MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Manchester High School West's Valentine's Day victory made basketball coach Nick Moutsioulis wish his wallet could support a team trip to the Magic Kingdom.
"If I could pay for every one of the girls to go, I'd do it in a heartbeat," said Moutsioulis, his reference to Disney World and the visit made by the Super Bowl MVP after winning the biggest of games.
You see, West entered its Feb. 14 girls' hoop contest lugging a 77-game losing streak that dated to the 2007-08 season opener. But after three consecutive winless campaigns, and another 14 straight losses this winter, the Blue Knights stopped the frustration-filled skid with a 38-33 Division II road win at Pelham High.
"I'm still processing it. I don't even know how to react to a win," said 5-foot 8-inch forward Emily Colon, one of three seniors on West's varsity team that features just eight active players.
West's low participation in athletics isn't limited to girls' hoop. The loss of Bedford student-athletes to the opening of Bedford High in 2007 has affected most sports programs at the school.
The exodus that eventually shrunk West's population from 2,000-plus students to roughly 1,100, took place over several years. But West's ability to compete in most sports quickly declined.
Colon and classmate Brooke Brown were freshman call-ups to the varsity in 2007-08, West's first winless campaign. Routinely losing was a foreign feeling to these stars of the streak-snapping win; as ninth-graders they led their freshman team to a 12-4 record.
"We tried not to think about the negative," said Brown, a 5-foot-11 center, noting the team became the punchline to jokes that spread throughout the school.
Over time, however, staying positive proved tough. One winless season grew into two, which reached three last winter.
But worse than the lopsided losses -- and jokes generated by them -- was the sinking feeling caused by looking into the stands during home games.
"If there were tumbleweeds, they'd be blowing in there," Colon said of Quinn Gymnasium.
Optimism returned to the program this season.
Moutsioulis, after two years mentoring the junior varsity team, took control of the varsity. The 30-year-old's positive outlook, however, was tested immediately.
West's new varsity coach built a 10-player roster. Yet he lost three girls to season-ending injuries in the first two games.
"Their biggest fear was replicating last year -- after dropping a division," said Moutsioulis, noting West, once among the state's largest schools, moved its girls' hoop program from Division I to Division II for competitive purposes.
Down to seven players, the coach added one JV player. Since the season's third game, West has dressed eight players.
Moutsioulis, at times, joins intrasquad scrimmages. The majority of practice time, however, is spent focusing on passing, perfecting set plays and, well, running.
Lots of running.
Picture a practice run by Norman Dale in "Hoosiers." Much like Gene Hackman's character from the classic hoop film, Moutsioulis stresses fundamentals and physical fitness.
"It's a love-hate relationship (with Moutsioulis) at practice," said Brown, who confirmed practices include running up and down West's four flights of stairs during a 20-minute session that features brief breaks.
When Moutsioulis took the varsity job, he also stressed patience. He told the team it would take until mid-season to see a change in performance.
In the meantime, the Blue Knights noticed they were receiving in-game treatment normally reserved for the defending champion. Winless West was earning everyone's best effort.
"There was a fear. They stepped up against us because nobody wanted to be that team," said Moutsioulis, well aware the losing streak motivated West's foes. "It was a mindset for other teams that 'We have to play our best basketball.'"
As Moutsioulis predicted, it took time for West to inch toward a win. Six times the team owned a halftime lead only to relinquish it in the second half.
Colon said coming close to winning was actually more frustrating than thinking about the losing streak itself.
Then came Feb. 14.
Sarah Soucy (11 points) stuck a pair of 3-pointers early in the game at Pelham. Her hot hand stretched the defense, which allowed West to pound the post. Junior forwards Alyssa Wright and Katie Weldon exploited soft spots in Pelham's defense with passes from the perimeter.
The Blue Knights trailed, 28-27, entering the fourth quarter. Smart decision-making on offense, strong defense and timely rebounding led to an 11-point period. Pelham scored five points.
Brown outscored the Pythons by herself, netting six points in the pivotal frame.
"Those last 3-4 minutes, I was thinking how awesome it would be to win," Brown said. "We deserved it."
Brown contributed eight points overall. Colon connected for a team-high 12 points. In the 15th game of their senior season, the duo finally cracked the varsity win column.
The best part of West's five-point win? There was no excessive celebration in Pelham's presence.
"They handled it with class. There was no jumping around. Just a lot of fist-pumping -- until we got on the bus," Moutsioulis said. "It was very classy to do that.
"It's about sportsmanship, too," he added. "Act like you've won before."
SHRINE GAME ALL-STARS ANNOUNCED
The list has been released.
Treated like classified information for weeks, if not months, the names of New Hampshire's high school football all-stars for the 58th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl are now public.
Thirty-six representatives of the NHIAA's six football divisions, all of them selected by head coach Chris Childs and his staff from Division IV champion Lebanon High, will play in the annual senior showcase on Aug. 6. They'll try to extend the Granite State's series-record 10-game win streak at Windsor (Vt.) High's MacLeay-Royce Field, the game's location for the third straight summer.
"People bring it up to me all the time," Childs said of the streak that has helped New Hampshire build a 42-13-2 record in the all-time series with Vermont. "I've thought about it a little bit, no doubt about it. But I won't think about it too much until we get closer to camp."
Camp opens July 28, at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden. On July 31, Team New Hampshire makes its traditional visit to a Shriners Hospital.
Childs was named head coach last November. He began assembling the initial process of assembling his team almost immediately.
He sifted through nominations submitted by coaches throughout the state. He made calls to collect game film on candidates. He met with the team's screening committee, which included the coaches who led their teams to each division's title game.
New Hampshire's roster had to be submitted by mid-February.
"It was quite hard to do. As an ex-player, to see this side of it was different for me," said Childs, who played in the 1995 Shrine Game. "Everybody has a great (player). We were really trying to find the kids that fit what we want to do on offense an defense.
"There's more to it than just picking the best 36 kids," he added. "That's for sure."
Per Shrine rules, the 36-player roster must include a certain number of all-stars from each division. The breakdown is nine for Division I, eight for Division II, six apiece for Divisions III and IV, four for Division V, and three for Division VI.
This year's Shrine roster includes the state's two Division I college football recruits: UNH-bound Mike Kelly of Nashua's Bishop Guertin High, running back, defensive back, receiver and kick-returner, and Dartmouth-bound Cody Patch of Lebanon, a running back/linebacker.
The group also includes nine selections to last fall's 26-member New Hampshire Union Leader All-State Football Team. In addition to Childs, the Coach of the Year, and Patch there's Taylor Russell (Keene High); Mike Mazzola and Luke Somers (Pinkerton Academy of Derry); Zach Hunnewell and Joel Pacheco (Nashua North High); and Joe DiPalma and Max Jacques (Salem High).
Jacques is the only two-time All-State Team Player of the Year. The 5-foot 6-inch, 160-pound star closed his career with what is believed to be a state-record 5,737 career all-purpose yards over three varsity seasons.
"There wasn't much discusison with Max," Childs said. "He was an easy one to pick."
The roster, save for one player whom Childs said must have his paperwork approved, broken down by division:
Joe DiPalma, Salem (LB)
Zach Hunnewell, Nashua North (OL/DL)
Max Jacques, Salem (RB)
Mike Mazzola, Pinkerton (FB/DE)
Joel Pacheco, Nashua North (DL)
Ian Parsons, Nashua South (OT)
Luke Somers, Pinkerton (RB/S)
CJ Woods, Concord (SE)
Matt Ammann, Keene (OC/LB)
Tyler Baulier, Merrimack (DT)
Nick Corbett, Dover (TE/LB)
Steve Cronan, Winnacunnet (QB)
Steve Cuipa, Bishop Guertin (QB/SE)
Mike Kelly, Bishop Guertin (RB/WR/DB/KR)
Taylor Russell, Keene (OT/DT)
Kyle Wilson, Dover (TE/DE)
John Forte, Milford (RB/LB)
Max Goudreau, Milford (RB/DB)
Nick Hession, Souhegan (DE/LB)
Brian Liamos, Hollis/Brookline (FB/TE/LB)
Sam McClain, Bedford (LB)
Brendan McKenna, Souhegan (TE/DL)
Kyle Behan, Laconia (K)
Sam Carney, Hanover (QB/S)
Jeff Gratiano, Trinity (OC/DT)
John Doran Logsdon, Laconia (LB)
Cody Patch, Lebanon (RB/LB)
Jonathan Roth, Lebanon (QB/LB/DB)
Thomas Baxter, St. Thomas Aquinas (OT/DT)
Doug Gregory, Kearsarge (QB/LB)
Zachary Knight, Stevens (LB)
Robert Ramirez, Kearsarge (DE)
Brendan Demo, Gilford (OG)
Jacob Ford, Franklin (OG)
Josh Stout, Newport (DB)
Childs said the team will run a Wing-T offense and 4-4 defense. He will serve as offensive coordinator. His Lebanon coaching staff will serve as Shrine assistants. The quintet includes David Boisvert (defensive coordinator), Todd Bircher (running backs), Al Miclovic (special teams), and Brandon Lahaye and Gary Mayo (offensive/defensive lines).
SWIMMING & DIVING DOMINATION
Bishop Guertin dominated the Division I Swimming & Diving Championships at UNH's Swasey Pool on Feb. 11 and 12. The Cardinals beat fellow Gate City school Nashua North to claim the boys' and girls' team titles.
BG's boys won 245.5-216. BG's girls won 185.5-171.
David Pfeifer was BG's lone individual champ. He won the 1-meter diving competition (282.45 points).
In Division II, the Oyster River of Durham boys and Lebanon girls won team championshps. OR easily beat second-place Souhegan of Amherst, 285-186; Lebanon defeated runner-up OR, 226-188.
Alex Jones and Joe Lane led OR. Jones won the 100-yard flystroke (55.91 seconds). Lane placed first in the 100-yard backstroke (54.11). Lebanon's Ellie Thompson won two individual titles, the 200-yard individual medley (2:13.81) and 100-yard backstroke (58.23).
RUN TO NO. 1
BG distance runner Jeff LaCoste celebrated an uncommon feat at the Division I Indoor Track Championships on Feb. 13. He won three lengthy races at Dartmouth College's Leverone Field House: the 1,000 meter (2:34.27), the 1,500 meter (4:11.23) and the 3,000 meter (8:54.37).
But Nashua North, paced by long jumper Jahmar Gathright (20 feet, 2.75 inches), 55-meter hurdler Eric Muite (7.66) and 300-meter dasher Andre Williams (36.13), won the boys' title. The Titans topped LaCoste & Co., 67.5-58.
Guertin's girls, however, defended their title. Freshman Molly McCabe was BG's lone individual champion (3:02.87 in 1,000-meter run). But titles in the 4X400- and 4X800 relays, and several girls who placed in their events, helped the Cardinals surge past Manchester Central, 95-66.
Just like their schools' swim teams, the Oyster River boys and Lebanon girls won Division II team championships. OR edged Swanzey's Monadnock Regional, 61-54; Lebanon comfortably beat Portsmouth, 58-33.
Gubby Naronha paced OR. He set a Division II record in the 1,000-meter run (2:33.09), won the 3,000-meter race (9:26.02) and contributed to the team's 4X800 relay win (8:28.79).
Cathly Liebowitz led Lebanon. She won the 55-meter dash (7.48), set a Division II record in the shot put (41-8.25), and contributed to the 4X200 relay team's winning time (1:49.40).
WRESTLING KINGS CROWNED
One of New England's most dominant wrestling programs continued its remarkable reign.
Plaistow's Timberlane Regional hosted the 12-team Division I Championships on Feb. 19 and cruised to the program's 12th consecutive crown. It was also the 20th divisional title overall for the Owls.
Coach Barry Chooljian celebrated eight individual champions, and another four finalists. The combination helped generate 284 points. Timberlane's total nearly doubled the 146.5 points tallied by second-place Pinkerton.
Timberlane's champions included Jake Kappler (103 pounds); Zach Bridson (112); Matt Morris (135); Andrew Tanner (145); Nate Lawrence (160); Nick Lawrence (171); Shane Tremblay (189); and Ben Tammany (285). Lawrence was named Most Outstanding Wrestler.
The six other Division I champions were Londonderry's Dan Roger (119); Pinkerton's Tanner Burke (125), Dominic Farrar (130) and David Owens (140); Nashua South's Tyler Elworth (152); and Manchester Memorial's Dave Garcia (215).
Goffstown High's Grizzlies won the Division II title at Merrimack High. The Grizzlies celebrated six individual champs to outlast Winnacunnet of Hampton, 195-184.
Zach Schofield (112), Mike Sarette (119), Peter Shea (135), Mal Shea (140), Ryan Moran (145) and Caleb Cejka (152) won individual crowns for Goffstown, runner-up the previous two seasons.
Other individual champs included Hollis/Brookline's Zach MacPherson (103) and Casey Quinn (160); Winnacunnet's Ryan Cohen (125), Mike Ponchak (130), and twin brothers Matt (171) and Mike Sullivan (189); Merrimack's Tyler Baulier (215); and Bedford's Jeremy Nault (285). Quinn was named Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Plymouth Regional's Bobcats won the inaugural Division III title, and the seventh divisional crown of coach Randy Cleary's 17-year tenure, at Pelham High.
Tyler Dustin (103) and Dakota Simula (215) won individual championships to pace Plymouth, which separated itself from second-place John Stark Regional of Weare, 208-119.
Individual title-winners included Pelham's Josh Medeiros (112) and Warren Greenhalgh (171); Carleton Kleinschrodt (119) of Whitefield's White Mountains Regional; Windham's Tyler Siverhus (125) and Gage Fenton (145); Bow's Pete LaRiviere (130) and John Lefebvre (160); Oyster River's Jeff Cole (135); Ryan Manasian (140) and Jonathan Scheidegger (152) of Kingston's Sanborn Regional; Eddie O'Malley (189) of Bristol's Newfound Regional; and Dan Mak (285) from Campbell of Litchfield. Cole was named Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Inexperience wasn't a problem for Pinkerton at the Feb. 19 NHIAA Gymnastics Championships. The Astros featured four freshmen in their nine-gymnast attack and still comfortably won the team title at Salem High.
Pinkerton's second consecutive crown was the program's 10th overall. Salem's 16 titles tops the list.
Sophomore Olivia Bogaczyk, junior Courtney Thompson and senior Alex Halle paced Pinkerton, which posted a title-clinching score of 136.525.
Plymouth Regional senior Abby Clark, the meet's top seed, won the all-around individual title with a score of 36.550. Bogaczyk, last year's all-around champ as a freshman, finished second (35.325).
The NHIAA's first season of varsity bowling concluded Feb. 19. Rochester's Spaulding High earned the inaugural team title with a four-round, bracket-busting run at Spare Time lanes in Manchester.
Seeded seventh in the 11-team tournament that used the Baker-style format, Spaulding bumped No. 1 seed Pinkerton in the final. The underdogs won the match, 4-1, the clincher a 191-163 decision in the fifth game.
Paced by captain Liz Rowan, and key season-long contributors Cody Bond, Colton Castonguay, Madison Goldstein and Josh Paige, Spaulding set a state record in the quarterfinals. The team's 236 points eclipsed the previous mark by two points, and stunned No. 2 seed Stevens High of Claremont.
GRANITE STATE GREATS
-- Sophomore center Chris Moquin scored five goals in Trinity High's 5-1 Division I boys' hockey win over city rival Central on Feb. 9. He tallied two goals apiece in the first and second periods at JFK Coliseum, showcasing his ability to score in transition and in traffic. He redirected a shot from the right-wing circle for his third-period goal.
-- Merrimack's Dimitri Floras, a sophomore on the boys' basketball team, scored a game-high 34 points in a 67-61 Division I defeat at Memorial on Feb. 11. In addition to draining a half-dozen 3-pointers, he also hit six shots inside the arc and converted four free throws.
-- In the same game Feb. 11 contest, Memorial senior David Madol, the league's reigning Player of the Year, delivered a 30-point performance. It included 11 field goals. Three of those shots were 3-pointers.
-- Hanover High goaltender James Montgomery made 34 saves in his team's 3-2 comeback win over defending Division I boys' hockey champion Concord on Feb. 16. Montgomery was 14-for-14 in third-period stops to help the Marauders snap a four-game league losing skid. He made 39 saves in a 4-3 win over fellow contender BG on Feb. 19.
-- Campbell High's Josh Morgan scored a program-record 40 points on Feb. 17. The Cougars, however, lost the Division III boys' hoop contest at New Ipswich's Mascenic Regional, 72-70.
-- Tyler Griffin netted 37 points in Colebrook High's 89-55 Division IV boys' hoop win over Pittsburg High on Feb. 21. The senior forward's final shot, a 3-pointer from the wing with 3 minutes to play, gave him 1,000 points for his career.
Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read his blog, "New Hampshire GameDay" and follow him on Twitter @marc_thaler.