Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For Hanover, One Title No Longer Feels Like Enough

Photo by Alex Bureau
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

As the clock slowly dropped towards zero, the Hanover crowd descended into a frenzy.

Holding a 49-38 lead in the Division 3 state championship over Palmer, Indians' point guard JP Landry dished a pretty pass to Matt Delahunt, who corralled the swing pass and knocked down a dagger three-pointer.

Soon, the all-too cliché chants from the Indians faithful ensued, while guard Aaron Boise helplessly tried to calm them down until the final buzzer sounded.

As the clock hit zero, the Indians’ bench rushed to embrace the stars that got them there, and their coach Nick Hannigan to celebrate the first boys' basketball state championship in school history.

Yet one look at the roster from that state championship Saturday, and it is to the surprise of no one that the Indians are right back less than a year later with the opportunity to do it all over again.

It is not often that a state championship team returns 14 of its players, but that is exactly the benefit that Hannigan holds in his sixth season as head coach.

Landry, Delahunt, and Boise – who were focal points of last years group – are now senior captains on this year’s team.

For three seasons now Landry has befuddled opposing defenses while manning the role as the Indians’ floor general. While he has a profound skill to get into the lane, the most impressive aspect of his game is his ability to connect from long range.

“(JP) will run the offense on his own," said Hannigan. "Sometimes he'll look over to me for a play but he doesn't really need me for it. I'm more there as a mentor at this point more than anything else because these guys have played enough basketball for us they know what we expect."

Landry, meanwhile, says while the initial feeling following the Indians title was disbelief, he has turned the page.

"Once we won it all it was kind of 'did we really just do that?'" said Landry. "It's incredible to think back on what we've accomplished but once this season started I've been focused on this year. "

There is no question that the centerpiece of the Indians’ offense runs through Delahunt. His unusual delivery combined with his lanky build make him a tough guard for opposing defenses. Marked with a shoot-first mentality, Delahunt often looks to shatter an opponent’s morale with a three-pointer from the town over.

Delahunt surpassed the 1,000 point plateau yesterday in an Indians' win over East Bridgewater.

“I may be the leading scorer but we have a lot of guys that can pick up the slack," said Delahunt. "Aaron (Boise), JP (Landry), Pat Damon can all contribute offensively so it does not feel like there's a ton of pressure on me."

While Landry and Delahunt provide the skillset that made the Indians immediate contenders in the Patriot League’s Keenan Division, it is the vocal leadership of Boise and Andrew Carroll that Hannigan credits in making Hanover tick.

Boise is a three-sport athlete helping the Indians’ football team to a state championship of their own in 2016 while playing baseball in the spring.

On the court, Boise gives the Indians flexibility on offense as someone who can splash three-pointers in the corner while also shooting off the dribble.

It is off the court where Boise proves to be most valuable.

In practice Boise often sets the communicative tone making sure to provide the energy no matter what opponent is next on the docket.

Carroll, for his part, is a junior guard who Hannigan has become enamored due to both his ability on the floor while also being the team’s ‘energizer bunny.’

When it comes to one of the Indians’ late practices that run past 8 o’clock, Carroll is there to wake his teammates up.

"We're still trying to prove people wrong," said Carroll. "It's good to get the bench going before the starters head out and provide some energy. Those Tuesday night games against a league opponent, there's a small crowd so you have to provide your own energy."

Early in the season the leadership of the Indians' three captains was tested when they lost back-to-back games that halted a nearly one year-long winning streak.

Landry, however, said there was no change in the demeanor of the veteran squad.

"You know you aren't going to go undefeated every year," said Landry. "We dropped a couple early last season also. Coach (Hannigan) prepares us and makes it so that come game time we are ready to play no matter who the opponent is.

For Hannigan’s group the bench runs much deeper.

Jake McInerney and Dan Hamza provide length in the post and a shooting presence at the foul line, while Patrick Damon and James Clarkson can both shoot from the beyond the arc and drive along the baseline.

Hamza had a crucial three-point play in the state final last season to keep the Indians in front.

For Damon last year's title meant a bit extra. After all, Pat's older brother Fred was a senior starter on the team.

"It was unbelievable being able to be on the same team as him and see him win one," said Pat. "This year to be able to try and one-up I guess and repeat would be even that much better."

One trip to a Hanover practice or game and the cohesiveness that exists with his now two-year group is evident.

Constantly feeding off one another’s energy the Indians challenge themselves in practice to break previous marks they have set in shooting and defensive drills.

During a timeout the players on the bench huddle around their coaching staff, arms locked together as is protecting outsiders from their cul-de-sac.

“Every time we have a game we have a solid sized crowd," said Boise. "It's all part of the community being behind you and us being behind one another. It's not about one kid but about everyone."

The Indians are right back in the fold atop Division 2 South, and will enter the state tournament with a 17-4 record.

It was the return of such a large core filled with championship experience that made Hannigan want to challenge his program.

One season after winning in Division 3, the Indians have moved up to Division 2 putting them in the same south sectional bracket as Hingham, Tech Boston, and two-time defending sectional champion Whitman-Hanson.

On the schedule the Indians added Division 1 South power Mansfield as an endowment game while also hosting BC High.

Despite raising a banner just one year ago the Indians feel as though that once again they are being overlooked.

It’s a role they are more than comfortable assuming.

“People ask do we play any different with a radar on our back and the answer is no,” said Hannigan. “It feels like we are flying under the radar again with the focus on the other teams still in the section.”

It is for more than just this year that the Indians are playing for, however as they look to become one of the more established programs in Massachusetts.

For Hannigan, it all comes back to his three captains.

“You know for JP, Matt, and Aaron it all starts with our summer camps,” said Hannigan. “Those guys are counselors at the camp for our younger guys. They establish relationships with the younger kids and since these seniors now were one of my first groups here, they know and are able to teach to the younger guys that it’s not the coaches versus the kids here. Rather, were all in this together.”

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