Basketball team goals: ‘competing in every game’ and ‘getting to playoffs’

“ERRRRNTT!”

Putnam 57. ARHS 55.

It was the last 15 seconds of the game. Both teams had defeated each other once in the regular season and knew that the winner of this third match-up would go on to play Central in the Western Mass D1 championship game. Tate Rietkerk sank a three to tie the game at 55 and hopefully send the game into overtime. Putnam quickly got the rock and sent it down the court. Final seconds of the game. Ten, nine, eight. Putnam took a final shot.

Splash. Game and season, over for the Hurricanes.

“It was a heartbreaker,” said J.B. Mills, then a sophomore power forward. “Putnam was a really talented team and they kinda just hung around the whole game and made a couple of more shots at the end than we did. We were so close to getting back to the [Curry Hicks] Cage [at UMass].”

Following this devastating loss that ended the 2017-18 season, the Hurricanes look to enter this season with a brand new look. Having lost a couple of star seniors last year in Rietkerk and Kyle Murray to graduation, the team is also adjusting to the losses of Jazdeal Roman to injury and Isaiah Moyston to a renewed focus on football and academics. “It’s very unfortunate, but I’m going to grow from it on & off the court,” said Roman. “Every day, basketball is a part of me and I just wanted to represent Amherst basketball with a breakout season.” For Moyston, it was a tough call, but one that he was in control of. “It was a tough decision to make but it’s going to be better for my future,” said Moyston.

With those losses, only four seniors return this year: Soul-Jah Ferreira, Akeme Mallory, Steven Steele, and Sam Leonard. Taylen Pope, Kevin Nguyen, Tabor Bowman, and Mills round out the upperclassmen on the team.

The two sophomores on the squad – Evan Perry and CJ Woodfine-Holmes – are joined by a lone freshman, Isa Castro-McCauley, who made the team after impressing the coaching staff at tryouts. “It’s just fun for me, honestly,” said Castro-McCauley. “Basketball has always been a love for me.”

The Hurricanes opened the new season on December 10th – a 53-43 loss against Battleboro away from home. “Obviously it was fun to go out there and get 12 points,” said Castro-McCauley, “but I think a loss isn’t fun, so it wasn’t a great first game.” Despite the opening night loss, Mills thinks the team will come together with experience.

“I think a lot of us are gonna have to lead this season,” said Mills. “It’s all about growing with the new team and learning how to play with each other.” JB hopes that the team this season can qualify for the playoffs. “I think the goal is to make the playoffs, and once we’re there anything can happen.”

Despite the new, younger look for the team on the floor, Head Coach Jim Matuszko returns for his 21st season behind the bench for the Hurricanes, a fact that wasn’t so certain just months ago.

“It was a last second decision to come back based on a bunch of factors and one of them was the timing,” said Matuszko. “Things were going on at the school here and it wasn’t a good time to replace me.”

Coach Matuszko knows the road to success starts with effort, something that he has seen already. “I want them to compete in every game and keep working hard,” said Matuszko. “This is the hardest working team I have had in a long time. They know we don’t have any superstars, they know that to earn their time on the court they gotta do it in practice and they really show me that everyday.”

The Hurricanes are in what is arguably the toughest division in Western Mass, having to compete with the likes of Chicopee, Central, and Putnam, but coach Matuszko is confident his team can be competitive.

“Every team is gonna be tough to beat this year but I’m confident these guys will be in the games,” said Matuszko. “If they do the little things right they will have a chance, and we don’t even talk about wins right now. We’re just talking about competing.”

(Jason Marques contributed reporting to this story).