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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Oh what a year it was for the high school teams - and Needham athletics in general - in 2016-2017. There are so many names to point out and achievements to highlight, so let’s go all the way back to the beginning.
August 26, 2016. Needham’s own Aly Raisman returned home to a massive crowd of family, friends, and hundreds of fans who had gathered outside of Town Hall to celebrate the two individual silver medals and team gold medal she’d brought home from her performances at the Olympic games in Rio.
November 14, 2016. Pinned up against arch-rival and No. 14 seed Wellesley in the quarterfinal round of the MIAA Division I state soccer tournament, Needham found themselves in a scoreless tie with the Raiders at the end of regulation. With their season on the line in front of a ruckus crowd at Memorial Field, senior midfielder Kyle Brady stepped up and delivered the golden goal six minutes into the sudden-death overtime, causing a mob of celebration at midfield.
Brady’s goal gave Needham the 1-0 win and advanced the Rockets to the South semifinals, where they would defeat a tough pack of Wildcats from Weymouth (3-2) before falling to Braintree in the South finals.
December 2016 – March 2017. Arguably the most dominant of all the Needham High athletic teams throughout the entire 2016-2017 school year was the varsity girls hockey team. Following a ridiculous 19-0-1 (15-0-0) regular season that saw a second straight Bay State Herget Division title as well as a 101-30 goals-for to goals-against, the Rockets earned the No. 1 overall seed in the MIAA Division I state tournament.Gracie Bruno crushed the thought of a possible upset in the first round against Weymouth thanks to her overtime heroics, netting a goal on the shorthand to send Needham onto the quarterfinals. The Rockets took care of business against St. Mary’s (Lynn) in the quarterfinals, winning by a final of 6-2 before taking down Reading (3-1) in the South semifinals and advancing to play Woburn in the state championship game at TD Garden. Unfortunately, the Rockets came up just short of an undefeated season, falling 3-1. However, the dominance displayed by this group of girls on the ice this past winter was stuff that books are written about, and it is a season and experience that none of these players will ever forget.
March 2017. After a 16-4 regular season, the Needham boys varsity basketball team earned the No. 3 seed in the MIAA Division I South Sectionals.
Crazy things happen on the hardwood during the month of March, but what Thomas Shaughnessy did throughout the regular season as well as Needham’s run to a South Sectional title was downright incredible, averaging 23 points, four assists, three rebounds, and two steals per game.
Thanks to Shaughnessy’s efforts, as well as the play from other core pieces such as Matthew Shaker, Brandon Monheimer, Michael Klemm, Will Cooper, and Matthew McKay, the Rockets took down the likes of Barnstable (68-58), Newton South (68-49), and BC High (69-66), before upending top-seeded Mansfield in the South finals (65-56). The Rockets would fall to eventual state champions Cambridge R&L in the state semifinals, but not until after Thomas Shaughnessy was named Massachusetts Offensive Player of the Year. Shaunghnessy also earned a spot on the First-Team All-State team for Division I.
April – June 2017. Where to even start with junior track star Davonte Burnett? It seemed as if no record was safe whenever Burnett put on the running slippers this past spring. In both the 100 and 200-meter dashes, Burnett finished in first place in all 16 of his regular season races (eight for each event).
As a member of the Needham 4x100 relay team, Burnett, alongside Ray Shen, Tommy Jordan, and Aaron Camille, finished first at the Bay State Conference Relays on April 19 with a time of 44.24. Burnett also finished first in the long jump on May 3 during Needham’s meet against Braintree and Weymouth, jumping a season record 21’ 5.75.
On June 3, Burnett put an exclamation point on his incredible 2017 season with two state titles in both the 100 and 200-meter dashes at the MIAA All-State championships at Bridgewater State College, setting a personal record time in each event (21.36 in 200 meter, 10.63 seconds in 100 meter).
June 7, 2017. The Needham High School boys varsity volleyball team went a ridiculous 21-0 during the regular season, putting themselves at or certainly near the top of the ranks alongside girls hockey as the most dominant of all Rocket athletic squads in 2016-2017. The Rockets earned the No. 1 overall seed in Division I South and cruised to a sectional title via victories over North Quincy (3-0), archrival Wellesley (3-0), and Newton-South (3-1). Unfortunately, Needham fell to Wayland (North Sectional champ) 3-0 in the state semifinals following their sectional title win, concluding their season. We’ll have more on this incredible group of athletes in next week’s edition, but it wouldn’t be a Needham year in review without at least mentioning the dominance displayed by the boys volleyball team in 2017.
June 17, 2017. Last, but certainly far from least, the Needham High School varsity girls lacrosse team took care of some unfinished business in 2017 after losing to Westwood in the 2016 South finals, and then some. Led by senior captain Sarah Conley, sophomore Callie Hem, and senior captain Caroline Walsh, the Rockets won their way to a South Sectional crown via wins over Duxbury (13-4), arch-rival Wellesley (14-7) behind a five-goal effort from Conley, and a 10-9 nail-biting win over non-conference rival Notre Dame Academy (Hingham) in the South finals.
The Rockets carried their momentum from the South title win into the state semifinals, as Needham took care of North Sectional champ Andover 18-8 thanks to an offensive surge in the first half with three goals coming from Conley, two from Callie Hem, two from Walsh, one from Jessie Hem, and one from Kendall Milligan. Three days later on June 17 at BU, Needham finished the 2017 season in the best possible fashion, defeating Longmeadow 8-5 for the Division I state title.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.