Saturday, March 29, 2014

2014 CMass Lax Preview: Westboro Rangers

Westboro will be powered by its talented midfield, led by junior Jake Foster (left) and senior Mike Gallo (right).
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Things started slowly for Tom Baker in his first year at the helm of Westboro's lacrosse program.

The Rangers came out of the gate 1-2, with a nine goal loss to Shrewsbury and a humbling loss to Hopkinton already on their resumes. By season's end, Westboro was a club nobody wanted to play, avenging the aforementioned loss to Shrewsbury with a 14-4 win, and playing regional powers St. John's and Algonquin to the bitter end.

It was a combination of young players stepping up and the team as a whole grasping Baker's "freelance" offense, but Westboro emerged as a legitimate threat by the time the Central Mass tournament rolled around. While some key pieces are lost from last year's team, including the region's best face off man in Tom Lawton, Baker has even bigger plans for 2014.

"I think we're going to be a lot better this year," Baker said. "I think we have the horses to run with everybody, and I think we learned a lot from last year... We've gotten mentally tougher. We gave up some leads last year, and this year I don't think we'll take our foot off the gas pedal."

The strength of the Rangers lies in what may be the best midfield in Central Mass. With SuiteSports breakout player of the year Jake Foster returning for his junior season, along with seniors Mike Gallo, Kyle Lemack and Connor Joyce, it's hard to fathom a team with more talent and depth in the middle than Westboro.

Look for a few of those guys to move up to attack in 2014, though it remains to be seen which ones.

The Rangers will lean on those guys to do a lot of scoring, but Baker believes he has a few underclassmen that can contribute in the midfield as well. Sophomore Charlie Katz has come on strong in camp, and freshman Trevor McNamara may be too good to keep off the field. Both of those youngsters could see some work on attack, where Westboro will look to replace the production of 2013 leading scorer Tony Cibelli.

"We've got a lot of guys that can score, and a lot of guys that can switch from midfield to attack," Baker said. "I'm not really worried about scoring goals this year, I'm more worried about defending and holding onto leads."

The Rangers dropped a few leads last year, but Baker believes his team is in better shape heading into this season, and that his players have learned how to close out games. He'll look for junior Akeem Abraham to lead the defense as the top pole, and up-and-coming sophomore Nick Gallo to fill in next to him. Abraham is tough and smart, while Gallo is a quick one-on-one defender, but Westboro lacks much proven depth behind them.

In goal, the Rangers need to replace Dan Terry, who was one of several Central Mass goalies that enjoyed breakout seasons last year. Senior Kevin Skirvin, who backed up Terry last year and stepped in when Terry was battling injuries early on, is ready to step in, and Baker feels comfortable with his experienced senior between the pipes.

"We're not as deep this year, but we've got the top-end talent," Baker said. "So we've got to be in great shape. The kids have worked hard all off season and I think we're ready."

Joe's Forecast

If you're looking for a trendy pick to knock off St. John's and Algonquin in Central Mass, Westboro would certainly fit the bill. The Rangers return a ton of firepower and versatility in their attack and midfield, and have a talented, if unproven, back line.

Look for the midfield to power the Rangers to a higher seed than they drew after last season's rocky start, but the development of a young defense will determine how far Westboro can go. If Abraham and Gallo come together, and a few youngsters emerge as viable options, Westboro has as good a shot of winning the district as anybody in Central Mass.

I would say the Rangers are my sleeper, but I don't think there's a coach in CMass sleeping on them. The secret is out. These kids can play.

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