Mass. High Schools: Needham Football 2019 Season Preview

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Needham High School football coach Doug Kopsco directs his players through a practice drill. (PHOTO: Matt Noonan/NoontimeSports.com)

By Matt Noonan | @MattyNoonz11

For Doug Kopsco, his first season as the head coach of the Needham High School football team seemed to go pretty well.

Kopsco’s Rockets posted a winning record of 7-4 last fall, which included a postseason win over Newton North in the quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) D1 South playoffs and an exciting one-point victory over archrival Wellesley on Thanksgiving Day.

Heading into his second season with his alma mater’s football program, Kopsco appears more relaxed. In fact, he seems to be enjoying his new role with the Rockets, who are expected to once again contend for a Bay State Conference (BSC) Herget title this fall. 

“Really at the end of the day, it isn’t about x’s and o’s. It is about the culture, it is about the kids and it is about the family enviornment,” said Kopsco, who was previously a coordinator for the Rockets football program before taking over for coach Dave Duffy last season.

“It’s one thing to preach it and talk about it, but it is another thing to invite that environment and share that environment, and get the kids involved with creating that culture. And I think these guys did a great job of that this year.”

Kopsco says what has made this season’s preseason so much fun has been the competition – there seems to be multiple positions up for grabs due to some graduation losses, especially on the offense.

“We have a ton of competition this year,” said Kopsco.

“Last year, I think we knew (who our starters would be), and that’s both gratifying and exciting … but this year, all spots are open, so everyone is working hard, everyone is pushing each other and there is no kind of gimme spots.”


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Needham’s 2019 Football Season Outlook

Needham’s 2018 SeasonThe Rockets enjoyed a successful first season under coach Doug Kopsco, winning five of seven regular-season contests along with one postseason game, too.

Their run toward an MIAA D1 South championship concluded in the semifinals with a 35-32 loss to Catholic Memorial, but Needham would close the season on a high note by defeating Wellesley, 14-13, on Thanksgiving Day.

Key DepaturesThe Rockets graduated some key pieces from last year’s offense, including tight end Matt Smith, who will be competing for Duke University this fall.

Jack Murmes, who was also a tight end, will be playing for Assumption College this season, while quarterback Charlie Ogletree will be suiting up for Bentley University.

Players to WatchTyler Reid returns for his final season – the senior tri-captain will be spotted in the backfield at halfback and is someone Kopsco will certainly rely on this season.

Odahri Hibberts returns for his final season – he will be lining up in the slot and at cornerback on defense.

Ryan Villa is back for his final season with the Rockets and will be playing offensive tackle and guard.

Filling the holes on defenseWith just two student-athletes returning on defense with starting experience, Kopsco and his staff will be looking for some new additions this fall to fill all three levels.

“We have on defense have two kids coming back that have starting experience, so it is all wide open,” said Kopsco, “but we have (had holes to fill on defense from previous seasons) and honestly, we ended up with some of our better defenses.”

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Upcoming ScrimmageNeedham will compete against Wayland (the game will be held at Weston) on Friday, August 30th. Kopsco is excited for his team to compete against another squad prior to their initial game of the 2019 season on Friday, September 6th at Natick.

Said Kopsco, “They are always super well-prepared, great coaching staff, and it is a wonderful time to test out where we are at this point of the season … it is a wonderful opportunity to see how much we have taken in so far.”

A challenging opening monthNeedham will certainly be tested in the first few weeks of the season when they compete against Natick (week one) and Tewksbury (week two) and Newton North (week three).

Tewksbury advanced to the MIAA D3 Super Bowl – they lost to Springfield Central at Gillette Stadium – but are expected to once again be a team to beat in Merrimack Valley Conference (MVC).

“We’re excited (about our upcoming games),” said Kopsco. “Natick’s awesome, great coaches and super-well prepared. This is going to be a super-competitive game. We won last year, but they won the year before, so I think it is a good chance to see how we can come out of the gates as a team and a family, and hopefully, we come out on top.

“(Tewksbury) is a great team. This is just a great team. They are very versatile on offense, they give you a lot of different looks, they can do a lot of different things to you, so we just need to (make sure) we’re prepared, ask good questions during the week and we need to make sure everyone knows their assignments.”

Coach Dave Duffy returns to the sidelinesAfter announcing his retirement last summer following a very impressive 19-years of coaching the Rockets, coach Dave Duffy has returned to Needham to help his former squad continue its recent success.

Kopsco is very excited to have his former coach back on the sidelines – he is certainly eager to learn more from him as the season progresses.

“We were very fortunate this year” to have coach Duffy back, explained Kopsco, who played fullback and linebacker for the Rockets before returning to the program as a defensive coordinator.

“I didn’t want to hound him too much, but I really always wanted to work with Roy Johan and Dave Duffy. I am still learning from both of them, (but) they are amazing coaches with 35 years of varsity experience between the two of them alone, so we’re really going to lean on them heavily this year to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.”


Needham’s 2019 Schedule

  • Friday, September 6th – at Natick, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, September 13th – vs. Tewksbury, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, September 20th – vs. Newton North, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, September 27th – at Weymouth, 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 4th – at Braintree, 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 18th – vs. Milton, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, October 25th – vs. Walpole, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 28th – at Wellesley, 10 a.m.

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Football Friday Notebook: Welcome Back Football!

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By NoontimeSports.com | @NoontimeSports 

Welcome back, football (and yes, we are officially back, too – no more vacations, folks!).

A brand new NFL season has officially begun with all 32 teams in action as of today.

Per the Washington Post, the Arizona Cardinals Denver BroncosLos Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings kick-off their respective training camps today – these are the final four teams to report to camp after the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears commenced their respective seasons earlier this month. Both Baltimore and Chicago will compete in the Hall of Fame Game next Saturday, August 4th.

The New England Patriots began their preparations for the upcoming season yesterday at Gillette Stadium. Here are a few stories you should read from the first day of camp:

Let’s switch gears to some local college and high school news from the six New England states:

That concludes a new edition of the ‘Football Friday Notebook’ – vacation time is over, so get excited for loads of football content to come for the next six months!

Stay connected with Noontime Sports’ football coverage on Twitter by following @Noontime_FB

Mass HS Lax Recap: Duxbury 10, Needham 8 (Div. I Championship)

By Hayden Bird 

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Despite the rain, the weight of unending expectation and implacable opposition from the Needham Rockets, the Duxbury Dragons claimed their ninth boy’s lacrosse state title since 2002 by a 10-8 final score.

Coming into the game, Needham and Duxbury had taken very different paths to reach the state championship. Duxbury (23-2) had cruised in the tournament, never winning a game by less than 10 goals.

Needham (16-6) scrapped every step of the way, including a tight 9-8 win in the quarterfinals over Masconomet.

So the early forecasts for the game skewed heavily in Duxbury’s favor. And at the outset, it seemed that Duxbury would pick up where they had left off against Lincoln-Sudbury, (where they won 18-6).

Charging to a 3-0 lead, the run included two goals from Sam Sweet and one from Jon Gomer.

Gomer, who scored in the semifinals, has found a knack for big-game goals.

“When Jon scores, he does it with style,” said Duxbury coach Chris Sweet.

Needham, bereft of any notion that Duxbury might have an off-night, began to claw their way back in the second quarter.

Goals from Mikey Panepinto and Nico Panepinto brought Needham back into the game by halftime, but Duxbury still led, 6-3.

And though the underdog Rockets trailed, they were spurred on by calming words from their coach Dave Wainwright.

“We just told them to stay calm and relax,” Wainright said of his team’s halftime message.

Yet, the third quarter began badly for Needham, who conceded four goals while only scoring one themselves by Nico Panepinto. Duxbury had tacked on additional goals from Will Siefert, Seamus Connelly, Chris Williams and another from Sweet, who completed his hat trick.

And Henry Narlee, whose face-off dominance has reined supreme in Massachusetts all season, keyed the Duxbury second half run.

“He’s been our unsung hero all season,” Sweet earnestly said of his midfielder following the game.

With the game at 10-4 in favor of Duxbury, it appeared the contest was essentially over.

Yet, Needham had other thoughts. Slowly, but surely, they began finding the net. Four goals in five minutes to begin the fourth quarter made it 10-8 almost out of nowhere.

Duxbury goalie Henry Boungorio could have panicked, having not faced this kind of opposition in the whole playoff run. Still, he kept his nerve.

“I didn’t panic,” said Buongurio. “I know I have a great defense in front of me.”

And Chris Williams, Duxbury’s leader in ground balls, came up with arguably the biggest one of his life when Needham was pressuring late. This all, but iced, yet another state title.

“He’s the scrappiest player we have,” Sweet declared happily afterward. “He’s been that way ever since he was in third grade and he came up big.”

In the end, despite a heroic rally from Needham, the vaunted Duxbury Dragons claimed yet another trophy, causing an eruption of cheers from their fans and players as the final whistle sounded.

Mass HS Lax Recap: Duxbury 18, Lincoln-Sudbury 6

By Hayden Bird 

DUXBURY, MA – In what started as a shootout between two Massachusetts high school lacrosse juggernauts, ended with Duxbury emerging as the definitive victors over Lincoln-Sudbury, 18-6.

After a regular season matchup, which saw traditional powerhouse Duxbury (22-2) struggle to beat the rising Warriors from Lincoln-Sudbury (16-6) by a single goal, the second matchup promised to be a dogfight.

At the outset, Lincoln-Sudbury controlled the face-offs; surprising considering it’s generally the province of Duxbury dominance.

Yet the face-off wins did not initially translate into offense though, and a quick Duxbury counterattack put the home team Dragons into the lead. Duxbury’s Seamus Connelly found Will Siefert to complete a full-field move that took less than 10 seconds, as he deposited the ball into the net for the game’s first goal.

“Today was really a team effort,” said Duxbury coach Chris Sweet.

Still, the early going showed the tenacity that Lincoln-Sudbury has shown all season.

More face-off wins from the away team eventually propelled them toward a first quarter lead. Lincoln-Sudbury attackers Colby Hall and Dan Dalaney silenced the large hometown crowd, seizing a 2-1 lead midway through the opening frame.

And even though Duxbury reclaimed a 4-3 lead by the end of the first, the result was still hanging very much in the balance.

At this point, Duxbury seniors began to take over. Whether or not the difference was senior leadership, (Duxbury has 18 seniors to Lincoln-Sudbury’s three) is impossible to tell.

What is beyond doubt, however, is that Duxbury’s seniors played some of the best lacrosse they may ever play.

“Well, seniors always get it done for Duxbury this time of year,” said Sweet. “Each and every one of them had one of the best games of their career.”

For the entire second quarter, Lincoln-Sudbury did not score and Duxbury began to assert their selves by tallying four unanswered goals to take an 8-3 lead into halftime.

The second half continued Duxbury’s assent in the game, and it started with a turnaround in the face-offs. Henry Narlee scored a third quarter hat trick, and won eight consecutive draws to help Duxbury build a 15-5 lead by the start of the fourth quarter.

In the end, Coach Sweet’s assertion proved accurate in noting, “They’re a great team, but we were just a lot better today.”

The final quarter saw a conclusion of what was team domination by Duxbury. Ten different players scored and goalie Henry Buongorio made key saves to keep the lead comfortable.

“Buongorio came up with some huge saves,” said Sweet in tribute to his steady goalie.

When the final whistle sounded, Duxbury emerged with a 12-point victory and a berth in the state finals.

“We’re certainly going to enjoy this for a little bit, but were going to get right back to work to get ready for Wednesday,” declared Sweet after that game.

Duxbury will face Needham next Wednesday at Harvard University at 7:45pm.

Mass HS Lax Recap: Westwood 12, Needham 9 (Div. 1 South Finals)

By Hayden Bird 

NEEDHAM, MA – In front of a large and raucous crowd at Needham High School, Westwood’s girl’s high school lacrosse team etched out a hard-fought victory against the Rockets in the Div. 1 South state finals, 12-9.

The third seeded Wolverines (22-2) may have not been favored in this particular match, but that didn’t faze head coach Leslie Frank, who was well aware that the opposition would be gunning for her perennial powerhouse squad.

“I still think people want to knock us down,” said Frank. “It’s not even about what seed you are [these days].”

The game began in a manner that favored the hosts, and Needham looked more than comfortable in front of their fans, charting a 4-1 lead after ten minutes.

Yet, Westwood remained steadfast in their resolve, and didn’t panic.

“We were just trying to chip away and not get too flustered if we were down a couple of goals,” said senior Westwood captain Kate Rich.

And patience paid off for the away team. Patience, and some sophomore firepower.

It’s no secret that this year’s incarnation of the usually dominant Westwood team is composed of many sophomores.

Ela Hazar, who typifies this trend, powered her team back into the game late in the first half, notching two crucial goals to close Needham’s lead to one strike, 5-4.

Rich then scored two late first half goals, offsetting Needham strikes from Maddie Stenberg and Catherine Conley to make it 7-6 at the half.

The second half brought a more composed game from both sides.

“I thought the defense was playing really scared in the first half but I thought in the second they just really got it,” said Frank.

And the newfound Westwood defense put the clamps on Needham’s offense, allowing only two more goals in the second half.

The turnaround even made a mark on their coach.

“I was very impressed,” exclaimed Frank.

And, conversely, Needham coach Beth O’Brien recognized what proved ultimately to be the back-breaker for her team.

“It was the draw control, bottom line,” said O’Brien. “That was the whole game. We tried different people, but they were just very tenacious.”

In the end, it was still very close, despite a 15-5 advantage that Westwood compiled over Needham in the draws.

And with less than ten minutes to go in the game, the score was still separated by only a single goal, (10-9, Westwood).

Yet, Westwood seniors Rich and Laura McHoul ended Needham’s chance to advance to the state semi-finals, as they tallied two of the Wolverines final four goals to ensure a three-point victory.

Afterwards, Needham’s O’Brien expressed only admiration for her team despite the defeat.

“I could not be prouder of this team, and I’ve had some pretty special teams,” said O’Brien.

And Rich, an undisputed leader in her team, noted that though there are only a few seniors on Westwood this season, they’re presence is still immense. And to her, it’s the key to their success.

“The other seniors, they all work so hard and they’re great leaders. I trust them completely,” said Rich.

Westwood now moves on to face Lincoln-Sudbury in the semifinals at Babson College this upcoming Monday at 5pm.