The MIAA spring high school sports season begins tryouts on Monday for the final season of the 2022-23 school year. With the spring season on the horizon, it’s time to wrap up the winter high school sports season on Cape Ann.
While no team made it past the Round of 16 in the MIAA State Tournaments, there were still plenty of interesting storylines, individual and team accomplishments during the winter season. Here’s a look at some of the most notable.
Toppans have historic season
The Gloucester wrestling program once again reached new heights in 2023 with twin brothers Mike and Jayden Toppan leading the way. The junior captains each finished up the season competing against the best in the region at the New England tournament with both brothers filling up their resume with win after win.
Jayden became Gloucester’s first ever All-State wrestling champ, winning the 220-pound tournament in a thrilling overtime victory. Jayden was also named the Northeastern Conference/Cape Ann League Wrestler of the Year after winning the conference 220-pound title for the second year in a row. He also won the Division 3 North Sectional and Division 3 State titles.
Mike, on the other hand, became Gloucester’s first ever medalist at the New England Tournament, placing fifth at 195-pounds. He was second in the All-State Meet at 195, missing the title by just one point. He was also the CAL/NEC champ for the second year in a row, winning a 195 after taking the title at 182 as a sophomore. He also won his second straight Division 3 North Sectional crown and picked up the Division 3 State crown a year later.
The Toppan brothers highlighted a huge year from the Gloucester wrestling program, who had five NEC/CAL champs with freshman Joe Allen (132 pounds), eighth grader Aiden DeCoste (113) and eighth grader J.J. Figeueroa-Mercado (106) also winning the conference tournament. On the girls side, juniors Morgan Pennimpede and Bailee Militello proved to be factors at the state level as Pennimpede was second at the All-State and Militello sixth, both earning a spot on the medal stand.
It looks like 2023 is just the beginning of the team’s success too as every aforementioned wrestler returns next year.
DOUBLE CAL titles
The Manchester Essex basketball teams also turned is a special 2023 campaign with both teams winning the CAL Baker Division.
The boys dominated the league with a 15-0 record in the CAL while scoring the most points and allowing the second fewest in league play. Led by CAL Baker Player of the Year Cade Furse, the Hornets put together an unbeaten campaign in the CAL for the first time in program history.
The Lady Hornets were one of the most unique teams in the area, winning without leaning on a star player but relying on depth with 10 players seeing regular minutes and all of them contributing almost equally. With any player on the floor being able to shoulder the offensive load on any given night, it’s no wonder Manchester Essex won its first CAL title since 2015 and won more games than it has since 2017.
The Gloucester boys basketball team put together a state tournament run this winter that has only been achieved two other times in program history.
The Fishermen won two state tournament games before falling to powerhouse Cardinal Spellman, which lost in the semifinals on a buzzer beater earlier this week, in the Round of 16. Gloucester has only won two state tournament games in a season three times with the 2023 team’s achievement. The last two to advance two rounds was the 2019 team and the 2006 team. The 2019 and 2006 teams reached the Division 2 North Quarterfinals, which is the equivalent to the Round of 16 present day.
Head coach Adam Philpott’s team got by on its grit. Senior Nate Montagnino carried the offense and the role players all did their job and played with tenacity for a full 32 minutes every night.
Finding an identity
Once again, the Gloucester boys hockey team was one of the most entertaining teams to watch on Cape Ann, and this season they did it with an identity shift.
In the previous two seasons, the Fishermen relied on superstar scorers Jack Costanzo and Emerson Marshall to form their identity. This year the Fishermen did it with depth. Head coach Derek Geary was able to form three lines that he could roll out equally with seven defensemen seeing regular minutes. While Gloucester didn’t have two 60-plus point scorers this season — juniors Colby Jewell and Brett Cunningham were still an elite one-two punch in the NEC — the team won games with their speed. Playing up tempo with three lines really wore on teams, good teams too as the Fishermen outscored opponents 6-0 in the third period in their two state tournament games.
The skill sets may have been a little bit different than they were in the past, but Geary and his staff found a way to build another contender.
Future looks bright
The winter 2023 season also brought forth some emerging teams that look like they will make some noise in 2024, two from Gloucester and two from Rockport.
The Gloucester girls basketball and girls hockey teams took noticeable strides in 2023 and both teams have their entire core returning next winter.
The girls basketball team has been a struggling program in recent years, but it looks like they’ve found the leader that can take the program to the next level in head coach Tommy McDonald, the NEC girls coach of the Year. The team had seven wins this season, matching its total from the previous four seasons combined. Gloucester was competitive every night, especially at home in the Smith Fieldhouse, and were playing meaningful games well into February. In 2023-24, Gloucester will have a core of upper-classmen returning to the fold for the first time in a long time. That’s a great sign for the future of the program.
The Gloucester girls hockey team also looks like a program ready to take off in 2024. The Fishermen missed out on the tournament this winter, their third as a varsity program, but finished at 8-11-1 with some strong performances. Gloucester loses no players to graduation so this improved squad should be improved again in 2023. A late season win over Beverly proved that this program is just about ready to compete with the elite teams in the Northeast Hockey League.
Both the Rockport boys and girls basketball teams look like teams ready to make a jump next winter as well.
While both squads were young and “rebuilding” and missed the postseason, there were a lot of positives to take away from the season.
The Lady Vikings graduated the vast majority of their scoring from 2022, but found a way to consistently put the ball in the net through great ball movement and emerging sophomores Allie George and Adrianna LoGuidice consistently making shots. While the Vikings lose four seniors from this years squad, the underclassmen gained valuable experience and look like a formidable team in the future.
The Rockport boys also look ready to contend in 2024 with only one senior leaving the program and he missed most of this season with an injury. The young Vikings took some lumps this winter with only two league wins and six wins overall. But Phil Whitley’s squad showed off the improvements one looks for in a young team. The Viking’s two CAL wins came in their final three league games including a big win over league runner-up Georgetown.
Led by junior Ed Merz and sophomore Josiah Whitley, the Vikings were learning on the fly and their improvements came through in a late season sequence against Pentucket and Georgetown. The Vikings let a game against Pentucket slip away that they were leading for much of the second half. But the team immediately showed that they learned from that game just one game later with the win over Georgetown. In the Georgetown win, Rockport looked like a team that knew how to play in close and late situations and they closed out the tournament bound Royals. Those tight games, even the losses, will only make this team better next winter.
Cape Ann All Conference and All-Star performers
All Conference/All League
Name Year Team
Quinn Brady Jr. Rockport boys hockey
Ed Chareas Jr. Manchester Essex boys basketball
Aiden DeCoste 8th grade Gloucester wrestling
J.J. Figueroa-Mercado 8th grade Gloucester wrestling
Cade Furse Jr. Manchester Essex boys basketball
Sydney Hemme Fresh. Manchester Essex swimming
Colby Jewell Jr. Gloucester boys hockey
Calista Lai Sr. Manchester Essex girls basketball
Max Littman Sr. Gloucester track
Nate Montagnino Sr Gloucester boys basketball
Finn O’Hara Jr. Manchester Essex track
Dougie Pratt Sr. Rockport boys hockey
Colby Rochford Jr. Gloucester track
Jayden Toppan Jr. Gloucester wrestling
Mike Toppan Jr. Gloucester wrestling
Brennan Twombly Sr. Manchester Essex boys basketball
Name Year Team
Willow Barry Sr. Gloucester swimming
Adam Borowick Sr. Gloucester boys basketball
Lexi Carollo Jr. Gloucester girls basketball
Skye Ciolino Soph. Gloucester track
Colin Conway Soph. Manchester Essex Swim
Ella Costa Jr. Gloucester girls hockey
Brett Cunningham Jr. Gloucester boys hockey
Riley De Haan Jr. Gloucester boys hockey
Megan Graeter Fresh. Manchester Essex swim
Taiya Mano Soph. Gloucester girls basketball
Brooke McNiff Jr. Gloucester girls hockey
Kendall Newton Sr. Manchester Essex girls basketball
Lily Oliver Fresh. Manchester Essex girls basketball
Ed Merz Jr. Rockport boys basketball
Bryce Rochford Soph. Gloucester track
Diego Sanson Jr. Manchester Essex swim
Dylan Smith Soph. Gloucester track
Aili Spencer Soph. Gloucester track
Brady Sullivan Sr. Gloucester boys basketball
Josiah Whitley Soph. Rockport boys basketball