Hopedale Boys Quintet Eyes Return To Tournament

Ken Hamwey, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
December, 2018
Article Body: 

Tony Cordani has been the boys varsity basketball coach at Hopedale High for the last 19 years and his teams have qualified for the district tourney 16 times during that stretch.
Unfortunately, last season was one of those rare occasions when the Blue Raiders failed to secure a berth in the playoffs. But, the 52-year-old Cordani firmly believes his forces can bounce back from last year’s 7-12 record and be in the mix for a date in the districts.
“We almost qualified last year but missed out by losing our last game,’’ Cordani noted. “If we finished second in our league (Dual Valley Conference) to runner-up Sutton, we would have earned a berth. We played Whitinsville-Christian but we lost, and in the process, we lost a chance to qualify.’’
The 2018-19 season, however, likely will a smoother ride for the Blue Raiders because the team’s nucleus possess a variety of strengths that not only are important, but also vital to unlocking the door to the tourney.
“We’ve got seven returning veterans with experience,’’ said Cordani, who’s guided Hopedale to a pair of district championships. “We’re also athletic, quick, have depth and a high basketball IQ. Our size is average and an area where we’ll need to improve is our team chemistry. We need to develop a sense of familiarity.’’
Cordani addressed that issue during pre-season practice when he scheduled two scrimmages against teams in the western part of the state — Turner Falls and Franklin County Technical School. Those two encounters, which involved an overnight stay in Turner Falls, were designed to help the team bond.
Two seniors who’ll play key roles in Hopedale’s bonding process are senior captains Rob Siefring (5-8) and Gabe Terrando (5-7), a pair of guards who’ll lead by example.
“Robbie is also a vocal leader,’’ Cordani said. “We’re looking for him to provide offense. A hard worker, he was on the squad as a freshman. He’s a tenacious defender who isn’t afraid to dive for a loose ball or take a charge. Gabe is a point guard who’s an excellent passer with good court awareness. He can push the ball in transition and he can also score, mostly by driving to the hoop. He averaged 5 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists last year.’’
Junior Dan Liberatore was Hopedale’s top scorer last year, averaging 13 points an outing. Cordani is counting on the 6-foot guard to be a prime source of offense. “Dan is a terrific outside shooter,’’ Cordani emphasized. “He can also drive to the hoop and shoot three-pointers. His defensive ability is also good.’’
Two junior forwards — Sam Morelli (6-2) and Jake Wilson (6-0) — will handle the frontcourt chores. Morelli is a quick forward and Wilson can alternate at guard and forward.
“Sam was a reserve who got some starts last year,’’ Cordani noted. “He’s a slasher, able to finish well at the hoop. He’s a solid rebounder who grabbed about six a game last year. Jake is a good shooter who’s also a tough defender. He came off the bench last year but he’ll get more minutes now. His best shot is a jumper from 15-18 feet and we hope he can get some steals, blocks and rebounds.’’
Two other juniors are in the mix for minutes. Ian Driscoll is a 5-foot-9 off-guard and Kanson Zhang is a 5-foot-6 backcourtman. “Ian is quick and athletic,’’ Cordani said. “He’s got all-around skills and is an above-average defender who can score. Kanson injured his ankle and missed most of the season last year. He’s a capable shooter who can drive to the hoop. He’s quick and we’re hoping that asset will help him improve on defense.’’
Cordani, who was a three-sport athlete at King Philip Regional, was still assessing a group of underclassmen who played jayvee ball last year. “We’ve got some young players who could contribute this year,’’ he said.
The Blue Raiders, who’ll open their season by hosting Millis on Dec. 11, will be battling Sutton and Whitinsville-Christian for the DVC crown. “Sutton is always a formidable team in the conference along with Whitinsville-Christian,’’ Cordani said. “They both have talented players returning and they both have tradition. As for our squad, we’ll work on our offensive skills but my main focus is always on defense. It can take a team a long way.’’
Cordani, who teaches physical education at the high school, has relied on a competitive philosophy that focuses on his players’ maximizing their abilities. “If our kids strive to reach their potential and enjoy their athletic experience, then winning will take care of itself,’’ he said. “And, valuable life lessons can be learned through sports. Overcoming adversity and learning to be resilient are very important. I also try to foster leadership, accountability and commitment.’’
Those attributes have been key reasons why the boys basketball program at Hopedale High has been ultra successful. It wins and it usually locks up tournament berths.
The 2018-19 edition of the Blue Raiders will personify desire and dedication.