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MA athletic director Harry Blood looks back on Panthers winter season

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Dana Jackson and the Nordic ski team have the most members of any squad at MA. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
March 19, 2012
MOULTONBORO — After winning three state championships during the fall season, what did the Moultonboro Academy athletic program do for an encore this winter? Oh, just another team championship from the boys' basketball team and an individual Nordic ski champ in junior Joe Smith. Ho hum.

"We've carried on what we started in the fall," explained MA athletic director Harry Blood. "We had good success with pretty good sportsmanship along the way. We've got a student body that's invested in sport, a community invested in sport and a great coaching staff."

The boys' basketball team led the way, as the undefeated Panthers shook off a disappointing loss in last year's semifinals to grab a state championship thanks to a 54-50 win over Littleton.

"Going into the season after a good run last year, for the most part we had the same cast of characters coming back with the addition of those two that had played in the past," said Blood referring to seniors Will Burke and Mike Donahue. "Marcus (Swedberg) being the ultimate team player that he is, he'd be first to tell you it's okay if he didn't score 1,000 points this year. And (coach) Matt (Swedberg) with a good guiding hand, the captain of the ship…the kids bought into it. A lot of guys along the way, colleagues, would tell me you're one dimensional. Well, maybe we are, maybe we aren't, but every time we had to answer the bell, we answered the bell. And to cap the season undefeated is pretty special too."

Blood enjoyed seeing the Panther student body turn out in full force for the state championship run at Plymouth State, as students painted their faces and bodies to go along with holding giant headshots of several players as signs.

"We're a community school," the AD explained. "The students rub shoulders with these players every day in school. So the kids are really into supporting their classmates. We have a kid like Adam Ryan, the key person leading the cheers on the sideline. He's been injured the last couple years playing football so what does he do? He finds a place where he can shine, leads the cheering in the basketball and volleyball runs. And all the cheers are in good taste. He basically ran our pep rally the day before the game. We had the gym rocking for 15 minutes."

While MA was a heavy favorite all year long, it wasn't until late in the season when Blood saw his squad really had the goods to make a run to the title.

"When we had that close game with Pittsfield at home that went into overtime, it was a true gut check with that one," Blood began. "We totally dominated them for three-plus quarters, up 22 points. All of a sudden, boom, the lead is gone. How the heck do you give up 22 points in that short a time period? But after the game, winning it in OT, I thought this team is really resilient. To come back and win that game in overtime was impressive. Then we go to Sunapee, play a good game over there against a good team. We've always struggled there, got a hard fought win."

While the girls' basketball team didn't match the success of the boys' squad, the Lady Panthers still managed to win 11 games on the year despite a coaching change late in the season.

"The bottom line is the girls persevered," said Blood. "They still won 11 games and got to the quarterfinals. They won a game at the (Gilford) Christmas Tournament as well. Built on those successes, coming off a team that went to a championship game (last year) and took away all but one starter, I think the girls had a great year."

Learning a new system after losing the bulk of last year's team was difficult, but MA quickly adjusted and earned the number 10 seed in the Division IV postseason.

"A lot of kids now a days show up to practice with no expectations," said Blood. "Now all of a sudden, you're cast into this role whether you like it or not and you just have to play as well as you can. That's why 11 wins is pretty significant. Most of those kids didn't have a lot of playing time last year but they managed to make it work."

The hockey team proved it could play with just about anybody in Division III this winter, but a lack of depth and losses to injuries and grades had the Renegades on the outside looking in for the final playoff spot.

"When you take three starters out of a small rotation, that makes for a tough loss," Blood said. "But I think what they realized is they can play with the best. I think Simon Campbell is a great leader on the ice. He's a great example if the other guys want to aspire to be a great player. He and Timmy Casey, they figured it out like a good pitcher and catcher on the same page. Connor (O'Neil) was pretty solid in the goal and Sander Danielovich had a breakout year on defense."

The alpine ski team didn't boast huge numbers, with just two boys' on that particular squad, but the talented junior class on the girls' side performed solidly throughout the season led by Mackenzie Graupner, Abbey Coppinger and Carly Nelson.

"With that nucleus of juniors, they enjoy each other but it's those little competitions between each other that make it pretty fun," said Blood. "They clump together well which keeps us in the hunt for team scoring. But they also try and beat each other. If some of the other kids can move up a couple places, we can look at maybe a top four finish at states next year."

The Nordic ski team is the largest squad at MA, and behind Smith's state championship and solid finishes by senior Brianna McKinley on the girls' side, the Panthers are steadily on the incline.

"(Coach) Jeff Husmann has done a really nice job of selling that sport," explained Blood. "We've had significant accomplishment over the four years or so. Our goal is now to really beat Inter-Lakes and Hopkinton, and we're close. We've got numbers now and we don't miss a meet."

Mike Cryans
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