Jaywalking: Tech bits

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

There’s one question I get asked quite a bit this time of year. It is, “Do you root for the local teams during the tournament?”

The answer is that, no, I don’t actively root for or against any team. The idea in this profession is to remain neutral.

That said, you do have much closer relationships with the coaches and players you cover versus players and coaches you have never met. It is nice to see those players and coaches excited following a postseason win, and I do enjoy covering games, and the further teams progress in the tournament, the more games I get to cover. And being a Franklin County native, I do like to see the local sports scene succeed and earn the respect of the rest of the state.

So, yes, you do develop relationships with coaches from the local teams because most of the write-ups in the paper come from information they on a daily basis provide. Sometimes these conversations are quite serious, other times they can be humorous. This column has to do with one conversation in which I made a promise to a coach.

When I spoke with first-year Franklin Tech girls’ basketball coach Sean Knightly back during the first week of December for the girls’ basketball preview, he admitted he really didn’t know how the season was going to go. I told him that, with the team he had, I figured he was good for 10 wins in the Tri-County League North Division and a tourney berth. He wanted to play things safe. I joked with him that if his team did qualify for the postseason, I would write a column about the history that Knightly and I share. After going 12-8 this season, it’s time for me to pay up. So here it is:

Out in Lee covering a night November football playoff game between Franklin Tech and Lee High School is where I met first-year Franklin Tech golf coach Knightly, who made the trip to cheer on the football team. As Knightly and I got chatting, we eventually realized that we had a history. It turns out, Knightly was one of my first coaches. He coached youth soccer for the Greenfield YMCA when we were playing at Sheffield School in Turners Falls back when I was maybe in second grade. We joked about how we had a stacked team that year, with players like Paul Hirst and Rick Kelley. He said it was easy to remember me.

“You look the same now as you did back then,” Knightly joked.

And with that, our bet is settled.

I also have to touch on the success of the Franklin Tech boys’ team this winter. The Eagles went 17-5 overall and won the TCL title outright for the first time in three decades. Franklin Tech finished as the runner-up in the State Voke tournament over the weekend, and earned the highest seed in team history in the WMass Tourney, drawing the fifth seed and getting a chance to play a home game in the first round tonight. If the Eagles can beat 12th-seeded Westfield Technical Academy, they would travel to Lenox Friday with a trip to the Cage on the line.

All of these accomplishments are incredible when you consider the Eagles had to retool entirely this season. The team got a new coach and had an entirely new starting lineup. When Matt Llewelyn took the head boys’ job this winter after coaching the girls’ team last year, he inherited a team that went 16-6 but graduated 10 seniors and roughly 70 percent of the offense from three of them.

That was just fine for Llewelyn, who said that starting from scratch was perfect to work in a new system.

“Getting a blank slate and getting an opportunity to put in our system with the kids we knew were going to buy into it was great for us,” he said. “It was the best-case scenario.”

Still, you need to have the right horses to pull it all off, especially in the system that Llewelyn plays. His system requires certain players to take a back seat when it comes to scoring, and he has been impressed with his team’s willingness to accept their roles.

“The toughest thing to do in high school sports is to have your coach tell you that you’re essentially not going to be in the headlines,” Llewelyn said. “You are only going to average 4 or 5 points per game. It’s one of the most sincere things a kid can do. Every kid today wants their name in the highlights, they want to make the newspaper and play on all-star teams. That’s not always what’s best for the team.”

Llewelyn did have a couple of players to build the offense around in senior center Zach Korpiewski and junior guard Colin Gould. Both players entered the season amidst interesting circumstances. Korpiewski played behind the slew of seniors last season, including 1,000-point scorer Chris Wetherby. Llewelyn said that, in addition, Korpiewski was also a bit too skinny to be truly effective down low. Over the summer he hired a personal trainer and put on muscle, which has translated into an average of nearly 17 points per game and a new school record for single-game rebounds.

As for Gould, he was injured last season but came into this year in great shape, though a bit of a league unknown; however, Llewelyn knew exactly what he had.

“Our offense will change year-to-year, because even if we graduate just one person, it will change our system,” Llewelyn said. “It just so happens that we have a 6-foot-6 kid and a 6-foot-2 kid and they are best at scoring.”

While those two get the majority of the headlines, it’s many of the other players who have assumed important roles with the team. Players like CJ Daignault and Alex McBurnie, two players who came up huge during Friday’s win in the State Voke semifinals. The other major contributors have been Corey Johnson, Max Charest, Joel Farrick and Tyler Hastings.

And now we will see if the Eagles can win in the tournament. Last year the team felt like it would get a tourney win but came up short against Hampden Charter School of Science.

This year, there’s a very good chance the Eagles will be competing in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Remember, you heard it here first ... from an impartial sportswriter.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.