court, but he is also a very good defensive player. Rapoza would like to see Veronis do a little more scoring this year (he averaged 7 points per game).
“I always expect our players to get better during the off-season and bring something new to the team each year,” the coach said.
With nothing set in stone as of this writing the coach wouldn’t commit to any other starters nor the players who would see varsity action this winter other than his two returners. He did say that whoever does make up the team will be a part of the Rams repeating last year’s success.
“If we go out and play an unselfish offense with our solid defense we should have success once again,” Rapoza said. “The main thing is that the kids have to continue to buy into what we do at practice; if they do that then we’ll advance.”
While Shepherd Hill can put the ball in the basket on a regular basis, defense is a rather big part of the team’s current identity. Last season the Rams were able to hold their opponents to an average of 49.5 points per contest and if they repeat that performance again this year they should be able to win their share of games.
“Our players have the talent,” the coach said. “If they play our system and maintain the defense we should be back in the tournament once again, hopefully this time we can go further.”
Shepherd Hill opened the season on December 9th with a road game at Algonquin.