Hornets: The End, or Just the Beginning?


ME Boys Basketball falls in Elite Eight, But Future Is Bright

Sunday afternoon’s 58-53 loss to Wahconah in the Elite Eight round of the Div. 4 boys basketball tournament represented a number of different things for Manchester Essex.

Yes, the loss ended the season for the Hornets, one in which the team looked impressive from a 5-1 start in the winter season’s first few weeks to a magical tournament run in a revamped MIAA tournament.  This is it for the 2021-22 season, one winter that should be remembered around here for a while.

It also represents a beginning of sorts for this group as well.  The Hornets will lose some essential players to graduation in a few months, most notably star guard AJ Pallazola, along with key talents in Luke Smith, Vaughn O’Leary, Finn Hawley and Max Kirk.  Their leadership and contributions will be missed next season.

But it’s also worth noting that this team held its own to start the season, putting together that 5-1 opening spurt while Pallazola was injured and unable to contribute.  Many of the players who helped to get the Hornets off on the right foot at the start are coming back, and they have the added benefit of the experience of a deep playoff run.

“I think the one thing you have to remember is that we played the first six games without AJ, and we went 5-1, and that’s when I realized this group of underclassmen is so special,” explains Manchester Essex boys basketball coach Tim St. Laurent. “One, to know we could play without him, two to know we were a good team, and three, to know we were only going to get better and stronger and work harder, that’s what happened early on.”

The Hornets will return the starting five that played when Pallazola was out early in the year, including Cade Furse (who led the Hornets with 17 points against Wahconah) and Sam Athanas (just behind Furse in scoring with 12).  Also returning are clutch players like Brennan Twombly and Eddie Chareas, along with a returning captain in Patrick Cronin.

“I look at every year when you’re building a program as a stepping stone,” explains St. Laurent, now in his sixth season as coach of the Hornets, after spending half a decade coaching the Rockport High team.  “First, you try to win some Cape Ann League titles, and we’ve taken a share of the last few. The next step is winning in the state tournament, and that’s what we did this year. After that, if you’re lucky enough to get back and do steps one and two again, you try to make it further than you did before.”

With that in mind, Manchester Essex will be looking to get back to and improve upon their trip to the Elite Eight in 2022.  The Hornets were actually ahead for much of the contest before struggling in the game’s closing minutes.

“We came out in the first three quarters executing our game plan and doing what we usually do,” says St. Laurent.  “Then, in the final five minutes of the game, it unfortunately slipped away from us. It is what it is.”

While the result is disappointing, it’s hard not to take a step back and look at what the Hornets did and be impressed.

“After this, we would have been two wins from a state championship, and it felt like we had last night’s win, which is great,” explains St. Laurent.  “Usually, you don’t get that close. You always have to go through a Boston team no matter what it is, and to overcome that obstacle is huge. We went to the western part of the state where the game is called a little differently, and that will make us battle-tested for next year.”

manchester-essex boys basketball, aj pallazola, luke smith, vaughn o’leary, finn hawley, max kirk