By Chris Villani Sports Reporter/Columnist · February 03, 2017
Clark Bid Meaningful for Nipmuc Team &
Nipmuc basketball head coach Bob Manzello was sitting down to breakfast in a local diner when he overheard a couple of nearby patrons discussing his team and the possibility of achieving on of its stated goals.
"I heard one of the people say, 'oh, I can't wait to go to the Clark,'" Manzello said.
Perhaps even more than a district tournament bid, a trip to the Clark Tournament is a sought-after prize for public school programs in Central Mass. In its 78th season, the showcase bills itself as the oldest high school basketball tournament in the country.
Manzello, in his fourth year coaching the Warriors, had his first taste of the Clark last year.
"When I came in and I took the job, I came from St. Peter-Marian and before that, St. Mary's," he said. "I never had the option to get to the Clark since those are private schools, so it means a great deal to me."
At 11-2 to begin the week, the Warriors appear to be in a good position to qualify for the tournament for the second straight season. Last year, Nipmuc lost to Bartlett in the first round of the large-school division bracket. He told the Crier after the loss "the kids were really looking forward to [the Clark], but were not in awe of it. To have a young team going back to that tournament, it's great to give them that taste so next year it won't be as big a deal."
Nipmuc will likely have that chance a little later this month. The tournament, held at Clark University in Worcester, begins the large-school division quarterfinal round on February 19. All games through February 8 count towards a team's participation and seeding in the event. The top 16 teams will qualify and be broken up into two, eight-team divisions. Based on its enrollment, Nipmuc is slated for the large-school division again this year.
"Right now, I am looking forward more to the Clark than the districts, mostly because it comes first," Manzello said.
Nipmuc won the Clark under former head coach Jim Grant in 1993 and 1997. The tournament, which takes place before the districts, has been a springboard to MIAA tourney success in the past. The 1997 Clark winner went on to claim the Central Mass title.
The districts may technically be the bigger prize, but Manzello said his team and its fans are looking forward to another shot at the nation's oldest high school tournament.
"I think it means a lot to the people in the area," he said. "People take pride in their basketball team the Mendon/Upton area. In the small towns all over Central Mass, this is something that means a lot."