Winter sports look to continue competitive success, build community


Sophia Ortega

Boys’ basketball players run drills at tryouts to prepare for the upcoming season.

Gavi Berkman

North athletics will look to preserve their elite reputation this winter. As winter sports teams begin their preseason training and non-conference games, many teams have raised the already high bar they set for themselves at the end of last season.

“We had an incredibly successful winter last year,” said athletic director Mike Jackson. “We had a lot of success from our teams, especially since we had two teams play in a state final.”

Winter sports include boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ indoor track, boys’ and girls’ ice hockey, boys’ and girls’ gymnastics, boys’ swim and dive, dance, wrestling, nordic skiing, and alpine skiing. 

Boys’ basketball, and both boys’ and girls’ indoor track made it to the state championship last year. Historically, these programs have been very successful, and they will look to build off of their prior accomplishment.

According to special education teacher Paul Connolly, the boys’ basketball head coach, “The kids have worked real hard in the off season—they played an awful lot of basketball,” he said. “We have some really good players, so as coaches we’re very excited.”

Even with the abundance of talent coach Connolly has at his disposal, there is a lot of work to do in order to have a successful season. According to Connolly, developing new team chemistry each season in every sport is challenging, given the absence of the senior captains who have graduated. 

“Each team that I coach will be a different group,” said Connolly. “Each year that I’ve been coaching I’ve always had tremendous senior leadership, and those seniors graduate and pass on the tradition to the underclassmen.”

He added, “For me that’s the fun part of coaching. Blending the different personalities and the different makeups for a common goal greater than each individual player is something I look forward to.”

Boys’ basketball is lucky to have 10 returning seniors, ensuring that leadership and maturity will not be lacking this season. According to senior Jose Padilla, a returning captain, the team has a lot of experienced players who are well acquainted with each other on the court.

“We have a great group of guys,” said Padilla. “We know how to play with each other, and we’ve been playing with each other for a long time. I’m looking forward to playing with these guys, and it’s definitely going to be a fun year.”

Overall, the team seems well prepared for the season. According to Padilla, however, the players can’t be too comfortable. “We need to keep our heads up and focus on getting better every practice,” he said. “We need to treat every opponent the same way and give it our all every night.”

Having won the state championship last year as well as having gone an incredible 25 regular seasons undefeated, the boys’ indoor track team must meet especially high standards. 

“We are a good team this year so we have high expectations,” said senior Tyler Tubman, a boys’ indoor track captain. “The boys and the girls won states last season, so we’re trying to do the same thing this year.”

In addition to the challenge of maintaining their exceptional legacy, boys’ indoor track has some unique community based challenges. “We always face the challenge of having such a big team that it’s hard to have close relationships with everyone,” said Tubman. “We are always working on that, and now that we don’t have to worry about COVID, I’m sure we can do more team bonding.”

Similar to boys’ indoor track, creating a positive social environment is a high priority for many winter sports teams. Nordic skiing at North is a no-cut sport and allows beginners to connect with more seasoned skiers.

“We want to focus on encouraging any beginners and welcoming underclassmen into our team this year,” said senior Julia Ma, a Nordic captain with senior Audrey Pozen and junior Scott Abbot. 

Pozen added that the team has been successful at building chemistry. “We created a really tight knit community, and we achieved great things like the league championship title and a great performance at states,” said Pozen. “I’m really excited to build on our success from last year and teach a new group of people.”

A team that went under the radar last winter was girls’ hockey. The North and South combined girls’ hockey team had a relatively successful year, and they are confident going into this season. 

“Girls’ hockey’s success was big for me,” said Jackson. “They don’t usually have a lot of success, but they qualified for the postseason and won a game last season which was huge.”

According to Beals House Dean Scott Heslin, who coaches girls’ hockey, the team wants to build off their success by developing their cooperativeness in games, which is essential for creating positive team chemistry. 

Amelia Singer, a girls’ ice hockey captain with South junior Hadley Conroy, added that the players could improve their communication skills. “I’d say for next season, we could improve at working well together and communicating on the ice,” she said. “That was the biggest thing we struggled with at the beginning of the season.”

The team also wants to focus on maintaining their dedicated attitude. “Each year I have been impressed with the work ethic and excitement of the players,” said Heslin. “I look forward to that again. We have gotten better each year and I hope this trend continues.”

While competitive success and building tight-knit teams are important goals, Jackson always emphasizes the importance of equity. On the ice, court, track, and ski mountains, North athletics will try to build on their equity efforts this winter. 

We want to make sure that all our student athletes feel valued and feel heard. We want to make sure that each sport gets what they need, whether that be turf time, uniforms, whatever that may be. We’ve had a lot of conversations with student athletes so we can learn what we can do better,” Jackson said.

Trying to give each sport equal support and attention can be a challenge, especially with the added obstacle of the late release. Jackson said that maneuvering this schedule will be a difficult test for the athletic department this winter.

Despite the challenges that individual teams, coaches, and players face, North athletics remains focused on creating the best possible athletic experience. According to Jackson, the athletic program “has to stand for three words: competitiveness, respect, and inclusion.”

“I would say that’s the focus of any season for me,” Jackson added. “We want to make sure that those three things continue to happen each year, and that we continue to get better in those areas.”