Monday, April 17, 2017

Central Mass Lax Power Rankings: Week 3

St. John's has had plenty of reasons to celebrate so far this season.  Photo by Ryan Bowman.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

First of all, a very happy spring holiday season to all our readers. Whether you celebrate Easter or Passover, or just stick with Patriots Day/Marathon Monday and vacation week, we hope you've been able to enjoy yourself, and maybe take in some of the nice weather we've gotten lately.

As for Central Mass lacrosse: Well, it was a return to normalcy in a number of way, but also a continued upheaval in others. Mid-Mass. is officially madness, there are several teams making their push to be ranked for the first time ever in our poll, and we've seen teams rise and fall at a dizzying pace in the season's early goings.

I won't waste any more time with introductions though. Here is this week's Top 10. Let the debates begin!

1. St. John's (Shrewsbury): 4-0, 1-0 Catholic Conf.
Last Week: Ranked No. 1, defeated Westboro 16-2, St. Peter-Marian 14-0, and No. 6 Wachusett 18-3.

The Pioneers have the look of a juggernaut, taking care of business against struggling Westboro and SPM, but also blasting a Wachusett team that figures to be among the region's best. With a seemingly unstoppable attack, and increasingly scary back line, it will be interesting to see how St. John's fares against three unique challenges this week.

First, high-scoring but untested Marlboro comes to town Tuesday, followed by a trip to Eastern Mass power BC High on Thursday. Finally, St John's hosts cross-town rival Shrewsbury Saturday in one of those "anything can happen" games.

2. Groton-Dunstable: 4-0, 2-0 Mid-Wach A.
Last Week: Ranked No. 2, defeated No. 6 Wachusett 9-5, and Watertown 14-2.

The Crusaders may have the most underrated defense in the region, but there's no question their attack and midfield are deserving of all the early season praise. Topping Wachusett will loom large as the Mid-Wach A heats up in the coming weeks, and throttling a solid Eastern Mass team like Watertown should do wonders for G-D's confidence come tournament time.

But it will be all about focus, as  a pair sneaky games against North Middlesex await the Crusaders on Tuesday and Thursday, before a big showdown with Tyngsboro Saturday.

3. Grafton: 5-1, 3-1 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 4, defeated Northbridge 17-4, No. 3 Tantasqua 17-6, and Auburn 19-0.

The Indians are a game out of first-place in Mid-Mass, but this group was on a mission last week. Grafton exploded for 17 or more goals in their three wins, most impressively against a very good Tantasqua squad. This week brings a big league game against rival Worcester, before a trip east to face Weston (Massachusetts geography is great!).

4. Littleton: 2-1, 1-0 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 5, defeated Bromfield 17-2, and No. 7 Shepherd Hill 7-0.

Every kid and program thinks they're "slept on," but the Tigers actually have a legitimate gripe in that regard the last few years. Not sure what more Littleton needs to do, after nearly defeating D2 EMass power Concord-Carlisle, then following that up with blowouts of Bromfield and upstart Shepherd Hill. Much like Groton-Dunstable, a young and talented back line may actually be the difference in close games for the Tigers, because we know Littleton can score with anybody.

5. Nipmuc: 3-0, 3-0 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 9, defeated No. 3 Tantasqua 14-7, and Worcester 14-4.

Nipmuc opened this year as a dark horse candidate to win Mid-Mass, but the Warriors have to be considered a favorite now, after edging Grafton, and controlling things against both Tantasqua and Worcester. This week brings a big home test against Wachusett, followed by a Thursday game against Auburn's new program. If Nipmuc can take care of business in both those games, they'll re-enter league play the following week with a chance to put a stranglehold on Mid-Mass.

6. Marlboro: 3-0, 1-0 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 8, defeated Oakmont 15-5, and Leominster 8-2.

The Panthers keep on winning, but we still haven't really seen them pushed. I thought Leominster would be an interesting challenge for them, just because of the Blue Devils' toughness, and it did force Marlboro to win a lower-scoring game.

The Panthers will probably have to score a few more, however, in their only game this week, as they travel to St. John's Tuesday.

7. Wachusett: 3-2, 1-1 Mid-Wach A.
Last Week: Ranked No. 6, defeated St. Bernard's 8-3. Lost to No. 2 Groton-Dunstable 9-5, and No. 1 St. John's 18-3.

Hard to knock the Mountaineers for handling a good St. B's squad, then losing to the Top-2 teams in the region, but thems the breaks sometimes. Wachusett has a few chances to get back on track this week, as it travels to Nipmuc for the potential Game of the Week Tuesday, then hosts struggling St. Peter-Marian Thursday.

8. Tantasqua: 3-2, 0-2 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 3, lost to No. 9 Nipmuc 14-7, and No. 4 Grafton 17-6.

Same deal as Wachusett: Tantasqua lost a pair of games, but the level of competition makes those losses a bit more forgivable. It's unfortunate, but those two league losses do make the Warriors a long-shot to win Mid-Mass. now. Still, they've got a huge week on tap to get some momentum back.

Tantasqua opens the week up today against beloved former coach John Pedace's alma mater, Western Mass power Minnechaug. Then, the Warriors hit the road for a big league game against rebounding Northbridge, before returning home to face WooLax. Finally, Tantasqua closes things out Saturday at Auburn.

9. Shepherd Hill: 4-1, 2-1 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 7, defeated North Middlesex 9-4. Lost to No. 5 Littleton 7-0.

The Rams outplayed Littleton in a scoreless first quarter last Wednesday, but showed they aren't quite ready to play at that level for an entire game. But, given the young talent on this team, and the upward trajectory of this program, I wouldn't put it past Shepherd Hill to be a very scary team come tournament time. The Rams will have a chance to re-gain some momentum Wednesday at St. Peter-Marian, then face a big test at Shrewsbury on Friday. SH finishes out the week at Oakmont Saturday.

10. Tyngsboro: 3-1, 2-1 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 10, defeated Lunenburg 16-10, and Nashoba 14-3.

Tyngsboro is keeping a low-profile, but the Tigers' wins over Lunenburg and Nashoba are better than most people think, and senior middie Kyle Laforge is again playing at an All-American level. Tyngsboro only has one game this week, but it's a doozy, as the Tigers host Groton-Dunstable at 9 am on Saturday. That one will be worth waking up for.

Next Five: Hopedale (4-0), St. Bernard's (4-1), Shrewsbury (2-2), Algonquin (1-2), Nashoba Valley Tech (5-0)

I was THIS close to ranking Hopedale, a program I've been a huge fan of these past few years. But, ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to drop either Tyngsboro or Shepherd Hill out of the Top 10. Still, the fact that the Blue Raiders are 4-0 overall, 3-0 in the league and tied for first in Mid-Mass. is an unbelievable achievement.

Hopedale will face undermanned Sizer this week, before things get interesting against Nipmuc and Grafton next week.

St. Bernard's is a team that intrigues me, but I need to see what the Bernardians do when the schedule gets a little tougher. Tests against Oakmont, Nashoba and Worcester this week should give us a better idea about this team, but we probably won't really know about St. B's until games against Hopedale and Groton-Dunstable early next month.

Shrewsbury is a perennial contender in CMass, but thus far the Colonials have beaten the teams they should beat, and lost to the teams that should beat them. That will have to change this week, as huge games against Littleton, Minnechaug, Shepherd Hill and St. John's await the Colonials. If you're looking for a team that can totally change its season this week, Shrewsbury is it.

Algonquin is another Mid-Wach power that has struggled out of the gates. A tough early-season schedule is partly to blame, as losses to Minnechaug and Wachusset are nothing to be ashamed of, but the T-Hawks enter Wednesday's game against Hopkinton looking for a marquee win and a little momentum.

Finally, you can't help but be impressed with Nashoba Valley Tech, as the Vikings have seized control of the Colonials with wins over both Blackstone Valley Tech and Monty Tech. Yes, they're a smaller-school team, but it seems like every year a Voke program comes out of nowhere to either upset a larger school, or score a win in the tournament. Nashoba Valley could be that team this year.

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