DANVERS — St. John’s Prep basketball coach John Dullea and his Eagles are changing things up this season. For the past few years, the Eagles have relied on their height with Tommy O’Neil and Matt Relihan leading the charge. O’Neil and Relihan graduated last spring, and the Eagles have to play a different brand of basketball as they move forward without them.
“We don’t have the size that we’ve had in the past,” Dullea, entering his sixth season, said. “I think we’re going to play a little bit of a different style of basketball. We’re going to have to be a ‘grind it out, gritty’ type of team. We have to be a team that shares the ball and gets after it on defense. We have to play a different style, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a different style.
“We have a new group of young guys,” Dullea continued. “They’re working very hard. I think they’re going to surprise some people.”
St. John’s went 17-6 last season and was bounced from the Division 1 North state tournament by Lawrence.
“Overall it was a positive season,” Dullea said. “The ultimate goal was to win a sectional title and a state title so it was disappointing. We won some big games, we played a pretty competitive schedule. I think it was a productive season.”
The Eagles will carry a young team this winter. Senior forward Christian Plourde returns to the cast and will be joined by juniors Mason Davis (center) and Liam Dunfee (forward), and sophomores Will Batchelder (point guard), Noah Thomas (small forward), Aidan Callahan (guard) and Jack Wirtanen (forward).
Dullea admitted his group is young but he’s liked what he’s seen thus far.
“We’re really young,” Dullea said. “We don’t have a lot of experience here but I’m very happy with the way we’ve played all fall and the first couple weeks of practice.
“It’s early. We’ve only been going for about two weeks or so,” Dullea continued. “We work hard, we’re getting in shape, we’re rounding into form. We have a few guys that just got back from the football team playing in the Super Bowl. We’re still working on that but we’re pleased with the effort so far.”
Per usual, St. John’s will test itself with a grueling schedule. Aside from powerhouse teams in the Catholic Conference like B.C. High and Catholic Memorial, St. John’s schedule includes non-conference games against St. Mary’s, Central Catholic, Lowell and St. John’s of Shrewsbury.
“We try to play teams with a bunch of different styles,” Dullea said. “We try to play teams that will play differently. Catholic Memorial will play very fast. Some of the Merrimack Valley teams play tough, physical basketball. We try to see different situations so that if we make the tournament we’re prepared no matter who the opponent is.”
Dullea believes the Catholic Conference will be competitive this winter but is confident the Eagles have as good a chance to win it as anybody else.
“It’s pretty wide open,” Dullea said. “It’s been dominated by Catholic Memorial and BC High the past few years. Malden Catholic was young and those guys will be talented this year. Xaverian has their big kid back and some key players. Catholic Memorial and BC High are always good. It’s wide open but it’ll be a battle.”
St. John’s visits Marblehead Tuesday night (7) in the season opener for both teams.