Monday, June 13, 2016

Grafton to Face Hanover in Division 3 State Semifinals

Recently named an All-American, Grafton senior Chase Kapuscienski is brimming with confidence.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

For the second consecutive year, Grafton will play in a state semifinal, and for the second consecutive year, the Indians have a chance to prove themselves against some of the best competition that Massachusetts has to offer.

Last season, Grafton defeated Ipswich on a Josh Birdsall game-winner in double overtime, and this year the Indians will need to get past Hanover to reach a second straight Division 3 state championship game.

The Hanover Indians (17-4) are coming off a 20-2 dismantling of Nantucket in the D3 South final, and have proven to be one of the best teams in the state all year long. Led by a powerful attack, Hanover's offense is scoring 17 goals per game this postseason, and star goalie Noah Clapp has anchored a defense surrendering just 5.5 goals per game in the playoffs.

With only losses to reigning Division 3 state champion Dover-Sherborn, current Division 2 South champ Hingham, and Division 1 powers Duxbury and Catholic Memorial, it's clear that Hanover doesn't drop soft games. And, with wins over Hull, Mansfield, Norwell and Plymouth North, the Indians have proven they can play with just about anybody.

Grafton (18-5) has also proven itself, with a huge out of region win over Franklin, and Central Mass wins over D2 contenders Algonquin, Wachusett, Worcester and Tantasqua. Not to mention Saturday's second-half domination of Mt. Greylock in the Division 3 Central/West title game.

"It feels great to be back in the state semifinals," Grafton junior pole Tom Nicalek said. "We're one win away from getting back to the state championship two years in a row, which is a huge accomplishment for our program. It has been a goal all year to get back."

This does appear to be Grafton's biggest test to date, however, so let's take a look at what to expect.

Grafton junior pole Tom Nicalek (3)

Grafton vs Hanover at Worcester's Foley Stadium: Tuesday at 7:30 pm

Players to Watch

Grafton: Chase Kapuscienski, Sr. M/Tom Nicalek, Jr. D/Danny Bartosiewicz, Jr. D
Hanover: Landon Hasenfuss, Sr. A/Abdullah Nassif, Jr. M/Noah Clapp, Sr. G

Grafton goalie Cadrin Msumba took in Hanover's demolition of Nantucket, and called the Indians' offense "attack heavy." That begins with senior captain Landon Hassenfuss, one of the best attackmen in the state, but Hanover's strength may be its passing, unselfishness and depth.

Any number of Hanover attackmen can hurt you, and Manhattan commit junior middie Abdullah Nassif proved he's ready for the playoff stage, leading the Indians with six goals against Nantucket.

Against a potent offense that shares the ball well, Grafton will need big games from its top-two defenders, Nicalek and Danny Bartosiewicz. Both are coming off stellar performances against high-scoring Mt. Greylock, but Hanover has even more weapons that the Mounties.

That means that, on top of big days from Nicalek and Bartosiewicz, Grafton is going to need solid games from guys like Jack Fontana, Nick Hart, Ifeatu Melifonwu and Alec Cosseboom.

On the other end, you just get the feeling that Kapuscienski is on the verge of a big day. The senior has been playing with confidence lately, and now that he's been named am All-American, I wouldn't expect that to change.

That said, it won't be easy against one of the best goalies in the state. Clapp has done it all for his team all year long, and he might be playing the best lacrosse of his life in these playoffs.

Across the board, this game has the makings of a classic, and looks to be "strength vs strength" at every spot. It will be Hanover's multi-faceted, sharp passing offense against Grafton's deep and diverse defense on one end, and then Grafton's experienced and athletic offense against Hanover's well-schooled defense on the other.

As for what it will take for Grafton to come out on top, Msumba said, simply, "play our game," and Hanover has to feel exactly the same way.

Get your popcorn ready.

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