Since the winter of 1978, when the first Londonderry High School boys’ varsity basketball squad took the court behind the leadership of coach Dan Kiestlinger, there have been some excellent teams and players.
But every one of them – and Kiestlinger himself – now have to take a step back to the undefeated 2014-15 LHS contingent, which snared the first state championship in program history Saturday, March 21, by vanquishing the rival Pinkerton Academy Astros at the University of New Hampshire.
For the 2014-15 season, second-year coach Nate Stanton – who won Division I coach of the year honors in his first season but was disappointed to have his 2013-14 charges make an early exit from the tourney – has seen his present crew hit heights that all previous Londonderry High boys’ hoop squads only dreamed of.
“When I got hired last season, I was determined to change the culture within the basketball program,” said Stanton. “The guys have bought into the philosophy, and a main reason is because of the leadership that our three captains provide each and every day. They are truly a great group of kids who I am grateful to coach, and there is nothing better than helping them make life-long memories within their high school careers.”
With the title win over Pinkerton last weekend, those high school careers of LHS senior tri-captains Cody Ball, Marc Corey, and Joey Kwiatkowski came to joyous and celebratory ends. But all three will be playing college hoops.
Six-foot-three guard Ball – whose dad, Jimmy, and uncle Ed both had significant LHS basketball careers in the 1980s – has decided that Saint Anselm College will be his college.
Ball is a “natural” basketball player. But there has been hard work, too.
“Cody is a special player who is reaping the benefits of all his hard work through the years,” said Stanton. “His top qualities are his unselfishness and his willingness to make the extra pass. Cody has the capability to take over a game at any given moment, and he’ll do whatever it takes to put his team in a position to win, no matter what.”
But Stanton also makes the point that Ball has been no slouch away from the basketball court.
“He is the true definition of a student/athlete, where school and basketball are his priorities. Cody earned a full basketball scholarship to Saint Anselm and will be studying biology. He has proven to athletes across the state, especially in Londonderry, that you don’t have to go to a prep school to earn a scholarship. He is the top player in the state, and Saint Anselm recognized that,” said the coach.
Corey, a 6’4″ forward whose dad, Andy, was the varsity boys’ hoop coach at Salem High School in the 1980s before going into school administration, has also given opponents nightmares when they’ve tried diligently to slow down the Londonderry offense this winter.
“Marc has grown so much as an individual on and off the court,” said Stanton. “Marc has been a huge asset for us and creates mismatches because of his high skill level, both inside and out. He has become a huge scoring threat for us, but more importantly he is a momentum changer who isn’t afraid to step in for the charge and to make the big play. He may be our most improved player from last season to this season. He has been consistent and has made some very big plays for us at crucial times.”
The talented forward will be attending and playing college hoops at St. Joseph’s of Maine in Standish next year.
Kwiatkowski, a 6’2″ guard and the kind of “run through a wall” player that every championship team needs, will be moving on to play basketball and study at Mount Ida College in Newton, Mass.
“He is the type of player that every coach wants because he is guarding the opposing team’s best forward down low or in some cases even matched up against a scoring guard,” said Stanton. “He is interchangeable and is always in the mix when it comes to diving on loose balls, battling for a rebound, and stepping in to help a teammate. Joey has become a great leader for us and is an x-factor on the offensive end as well.”
“To my recollection, this is the best Londonderry boys’ basketball team to ever take the floor,” said Kiestlinger, a high school hoop coach for well over 20 years who is now retired.
Kiestlinger’s 1987-88 contingent – led by star big man Ronnie King – finished first in Class L with a 16-2 record. But that team made it only as far as the tournament quarterfinals.
Kiestlinger also had a team that featured King and Mike Krieger, which got as far as the Class L semifinals, and in the late 1990s LHS coach Mike Beeman had a Kenny Stewart-led squad that reached the semis before being knocked out of title contention.
But it took nearly 40 years for a Londonderry High boys’ varsity basketball team to bag a championship. And it’s likely the 2014-15 Lancers will be talked about for at least that long.