When the Stoughton High boys' basketball team takes the court to open up the 2012-2013 season Friday night at Attleboro, they will do so as the defending Division 2 South Sectional Champions. Stoughton capped a memorable season a year ago, advancing to the D2 state semifinals at the TD Garden, falling to Brighton.
If Stoughton is to repeat the feat this year, it will be with a new-look roster.
Leading scorer Aaron Calixte (who surpassed in his junior season, something no one else in school history has done) transferred to Lee Acaedmy, a prep school in Maine, forgoing his senior year at SHS. Calixte was the team's point guard and was a gifted passer and all-around player.
Stoughton also lost Antonio "Nuke" Ferreira and Steffan Jackson to graduation, "two of the best front court players around," head coach John Gallivan said. And, Stoughton lost Raymond Bowdre, another forward who provided valuable minutes off the bench.
So, heading into this season it may be understandable why there seems to be more talk externally about players not returning to Stoughton, rather than the ones that will be suiting up for the Black Knights.
"You can only talk about last year so much, then you have to move on," Gallivan said.
Perhaps overlooked heading into the season as a result of these significant departures, Stoughton still has the talent to be competitive in the Hockomock League. The team will be led by senior captain Marcus Middleton, who is a lock-down defender.
Middleton can also score, and Stoughton is going to need both a top-effort offensively and defensively from their best returning player this season, but at the same time must be careful not to wear him down.
"We definitely need both [offense and defense] from him and he's going to need help from his friends," Gallivan said. "No one has to score 25-points a game, but if we could get some guys getting 10 a game that would be great.
Mauro Oliveira and Mike Gallagher return and join Middleton at guard. Gallagher will handle the ball when on the floor. Joe Bunce-Grenon, Joey Wilder and Stanley Sajous will split time at forward. Aaron Mack, Matthew Mack, Andrew Valle and Eddie Grant also will contribute.
"The theme this year is just going to be learn and adapt," Middleton said. "We have to have a lot of people fill important roles. People need to step up in order to do that."
"We just have to step up, work hard and keep doing what we were doing last year," Bunce-Grenon said.
Oliveira added, "We lost one of the best players to ever play at Stoughton High [Calixte]. But I think him leaving brought all of us together. We know that with him leaving we won't be as good but we can still step up to the plate."
Despite the loss of Calixte, and despite the loss of Nuke, Jackson and Bowdre, the goal this season, like it is every season, remains the same:
"Our number one goal every year is to make the tournament," Gallivan said. "So you're chasing 10 wins in a 20-game schedule."
"If you get into the Division 2 South [tournament] who knows," Gallivan said. He pointed to 13th seeded Duxbury in last year's tournament, Stoughton's first round opponent who gave the Black Knights their most difficult test of the postseason en route to the Garden.
"If they got past us there's no reason they couldn't have gone to the Garden...they were the best team we played."
Keeping a big picture, macro view of the season is something Gallivan hopes will guide his team to another postseason berth.
"You can turn things around, you can get better as the year goes on. What you can't do as a coaching staff - we can't turn on the team, and the team can't turn on each other. We just have to stay in this looking at the big picture and if there are some growing pains that's understandable," Gallivan said.
"The big picture is what I keep emphasizing."
STOUGHTON HIGH BOYS' BASKETBALL 2012-2013 SNAPSHOT:
Last season's record: 20-5 (16-4 regular season)
Coach: John Gallivan
Captains: Seniors Marcus Middleton, Joe Bunce-Grenon and Mauro Oliveira
First Game/Schedule: Stoughton travels to Attleboro Friday, Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. to start the season.
Other key match-ups this season include Hockomock League Davenport Division games with Sharon (12/18 and 1/25); Canton (1/11 and 2/12); Foxborough (1/8 and 2/8), Hockomock newcomer Milford (12/21 and 1/29) and of course archrival Oliver Ames (1/18 and 2/15).
The team has a two-game holiday tournament in Randolph Dec. 27 and 29 and concludes the season with the two-game Walpole Tournament over February vacation, Feb. 17 and 18.
In addition to Attleboro, Stoughton will also play Hockomock Kelly-Rex Division schools Franklin, Mansfield, North Attleboro, King Philip and Taunton once each.