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Matt Zerneri finally gets sectional championship as Smith Academy hoop coach

Matthew Sulda of Smith Academy winces in pain and clutches his shoulder after being knocked onto the floor by players from St. Joseph during the Western Massachusetts Division 3 basketball final at UMass on Saturday, March 9, 2013. 

SARAH CROSBY

Matthew Sulda of Smith Academy winces in pain and clutches his shoulder after being knocked onto the floor by players from St. Joseph during the Western Massachusetts Division 3 basketball final at UMass on Saturday, March 9, 2013. SARAH CROSBY

By MIKE MORAN and JIM PIGNATIELLO Staff Writers
Saturday, March 9, 2013
(Published in print: Monday, March 11, 2013)

AMHERST — Smith Academy boys basketball coach Matt Zerneri is well-versed in the school’s hoop history.

He was well aware it had been 20 years since the Falcons won their last championship. That 1993 title capped a run of four in five years.

So when the Falcons beat St. Joseph 66-63 Saturday in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament final at Curry Hicks Cage, Zerneri was pleased the drought was over.

“It’s sweet,” the sixth-year coach said. “I remember the (early 1990) teams with (Mike) Theberge and (Marc) Mulherin and (Bill) Skorupski and all those guys.

“When I was playing we wanted nothing more than to win and we couldn’t get over the semis,” he added. “To finally have these guys do it, it’s such a sweet feeling to be able to get one. We’re not done. We want more.”

Zerneri, who finished his career with 1,609 points, had his seasons end in tournament semifinals with losses to Lenox in 1998, Hopkins Academy in 1999 and St. Joseph in 2001.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to lead these guys to a championship, but I can give them everything, I can throw out a game plan, they’re the ones who have to execute it,” Zerneri said. “Just knowing how hard they play and how much they deserve it, that makes me feel good.”

Smith Academy returned five starters from last season’s semifinal team, which lost to the Crusaders. Those five starters combined for 61 of the teams 66 points as the Falcons completed Goal No. 2.

“We came in the beginning of the year and sat down and wrote out our goals,” Zerneri said. “One of our goals was the best defensive team in Division 3. Another goal was to win a western Mass. championship. The third goal is to win a state title.

“They work hard. They come in every day and work hard,” he added. “They want to win. They play together and they are unselfish.”

INJURY SCARE — Smith senior Mat Sulda drove to the basket and crashed to the floor in the opening minute of the third quarter. He immediately clutched his right shoulder. A trainer flexed his arm in various directions and after leaving the court for 31 seconds, Sulda returned. He scored 12 of his team-high 19 points after the fall.

After the game Sulda said he was OK but sore.

BIG TURNAROUND — The Chicopee girls basketball team went 1-19 in 2010-11, the year before coach Steve Marcil left Putnam to take over the program.

Marcil admitted Saturday he never expected to be hoisting the Western Massachusetts Division 1 trophy so soon.

“I imagined it would take us three or four years, maybe five. I did not imagine we could do it in our second year,” Marcil said. “I knew we had enough talent and that we were good enough, but it is hard to win at this level.

“But they came together at the right time,” he added. “This is the end result of hard work and ‘team first, me second.’ It starts with my seniors (Brittany Taylor, Ashley Dion). They are probably the best captains and leaders I’ve ever had.”

CHANCE FOR 1,000 — Northampton’s Anna Walther’s team-high 14 points gave her 749 for her career.

The junior guard averaged 13.5 points per game this season and will enter her junior year with a good chance to become the program’s sixth 1,000 point scorer and first since Alannah Driscoll-Sbar (1,148 career points) in 2009.

Addie Stiles (1,221), Nicole Champagne (1,210), Susie Gutkowski (1,168) and Joy McDowell (1,099) are the others.

ONE IS DONE — Five No. 1 seeds reached their respective championship games Saturday and none of them left the Cage with the title.

Sabis (Division 3 girls), Drury (D-2 girls), Greenfield (D-2 boys), Northampton (D-1 girls) and Central (D-1 boys) all lost.

Saturday was a good day for No. 7 seeds, however, as both Hoosac Valley (D-2 girls) and Chicopee (D-1 girls) won titles.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @GazetteHS.

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @GazetteHS.

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