By Michael Muldoon
---- — Injuries may have led to once-hyped Andover basketball big man Connor Merinder becoming somewhat overlooked by fans, but perhaps no one has been more important to the Golden Warriors’ success than the 6-foot-5 junior.
“Connor is not overlooked in our program,” Andover basketball coach David Fazio said. “He is the mainstay and backbone of our entire team.
“He’s a selfless warrior and only cares about wins. He’s the heart and soul and defensive catalyst of our team.”
The stat-stuffing Merinder is averaging 9.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals for the 3-0 Warriors. The team is ranked ninth in the ESPNBoston statewide poll, six spots behind Central Catholic, who Andover faced in the Licare Division title game of the Commonwealth Christmas Classic on Saturday.
The last time Merinder took on his team’s archrival Raiders, it was the 2013 North semifinals, when he was playing hurt.
“I broke my wrist (scaphoid),” explained Merinder, who had surgery last December. “It took until about February when we found a weird tape job/cast that I could play in. I had to worry about not hurting it again.”
The towering goalie was hurt late his sophomore season in soccer. He thought little of it, though.
“I felt like I just sprained it, but three weeks later it was still bothering me,” he said. “It turns out I had a fracture.”
He said his mother, a nurse, did all sorts of experiments to finally devise a cast that enabled him to play.
“It was layers and layers of tape, a soft cast, then more layers and layers,” he said.
He’s healthy now and wants to continue to live up to his three older siblings, who are all talented scholar-athletes.
Connor is far from the first athlete from the Merinder family to star at Andover High.
Sister Meagan is finishing up veterinary school at the University of Minnesota. The 6-foot super sub helped Andover to the first state basketball title in school history (boys or girls) and was an all-star volleyball player who started three years at Holy Cross College in Worcester.
His other sister, Jen, an accountant, was one of the area’s top three-sport athletes (volleyball, basketball, track) and starred in volleyball and track at Union College in New York. Brother Bjorn was a three-time All-MVC tennis player who is a dean’s list student at Fairfield, where he is a senior standout on the tennis team.
The family’s legacy of scholar-athletes goes way back. Connor Merinder said his great-great-uncle is Ed “Doc” Farrell, a Penn grad who played 10 years in the majors, including on the Yankees’ 1932 World Series championship team.
“I definitely focus on academics as much as athletics,” said Merinder, who made the difficult decision to give up his promising soccer career after the sophomore injury. “(My siblings) hold me to high standards on the academics.”
The well-rounded Merinder and Jen Camilo are the Andover representatives to the MIAA.
Year in and year out, Andover is one of the top 10 to 15 teams in the state, but powerhouse Central, which has won five of the last six Christmas Tourney titles, has totally dominated the rivalry, winning 19 of the last 20 match-ups heading into the Christmas Tourney title game.
Merinder and Co., though, won’t concede anything.
“I don’t back down from any challenge,” said Merinder, the only player taller than 6-3 on the Andover roster. “It definitely tests you to go against guys who are as good as (Central’s Nick) Cambio. I want to show everybody what I’m capable of.”