MANCHESTER, NH – Prior to the start of this winter season, Holy Family Academy head boys basketball coach Keith Lacasse pulled all of his players aside individually and asked where each wanted the season to end.
“To a player, all of them said they wanted it to end with a championship,” he said.
Then came a larger question, which Lacasse posed to the collective team: “Why?”
It was that answer that made this season an undeniable success, despite the Griffins falling one-win short of their championship dream.
“We want to use basketball, and Holy Family, to build God’s kingdom,” said Lacasse. “Its not necessarily all about basketball, but if winning helps attract more people to our school, where they can be exposed to a great education and Catechism, that’s part of our mission to make that happen. It’s by design. It’s a big part of the goal of our basketball program.”
Senior center Sean Peterson, who transferred to Holy Family this season, and senior guard Yves Mugiraneza, who just completed his second campaign as a Griffin, are exhibits A and B of the success of leaning into this faith-first culture.
And, of course, the team generated plenty of wins on the court as well.
Not only did the Griffins reach the Division-IV final four for the third-consecutive year – following a 13-5 regular season – they also earned a title shot for the first time in the program’s history by defeating a Concord Christian team that had soundly defeated them in last year’s semifinals (and won both regular season games against Holy Family this year).
So despite losing, 57-49, to fourth-seeded Woodsville in the state championship-game at Colby-Sawyer College on Sunday, March 5, the sixth-ranked Griffins had nothing to hang their heads over, said Lacasse.
“It was a great game,” he said. “I would have liked to see it go the other way, but at least we squeezed every game out of the season we could.
“I’m not sure if it was nerves or what, but I felt our shots were good, they just didn’t fall like they have most of the season,” Lacasse added. “Woodsville is consistent, I’ll give them that. You get the same game every time from what I’ve seen. For us, when we’re playing our best, nobody can beat us, but this division is so tight, if you’re a little off, any team can beat any team, and I think that’s probably the reason you saw a four (seed) and six (seed) in the the championship.”
Now, Lacasse must bid farewell to a strong group of seniors who made this year’s run possible.
Mugiraneza, who transferred to Holy Family as a junior, brought confidence and experience and was one of the top catalysts in this year’s deep playoff run, especially in the semifinal win against Concord Christian where he hit three buzzer beaters to help propel the Griffins into the championship game.
And while Mugiraneza was certainly a key cog in the Holy Family engine the last couple seasons, the machine was a sum of many important parts, including Peterson, who made a huge impact in the paint this year, which allowed senior forwards Jack Vicinanzo and Sean Sullivan to bounce in and out of the key, stretching the defense to open shots and second-chance opportunities.
“I had the benefit of inheriting Jack as a good player already, and he brought a quiet calm to the team as a consistent, dependable player who did a lot of things right. He didn’t get a lot of (media) attention, but he was a big reason for our success and is just a fun kid to be around,” said Lacasse. “And Sean (Sullivan) is another quiet, calm guy who peaked at the right time this season. He was the high scorer with 28 points against Concord Christian, and we needed every one of those points (to win). He really embraced his role as a big rebounder who scored on a lot put-backs for us.
“We had a really nicely constructed team this season with a true big in Sean Peterson and two great forwards in Jack and Sean (Sullivan), and then obviously having Yves as our point guard,” added Lacasse. “I said before the season, if we’re going to go far, and we want to, this is a really good team to do it with.”
The team’s fifth starter, junior guard Gabe Lacasse, returns next season as a likely fourth-year captain and appears poised and motived to lead the team back to the championship game to help the Griffins finish business.
“Gabe has a fire that’s contagious,” said Lacasse. “Of all the guys out there, he might have acted like a senior just as much with how bad he wanted to win and how much effort he was willing to put in. He was the guy diving on the floor and dishing to teammates more often than not. He literally left skin on the floor, and I don’t see that fire going out anytime soon.”
Also expected to return and take on an increased role is Patrick Gillis, who contributed a lot of minutes as the Griffins’ sixth man this season, coming into many games without the team’s momentum skipping a beat.
“There was never really a drop in talent on the floor,” said Lacasse. “I could confidently put Patrick in without having to worry about having an inexperienced guy out there who is going to create turnovers or anything like that. He has a nice shot and is definitely one of the guys to look out for next year.”
Junior Joe Depuydt, one of the team’s top defenders, is likely to see time as a starting guard next season, and junior Paul Williams, sophomore Jeremiah Guerrero and freshman Enzo Yonkeu, all of whom contributed as role players this season, are expected to see increased minutes as well.
“My players are amazing,” said Lacasse. “Last night, everyone’s hearts were broken, but today I was getting text messages asking when the guys can get into an open gym. That says a lot about the guys returning and what you can expect next season.”