Monday, May 15, 2017

Central Mass Lax Power Rankings: Week 7

Grafton junior goalie Matt Nicalek
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Like I said last week, it's too late in the year for lengthy introductions, but this week does bring a new No. 1 team in our Power Rankings, and the league races across Central Mass are starting to stabilize.

Continue below for this week's Top 10.

1. Grafton: 13-2, 8-1 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 2, defeated Worcester 15-7, No. 1 Nipmuc 13-8, and Westboro 10-5.

Couldn't have asked for a better week if you're Grafton, as the Indians re-gained first place in our poll and Mid-Mass. with wins against Worcester and Nipmuc. The latter avenged Grafton's only CMass loss this season, and the Indians followed it up with a victory against border rival Westboro, who has been a tricky foe for Grafton in recent years.

A big out of league tilt at Algonquin is set for today at 4 pm, then Grafton dives back into league play at Northbridge tomorrow and at Hopedale Friday.

2. St. John's: 11-2, 1-0 Catholic Conf.
Last Week: Ranked No. 3, defeated Xaverian 10-6.

The Pioneers only played one game last week, but it was a big one, as St. John's disposed of Eastern Mass Catholic Conference power Xaverian at the Hawk Bowl. Another pair of huge out of region games await the Pioneers this week, as they host Eastern Mass power Franklin today at 4 pm, then welcome Western Mass juggernaut Longmeadow Wednesday for a game that will likely determine the top seed in Division 2 Central/West.

SJ then closes out its week with a Saturday trip to Algonquin for a renewal of the region's most storied lacrosse rivalry.

3. Nipmuc: 11-1, 6-1 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 1, defeated Blackstone Vallet Tech 12-4 and No. 7 Hopedale 15-7. Lost to No. 2 Grafton 13-8.

The Warriors responded well to their first loss of the season against Grafton, bouncing back to run away from next door neighbor BVT, and top upstart Hopedale. Tuesday brings a huge trip to suddenly red-hot Tantasqua, as Nipmuc looks to keep pace with Grafton at the top of Mid-Mass. A trio of other league games are also on tap this week, as the Warriors host Northbridge Thursday, travel to Auburn Friday, then host Worcester on Saturday.

4. Groton-Dunstable: 13-2, 5-1 Mid-Wach A.

Last Week: Ranked No. 4, defeated Westboro 15-5 and No. 9 Wachusett 10-7.

The Crusaders just keep rolling with another pair of big league wins. The formula has been pretty simple for Groton-Dunstable: When its defense holds opponents to single digits, the Crusaders win (13-0). When they allow 10 or more goals, they don't (0-2).

That stellar defense will get a nice test against Marlboro Tuesday, then against a talented Algonquin team on Thursday. The week ends with a very talented Ipswich squad coming to town on Saturday. The key this week will be that Algonquin game because, if the Crusaders win there, it will likely force a de facto Mid-Wach A title game next Monday at Shrewsbury.

5. Littleton: 11-2, 6-0 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Ranked No. 5, defeated Marlboro 12-6, Shepherd Hill 16-3, and Lunenburg 16-3.

Much like G-D, the Tigers just keep rolling, and Littleton is doing it with an underrated defense and suddenly deep midfield. This week brings a home test against Westboro Tuesday and a trip to Leominster Thursday, but it just seems like Littleton is in a class of its own atop Mid-Wach B.

As one parent told me last week, "Littleton is the real deal. They do not have a weak player in their starting (lineup)."

6. Shrewsbury: 9-5, 5-0 Mid-Wach A.

Last Week: Ranked No. 6, defeated Westboro 13-4, and Sharon 16-7.

It's seven wins in a row and counting for the Colonials, who are rounding into form in all phases of late. The current Mid-Wach A leaders will host Leominster Tuesday before jumping back into league play at Wachusett Thursday. A Saturday trip to Westfield ends the week, but a pair of huge league clashes loom next week against Groton-Dunstable and rival Algonquin.

7. Tantasqua: 10-4, 7-3 Mid-Mass.

Last Week: Ranked No. 8, defeated Auburn 16-3, No. 7 Hopedale 12-11, and No. 7 Hopedale 9-5.

The Warriors were a perfect 3-0 in league play last week, including a pair of big wins against a Hopedale team they're jockeying for Mid-Mass. positioning against. The senior attack trio of Mike Frio, Ben Beaudry and Anthony Law have been on their game, but don't sleep on junior middie Tom Muir, who has been doing a little bit of everything for Tantasqua this season.

Tuesday's home game against Nipmuc is huge, but the Warriors also face a challenge Thursday at resurgent Worcester, then Saturday at Shepherd Hill. Nothing will come easy this week for Tantasqua.

8. Tyngsboro: 10-3, 5-2 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Unranked, defeated Leominster 10-5, Nashoba 13-10, and Oakmont 19-5.

In a week that saw star senior middie Kyle Laforge score his 200th career goal and 400th career point, the Tigers re-enter our rankings after sweeping a pair of Mid-Wach B foes and blowing out Oakmont. With Matt Butler elevating his game as well, and some young players finding their footing, Tyngsboro is beginning to realize its potential, which could make the Tigers a tough out come tournament time.

Until then, Tyngsboro will look to finish the regular season strong, with a home game today against North Middlesex, a trip to Shepherd Hill Thursday, and a game at Lynnfield Saturday.

9. Hopedale: 11-4, 4-4 Mid-Mass.
Last Week: Ranked No. 7, defeated Sizer 25-2. Lost to No. 8 Tantasqua 12-11, No. 8 Tantasqua 9-5, and No. 1 Nipmuc 15-7.

After Monday's route of Sizer, it was a rough week for Hopedale, who nearly pulled it out against Tantasqua, then just didn't have the depth to run with the Warriors again less than 48 hours later. A re-scheduled game (moved up from Sunday to Saturday due to weather) left the Blue Raiders with a skeleton crew against powerful Nipmuc, but they get back into Mid-Mass. action Tuesday against Worcester, then Friday against Grafton, both games at home.

10. Nashoba: 8-6, 4-4 Mid-Wach B.
Last Week: Unranked, defeated No. 10 Shepherd Hill 11-7, and North Middlesex 12-4. Lost to Tyngsboro 13-10.

The Chieftains have come on strong down the stretch, and seem to be getting big offensive performances from different guys each game. Suddenly featuring on offense to be feared, Nashoba can clinch a tournament berth with either a home win against Wachusett Tuesday, or a win at St. Bernard's on Thursday.

Dropped Out: Wachusett (Ranked No. 9 LW), Shepherd Hill (Ranked No. 10 LW)

Next Five: Wachusett (7-6), Algonquin (5-9), Shepherd Hill (8-6), Worcester (7-7), St. Bernard's (10-5).

It's hard to knock the Mountaineers too much for losses against Algonquin and Groton-Dunstable, but Wachusett enters today's game against Worcester in desperate need of a win for tournament purposes. Speaking of the tournament, perennial power Algonquin's tournament hopes are on life support, as the T-Hawks need to win out, starting with today's home game against Grafton, then continuing with Thursday's trip to Groton-Dunstable, and Saturday's game against St. John's.

Gonk is better than its record indicates, but your record is what determines if you make the tournament.

Shepherd Hill is licking its wounds a bit after three straight league losses, but have a chance to score a huge win at Shrewsbury today, and then can take its shots at Tyngsboro Thursday and Tantasqua Saturday. A tough week, but the Rams have the chance to prove they belong in the Top 10 again.

And hey, WooLax is back! Left for dead a few weeks ago, Worcester has fought its way back to .500, winning four in a row, and seven of its last nine after a disastrous 0-5 start. If WooLax can split its final four games, Worcester will be tournament bound for the fourth consecutive year, but it won't be easy. That stretch begins with trips to Wachusett and Hopedale this Monday and Tuesday, respectively, followed by a Thursday home game against Tantasqua, and Saturday trip to Nipmuc.

By week's end, we will know if WooLax has overcome its slow start to 2017.

Finally, St. Bernard's just keeps hanging around. Now tournament bound, the Bernardians head to Lunenburg Tuesday, before hosting Nashoba Thursday and Leominster Saturday.

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