Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Central Mass Lax Power Rankings: The End of 2017

It's hard to deny the significance of what coach Alan Rotatori (right) and his Grafton Indians have done the last three years, but is Grafton our top team in CMass this season?
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

The state championships have come and gone, and another season of Central Mass lacrosse is in the books. It was a year of surprises, memorable runs and, unfortunately, tragedy, with the passing of former Tantasqua coach John Pedace.

While it was a bitter sweet season for many in the region, several teams did make their presence known at the state level, some for the very first time. So, without further ado, here are our final Central Mass Lax Power Rankings of 2017. Be on the lookout for our annual CMass All-Stars and Award Winners later this week.

1. Grafton: 22-3, 11-1 Mid-Mass.
Accolades: Division 3 state finalist, Division 3 Central/West champs, Mid-Mass. champs
Regular Season Rank: No. 1

At this point, it would be hard to deny Grafton its place atop Central Mass lacrosse. The Indians returned to BU for the Division 3 state championship game for the third straight year, coming up a goal short against Ipswich, but overcame perennial D3 power Dover-Sherborn and Mid-Mass. rival Nipmuc along the way. Grafton also defeated St. John's and Shrewsbury in the regular season, along with scoring a regular season split with Nipmuc and sweeping every other team in Mid-Mass.

Grafton ultimately came up just shy of the first state title in program history, but there should be no debate that it was the top team in Central Mass this season.

2. St. John's (Shrewsbury): 17-4, 2-0 Catholic Conf.
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West semifinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 2

As great as Grafton was, St. John's nearly defeated the Indians earlier in the season, and was as impressive as any Central Mass team in Division 2. An upset loss to Westfield in the D2 C/W semis deprived the Pioneers of their shot at revenge against Western Mass power Longmeadow, but this group still defeated Shrewsbury, Algonquin, Wachusett and, perhaps more impressively, scored huge out of region wins against Eastern Mass powers like Franklin, Xaverian and St. John's Prep.

3. Littleton: 18-3, 10-0 Mid-Wach B

Accolades: Mid-Wach B champs, Division 3 Central/East finalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 3

The Tigers dominated Mid-Wach B, and only suffered a single loss to a CMass opponent all season long. That loss to rival Groton-Dunstable was emphatically atoned for in the tournament, when the Tigers ran away from the Crusaders 13-4. If not for Grafton's win over Dover-Sherborn, the team that defeated Littleton in the D3 C/E finals, you could have made a case that Littleton might have been the best D3 team in the region.

4. Nipmuc: 19-3, 10-2 Mid-Mass.
Accolades: Division 3 Central/West finalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 5

Mid-Mass. was the surprise conference of the season, with Nipmuc being the surprise contender to emerge from that league. The Warriors opened their season with a shocking upset of Grafton, and continued to turn heads from there on out, only stumbling against a red-hot Tantasqua squad, and in two subsequent rematches with the Indians. Perhaps Nipmuc's greatest moment was dominating Mid-Wach A contender Groton-Dunstable 11-5 in early May, but a season sweep of Hopedale, and tournament routes of Mt. Greylock and Pope Francis should be considered great achievements as well.

5. Tantasqua: 17-6, 8-4 Mid-Mass.
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West semifinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 7

The Warriors played their final game of the year with heavy hearts, as news that former coach John Pedace had passed away following multiple bouts with cancer broke the same day they were set to face Longmeadow in the D2 C/W semifinals. Still, even dealing with that news, Tantasqua fought valiantly against the eventual district champions, playing with the Lancers for over a half, and you can't help but be impressed with Tantasqua's home stretch.

The Warriors defeated Hopedale, Nipmuc, Pope Francis, Agawam, Northampton and Shrewsbury, the latter two in tournament play, over the season's final month. Few teams finished stronger, and surely, no team was more motivated to leave its heart on the field.

6. Shrewsbury: 14-8, 7-1 Mid-Wach A

Accolades: Mid-Wach A champs, Division 2 Central/West quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 4

While Tantasqua did get the best of Shrewsbury to end its season, don't overlook the run the Colonials went on midseason. After starting the year 2-5, Shrewsbury rattled off 10 consecutive victories to effectively lock up the Mid-Wach A crown, playing outstanding defense and getting better offensively along the way. Winning Central MA's top lacrosse league is nothing to sneeze at, and this team found ways to win its biggest games, taking five different one-goal games in league play.

7. Groton-Dunstable: 15-6, 5-3 Mid-Wach A
Accolades: Division 3 Central/East semifinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 6

Groton-Dunstable came out on the short end of a ton of close games, including two one-goal losses to Shrewsbury, a two-goal loss to Algonquin, and a one-goal loss to eventual D3 state champion Ipswich. Basically, the Crusaders proved they could play with anybody, and they did score a close win over Littleton during the regular season before falling in the tournament. A surprisingly stingy defense helped a loaded attack and midfield as G-D finished tied for second in the region's top league. But, with so much coming back, the Crusaders could be even better next season.

8. Algonquin: 9-11, 5-3 Mid-Wach A
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 8

Algonquin was left for dead late in the year, but scratched and clawed to tie Groton-Dunstable for second in Mid-Wach A, locking up a tournament spot in the process. The T-Hawks handed Shrewsbury its only league loss of the season to make the postseason, but also needed the edge Groton-Dunstable and Wachusett the second time around, after losing to each of those teams earlier in the year. It wasn't a vintage Algonquin season, but this team showed the trademark toughness the program has come to be known for, never giving up and somehow making the state tournament.

9. Tyngsboro: 13-7, 5-5 Mid-Wach B
Accolades: Division 3 Central/East semifinalist
Regular Season Rank: NR

Tyngsboro was one of four teams that finished 5-5 in Mid-Wach B, but the Tigers finished strong with a triple-overtime win against Hopedale in the D3 C/E quarterfinals. With a young attack that grew up as the season went on, Tyngsboro had lapses, but when the Tigers were on, they proved they could play with anybody in their league, and beyond.

10. Hopedale: 13-8, 6-6 Mid-Mass.

Accolades: Division 3 Central/East quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 9

Another Mid-Mass. surprise, Hopedale qualified for its first tournament ever, and only a Kyle Laforge golden goal kept the Blue Raiders from their first tournament win. Perhaps the most impressive thing was that Hopedale dominated the schools it was supposed to simply "play with," topping Blackstone Valley Tech twice, sweeping Worcester and Northbridge, and doubling up St. Bernard's 8-4 in their meeting. The Blue Raiders also nearly defeated Tantasqua, proving this team was no paper Tiger… Er, Raider.

11. Wachusett: 11-9, 3-5 Mid-Wach A
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: No. 10

Wachusett went out swinging, battling St. John's to a 5-3 loss in the tournament, showing once again why the Mountaineers are one of the toughest and best defensive teams in the region. An inability to get over the hump in close league games ultimately hurt Wachusett in the standings, but this wasn't a team anybody looked forward to playing. Ask the Pioneers.

12. Nashoba: 10-9, 5-5 Mid-Wach B
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West tournament
Regular Season Rank: NR

It took a while for Nashoba to get going, but once the Chieftains did, they were right there in the thick of things in Mid-Wach B. Forcing a season split with Shepherd Hill, and sweeping Marlboro, Nashoba proved it could play with its peers, and seems to be laying the foundation for a good team in the coming years.

13. Shepherd Hill: 11-10, 5-5 Mid-Wach B
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West tournament
Regular Season Rank: NR

The Rams struggled with inconsistency, but few teams could match their firepower. One of the more entertaining teams in the region to watch, Shepherd Hill is becoming a force to be reckoned with on the lacrosse field. Like every other team stuck in the Mid-Wach B middle jumble, the Rams have flaws, but they were capable of surprising people as well.

14. Blackstone Valley Tech: 13-7, 6-2 Colonial
Accolades: Colonial champs, State Voke large finalist, Division 3 Central/West tournament
Regular Season Rank: NR

Blackstone Valley Tech was able to take home another league title in the Colonial, and continues to be the most consistent Voke school winner in the region. That constancy year in and year out for the Beavers is impressive, especially considering the conference continues to improve each season.

15. Bromfield: 11-8, 8-2 Mid-Wach C
Accolades: Mid-Wach C co-champs, Division 3 Central/East quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: NR

Led by Ross MacMahon's offensive brilliance, Bromfield shared Mid-Wach C with Oakmont, thanks to a mid-season win over the Spartans. But Bromfield couldn't coast to the finish, as the Trojans needed to score big wins over Lunenburg and Hudson just to lock up a top-two league finish in the much improved Mid-Wach C.

16. Monty Tech: 14-9, 5-3 Colonial
Accolades: Division 3 Central/West quarterfinalist, state Voke tournament semifinalist
Regular Season Rank: NR

It was actually Monty Tech who ended Blackstone Valley Tech's state tournament run, scoring a measure of revenge against the Beavers in the first round of the D3 C/W tournament. Coach Jonathan Shea had to walk away from the program following this season, but he leaves Monty Tech in great shape, having made the tournament the last two seasons, and just scored its first ever tournament win.

17. Marlboro: 9-10, 5-5 Mid-Wach B
Accolades: Division 2 Central/West tournament
Regular Season Rank: NR

The Panthers dealt with, perhaps, the worst injury luck in Central Mass, including the loss of star attackman Ryan Mechler. No matter, as Marlboro kept fighting to qualify for the tournament, and keep pace with the rest of the pack in Mid-Wach B. With tremendously talented junior and senior classes rising up, Marlboro might be the most improved team in the region next season, provided it can stay healthy.

18. St. Bernard's: 13-9, 2-0 Catholic Conf.
Accolades: Division 3 Central/West quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: NR

After losing an all-time great scorer like Curtiss Vachon, you can forgive the Bernardians for taking a step back offensively. Still, a defense led by goalie Sean Kelley kept St. B's in games, and helped the Bernardians again qualify for the postseason. Kelley will now graduate himself, but with a ton of young pieces coming back, expect even bigger things from St. Bernard's next year.

19. Oakmont: 9-8, 8-2 Mid-Wach C
Accolades: Mid-Wach C co-champs, Division 3 Central/East tournament
Regular Season Rank: NR

After falling to Bromfield, the Spartans responded by winning five straight league games to tie the Trojans for the Mid-Wach C title, and made their way into the highly competitive Division 3 Central/East tournament. With wins over Bromfield, Shepherd Hill and a dominant victory over Lunenburg under their belt, the Spartans scored their share of impressive triumphs in 2017.

20. Nashoba Valley Tech: 18-6, 5-3 Colonial
Accolades: State Voke small finalist, Division 3 Central/West quarterfinalist
Regular Season Rank: NR

The Vikings lost a few close ones, but for different stretches of the season, Nashoba Valley Tech was playing as well as any Voke school team in the state, especially offensively. Consistency is the next step for this program, as the Colonial keeps getting better with BVT, Monty Tech, and improving Assabet all bringing key pieces back.

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