Facing a roomful of family and friends on Friday night, the normally stoic Rachel Rockwell was suddenly overcome by the emotion of the moment.
“I want to thank you all for coming,” she began, and added through tears, “I’m just so happy!”
Almost as one, the entire roomful of hockey players began to laugh and cry along with her. For this tight-knit team, the success of one teammate—or in the case of the Friday night ceremony, the success of three—is a moment of celebration for all.
On Friday, Ms. Rockwell signed a national letter of intent to play with Providence College, a small Division 1 school that both she and her parents described as a “great fit.”
Chloe Harris ’16 has known from her freshman year at the Williston Northampton School that the University of Louisville was the Division 1 program where she wanted to make her mark as a lacrosse player.
On Saturday, at a special signing ceremony that featured two of her teammates, Ms. Harris made that verbal commitment official, signing a national letter of intent to play with the Cardinals next year.
She said her desire to go to Louisville had remained unchanged over the past four years. If anything, the bond had only gotten stronger.
“The feeling I got right when I walked on campus was unbelievable. I instantly felt at home and never wanted to leave,” she wrote in an email before the ceremony. “The relationship I have built with the other 2016 commits is indescribable. We are all one big family already.”
Rylee Leonard ’16 had some doubts about going to boarding school for a post-graduate year. That is, until her mother offered a few key words of encouragement.
“When everyone told me a PG year would be useless, she assured me that it was ultimately my decision to do what I felt was best,” Ms. Leonard wrote in an email. “She proved to me that everything will work out in the end.”
On Saturday, during a special ceremony in Birch Dining Hall, Ms. Leonard’s decision to spend a year at Williston Northampton School appeard to pay off in spades. Joined by two future lacrosse teammates, who were making commitments of their own, Ms. Leonard signed a national letter of intent to the University of New Hampshire.
“We are really excited for her,” said Mrs. Leonard as her daughter put ink to paper. [UNH] “is a wonderful opportunity, and I cannot wait for her to get there and start her collegiate career.”
In lacrosse, at the start of every quarter and after every goal, the teams have a face-off. Two players square off, low to the ground, poised to grab the ball as soon as the whistle blows. What they do, and the speed at which they do it, can determine the outcome of a game. Gain possession often enough for your team, and you have an advantage on par with a head start in a race.
In lacrosse, a good face-off midfielder ranks second only to the goalie. An exceptional face-off midfielder ranks second to none.
Andrew Liu is a very, very good face-off midfielder. And he’s only getting better.
“The fact is, every time we score a goal, there’s an 80 percent chance that we’re going to get the ball back right away,” said Coach Chris Dietrich. “We get twice as many offensive possessions, simply because of what he does.”
When Mark Conroy thinks about one of his star football players, two words spring to mind: reliability and unselfishness.
George “Curt” McLeod ’15 never missed a practice. He never missed a game. When his Williston Northampton team needed an offensive guard and tackle, he switched from his position as tight end.
Curt McLeod could be counted on—in the classroom, on the field, and in the community.
No wonder, then, that Cornell University also selected Mr. Mcleod to be among their “best and brightest.” On Monday, Mr. McLeod committed to the Big Red during a special ceremony in the Reed Campus Center.
Coach Conroy, who was on hand for the ceremony, said that Mr. McLeod’s was “an excellent two-way player,” whose dependability make him that much more valuable.
The high point in the boys varsity basketball regular season—the championship game would come later—happened early, against the perennial power house Phillips Exeter Academy.
The two schools had been dueling back and forth all game. First the Williston Northampton boys took the lead, then Exeter came back in the second half.
“Now they’re up 10 on us and it’s like four minutes to go,” recalls Coach Michael Shelton. “As a coach, you’re like, ‘Man, this is crunch time.’”
A three-point shot by Chris Hudson tied the game 66-66. With 15 seconds left, the ball went out of bounds and Coach Shelton called in Ryan Richmond ’15.
“We call Ryan’s number and he just comes off and it’s just like how you see on TV,” said Coach Shelton. “He takes a couple of dribbles, then 18 feet…right down the middle of the key. He just drains it.”
Such was the strength of Williston’s point guard, who Coach Shelton praised for being able to handle pressure, knock down the big shots, and be a leader, even after disappointing games.
A relative newcomer to football, having only played for the past two years, Alex Ganter (Lynnfield, MA) made his mark on the Williston Northampton varsity team defense this year, finishing the season with Second Team All-League honors.
Mr. Ganter, who made the switch from hockey in his junior year at Lynnfield High School, said he had always wanted to play football, and at 6’5” and 260 pounds, discovered a talent on the offensive line.
“I loved it,” he said. “I came here and had an awesome experience.”
On February 4, Mr. Ganter signed a National Letter of Intent to play with the University of Rhode Island Rams next year, committing to a school that he said already felt like family.
“I’m happy for him, it seems like a good fit,” agreed his father, Marc Ganter. “When I watch him from the stands, it seems like he really loves football.”
Alex Ganter racked up 38 tackles, six sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery this fall. That’s after being named a Cape Ann League All-Star and Colonial Prep League All-Star and being selected to play in the Agganis All-Star Classic twice as a student at Lynnfield.
Mr. Ganter said he was looking forward to joining a program in the process of rebuilding. The Rams are a Division 1 FCS team and had a 1-11 (1-7 CAA Football) record from last season.
“They have really nice coaches from D1 programs that are looking to change the culture there,” he said. “They’re redoing how everything is done, from big time games to practicing harder. I think I’ll be a big part of that.”
A dislocated elbow early in the season could not keep Williston Northampton’s quarterback from leading the charge this fall.
Instead, his arm fortified with a brace, John “Johnny” Aylward (Tewksbury, MA) led the Wildcats to a 7-1 record, with a team total of 1,700 yards thrown and 21 touchdown passes.
On February 4, as he signed a National Letter of Intent with Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he hopes to major in economics, Mr. Aylward said he had had a great experience at Williston.
Ever since fifth grade, before he even knew whether he wanted to wrestle or play football in college, John Kay (Hingham, MA) has been a force on the field—and a friendly, welcoming presence off it.
On February 4, Mr. Kay committed to football by signing a National Letter of Intent with the University of Maine.
“It’s a phenomenal day for John and I’m just so proud of him,” said Matt Kay, his father, who was at the signing ceremony at the Williston Northampton School. “For John—and maybe a little bit for me—it’s a dream, something he’s worked for since 8th grade.”
When there was no local female lacrosse coach to help her young daughters learn the sport, Pamela Simpson picked up a manual and taught herself enough to coach the local recreational team, the South Hadley Tigers.
It was a strategy that appears to have paid off in spades. On Nov. 12, Mrs. Simpson was at the Grubbs Gallery to watch her younger daughter sign a National Letter of Intent to play with Elon University in North Carolina.
Her older daughter, Karly Simpson ’13, also received multiple honors while at Williston, including the Alumnae Bowl, and went on to play varsity lacrosse at Trinity College.