Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 CMass Lax Preview: Algonquin Tomahawks

Mike Wood (12) is one of the top returning attackmen in the state.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

After back-to-back Central Mass championships, Algonquin was slowed by injuries and inexperience in 2013.

Despite that, the T-Hawks rallied late in the year, winning six of their final seven games before bowing out to eventual district champion St. John's in the CMass semifinals.

Now, Algonquin will look to replace long-time leaders Davis Kraft, Giles Ober and Brennan Pierce, and win with a young, but talented roster.

"We're young this year, and we know it's a process," coach Rich Luongo said. "We only have six seniors, but we have a solid junior class, and it's going to be about them stepping up and learning the way we play here."

The last half decade, the T-Hawks have played with as much intensity as anybody in the state, particularly on defense. The loss of the physical Pierce is a large one, but Luongo believes Joe Mariano will lead another stout Tomahawk back line. In net, the T-Hawks will look for sophomore Colton King to replace All American goalie Giles Ober.

Luongo describes King as a "sleeper," and compares him favorably to Ober, due to his quickness and aggressiveness between the pipes.

"What we've preached to the kids the last few years is that offense wins games, but defense wins championships," Luongo said. "We'll miss Giles and Pierce, but we run a team-oriented defense, and we've got a lot of kids that are very coachable."

Up front, senior Mike Wood will return to lead the T-Hawk attack. After missing five games with badly bruised ribs last season, Wood finished the season strong, and Algonquin will look for him to pick up where he left off. Another player that missed time due to injury last season is junior Paul Nardone.

The physical midfielder suffered a broken collar bone in 2013, but is one of the leading candidates to have a break out year among Algonquin's non-seniors. Luongo is also high on versatile junior Matthew Larsen, who could play both in the midfield and on attack.

"Like I said, we're young, but we want to continue our streak of winning the Mid Wach," Luongo said. "We've got a philosophy as a coaching staff, but we don't coach the same way each year. We coach differently based on the kids we have, and this team is certainly different than the ones we've had the last few years."

"I've told the kids that if they buy in, they'll be surprised how far they can go. So far, I think they've bought into what we're telling them, and they seem to really get along with each other."

Joe's Forecast

The Tomahawks of two years ago were one of the best teams in CMass history, and if Mike Wood can stay healthy, this team could resemble those T-Hawks. While they lack the pure talent on defense, it's pretty much a given that Algonquin is going to make you work for goals. There's just such a culture of working hard on defense, that it's hard to see them not ranking among the region's best teams on that end.

Questions abound up front around Wood, but a group of talented sophomores and juniors could find their footing in the season's first few weeks, and propel Algonquin to a high seed in the upcoming Division 2 "Central/West" tournament. Once they're in there, I wouldn't bet against Algonquin's defense.

Even when they were beaten up and overmatched against Grafton and St. John's last year, the T-Hawks willed and defended their way into games, keeping it close with the region's two best teams. If this year's squad has better injury luck, the sky is the limit. Like St. John's, they'll have to deal with the fact that Longmeadow looks like a juggernaut right now, but a district and state championship certainly aren't out of the question.

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