by Peter Coyle
The 75th Clark Tournament kicks off on Sunday, February 16th in Worcester. Celebrating Presidents’ week and high school vacation week has been a staple for most of us throughout the years. The Clark, over the past 75 years, has been a must goal for the area public high school teams. Qualifying for the Clark Tournament means you are having a good season with the chances of having a great season if you can advance during Presidents’ week. The Clark Tournament is an electrifying experience for any team that can get a seed. There are 16 seeds that have to be earned every year. Teams are considered on their season record from game one in December up to the first Thursday in February. Westboro secured the 16th and last slot in this year’s tournament by a coin flip with Shepherd Hill. Both teams had the same record, 9-7, on Thursday, February 8th. The Blackstone Valley area is well represented again in the Clark this year. The fan interest from that area alone will be huge.
The Small Schools eight team bracket has three local teams in it with Sutton leading the way with a 15-1 record. Hopedale,11-4, and Douglas, 11-4, hope to advance past the opening round. On Sunday, February 16th, Hopedale will play 14-1 Maynard followed by Sutton and 11-4 North Brookfield. The third contest on Sunday has Douglas matching up against 12-4 Littleton and the nightcap has number one seed 15-0 Quaboag against 11-5 David Prouty. I like Hopedale over Maynard in a mild upset, Sutton over North Brookfield, Douglas over Littleton, and Quaboag over David Prouty. Look for Sutton and Quaboag to meet in the finals with Sutton knocking off Quaboag from the unbeaten ranks.
The Large School division, which begins on Monday, also has three local teams participating headed by last year’s champions - Auburn.Northbridge and Bartlett also have their hat in the ring. Here are the first round matchups. Bartlett and Auburn meet again for the second year in a row in an opening round game. Auburn propelled itself to winning the championship last year with its victory over Bartlett. Northbridge faces a mediocre Oakmont team while Quabbin and Nashoba each with 10-5 records face each other. The final game in the opening round has a good Clinton team playing Westboro.The favorite in the Large Schools is Northbridge, and Bartlett is the darkhorse. The north county teams, Clinton, Nashoba, and Oakmont are mid level teams that are good and you will see a different style from them. Westboro needs to be watched as they are playing good enough to win the cahampionship. The winner of the Auburn-Bartlett game gets to play Northbridge in the second round. The winner of that game is your champ. Familiar faces who did not qualify this year are Shepherd Hill, Oxford, and Uxbridge.
The Clark Tournament is really a tune-up for the post season because District play begins the week after the Clark. Us older guys are wondering what is most important to the high school basketball player: the Clark Tournament or the District Tournament? The older guys always thought the latter was how your season was evaluated. However, it seems that today’s players’ choice puts the Clark Tournament ahead of post season dreams. Some teams just can’t get their second wind after the Clark. Keep your eyes on this point. It’s almost the same analogy for the schoolboy football season. What is more important? Thanksgiving or the Super Bowl? More to come on this subject.