Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Central Mass Lax Power Rankings: The Start of 2017

Grafton is coming off back-to-back district titles and state championship game appearances, but with plenty of talent gone to graduation, the Indians will need to find new stars in 2017.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Ah, it's that time of year.

The weather is going back and forth from beautiful to horrid, and I now get to pretend I know how the Central Mass lacrosse season will go.

This year is especially tricky as, outside of St. John's, it seems like every team is losing multiple star players. But, at the same time, many of the best players in the region are back, and nearly all of them will have to carry even bigger loads in 2017.

I'd love to cop out and wait a few weeks to do my first Power Rankings, but that's way too easy. So, with many teams across the region set to open their schedules today, here are my first Power Rankings of the year, which I'm sure will look silly in a few weeks.

1. St. John's (Shrewsbury)

Last Year: 15-7, 1-0 Catholic Conf.
Tournament: D2 C/W Finals

The Pioneers lose All-American midfielder Andrew Cox, but return pretty much everybody else, led by the attack duo of Jack Donahue and Drew Kozub, along with star goalie Matt Mongeau. In a loaded D2 field, St. John's opens as the favorite, and with Longmeadow rebuilding a bit out west, this could be the year the Pioneers break through and get back to the state championship game.

2. Grafton

Last Year: 19-6, 9-1 Mid-Mass.
Tournament: D3 State Finals

As the great Ric Flair says- "To be the man (Wooh!), you gotta beat the man."

As of right now, Grafton is the man in D3 Central/West, and in Mid-Mass. Yes, the Indians lose most of their offense from last year, but return one of the state's best pair of poles in Tom Nicalek and Danny Bartosiewicz, and Brendan Coates seems poised for a breakout year on attack. Until somebody proves otherwise, Grafton is deserving of the top spot in both their league and division.

3. Groton-Dunstable

Last Year: 13-7, 5-5 Mid-Wach A
Tournament: D3 C/E Semifinals

My top team from loaded Mid-Wach A is G-D? Yep, and the return of a barrel of talent up front and in the midfield is the chief reason why. Do-it-all junior middie Liam McDonough should begin to get recognized state-wide this year, and the senior attack duo of Michael Tammaro and Jack O'Neil is sure to give the Crusaders some punch. Finding a replacement for graduated goalie Ryan McLean will be a challenge, but this year's Groton-Dunstable squad is capable of big things in what should be a very fun D3 Central/East bracket.

4. Littleton

Last Year: 18-3, 9-1 Mid-Wach B
Tournament: D3 C/E Semifinals

Speaking of that D3 Central/East bracket, another team that will look to make a deep tournament run is the reigning Mid-Wach B co-champion Tigers. Led by Griffin Shoemaker and Jared Collari up front, Littleton will be able to score with anyone. The big question will be defense for the Tigers, who graduate star pole Ben Church, and must begin life without injured goalie Erik Rauker. Still, even those losses shouldn't be able to slow the progress of this up-and-coming program.

5. Westboro

Last Year: 16-3, 8-2 Mid-Wach A
Tournament: D2 C/W Semifinals

The Rangers finished last year No. 1 in our postseason Power Rankings, and bring back our reigning Player of the Year in Trevor McNamara, and reigning Coach of the Year in Tim Montgomery. So, why have I dropped Westboro down to No. 5?

Mostly because I don't know who else is going to make plays for the Rangers. Yes, Luke McGrath returns for his senior season next to McNamara up front, but Westboro loses star goalie Jeff Bernard, top pole Nick Gallo and star middie Charlie Katz.

While I have no doubt young guys will step up, and that McNamara will elevate his game even further, this team still has a bunch of question marks.

6. Tantasqua

Last Year: 15-7, 7-3 Mid-Mass.
Tournament: D2 C/W Quarterfinals

It will definitely be bitter-sweet to watch Tantasqua this year, as former coach John Pedace continues his battle with cancer, but the beloved coach has left this program in phenomenal shape. New coach Gregg Anderson steps up to coach a talented senior attack trio in Mike Frio, Ben Beaudry and Anthony Law, along with versatile middie Tom Muir, giving the Warriors one of the most diverse offenses in the state. Tantasqua also brings back sophomore goalie Mike Lucas, who played beyond his years as a freshman last season.

Though coach Pedace won't be on the sidelines this year, you can see his fingerprints all over this team and program, which is trending up like never before.

7. Algonquin

Last Year: 13-7, 8-2 Mid-Wach A
Tournament: D2 C/W Quarterfinals

I have the mighty T-Hawks at seventh, behind three D3 programs, two Mid-Mass. teams, and a pair of league foes? I guess I better put my house in Northboro on the market (incidentally, I am selling my place in Northboro, so this might be perfect timing).

But wait, hear me out.

While Gonk is historically the best public school program in the region, the T-Hawks struggled mightily to end last season when All-American middie Mike Martens was limited by an arm injury, and now they'll have to learn to play both without him, and without All-American goalie Colton King. Zach Skowronek returns on attack, Matt Cannon will boost the attack and midfield, and Justin Leva is back on D, but there's no doubt that Algonquin will need new stars to emerge this season.

8. Tyngsboro

Last Year: 15-5, 9-1 Mid-Wach B
Tournament: D3 C/E Quarterfinals

Tyngsboro's depth will again be a question, but there's no doubt about the Tigers' top-line talent. Kyle Laforge returns as arguably the region's best midfielder, and Dan Powers continues to be one of the state's most underrated goalies. Matt Butler also returns to lead what should again be a potent attack. The key for Tyngsboro will be finding a few more complimentary scorers and distributors to take some of the burden off of Laforge as a play-maker, and to continue to develop its defense in front of Powers.

9. Marlboro

Last Year: 15-4, 8-0 Mid-Wach C
Tournament: D2 C/W 1st Round

If star attackman Ryan Mechler weren't out for the season with a knee injury, the Panthers might be ranked even higher. That said, Marlboro still returns one of the best young collections of talent in the region. Juniors Devin Raun and Evan Doherty, along with sophomore Dom Carter, return to give the Panthers a scoring punch up front and in the midfield, making Marlboro once again the prohibitive favorite in Mid-Wach C.

But, without Mechler, and the now-graduated Jason Plaunt, will this young group be able to take the next step come tournament time?

10. Wachusett

Last Year: 13-9, 4-6 Mid-Wach A
Tournament: D2 C/W Quarterfinals

Wachusett was one of last season's pleasant surprises, and don't expect the Mountaineers to go away this year. With play-making middie Dan Turgeon, high-scoring attackman Griffin LaPosta, star pole Connor Dubzinski and underrated goalie Will Wiegand all coming back, it's hard not to see Wachusett again playing at least the role of spoiler in Mid-Wach A, and if things break right, this team could contend in the suddenly wide-open league.

Don't Sleep On: Shepherd Hill (8-12), Nipmuc (13-8), Shrewsbury (8-12), Worcester (11-8), Monty Tech (11-9)

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