|St. Bernard's senior attackman Curtiss Vachon climbed the state's all-time scoring list in 2016.|
Another high school lacrosse season is in the books here in Central Mass, and 2016 was memorable for many reasons.
Whether it was a slew of first year coaches making their mark at the highest level, a regional power returning to the state championship game, or several young programs making their first ever tournament appearances, this year had a little bit of everything.
Let's take a look back, and be on the lookout for my final Power Rankings of the year, along with my All-Stars and Award Winners, all coming later this week.
Grafton Gets Back to State
I've written a great deal about the Indians, and with good reason. Back-to-back state title game appearances are certainly nothing to sneeze at, and this year's group fought through a ton of adversity to get to BU.
Facing one of the toughest schedule of any Division 3 team, Grafton lost four of its five games during the regular season by just one goal, with three of those games going to overtime.
The Indians turned that bad luck around in the postseason, edging Hanover in a thrilling state semifinal, that saw Brendan Coates score the go-ahead goal, and Cadrin Msumba make three saves a man-down in the game's final 30 seconds to seal the deal.
Grafton is now just the second team in CMass history to make consecutive state finals appearances, joining the 2011-2012 Algonquin Tomahawks, and this group of seniors will be remembered as one of the best in program history.
Depth in Mid-Wach A
If you played in Mid-Wach A, you simply couldn't take a game off, as every team proved to be a tough out. From co-champs Algonquin and Westboro, all the way down to scrappy Nashoba, there wasn't a team you could look past. Speaking of Nashoba, the Chieftains rode senior goalie Robby Atwood all year long, and got a boost from several returning players to win three of their final five down the stretch.
Two teams that surprised in the league were Wachusett and Groton-Dunstable, who proved to be solid playoff teams in Division 2 and 3, respectively. The Mountaineers boasted one of the most improved offenses in the region, while G-D showcased young talent all across the field.
Normally stellar Shrewsbury fell victim to a brutal early schedule, but still acquitted itself well down the stretch, and has the look of a team that will again contend next season.
Back to those two teams that shared the league title, because each of them featured a first-year coach. After previously coaching Westboro until 2012, Matt Nofsinger took over at Algonquin this year, and the Tomahawks didn't miss a beat early. Thanks to the play of All-Americans Mike Martens and Colton King, Gonk won nine of its first 10, with victories over Westboro, Westfield, Wachusett and Acton-Boxboro.
Unfortunately for the T-Hawks, injuries and brutal schedule down the stretch overcame them, and they lost four in a row to end the regular season. While Algonquin did defeat Westboro twice, the Rangers still shared the league title in coach Tim Montgomery's first season.
Montgomery turned Trevor McNamara loose, and the junior developed into one of the most lethal offensive threats in the state. The Rangers seemed to be a step ahead of everybody all year, scoring a pair of one-goal wins over Grafton, and handing St. John's its only defeat in the region.
St. John's Reloads
Speaking of the Pioneers, St. John's made anyone doubting it look foolish in 2016. Despite replacing nearly the entire starting lineup from a season ago, and breaking in new head coach Justin O'Leary (though O'Leary was an assistant on last year's staff), St. John's still made the deepest run of any CMass team in Division 2.
Senior All-American middie Andrew Cox was instrumental for the Pioneers, as was the development of young attackmen Jack Donahue and Drew Kozub. Add in a group of physical and experienced poles, and a breakout season from goalie Matt Mongeau, and you get a team that far exceeded expectations in 2016, and seems poised for a very big 2017.
Fun Lax in the Mid-Wach
While Mid-Wach A was again the top league in the region, Mid-Wach B and C hosted some of the most exciting lacrosse Central MA has seen in some time. In Mid-Wach B, Littleton's Griffin Shoemaker and Tyngsboro's Kyle Laforge each put on offensive shows, and it took a playoff rubber-match for Littleton to finally create a some separation between the two teams.
But they weren't the only two high-scorers in their own league, as Leominster's Cam Moran finished with a school-record 113 points. Laforge (115), Moran (113) and Shoemaker (107) would finish the year as the three leading scorers in the region, but Mid-Wach B also featured the Pietz brothers at Shepherd Hill, who combined to score 152 points between them (77 for Tristan and 75 for Devin), and Leominster's Ross Howlett, who was as explosive a "second option" as there was in the state.
Meanwhile, in Mid-Wach C, Marlboro was enjoying an entertaining youth movement. Led by sophomore Ryan Mechler's 99 points, the Panthers featured some of the best underclassmen talent in the region, but also boasted a reliable senior scorer in Jason Plaunt,
Fellow sophomore Evan Doherty and freshman phenom Dom Carter each had big years for the Panthers, and Declan Fitzpatrick broke out to help Lunenburg earn its first ever playoff berth.
Young Programs Break Through
Another good transition, because we move onto programs like Lunenberg, who made their first tournament appearances in 2016. Lunenberg got in by clinching second place in Mid-Wach C, and they weren't the only new playoff team.
Monty Tech got to 11 wins, thanks to the all-around offensive game of Eric Glover (100 points), and a much improved defense.
Hopedale nearly made its first ever postseason appearance, after Noah Luccini and the Blue Raiders improved tremendously in 2016. Unfortunately, it all came down to the final day of the season, and Hopedale just wasn't able to top a St. Bernard's team that went on to make a deep tournament run of its own.
Mid-Mass. Taking Steps Forward
As good as the lacrosse is at the top of the Mid-Wach, Mid-Mass. is closing the gap, and not just because Grafton can play with anybody in the region. Actually, Mid-Mass. has proven to be as deep a league as there is.
Only a string of injuries kept Northbridge from contending, and Hopedale took some major steps forward. In the middle of the conference, Nipmuc, Tantasqua and Worcester all beat up on each other, and each of them earned impressive wins outside the league.
With a ton of attack talent returning at Tantasqua, Nipmuc bringing back talent across the board, and Worcester returning some great poles and LSMs, expect Mid-Mass. to be very competitive in 2017.
Vachon Makes History
After leading the region in scoring a year ago, St. Bernard's attackman Curtiss Vachon garnered a lot more attention from opposing defenses this year. The Wagner commit was up for the challenge, finishing fourth in Central Mass with 103 regular seasons points (62G, 41A), and leading his team to within a goal of the Division 3 Central/West finals, while amassing 11 additional points (6G, 5A) in the tournament.
Vachon's goals were all team-based coming into the year, so the Bernardians' deep tournament run has to be considered a success, but now that his high school career is over, I'm pretty sure he'll also be proud of the ridiculous numbers he put up.
His 417 career points (288G, 129A) rank 11th in Bay State lacrosse history, and place him behind only Algonquin's Brian Cooke (429) and Grafton's Tyler Reilly (495) on the all-time CMass scoring list. Grafton's Bryan Rotatori (407) is the only other player in CMass history to cross the 400-point threshold.
Not too shabby, if you ask me.
Ed. Note- Thanks to a helpful comment, I realized I didn't originally include Vachon's 11 tournament points (6G, 5A). Those have been added to his totals. Thanks!