Geoff Coyne was in his last period class on Friday afternoon when a friend approached him and said he heard the high school playoffs were cancelled.
“I didn’t believe him,” said Coyne, a North Kingstown senior who excels in both basketball and baseball.
Moments later, announcements were piped into each classroom and reinforced the message. Still, Coyne refused to believe the news was true.
The opening announcement informed students that due to the Coronavirus, Governor Gina Raimondo would be shutting down all Rhode Island schools for a week. Then the heartbreaking news: The Rhode Island Interscholastic League had cancelled the basketball and hockey playoffs.
“I still didn’t believe it,” said Coyne.
He certainly didn’t want to believe it.
A year earlier, the NK basketball team won the state championship – the first team in school history to do so. This year the Skippers continued where they left off from last season and were experiencing another impressive season.
After losing to Bishop Hendricken in the final seconds in the Division I championship, the Skippers (22-2) entered the RI State Tournament as the No. 2 seed behind the No. 1 Hendricken – the only team to beat NK this year.
“It was a tough loss,” said Coyne. “We didn’t get the outcome we wanted in the division tournament, but regrouped and knew if we came together and if we did what we did last year we would repeat and win the state tournament.”
The Skippers opened the tournament with a 30 point win over Blackstone Valley Prep, 90-60, to advance to the quarterfinals. But that game would prove to be the Skippers’ last.
The hard work that started in weight rooms and empty gyms long before high school basketball and hockey season began, came to an abrupt halt for Rhode Island’s athletes last Friday – following the footsteps of the NBA and the NCAA. The Coronavirus proved to be the toughest and final opponent teams would face this year.
Still even after he heard the news from a friend, listened to the announcement and saw it posted on social media, Coyne refused to believe it was true.
“I still didn’t think it was true,” said Coyne. “I went to my locker and got my stuff and headed to the gym. I saw one of my teammates in the hallway and he said practice was off. I still went down to the locker room.”
When Coyne arrived he saw NK Coach Aaron Thomas standing at the door. The look on Thomas’ face confirmed the heartbreaking news was indeed true.
“He looked at me, shrugged and said, ‘It’s over,” said Coyne, his voice full of emotion.
Days later, Coyne choked back tears.
“It’s hard to deal with …but it was out of our control,” said Coyne. “We didn’t know it was going to be our last game. We didn’t get to take it all in.”
He took a breath and reflected on the Skippers’ impressive season, which was special from the very start.
“Our first game was against Westerly in an Injury Fund game,” said Coyne. “Clay (Brochu) had 20 points in something like the first eight minutes. He wasn’t missing. Then he went down and got hurt. He seemed to be hurt pretty bad. He got carried off the court. He is the best player on the court and one of the best players in the state. We were all worried.”
But when Brouchu, the returning All-Stater, went down, others stepped up.
“At that moment we got together and went out and beat a solid westerly team,” said Coyne. “Everyone chipped in . That sparked us, showed us what we could do and shaped our season.”
After it sunk in that they would not have a chance to try to repeat as state champs, it was a message from North Kingstown’s All-Time Leading Scorer Brochu that brought a smile on Coyne’s face
Coyne needed a minute before he was able to repeat what Brochu had told him
“He said, ‘At least we went out as defending state champs. Last year we won the open tournament. Technically we were still state champs.,'” said Coyne. “ I just got a chuckle out of it. It was so hard to take all this in.”
It wasn’t supposed to end this way for all of the Rhode Island basketball and hockey players who were scheduled to compete in the playoffs over the weekend. Instead of getting their uniforms ready for the next round, the players turned their uniforms in – the seniors for good..
“This was certainly disappointing, not so much for me, but for these young men. They were playing particularly well and didn’t get to finish,” said Hendricken basketball coach and Athletic Director, Jamal Gomes. “But this (Coronavirus) is much bigger than basketball.”
Just days before the season came to an unexpected end, Hendricken won the Division I title – in dramatic fashion with a come-from-behind victory over defending champ North Kingstown. The Hawks, who suffered just one loss the entire season, entered the RI open tournament as the No. 1 seed and received a first round bye in the RI State Tournament. As the week progressed, so did the Coronavirus.
When the NBA cancelled and 24 hours later the NCAA announced the college basketball season was over, Gomes knew the high school season wouldn’t be far behind.
“We knew that our (Sweet 16 game) was probably going to be our last game,” said Gomes. “We were blessed to have one more game together and appreciated this opportunity.”
In front of a limited crowd consisting primarily of parents, top seeded Hendricken opened its playoff run with a 53-45 victory over Tolman. Just as Gomes anticipated, 24 hours later the basketball season was officially over. That same day Gomes met with his team.
“I really wanted to talk to them in person. I didn’t want to call or text. I wanted to let them know that although we didn’t get to finish and accomplish everything we wanted to, I was proud of each and every one of them. I wanted to speak to them face to face and let them know that this team will go down in history as one of the great Hendricken basketball teams. I told the team that we will play next season for our seniors.”
The end was abrupt, but Classical senior point guard Nina Karlin certainly had a great season. She reached a milestone and her personal goal this season. She had eclipsed 1,000 points in her high school career. Karlin is just the fourth Classical girl to reach this milestone. Her name will be added right under Joanna Skiba, who was the last girl to score 1,000 wearing a Classical uniform. The year was 2003.
“It feels amazing…a dream come true,” said Karlin, she said earlier this season.
She had another dream – to help her team win a championship.
“It’s understandable that the playoffs were cancelled, but it really stinks,” said Karlin, a three-sport athlete who will head to Bryant University to continue her education and basketball career next fall.
Classical had earned a spot in the Elite Eight and was scheduled to play Scituate at Rhode Island College in a rematch of the Division II championship. Scituate was the only team to defeat Classical this season.
“It’s disappointing that the season ended the way it did, but we accomplished so many of our goals this season…a lot of little things. That’s what matters most,” said Karlin.
For Cranston West senior Cam Alves and West Basketball Coach Mike Monahan, the abrupt end to the Falcons stellar basketball season wasn’t the only news to send shockwaves through the Falcon community on Friday. A West student tested positive for the Coronavirus.
Alves, Monahan and the rest of the 1,700 member West community are now self-quarantined at home for 14 days.
“I didn’t even get a chance to meet with my team,” said Monahan.
Monahan took over the West program three years ago and has completely turned the program around.
“For years, it was just a bunch of football and baseball players just running around on the basketball court,” said Alves, a three-sport athlete. “But Coach Monahan came in and created a new approach and a new system and got us to become basketball players. Coach is big on culture and established a new culture at West.”
In his first year at West, the Falcons finished 1-17 in Division I. They dropped down to Division II the following year and won seven games. This year, West won more than 20 games and was forced to turn fans away when the Falcon gym exceeded capacity during the playoff game.
“We’ve brought a lot of excitement back to West,” said Monahan.
“The hard work and new culture Coach Monahan established paid off,” said Alves.
The Falcons, who had reached the Division II semis before falling to eventual champion Portsmouth, knocked off Westerly last Thursday night. The Bulldogs had easily beaten the Falcons 82-60 in their last meeting during the regular season.
With the win, West was scheduled to meet top seeded Hendricken in the Elite Eight. The game was special for Monahan for many reasons. He played at Hendricken for former longtime Coach Steve Cesseretti and then coached under Gomes for nearly eight years. Monahan currently teaches at Hendricken and remains close to Gomes.
“I learned a lot from both of them. I learned structure from Coach Ces and I learned how to communicate with my players from Jamal,” said Monahan.
The two friends never got a chance to face each other this year.
The Falcons season ended on the road with a come-from-behind 66-54 victory over Westerly.
“In the final minute, my assistant coach told me to put in the seniors and said it might be our last game,” said Monahan.
“That was our championship,” said Monahan, whose team finished 22-6. “It was a storybook ending for us. We had a good season.”
While Monahan is certainly disappointed the season came to an unexpected end, the father of three under the age of six is grateful to have some time to spend with his family.
“It’s time to be a dad now,” said Monahan.
For Alves, it’s time to stay active.
Just a few days into the two week self-quarantine, Alves put himself on a pretty rigid schedule. An All-State football player who also excels in basketball, track and in the classroom, Alves will play football next fall at Division I Stonehill College. While he is confined to his Cranston home, he works out daily in his backyard. He readily admits he does include PS4 in his daily routine.
“It’s tough. Being self-quarantined is not easy. I’m spending time with my family and working out. I don’t have much equipment, but I make do. I can’t be lazy for two weeks and fall behind. I have to keep moving. Even when I am playing PS4 and talking to my friends, I say, ‘let’s go. It’s time to get moving.'”