Saturday, May 24, 2014

Central Mass Lacrosse Playoff Preview

Worcester and Grafton are playing in different divisions, but each has big postseason aspirations.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Yesterday I brought you my initial thoughts on the three playoff brackets featuring CMass lacrosse teams, but let's get a little more in-depth today.

Here is a look at the teams, players and games to watch in each bracket.

Division 2 Central/West

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The Favorite(s): Longmeadow and St. John's

There's not much else to say about these two teams, except that they are two of the five best teams in the state. St. John's has wins over Acton-Boxborough, Xaverian, BC High, St. John's Prep, Shrewsbury and Westboro, among others, while Longmeadow is the only team to knock off the Pioneers, and have a plethora of other impressive wins on their resume.

The Lancers seem to be on a collision course for St. John's in the district final as they look to defend their D2 state championship, and that rematch of a Longmeadow win from earlier this year would be one of the postseason's most anticipated games.

The Contender(s): Shrewsbury, Westfield and Westboro

I admittedly don't know much about Westfield, so I'll stick to the two teams I've watched this year, starting with Shrewsbury. The Colonials have as good a defense as anybody in the state, led by star pole Griffin Couture and sensational goalie Chris Gorman, but when they're on, they can bury you offensively as well.

Middie Derric Dell'Olio and attackman Joe Buduo lead an offense that may lack individual athleticism, but the group's total skill and cohesion make it difficult to stop. Westboro, meanwhile, has one of the most balanced offenses in the region. Middie Jake Foster is the most physically imposing scorer on their team, but attackmen Kyle Lemack and middie Mike Gallo can make you pay as well.

The only question for the Rangers is which team will show up. Will it be the squad that ran roughshod over most of Midland A and played St. John's deep into the fourth quarter, or will it be the team that was handled by Shrewsbury and Algonquin in recent weeks?

Westboro lacks depth throughout, but from what I've seen, those two games look like aberrations. Time will tell, as they will likely get a real test from Westfield in round two.

The Sleeper(s): Algonquin

It feels kind of weird to call Algonquin a sleeper, doesn't it? The T-Hawks are perennial contenders, and only a brutal schedule makes their record look as weak as it does.

Lately Gonk has played St. John's down to the wire, and dropped 18 goals in a win over Westboro, so clearly they're playing their best lacrosse at the best possible time. South Hadley sure won't be an easy first round match up, and defending D2 state champ Longmeadow in round two is no walk in the park, but these young T-Hawks seem to have grown up, and I wouldn't want to play them right now.

First Round Game(s) to Watch: Leominster at Worcester

As I said in my rapid reaction, the Warriors are listed as Doherty on the bracket, and as I said before, this one should be a great one. With James Bowler and Jack Gallagher pacing the offense and Sean Moran in net, Worcester won't be an easy out for anybody.

Still, the Blue Devils come in red-hot, winners of 11 of their last 12, and  Andrew Bouchard is as lethal a scorer as there is in the region.

The winner has to face St. John's in the next round, a tall task to be sure, but both have accomplished a ton just to get to this point.

Player to Watch: Jared Ward (A), St. John's

After playing on the JV last year, Ward has been one of the important players in the state this season. Along with Parker Jean, he has stepped in and immediately filled the shoes of graduated attackmen Josh Freilich and Hunter Burdick around returning All American Drew Smiley, something that didn't seem possible after the year those two had last season.

Ward is as savvy a scorer as you'll find in the entire state, and he presents another threat for teams to worry about, opening up room for Smiley to work on the sides. If St. John's is going to win a state title, it will need a huge tournament from this still-improving junior.

Division 3 Central/West
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 Ed. Note: Since this story was originally posted, BVT has moved up to the No.3 seed, knocking Springfield Cathedral down to the four, creating a CMass Voke school showdown in the 3-6 game. The bracket above has been updated to show those changes.

 The Favorite(s): Mt. Greylock and Grafton

Mt. Greylock topped the Western Mass ranks and has dreams of a state championship, but let's be honest: This Grafton team would be dangerous in Division 2, much less this bracket.

With Chase Kapuscienski, Hunter Fraser, Cole Fantana and company up front, and Cadrin Msumba in net, the Indians have as much talent as anybody in the state in D3. What was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Grafton has turned into another solid campaign, thanks to coach Alan Rotatori's midseason overhaul of his system, and this young Indian squad seems to have bought in.

The Contender(s): Springfield Cathedral

I wish I could give you in-depth analysis of SC, but I'm a CMass guy. Uh, their record looks good...

The Sleeper(s): BVT and Assabet

Vocational teams are often overlooked, but Blackstone Valley Tech's recent success as a program makes them one to watch in this bracket. They picked up a big late season win over a desperate Northbridge team out of D2, and they have a playoff win to their name within the last couple of years.

Assabet, meanwhile, looks to be one of the more improved teams in the region, going from getting blown out by BVT to playing the Beavers close later in the year. I admittedly haven't seen either of these teams play this season, but I learned not to underestimate the Voke schools back in the 2012 playoffs when BVT notched its first playoff win in program history.

First Round Game(s) to Watch: Wahconhah at St. Bernard's

Ok, so there is technically only one first round game, making this an easy choice. Even so, this could be a program defining game for St. Bernard's.

Led by the high-scoring Curtiss Vachon, look for St. Bernard's to be a tough out for any team that lack elite athleticism. I don't know enough about Wahconah to say if they fit that description, but as a 9-seed in this bracket, they certainly seem like a team SB's can take out.

Player to Watch: Chase Kapuscienski (A), Grafton

The Indians are loaded across the board, but play their best when this talented sophomore is asserting himself. Still an up-and-coming player, Kapuscienski already has a dramatic game-winning goal to his name, and coach Alan Rotatori says nobody on his team is better at adjusting their hands around the cage.

Grafton has the potential to win a state championship in Division 3, but it won't be able to do it if Kapuscienski isn't at his best.

Division 3 Central/East
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 The Favorite(s): Dover Sherborn

Don't know enough to comment intelligently.

The Contender(s): Arlington Catholic

See above.

The Sleeper(s): Groton-Dunstable

The Crusaders were good enough to make the D2 tournament playing in brutal Midland A, so you know they're battle tested. Versatile middie Quintin Forbes and lethal attackman Zach Cotoni should pack a scoring punch for GD, and a back line led by A.J. Dufresne will make the Crusaders difficult for anybody in this bracket to score on.

Finding consistency will be key, but this GD squad has the talent to make a deep run.

First Round Game(s) to Watch: Hudson at Littleton

This game has a little bit of everything: Two smaller CMass programs looking to break through, not to mention the fact that it's a rubber match from two pretty good games earlier this year. A deep tournament run is never out of the question for always solid Littleton, but Hudson has the chance to put its program on the map with a win here.

Player to Watch: Ben Foley (M), Tyngsboro

Similar to Groton-Dunstable, the Tigers are a lower seed that can really make some noise. Much of that will fall on Ben Foley, one of the best scoring middies in the region.

Tyngsboro seems to get overlooked a bit because of their location, but the Tigers have a solid program, and if any team on the left side of the bracket has a shot to knock off Dover Sherborn, it's them. Foley could play a big part in determining whether Tyngsboro can be the Cinderella story of D2 CE.


Anonymous said...

Springfield cathedral was moved down to the six seed so with winner of the grafton-lee game plays the winner of BVT-Assabet Valley

Joe Parello said...

Yep, that change came down while I was on a mini-vacation for the long weekend. I have updated the bracket to show the change. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Worcester. Say hello to Drew Smiley.

Anonymous said...

Hey Worcester. How did it feel to lose to Saint John's Freshman team?