There are three phrases prominently displayed in the Mount Greylock locker room. Each phrase represents goals that the boys basketball team set for this season. The first is "Tournament." The second is "The South," and the third is "The Cage."
After Friday's 77-68 win over Lee, the Mounties can check off two of the three phrases. They've already qualified for the tournament and now they're the South Division champions. But there is still one more goal left to accomplish: win a quarterfinal match-up and advance to the Curry Hicks Cage at UMass-Amherst. Last year's team was a four-point loss to Hoosac Valley from accomplishing that feat, but setting such a lofty goal with an almost completely new roster shows the confidence this team plays with.
"I give all the credit to the kids," Greylock coach Bob Thistle said on earning the South Division title. "We set the tone from the very first day that we picked our team. Nobody was going to expect anything from us. ... There's no excuses. Nobody cares that you graduated seven seniors from last year. These guys have not missed a beat. They've stepped up and they're hungry."
Greylock graduated its entire starting five from last season, a line-up that including one of the best pure shooters in the county in Emmett Shepard, current Wake Forest offensive lineman Jake Benzinger, crafty scorer Ian Brink, high-energy Mike McCormack and floor general Eric Hirsch. However, players such as Pat Storie, Zach Ronnow and Sean McCormack have thrived in their new roles.
Ronnow sets the tone in Greylock's high-low offense, establishing position down low, passing to the perimeter and knocking down open jumpers. Sam Dils does a good job distributing the ball, finding Storie and other shooters in position to score and Brady Foehl adds toughness and defense.
This group's success may be a surprise outside of the program, but the winning foundation was laid during intense practice sessions last season.
"Last year my main motivation was practicing with the team and making them better," Ronnow said, "Make sure everyone is getting the looks they need and working hard in practice. This year, I look at other guys to do the same things I did last year.
"Every one is a practice player and a game player on this team. It just comes down to teamwork in the end."
Ronnow added that facing off against the 6-foot-8 Benzinger in practice left him bruised, but prepared him for the physical play in the post.
The 6-foot-5 center showed his versatility against the Wildcats, draining an open 3-pointer in a fast-paced first quarter and earning trips to the foul line as the tempo slowed in the second half. He displayed the craftiness of a senior and — unfortunately for the rest of the county — the Mounties start three sophomores and a junior, meaning they'll return plenty of firepower next season.
The future looks bright for the Mounties, but for now, they're focused on crossing off the final phrase in the locker room.
"We talked about coming together as team, getting to know each other, working as hard as we could and getting better every day," Thistle said. "Sometimes those are just slogans that team's use, but we really tried to flush those things out in terms of what they mean."