April 9, 2017

Are you ready for some lacrosse? Read this and you will be

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SuiteSports.com / Joe Parello

Jack Donahue and Drew Kozub (background) are among the top lacrosse players in the region, making St. John's, as usual, one of the teams to beat.

While we have endured a late snowstorm and a windy, damp and generally uncooperative beginning to the season, it’s still spring in the Heart of the Commonwealth, and that means lacrosse is underway for several high school teams in and around Worcester.

As the sport continues to grow nationwide — from about 250,000 players in 2001 to more than 800,000 in 2015, per US Lacrosse — it is expanding at an exponential rate in Central Massachusetts, where every year there seems to be a new team, new youth program, or a long-suffering squad that breaks through to the tournament.

This year will likely be no different, as Auburn — a school traditionally with more than its fair share of standout athletes — begins its first year as a varsity program, and a number of other local teams gear up for what they hope to be successful seasons.

Teams to Watch

St. John’s

The Pioneers are always among the favorites in Central Mass., but this year’s St. John’s team could be on the verge of something truly special. This power program hasn’t been to the state championship game since 2009, but there’s some buzz that this year’s group, with its blend of experience and raw talent, could get back to the promised land.

St. John’s is stacked at all levels, with a dangerous attack led by senior Drew Kozub and junior Jack Donahue; a deep midfield, with standout long-stick middie Andrew Estella returning; and a defense powered by pole Pat Murphy and goalie Matt Mongeau.

Together, this group came up one game short of a district title in Division 2 Central/West last year, but with so much talent coming back, and with Western Mass. power Longmeadow in the midst of a mini-rebuild, the stars may be aligning for a big spring in Shrewsbury.

Wachusett

Mid-Wach A is annually the best conference in Central Mass., but the Mountaineers put the league on notice last week with a 9-8 victory over perennial power Algonquin. Not that it should have been too big of a surprise. After all, Wachusett returns a boatload of talent from a team that turned heads in 2016.

Dan Turgeon spearheads a suddenly lethal attack, and receives support from one of the most underrated midfields in the state, where Cam Ford and Griffin LaPosta do some serious work. Wachusett has scored goals in abundance, but can clamp down as well, led by senior pole Connor Dubzinski and goalie Will Wigand, who will play at Springfield and Assumption colleges, respectively, next year.

Add in the early season heroics of Andrew Gaffney, who scored three goals, including the game-winner against Algonquin, and you have a team ready to take the next step and seriously contend for a league title.

Joe Parello / For Worcester Sun

Harry Jones coached the combined Worcester high school boys lacrosse team to its third straight postseason appearance last season.

Worcester

You could say that Worcester’s lacrosse team, made up of players from throughout the city’s public school system, is one of the most distinct lacrosse teams in the country. You could also say that WooLax has been a perennial contender the last few years, and that coach Harry Jones seems to have turned a corner with his program.

Long gone are the days of winless seasons and empty benches.

Now, Worcester opens the year as one of several teams in the Mid-Mass. Conference poised for a tournament run. It will start on the defensive end, where Worcester returns goalie Griffin Moore and pole C.J. Gallagher, but WooLax is also looking for the emergence of senior defenseman Jacob Robert.

Robert is very much a traditional WooLax kid, in the sense that he’s never played lacrosse before this year. But, as coach Jones has done throughout his tenure at Worcester, he has turned another athlete into a lacrosse player on a deadline. Long-stick middie Luke Hanlon also returns to what should be a great defense, and senior Richie Burke’s move to the midfield should give Worcester a shot in the arm on both ends. Mike Mahoney, another middie, could add a scoring punch, and will certainly add some toughness.

Andrew Williamson is one of the few experienced attackmen coming back, but keep an eye out for freshman Liam Bowler, the younger brother of James Bowler, who graduated as the best pure scorer in program history. Like every team, Worcester has questions to answer, but that’s nothing new for WooLax.

Look for this team to contend in Mid-Mass., and again be relevant come tournament time.

SuiteSports.com / Joe Parello

Grafton’s Tom Nicalek is a key cog in one of the area’s best defensive units.

Grafton

It’s going to be an interesting year for the Indians, who have as much talent as ever, but are breaking in a bunch of new pieces. After back-to-back district championships and state title game appearances, it might be easy to panic after Grafton’s early season loss to Nipmuc, but fear not: The Indians will be just fine.

Possessing arguably the region’s top back line in seniors Tom Nicalek, Danny Bartosiewicz and Jack Fontana, along with long-stick middie Alec Cosseboom, open shots will be in short supply against Grafton.

Scoring will be a bit more of an adventure for the Indians, but with playoff hero Brendan Coates settling into an expanded role on attack, Anthony D’Angelo ready to assert himself in the midfield, and the emergence of Steve Rotatori and freshman Jack Gurney up front, Grafton has the firepower to again make a deep tournament run.

More Sun sports from Joe Parello:

Players to Watch

Matty Ward | Senior Attack, Shrewsbury

The Colonials are looking to bounce back from a rare down season and, while their trademark defense is sure to help them, much of this revival will revolve around attackman Matty Ward. The senior, who was also the region’s best hockey player during Shrewsbury’s run to a Division 3 state championship over the winter, led the Colonials with 58 points (44 goals, 14 assists) a season ago, and will need to be even better in 2017.

SuiteSports.com / Joe Parello

Matty Ward (right)

Much like former Shrewsbury attackman Joe Buduo before him, Ward possesses great awareness while rolling around the cage, and always seems to find room to work in tight spots. The Colonials are in a bit of a rebuilding phase, but still have tournament ambitions with Ward up front.

Matt Mongeau | Senior Goalie, St. John’s

St. John’s seems to have a great goalie every year, but that didn’t make then-junior Matt Mongeau’s development and big-game play any less impressive last season.

The Grafton native held his hometown Indians to just six goals in a rain-soaked game to get ready for the tournament. Then, when the postseason began, Mongeau stood on his head for three straight games, holding Worcester to just three goals, then locking down rival Algonquin in a 12-4 St. John’s victory.

SuiteSports.com / Joe Parello

Matt Mongeau (with defender Sam Correnti, right)

Perhaps Mongeau’s best game came in the Division 2 Central/West semifinal, though, when St. John’s upset top-seeded Minnechaug, 12-7, a rematch of a game the Falcons had won 11-4 earlier in the season.

Now a senior, Mongeau’s play will be critical if the Pioneers hope to break through and return to the state championship game for the first time since 2009.

C.J. Gallagher | Senior Defense, Worcester

It’s not often that your team’s best defender is also one of its most lethal offensive threats, but that is exactly what C.J. Gallagher is for Worcester. Gallagher finished third on WooLax in points last season with 39 (22 goals, 17 assists), making him the best offensive pole in the region, and his powerful shot in transition became one of the most feared moves in the Mid-Mass. Conference.

SuiteSports.com / Joe Parello

WooLax standout C.J. Gallagher

But if Gallagher wasn’t forcing turnovers and running the clear as a defensive player, his offensive prowess wouldn’t matter. The senior will look to lead Worcester to its second ever league championship this season, and will continue his career as a post grad at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, next year.

Trevor McNamara | Senior Attack, Westborough

His team started sluggishly, falling 18-6 against Groton-Dunstable on opening day, but McNamara is still very much one of the most talented offensive players in the state.

After leading Mid-Wach A in goals with 64 last season, the next step in McNamara’s development will be as a distributor.

SuiteSports.com / Joe Parello

Trevor McNamara

The explosive McNamara was often in attack mode last year, relentlessly working to the cage, but with only 10 assists last season, this year’s version of McNamara may have to defer a bit more as teams key on him.

The Rangers shared the Mid-Wach A title a season ago, and were considered to be the best team in the region by many. If they are to repeat that feat, it will largely be on the back of McNamara.

Joe Parello is a deputy editor and cofounder of SuiteSports.com.

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