A group of people at a soccer stadium cheering.

Clearing the desk for 2024 – review of the ’23 Sports scene – John Cardullo

By John Cardullo, sportswriter

As the end of 2023 comes, it’s time that we look back at what was and hope for better for what is to come in the local and national sports world. While some teams had success and would love to repeat that again this upcoming year, for others, not so much, and they are dying to get another shot at the prize. That’s the magical thing about the next year, the slate gets cleaned and for those who achieved success, they are hoping that they have a recipe to that level of success again, and for those that didn’t quite measure up, as they say, “there’s always next year!” Well, next year is here, so let’s see what we hope to see in 2024.

Boston bound

Last season both the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins were heating up our cold winters. Both will go on to win their divisions and storm into the playoffs. The Bruins would set the NHL’s record for the best seasonal record by any team. When it came to the playoffs, the Bruins looked slow and tired. All the high expectations of the regular season disappeared when they were bounced from the first round of the NHL playoffs and the Florida Panthers, who barely made it into the playoffs went on a run that ended with them losing to the Las Vegas Knights in the Stanley Cup championship.

For Florida it was the case of it’s not how you begin, but how you finish. The Bruins went home thinking what could have happened “only if”! Fans thought they pushed too hard to get the league record in wins, and didn’t rest their players for the playoff run. The coach was too inexperienced, and the goalies were not good enough. The Bruins, to their credit, didn’t make any fan-based emotional moves and stayed the course with the team they had, minus a few, and adding in a couple. The result so far seems to have been the correct decision, the Bruins began the season “red hot”, and are rolling into 2024 with the benefit of experience from last season on their side.

The Boston Celtics had a very similar season as the Bruins. Under new head coach, Joe Mazzulla, the team responded by winning their division and the Eastern title, making it deep into the playoffs before losing to the revived Miami Heat (who went on to lose to the Denver Nuggets for the NBA title).

As the Bruins did, the Celtics took a step back, evaluated their talent, and decided who to keep and who to let go and go out and replace their talent with better players. Currently, the Celtics are playing excellent basketball. It will take time to see if they can keep playing at their current level and make it back to the NBA championship series.

The countdown to when pitchers and catchers report to spring training has begun, weeks ago. The Boston Red Sox have been the “plain Janes” of the American League East the past several years. The gun-ho ownership that brought World Series championships to “Beantown” seem to have become disinterested in the team. Last season the “Bore-Sox” were tough to watch even for the most diehard of fans. Poor hitting, spotty pitching and terrible defense were the lowlights of the season. The only saving grace was that the Red Sox main rival, the New York Yankees were having an equally poor season as well. All hopes for a post season appearance for both teams were finished by June but bless each team’s radio and television announcers’ little hearts, they tried to spin a poor situation into a positive. It didn’t work! Most fans of both teams were onto football by early August. In New England, the baseball season couldn’t end quick enough!

So far, the “Hot Stove” season has been pretty much non-existent for the Sox and lukewarm for the Yankees. The ownership of both organizations seems to be disinterested in winning as they both did in the past when they would out duel each other for the best players in free agency. The Los Angeles Dodgers is the team scooping up and landing all the hottest free agents. Unless things change very shortly, the race for both the Red Sox and Yankees fans to watch is to see which of their teams would finish in last place again.

The New England Patriots, well I refer you to last week’s article. My position hasn’t changed and hope that the plan that was laid out would be followed, and if it is and it fails to get the desired results, well that is on me, and I will take the blame.

College credit

Locally, the college scene has had big changes as well, after a long successful run as the head coach of the Providence College Friars, Ed Cooley, headed down to Georgetown for bigger challenges. The Friars basketball program has made great strides recently under Cooley, and has made it into the NCAA Basketball National Championship tournament several times. As Cooley’s pending departure leaked out as P.C. was preparing for another NCAA Tournament, the distraction of losing their coach grew, the team imploded and was bounced out of the tournament. Cooley left for Georgetown while Providence College named Kim English as his successor. English spent his last two seasons as the head coach of George Mason University, and was named at Providence’s 16th head basketball coach. At the same press conference that introduced English, Erin Batth was also introduced as the Lady Friars basketball head coach. The move seems to agree with the team, who is currently on top of the Big East with a 2-0 record and an overall record of 11-2 and is currently ranked number 25 in the country.

The Bryant Bulldogs men’s basketball team made their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2023. Under the coaching leadership of Jared Grasso, the team’s future looked bright, but an off-season incident forced the administration to suspend Grasso, and eventually the coach resigned. Bryant named Phil Martelli Jr. as the new Bulldog’s coach. Playing in the America East Conference, the Bulldogs currently are in 5th place with an 8-6 record and have yet to play any conference opponents. Brown University and the University of Rhode Island remain as two of the states “also rans”.

The URI Women’s Basketball team won their first conference championship and made an appearance in the women’s NCAA basketball tournament in 2023. Head Coach Tammi Reiss was credited with taking allow profile program and rearranging the culture as it began to compete with the traditional powerhouses and eventually became the college basketball story of the year in Rhode Island. So far this season the team has yet to play any conference opponents and have an 8-5 overall record.

High School highlights

The local high schools seem to stay consistent with the traditional sports powerhouses remaining entrenched in the top spots. Bishop Hendricken and LaSalle Academy often are the leaders in each sport, while every season there are unexpected contenders. Last season the Cumberland Clippers established themselves as a team to contend with and went on to win the Division I baseball state championship. Many of the sports teams in the state would prefer to play the Hendricken or LaSalle, citing that winning a division or state championship make it all that much sweeter when they beat those teams.

Over the last few years, the movement of high school teams seem to have slowed establishing rivalries throughout the state. Teams such as Mount Saint Charles has left the RIIL in search of a league that will best suit their needs, which is hockey both on the boys’ and girls’ level. It is no surprise that the Mounties have struggled with the sport they used to dominate on a yearly basis. In addition, they never did compete at the top level in pretty much every other varsity sport on the top level. This left a void for those athletes that didn’t just want to play hockey. The result was to leave and go to schools such as LaSalle, or stay at their home school and play on teams with their friends.

We love them all!

Local sports on every level from professional to youth sports drives us as a society. The passion in Rhode Island and the surrounding area is high. The fans mood is metered by the success or failures of their teams. It has been this way since fans have been rooting for their teams of choice. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Patriots fan, or a Giants fan, or if you cheer on the Yankees, or Red Sox, or even if you choose URI Basketball over Providence College. The point is that fans are engaged, and this is healthy for the future of all sports. In this area we are fortunate to have so many local choices.

So, Happy Holidays and GO for whoever you are cheering for – and may the best teams win!


John Cardullo, sportswriter
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