By Ellen Oliver
The Nashoba boys’ basketball team is 8-5 after a battle with Hudson at home on Friday night. The first half was all Nashoba as the Chieftains wiggled out of a back and forth tie to pull ahead 38-28 at the half. The second half looked to be also going Nashoba’s way, until Hudson rallied to bring the score within four points in the closing minutes. Fighting off a suddenly hot Hawk team, Nashoba held on to earn the 82-76 win.
The victory required a combined effort from the Chieftains, led by senior captain Brady Schartner’s 16 points. Junior Nick Campana brought in 14 points, senior Jordan Edmonds had 13, and sophomore Travis Macko netted 10. Junior Justin Pelletier had eight points, including two three-pointers; sophomore Eric Demmer seven, and juniors Kevin Connelly and Ross Cressman each scored five. “We couldn’t stop [Hudson’s Jacob] Loewen from scoring. He scored 36 points,” said Campana. “Luckily we were able to score a lot, too, since we didn’t play good defense.”
Coach Danny Ortiz is new to Nashoba varsity this year, but knows the Nashoba program well after two years as the freshman coach. Campana said the transition to a new coach was easier because Ortiz was already in the program. “It’s been good. He’s a great coach and it’s gone well for us. Not all the kids had him [as a freshman], but everyone respects him.”
Ortiz’s interest in coaching was sparked when he played for Fitchburg High’s Doug Grutchfield, one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in central Massachusetts. “He was a great coach. He emphasized leadership,” said Ortiz, something he tries to inspire in his team. Ortiz credits Grutchfield with planting the idea of coaching in a young Ortiz. “He said to me that someday I would be a good coach. That stayed with me. I always knew it was a passion,” he said.
Although Grutchfield passed away in 2006, Ortiz said the coach’s influence shapes the current Nashoba team. “I was taught by someone who really knew the game. [Coach Grutchfield] believed in teaching the fundamentals to have success,” said Ortiz, who tries to mimic that approach. “We still have a lot of work to do, but the fundamentals are definitely getting better.”
Ortiz may rely on lessons learned from his high school days, but he’s added a few elements of his own. “I’m a big believer in team chemistry, team work,” said the coach. “It’s about motivation. I want the kids to believe in themselves on the court and off the court.”
Ortiz said his team chemistry starts with captains Schartner and Frankie Chiodo. “Brady is great; he leads, is a positive role model and works hard. Frankie does all the little things and plays big. He does anything you ask. They’ve been great,” praised Ortiz.
With his two years of experience coaching the freshman, Ortiz is very familiar with many of the weapons in his cache. Some of the juniors on the squad – Camapana, Chiodo, Pelletier, Eli Williams and Matt Sabourin – were on Ortiz’s team as freshman. “We’re familiar with each other,” said the coach. “It’s been great to see the growth, how they’ve become better players.”
The day after a 40-78 loss to Quabbin on January 15, Ortiz had his team watching film.
“It’s important to see for themselves what they aren’t doing and what they are doing,” he said. “We watch film, talk about bad things and positive things.” Ortiz said he tries to keep the team focused on their performance, not what the other team did. “There’s something to learn from everybody, but we don’t compare ourselves to other teams. We just try to get better at what we do,” he explained.
Early in the season, Nashoba visited rival Clinton and were handed a 55-49 loss after a competitive game. “We had a bad start, but we had a fourth quarter comeback, but ran short,” said Campana.
But two games later, the Chieftains dealt Shrewsbury a 54-49 overtime loss. “Beating Shrewsbury at home was huge,” said Ortiz. “At the time, Shrewsbury was ranked third.”
While Ortiz admits the team has obvious goals such as making districts and even taking home a state title, he keeps the daily focus simple. “We aim to get better every day. We teach them to win and learn from losses,” said the coach. “If I can develop better basketball players, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
“These are such great kids, not all coaches get that opportunity. They are positive, work hard and are nice people. They’re not always perfect,” he laughed. “But I feel privileged to coach these kids.”
Next up for the Chieftains are games against two of the top teams in Central Mass: Algonquin and Wachusett. “They’ll be a good challenge for us. It will be nice to see where we are,” said Campana.