Saturday, March 28, 2015

2015 Central Mass Lax Previews: St. John's (Shrewsbury) Pioneers

St. John's senior attack Jared Ward.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Over the next few days I will be unveiling season previews of the top high school lacrosse programs in Central Massachusetts, leading up to the season opening in early April on what we can only hope will be snow-free fields.

You can access past previews here in our SuitePreps section, and we continue our look around the region with perennial power St. John's (Shrewsbury). Last season the Pioneers enjoyed, arguably, the greatest regular season in Central Mass lacrosse history. St. John's began the year 13-0, and finished the regular season with only a loss at Western Mass power Longmeadow. The Pioneers' regular season included a 12-3 blowout of consensus MA Top-5 Xaverian, a convincing win over EMass power Acton-Boxborough, and wins over Catholic school powers St. John's Prep and BC High.

Oh yeah, and the Pioneers rolled through Central Mass unbeaten, topping the established regional powers (Algonquin, Shrewsbury and Grafton) by a combined score of 30-8.

But it would all be for naught, as St. John's was shocked by cross-town rival Shrewsbury in a playoff rematch, ending the Pioneers' promising season in the Division 2 Central/West semifinals, and finishing the outstanding high school careers of a number of accomplished seniors, including All-American Drew Smiley. 

At a Glance

Key Returnees: Jared Ward, Sr. (A), Andrew Cox, Jr. (M), John DeFlumeri (D), Jack Coveney (D)
Key Losses: Drew Smiley (A), Steven Kerr (G), Kevin Butler (M), Will Roberts (D), Dillon Cassanelli (M), Connor Maloney (M/FO), Patrick Ryan (M)

As always, St. John's will need to replace a boat-load of talent and, as always, the Pioneers seem to have players ready to step up and carry a bigger load. It's hard to say that senior attack Jared Ward will be carrying a bigger load this season, not after leading the team in scoring a year ago, but the now departed Smiley created so many opportunities for everyone around him, and that play-making responsibility will now fall to Ward.

Ward led the Pioneers in goals by a mile last year (his 52 outpaced Smiley's 37), but the next step for the talented attack will be passing. He was already a play-maker with 23 assists in 2014, but I'd look for that number to go up as he leads what is sure to once again be a high-powered St. John's offense.

Cox returns in the midfield after a breakout campaign in 2014 where he showed off an explosive first step and a quick release on his shot, but the talented junior will now have to take on a larger leadership role with the graduation of former captain Kevin Butler.

Despite the loss of Will Roberts, the defense appears to be in great hands with DeFlumeri and Coveney, but finding a replacement for All-American goalie Steven Kerr will be priority number one on the back end. The Pioneers are no strangers to replacing fantastic goalies, as Kerr waited his turn to fill in for A.J. Arnold. No doubt coach Terry Leary has somebody ready to step up between the pipes.

Early Season Game to Watch: April 25th vs Shrewsbury

It's a little hard to call this "early season," since it's right at the mid-point of the schedule, but could it be any other game? The Pioneers will again play the toughest schedule in Central Mass, with early season trips to WMass power South Hadley, BC High, and Wachusett, plus a four-game late season road swing that will send them to St. John's Prep, Worcester, Minnechaug and Xaverian, before returning home to face Longmeadow and traveling to Algonquin.

There truly isn't a game off for this team, but you've got to believe this game against Shrewsbury will mean a little more.

After the Pioneers dominated the Colonials 9-0 in the 2014 regular season, Shrewsbury turned the tables on St. John's in a playoff thriller. There are plenty of guys back on both sides, and each thinks the district (and town) belongs to his team. While this game won't mean quite as much if these two again see each other in the playoffs, the "Battle for Shrewsbury" is sure to be must-see in 2015.
Joe's Forecast

It's hard not to see St. John's again competing for championships in 2015. Ward and Cox will each score their fair share of goals, and the Pioneers again appear to have as good a set of poles as anyone in the region.

Replacing leadership will perhaps be this team's biggest question mark. When you lose players like Drew Smiley and Kevin Butler, there is sure to be a drop off, but this program has been littered with not just great players, but great leaders, so you have to assume someone will step up and fill that void.

The entire region is getting better, and the schedule should have the Pioneers battle tested, so I would expect them to be one of the biggest threats in Division 2 Central/West. Longmeadow will again be great, as will Shrewsbury, and Algonquin may have its best team since the 2012 state finalist squad, but give the Pioneers as good a shot as anybody to take home a district crown in 2015.

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