Friday, March 4, 2016

Way Too Early Central Mass Lacrosse Storylines

Chase Kapuscienski (25) is just one of many Grafton stars returning from a team that made the D3 state finals last year.

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

I know, I know. It's still basketball and hockey season for many CMass lax bros, but lacrosse season begins later this month for several teams, and is it really ever too early to look ahead? I would say no.

So, with that in mind, here are a few storylines I've got my eyes on as things get warmer and we get closer to crosse time.

New Faces at Power Programs

Algonquin and St. John's have long been two of the very best programs in Central Mass, but each said goodbye to a long-time, successful coach this offseason. Gone are former T-Hawk coach Rich Luongo and Pioneer boss Terry Leary, and with them go multiple district championships and a ton of big game coaching experience.

But programs like these have no problem attracting talented coaches, and that's just what each of them brought in this fall.

At Gonk, former Westboro coach Matt Nofsinger will step in, and his knowledge of the Mid-Wach should certainly serve him well. He'll have plenty of talent to work with, as All-American middie and face-off man Mike Martens (our reigning Player of the Year) returns, alongside star goalie Colton King, physical LSM Mike Tascione and potentially lethal junior attackman Zach Skowronek.

At St. John's, the Pioneers have promoted assistant coach Justin O'Leary to the top job, but he comes with plenty of head coaching experience. With four years coaching Hopkinton in the brutal TVL, O'Leary brings head coaching chops from one of Massachusetts' tougher leagues, and now familiarity with the St. John's program.

The Pioneers will have to replace a ton of firepower, with attackmen Jared Ward and Parker Jean off to college, and also lose talent on defense, as LSM Brendan Doherty moves on, along with pole John DeFlumeri.

Still, middie Andrew Cox can do a little bit of everything, and St. John's always seems to find guys that can step up right away, whether they were marginal contributors on varsity last year, or if they're coming off the well-run Pioneer JV team.

Both these teams will be expected to contend for a title in Division 2 Central/West, so it will be interesting to see how new leadership shapes them this season.

Can Anyone Challenge Grafton in Mid-Mass?

Really, you could say all eyes in D3 west of 495 are on the Indians, who return virtually everyone from a team that made the state championship game last year. And that team was really never fully healthy, as star attackman Chase Kapuscienski was playing on a hobbled ankle, and multiple other key Grafton contributors missed time with injuries.

If the stars align this year, the Indians could have their best team in the storied program's history. Kapuscienski returns up front, alongside Cole Fontana and Hunter Fraser, forming the region's most explosive and experienced attack. The midfield is loaded as well, with dirty work specialist Matt O'Brien back, and a plethora of other contributors, including Josh Birdsall and Anthony D'Angelo.

Some experience is lost on defense, but now-juniors Danny Bartosiewicz and Tom Nicalek were huge for the Indians last year, and should be even better this season. They'll stand in front of reigning SuiteSports Defensive Player of the Year, goalie Cadrin Msumba, in what should again be one of the state's best defenses.

Basically, Grafton is stacked throughout, so it will be interesting to see if anyone in Mid-Mass. or D3 in general can challenge them before the state semis. Tantasqua split the Mid-Mass. title with the Indians last year in a breakout season for the program, but the Warriors will have to replace star midfielder Andrew Tichy, and underrated goalie Jared Mesick.

Tantaqua will have some firepower, however, as a trio of junior attackmen- Mike Frio, Anthony Law and Ben Beaudry- all return after breakout sophomore campaigns.

The other team you've had to watch the last few years in Mid-Mass. is Worcester, but those Warriors are replacing all-time leading scorer James Bowler, stud LSM Jack McGrail and star goalie Sean Moran. WooLax should still be tough, with two of the region's better returning poles in C.J. Gallagher and Joe Arsenault, but finding offense will be key early.

Mid-Wach Programs to Watch

Mid-Wach A is always one of the most competitive lacrosse leagues in the state, and this year should be no different. Even with Algonquin returning a ton, the T-Hawks will be challenged by a Shrewsbury program that does the dirty work year in and year out, and a Westboro team that always finds ways to spread the ball around and score.

Among other teams that could pose a threat, don't sleep on Nashoba. Coach Kevin McNamara has a rebuilding job on his hands after graduating stars Casey Elkins and Eric Demmer, but the Chieftains return one of the region's best goalies in Robbie Atwood, and always have toughness in abundance.

Mid-Wach B and Mid-Wach C would appear to be a bit more cut and dry, as Tyngsboro swept B, going 10-0 in the league last year, and Marlboro was also perfect at 8-0 in Mid-Wach C.

While Marlboro does lose offensive dynamo Billy Doherty from last year's team, the Panthers are plenty talented, and Tyngsboro returns All-American Kyle LaForge, to go with a host of other explosive talents, including Russ Gillis, and a stud goalie in Dan Powers. Much like Grafton, Tyngsboro will be expected to roll through its league unchallenged, but, as we found out with the Indians last year, injuries happen, and things are never quite as simple as they appear on paper. Perhaps a high energy Leominster team, or an Oakmont squad building off a solid 2015 could derail them. Or heck, maybe high-scoring Littleton breaks through and takes the league this year.

Tyngsboro is loaded, but nothing is ever handed to you.

Curtiss Vachon Chasing History at St. Bernard's

Few players in the history of the Commonwealth have been more prolific than St. Bernard's attackman Curtiss Vachon. One of the region's (somehow) best kept secrets, Vachon has already scored an absurd 220 goals and dished out 83 assists in his first three varsity seasons. Those 303 points make him (already) the 46th leading scored in the history of Massachusetts high school lacrosse, but a big season could put him in super elite company.

Vachon led Central Mass with 147 points (105 G, 42 A) last year, and, should he repeat those numbers, would finish his career with 450 points, making him the 6th most productive player in Massachusetts history, second only to Grafton alum Tyler Reilly's 495 points for the most ever in CMass.

Vachon has already committed to play D1 lacrosse next year at Wagner, so clearly he's proven himself to coaches at multiple levels, but this season could prove to be a pivotal one for a player some assume is simply a paper tiger.

Vachon is a big, physical player that is nearly impossible to keep away from the cage, and if he puts up another historic season, it will be impossible to deny him his spot in the annals of Bay State lacrosse.

Small Programs Looking to Make a Leap

Central Mass has no shortage of up-and-coming programs, and each is fighting through growing pains, while trying to earn respectability in the increasingly competitive CMass lax scene. In only its second season as a varsity squad, Hopedale jumped from 3 to 7 wins, while Monty Tech went from a 2-15 afterthought, to a 7-9 squad that nearly made the state tournament in 2015.

Throw in a Northbridge team that clearly has athletes, a Bromfield program that appears to be on the rise, and a Blackstone Valley Tech team that always seems to be in the playoff picture under coach Anthony Comoforti, and you've got a solid contingent of small-school teams that could all take the next step this year.

Will they? Who knows, but as the game grows, it's great to see these smaller and new programs finding success as well. Perhaps one of them will experience playoff lacrosse this season.


Anonymous said...

Let the games begin!!!

Anonymous said...

Is LaForge committed?

Joe Parello said...

I haven't updated our recruiting database since the summer, but according to his Twitter he's committed to UMass Lowell. Once I start talking to coaches and players more frequently, I'll do a big recruiting update.

Anonymous said...

I believe LaForge is a "verbal" commit. Which is a non-binding agreement. Up and until the signing of a Letter of Intent, the athlete and/or the institution may back out for any reason either has. I am happy for the young man and believe he will be an asset to UML.

On the larger scale the whole verbal commit thing for Soph, Fresh and, yes, even Eighth graders or younger, is silly. Knowing some college coaches and having discussed this with them, it is often a way for colleges to "take kids off the board" so other schools are dis-incentivized from recruiting the player and /or may dis-incentivize the student athlete from looking at other schools.

I don't know if this is an issue in other sports, but it seems prevalent in Lax.

Anyway, enjoy the upcoming season folks!

Gene Kapuscienski said...


Congrats on being in the 300 club!!!. Good luck with the upcoming season!!!

Gene S. Kapuscienski