Monday, May 8, 2017

Central Mass Lax Power Rankings: Week 6

Jared Collari (1) and Griffin Shoemaker (3) are just two of Littleton's many weapons.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

It's too late in the season for lengthy introductions, so I'll just say that this week brings a matchup of the top two teams in our Power Rankings.

Check out our latest Top 10 below as a huge week for CMass lax begins.

Ed. Note- Due to some unlisted makeup dates, we did not fill in Hopedale, Tantasqua and Nipmuc's complete schedules for the week. In addition to their meeting in Hopedale on Tuesday, the Blue Raiders and Warriors will also be playing at Tantasqua Thursday, meaning these two Mid-Mass. foes will meet twice in a span of three days. Also, Hopedale will travel to Nipmuc Sunday for the first meeting of the season between those two programs.

Obviously, this is a very full and very competitive week for Mid-Mass.

1. Nipmuc: 9-0, 5-0 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 1, defeated Pope Francis 16-7, and No. 4 Groton-Dunstable 11-5.

The Warriors get no love statewide, but they just keep beating every team in front of them, and this week's six-goal win against a very good Groton-Dunstable squad may have been their most impressive of the season. This week Nipmuc has a chance to seize total control of Mid-Mass. with a home game against powerful Grafton on Tuesday, before they host Blackstone Valley Tech on Thursday.

If Nipmuc completes the season sweep of Grafton, it's hard to see anybody catching them in the league, or in our poll, for the foreseeable future.

2. Grafton: 11-2, 7-1 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 2, defeated No. 6 Tantasqua 16-8, and Worcester 15-7.

Grafton just continues to roll through Mid-Mass., but the Indians will face their biggest challenge in the league yet when they travel to Nipmuc Tuesday. If the Indians can avenge their earlier loss to the Warriors, it will give them wins over both Nipmuc and St. John's, and make it pretty darn hard to hold them out of the top spot. On the other hand, if the Warriors again defeat the Indians, the Mid-Mass. crown will be theirs for the taking outright.

After Tuesday's showdown, Grafton will then travel to Westboro Friday for a border war with the struggling Rangers.

3. St. John's: 10-2, 1-0 Catholic Conf.
Last Week: Ranked No. 3, defeated South Hadley 19-4, Minnechaug 7-6, and Westford 17-10.

Hard to argue that anybody had a better week than St. John's, as the Pioneers handed Western Mass power, and perhaps future tournament foe Minnechaug just its second loss of the season. Blowouts of struggling South Hadley and Westford Academy show that this team isn't losing focus, and that's to be commended, considering that a trip to Division 1 Eastern Mass power Xaverian awaits the Pioneers Tuesday.

I know many around the region have the Pioneers as the top team in Central Mass and, while I have them pegged No. 3 here, that win over Minnechaug instantly makes them one of the favorites in Division 2 Central/West.

4. Groton-Dunstable: 11-2, 3-1 Mid-Wach A.
Last Week: Ranked No. 4, defeated Weston 16-3, and St. Bernard's 9-1. Lost to No. 1 Nipmuc 11-5.

Saturday's loss to Nipmuc aside, Groton-Dunstable has been one of the most impressive teams in the region throughout the first half of the season. The Crusaders are off to a great start in Mid-Wach A, and may be the only team that can catch surprising Shrewsbury at this point. Meanwhile, G-D has also collected solid non-conference wins against the likes of Littleton, Weston and Watertown.

The Crusaders dive back into league play Tuesday at home against Westboro, before hosting Wachusett in a huge one Thursday. But, if you're a schedule watcher like me, you've got your eyes on that May 22nd rematch between Groton-Dunstable and Shrewsbury, two teams separated by one game in the standings, and one goal the last time they played on the field.

5. Littleton: 8-2, 4-0 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 5, defeated Oakmont 13-5, Tyngsboro 9-2, and Westford 10-7.

Hard not to love what the Tigers are doing on both ends of the field. Littleton hasn't allowed double-digit goals to an opponent all season, and a diverse offense, with guys Danny Angell, Jared Collari, Will Scott, Anthony Rausa and returning All-American Griffin Shoemaker all having big games, have made Littleton one of the most balanced teams in the region.

Littleton has a chance to put a stranglehold on Mid-Wach B if the Tigers can sweep a Tuesday game at Marlboro and a Thursday home game against Shepherd Hill. A sneaky tough game against Lunenburg also awaits the Tigers on Friday to cap a long week.

6. Shrewsbury: 7-5, 4-0 Mid-Wach A.
Last Week: Ranked No. 7, defeated Marlboro 11-4, and Algonquin 11-10.

Two weeks ago, when St. John's picked Shrewsbury apart 17-4, it seemed impossible for the Colonials to emerge as one of the better teams in the region, let alone grab first place in Mid-Wach A. But you can never count this program out, as Shrewsbury has rattled off five straight wins since then, including three separate one-goal victories in league play against Groton-Dunstable, Wachusett and rival Algonquin.

Now fully healthy and riding a wave of momentum, Shrewsbury has off until a trip to struggling Westboro Thursday, then a trip to annual Hockomock foe Sharon on Saturday.

7. Hopedale: 10-1, 4-1 Mid-Mass.

Last Week: Ranked No. 9, defeated St. Bernard's 8-4, Northbridge 16-8, and BVT 20-4.

Hopedale locked up its first ever state tournament berth with a blowout of Voke school power Blackstone Valley Tech, and got a measure of revenge against St. Bernard's, the team that defeated the Blue Raiders to hold them out of the tournament last season, earlier in the week. In between, this surprising group just kept on rolling with another league win over Northbridge.

Today they'll take on a Sizer team that has been overmatched all season, but business picks up tremendously after that. As good as the Blue Raiders have been, they have a chance to hang in the top-three of Mid-Mass. if they can split their home games on Tuesday (Tantasqua) and Thursday (Grafton).

8. Tantasqua: 7-4, 4-3 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 6, defeated Northbridge 18-9. Lost to No. 2 Grafton 16-8.

The Warriors continue to be one of the most consistent teams in the region, defeating all the teams they should, but Tantasqua still hasn't broken through for that one signature win yet. The Warriors nearly had it against Minnechaug a few weeks back, but they'll get another chance at a breakthrough this week.

After hosting young Auburn today, the Warriors travel to Hopedale for a surprisingly huge Mid-Mass. clash on Tuesday.

9. Wachusett: 7-4, 2-2 Mid-Wach A.
Last Week: Ranked No. 8, defeated St. Peter-Marian 12-0, and Westboro 16-11.

The Mountaineers took care of business against two struggling teams, and sit at .500 at the midpoint of league play. They'll get back in the league saddle Tuesday at desperate Algonquin, before traveling to Groton-Dunstable on Thursday. A sweep this week puts Wachusett right back in contention for the Mid-Wach crown. That is, assuming somebody can beat Shrewsbury.

10. Shepherd Hill: 7-4, 3-2 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 10, defeated Hudson 18-4. Lost to Marlboro 9-8.

The Rams keep doing just enough to hang around in our rankings. Crammed into the middle of a very competitive Mid-Wach B with Marlboro, Tyngsboro and Nashoba, Shepherd Hill has been the most consistent of the pack, though they did fall to the Panthers in the final 40 seconds of their game last week.

This week brings two huge road tests in the league, as the Rams head to Nashoba Tuesday, then Littleton Thursday, before finishing up the week with a home game against Fitchburg Saturday.

Next Five: Tyngsboro (7-3), Nashoba (6-5), Algonquin (4-7), Blackstone Valley Tech (7-3), St. Bernard's (7-5)

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