Sports

Lynnfield boys basketball starts from scratch

Pioneers coach Scott MacKenzie guides his team during a drill in practice. (Item Photo by Anne Marie Tobin)

LYNNFIELD — In the world of high school sports, coaches are used to the fact that seniors come and seniors go.
But there are some things that coaches never get used to, and that would be losing your entire senior starting lineup.

Just ask Lynnfield boys basketball coach Scott MacKenzie, who, for the first time in his 15 years at the Pioneer helm, is faced with the task of starting from scratch.

Gone are the likes of two-time CAL Kinney Division  Player of the Year, point guard Billy Arseneault, who is off playing at Assumption College. Also gone are fellow CAL all-stars Dan Jameson and Zach Shone along with Matt Mortellite and Jason Ndansi, who have continued their football careers at St. Lawrence and Tufts, respectively.

That group led the Pioneers to a record of 18-3 and a second straight Cape Ann League Kinney Division title (and third CAL title in four years). Lynnfield qualified for the Division 3 North state tournament as the No. 2 seed only to be eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual state champion Watertown.

The good news this year is that Lynnfield has seven returning players, led by senior captain Jackson Cleary and junior captain Clayton Marengi. Also returning is senior Stephen Dwyer, Jr., junior Anthony Hunt, junior Khad Connell, junior Max Boustris and sophomore Jack Ford.

The bad news is that none of the returners played significant minutes in 2017-2018.

“Those five seniors played nearly every minute of every game, basically five times 32 minutes which didn’t leave much time for anyone else,” said MacKenzie. “They earned their play time and  they played all but I would say seven or eight minutes of every game, leaving only Clayton and Jackson seven or eight minutes a game, combined. That translates into hundreds of possessions every game, so we lost every minute of every game practically.

“It will definitely take time for this year’s guys to get their legs and hopefully having three scrimmages on our schedule will help. The audition floor is wide open, that’s for sure and everyone will have the opportunity to make some plays and make their best case for playing time.”

MacKenzie said he expects that Cleary and Marengi will start as they are the only two players returning with any varsity experience.
“Both kids are important pieces of the puzzle at this point even though they got only spot time last year,” MacKenzie said. “Clay’s athleticism alone allows him to attempt to do things that others can’t do. You can’t mute him, but I am hoping that we can mold that into a basketball mentality.

“Jackson is a smart basketball player with a huge IQ. He is much more than a shooter and will help us facilitate our offense. The last couple of years we had the luxury of having both Billy and Zach’s ability to isolate on offense, which helped open the floor, but that’s gone. We will need both to step up in big way.”

MacKenzie said each of the other returners brings a different skill set to the table.

“Chad has no on-off button and just every second with intensity,” MacKenzie said. “Stephen is a great athlete and brings speed and his ability to drive will open things up for other players. Anthony will be a big part of the mix. He is the smartest kid when it comes to positioning and being in the right place.

“Jack Ford is as competitive as they come with great floor vision as a point guard. He will have an opportunity to play a ton of minutes this year. He is just an incredible athlete. With hard work, Max also will have an opportunity to earn minutes.”

New to the team are juniors Pat Walsh and John Singer along with sophomores Luke Martinho, John Astrofsky and Blake Peters.

As far as the league goes, MacKenzie expects Masconomet and Newburyport to be strong.

“Those two are the class of the league and they each have more players coming back than the rest of us,” MacKenzie said. “North Reading also has a ton coming back.”

As far as teams goals go, MacKenzie said it’s too early to say.

“This is the youngest, smallest and slimmest  team I have ever had with only two seniors so we have no defined roles going into the season,” MacKenzie said. “We welcome the challenge as a team so I would say right now our number one goal is to compete.  We won’t be playing just five guys this year and will have more kids in the rotation, which should give everyone a significant investment and motivation to work harder to earn a role. The one thing I do know is we have team speed up and down the court.

“I have no problems losing games along the way, but hopefully we can get better as the season goes along and get back into the tournament again. The hardest part about losing the five seniors from last year is I truly miss seeing them. They were a special group.”

The Pioneers open the season Friday, Dec. 14 at Pentucket (6:30). They have an ambitious non-league schedule with home-and-away series against Melrose and Danvers.

“I don’t believe in scheduling down just because we lost our starting lineup,” MacKenzie said. “You have to be able to compete against the best teams you can find if you are going to step up and get to their level.”

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