Who are the best all-around high school athletic programs in Massachusetts?
Mike Jackson knew he was in a good position. but This Well?
Jackson was on the sidelines in Wellesley on the Saturday before Thanksgiving 2021 to watch Newton North play Needham in the Division 1 State Championship girls’ volleyball game.
Later that evening, after driving on Interstate 495, Jackson caught his second state title match of the day when North’s boys’ soccer team faced Brookline in Lynn.
While both teams narrowly lost, it was the start of a high-flying year for Jackson in his first season as athletic director. North hired the longtime assistant college basketball coach in June after spending the last four years at fellow Bay State Conference school Needham, where he was an assistant AD.
More: Mike Jackson, Chris Webber’s AAU teammate, is taking over as athletic director of Newton North
“I took the job (at Newton North) because I knew it was a great situation,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve been able to watch them from the street for four years.”
North competed at a high level throughout the year, ending with the school being listed as the best all-around program in the state by MaxPreps.
The national high school athletic website announced the nation’s top 100 programs on Aug. 4, MaxPreps Cup awarded to Westminster High School in Atlanta. Schools earn points for state championships and runners-up, of which Westminster has had 12, including 10 titles. Points are also awarded for national rankings, and Westminster’s boys’ golf and girls’ football teams both made the top 10.
Newton North ranked 40th nationally and was the top Massachusetts school on the list. (St. John’s Prep, #84, was the only other for the Bay State). The rest of the state’s top 5 are Westford Academy, Weston, and Brookline.
After fall success, North’s winter season ended with state championships in girls’ and boys’ track; The boys’ basketball team advanced to the state finals, falling to BC High.
Both track and field teams repeated their titles in the spring. North’s girls basketball and girls soccer teams also had Elite Eight appearances, although they were not included in MaxPreps’ criteria.
“I honestly didn’t expect us to be this high nationally,” Jackson said. “I honestly thought there were some schools in Mass. would give before us. It’s an honor to be the best school in Massachusetts.
“All the credit goes to our athletes and our coaches.”
Jose Padilla, who helped the North Boys basketball team to a 21-4 season as a junior, reversed the praise. The playoffs included another duel between North and Needham, which was attended by many spectators as the Tigers won and advanced to the Final Four.
Padilla credited Jackson and assistant AD Amanda Mortelette, also new to her position after coaching girls’ basketball at Arlington, with creating weekly Captains’ Council meetings.
These gatherings, Padilla said via text message, allowed students to “discuss collective improvement opportunities to become better leaders and influencers on our teammates. Putting the team above themselves is a big motto that everyone in the building absolutely needs to follow in order to achieve the results we all want.”
North’s running, jumping and throwing programs rank among the best in the state every year. The indoor track and field championship of the winter was the 30th all-time for the girls’ program to combine indoor and outdoor. Head coach Joe Tranchita was a common ingredient.
More: Shot (Put) in the Arm: Newton North Indoor Track Teams Win Div. 1 state title; AB boys 2
“When I first came to North (1989) I didn’t expect it – I’m always in awe of it. I never take it for granted,” Tranchita said. “I think one of our keys to success is our ability to adapt and change. Athletes are no different than they were 30 years ago, only the world around them has changed. Your respective sporting programs must therefore adapt to these changes. If you can do that, then you can be successful in the long term.”
“40th place in the country,” added North Boys track coach Shawn Wallace in an email, “and 1st place in MA is not only a testament to our athletes who did a great job this year, it also for all our coaches Whether a team is playing 10-0 or 0-10 or anything in between, the coaches always give 100% to help the athletes succeed. Athletes thrive in such an environment, and victory is just a by-product of it.”
Recent graduate Max Klein won individual state titles in the shot put and discus throw in the spring after breaking a state competition record for winning the shot in the winter. He also won the shot put title at the New Balance Nationals in March.
“The Newton North athletic department has seen some changes and worked really hard this year and I’m proud of their success,” Klein said in a text to Wicked Local.
St. John’s Prep was the state’s best overall program for the 2020-21 season, followed by Concord-Carlisle, Dover-Sherborn, Taunton and Acton-Boxborough.
Massachusetts 2021-22 Ranking: No. 2 St. John’s Prep
The Eagles scored big points by winning the Division I state ice hockey championship behind a 6-2 win over Xaverian at TD Garden. Tommy Sarni’s four goals and two assists helped SJP end the season with a 22-3 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
They were hardly the only winter sports team to dominate. St. John’s, after a regular season, went 32-0 to win the Division I wrestling meet and later went on to win New England’s. The swim team also won a title, its sixth straight.
The boys’ lacrosse team won a state title to close out the spring, the program’s second consecutive title.
No. 3 Westford Academy
The swim and dive teams made it big for the Ghosts. The girls’ team — led by Lizzy Durgin’s diving championship — won their sixth straight state title, while the boys took second place.
On the track, Megan Frazee’s three individual wins (100 hurdles, pole vault, pentathlon) helped WA to second place at the State Girls’ Outdoor Meeting.
The boys volleyball team made its first run to the Division State Championship match, falling to an undefeated Needham. The Ghosts won 21 straight matches en route to the title match.
No. 4 Weston
The Wildcats finished the 2021-22 school year with a state championship in boys’ tennis at MIT, while the girls’ lacrosse and girls’ tennis teams made the Final Four.
The girls’ outdoor track and field team dispatched retiring head coach John Monz in the best way possible and won the Division 5 state crown. The 4×400 team consisting of Tally Zellor, Julie Hohenberg, Kaitlyn Ewald and Sloan Hinton presented with the win at this Event set a school record.
Weston’s girls’ indoor track and boys’ swim/dive teams won state titles over the winter. Girls’ cross-country skiing and boys’ golf each took second place in the autumn.
No. 5 Brookline
Isaac Heffess started the Warriors in the right direction when he scored in overtime to defeat Newton North 2-1 in the Division 1 State Boys Soccer Championship, Brookline’s first. The boys cross-country team won Division 1 states and placed second at All-States. Girls Cross Country finished second in Division 1.
The girls swim/dive team placed second.
The boys tennis team finished second behind Acton-Boxborough and the girls tennis team reached the state semi-finals.
No. 6 Wellesley
The girls’ indoor and outdoor track teams both won state championships, as did the swim/dive team. (Sailing also won). Boys Golf took second place as Ryan Keyes won the singles title. Third place went to boys Nordic skiing, girls golf and girls cross-country skiing.
The Raider girls’ lacrosse team ended a 19-5 season by going undefeated in the state finals against Westwood (25-0).
No. 7 Norwell
November 20 receives a gold star as the day the Clippers took the Massachusetts football field. At Medway High School, the boys defeated Belchertown on penalties before the girls defeated Dedham with Allison Jenkins’ overtime goal.
The teams combined for a 41-1-4 record.
Norwell’s boys’ lacrosse team won its first state title, 11-3 over Medfield.
No. 8 Newburyport
Another team called the Clippers had a great year. The girls tennis team defeated Austin Prep 3-2 to claim the Division 3 state title. Kat O’Connor won the deciding match.
The Newburyport baseball team made it to the state finals, but lost 2-1 to Austin Prep.
The Rockets opened the school year, winning the girls’ states volleyball victory over Newton North and ending the spring with another boys’ title by beating Westford Academy. The Needham boys lost just one set this season.
The boys’ soccer team maintained their unbeaten record into the state’s round of 16, where the Rockets eventually fell but suffered penalties at Concord-Carlisle on the advance. The girls’ Ultimate Team also won a state title.
More: ‘Amazing’ performance by Concord-Carlisle’s Ben Wasserman beats previously undefeated Needham
No. 10 North Andover
The Scarlet Knights won the Division 2 State Boys indoor track and field title, retiring from the Catholic Memorial in the final event to secure the title. The boys repeated the feat during the outdoor season; The NA girls placed second in the outdoor event.