Friday, June 1, 2018

Your 2018 Central Mass Lacrosse Tournament Preview

Mid-Wach A mainstays Shrewsbury and Algonquin each enter the MIAA tournament with a ton of momentum and something to prove.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

It's playoff time in the Heart of the Commonwealth, as high school lacrosse teams across the region gear up for the state tournament.

This year, 20 CMass lax squads will compete in four different sections across two divisions, and we've got you covered with a look at each of those brackets. Here we go!

Division 2 Central/West

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 CMass Teams in Bracket: (8) St. John's (Shrewsbury), Algonquin, Marlboro, Shrewsbury, Nashoba, Shepherd Hill, Tantasqua, Leominster

The Favorite(s):
Longmeadow, St. John's (Shrewsbury)

The Contender(s): Algonquin, Shrewsbury, Minnechaug, Marlboro

The Sleeper(s): Nashoba, Shepherd Hill

Player(s) to Watch: Tom Muir, M, Tantasqua; Ross Howlett, A, Leominster

Eight different Central Mass teams will have a go in one of the state's deepest sections, headlined by defending champion Longmeadow, and St. John's (Shrewsbury).

While the Lancers have been a true state title contender in recent years, St. John's played Longmeadow close earlier this season, and the thought here is that Jack Donahue and company will find even more success scoring on Meadow, should the teams meet again.

Beyond those two, Mid-Wach A champion Algonquin is enjoying a resurgence, while a late-season run has Shrewsbury looking like a team nobody wants to see early in the draw. Marlboro's top-line talent can play with anyone, and the emergence of Nashoba out of Mid-Wach B has been one of the season's great surprises. Speaking of Mid-Wach B, Shepherd Hill has been sharpened in the fire of a brutal league schedule, and should be ready for just about anything with a roster that is rounding into form and finally getting healthy.

While Tantasqua lost a boat load of senior talent from last season, keep an eye on do-it-all middie Tom Muir, one of the region's best play makers, and lethal goal scorer Ross Howlett, who helped Leominster break through and reach the postseason.

Division 2 Central/East

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 CMass Teams in Bracket: (2) Groton-Dunstable, Bromfield

The Favorite(s): Wayland, Westwood, Concord-Carlisle

The Contender(s): Walpole, North Attleboro, Hopkinton

The Sleeper(s): Groton-Dunstable

Player(s) to Watch: Liam McDonough, M, Groton-Dunstable; Leo Farrell, G, Bromfield

With only two Central Mass teams in the section, D2 C/E has a decidedly Eastern Mass tilt, and should be an absolute meat grinder. Groton-Dunstable will not have it easy in the Crusaders' first year in D2, but Mid-Wach A Player of the Year Liam McDonough should give G-D the possession advantage in most games, and a scoring punch to give them a shot against anyone.

Bromfield, meanwhile, enters the field as a low seed that nobody is talking about, but after a successful year in the improved Mid-Wach C, don't count the Trojans out. Bromfield has won every game where it has held opponents to single digits, so that means goalie Leo Farrell's play will loom large, should the Trojans shock the section and upset a loaded Concord-Carlisle squad.

Division 3 Central/West
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 CMass Teams in Bracket: (6) Nipmuc, St. Bernard's, Grafton, Assabet, AMSA, Blackstone Valley Tech

The Favorite(s): Grafton, East Longmeadow

The Contender(s): Nipmuc, Mt. Greylock, St. Bernard's

The Sleeper(s): Assabet, Blackstone Valley Tech

Player(s) to Watch: J.T. Harrt, D, Nipmuc; Stephen Balcher, G, AMSA

Throw the seeds out the window, because when you've made it to three straight state title games, you're always going to be considered a sectional favorite. That's where Grafton finds itself, with a young defense that has come of age around veteran goalie Matt Nicalek, and a diverse offense that is still giving opponents fits, even as the faces change year after year.

Mid-Mass runner-up Nipmuc's defense has also been stellar this season, and St. Bernard's may be the most intriguing team in the section, as nobody quite knows what to make of the Bernardians. St. B's can prove any doubters wrong with a tournament win or two, and with Mick Ginnity leading the charge, the know the Bernardians will be able to score.

CMass also sends a pair of strong tech school programs into the fray, as underrated Assabet and gutsy BVT look like tough outs as well.

J.T. Harrt enters the section fresh off of earning Mid-Mass' Defensive Player of the Year award, and Stephen Balcher's solid play between the pipes has helped the Advanced Math & Science Academy qualify for its first ever state tournament.

Division 3 Central/East
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 CMass Teams in Bracket: (4) Littleton, Hopedale, Oakmont, Lunenberg

The Favorite(s): Dover-Sherborn, Littleton

The Contender(s): Hopedale, Medway

The Sleeper(s): Oakmont

Player(s) to Watch: Declan Fitzpatrick, A, Lunenberg; Jake Wollensak, M, Hopedale

At this point it should come as no surprise that Littleton is one of this section's favorites. The Tigers have grown into one of the state's best pound-for-pound programs, and boast high-level talent up and down the roster. It is, however, a bit of a surprise to not only see Hopedale back in the tournament, but now carrying some heavy expectations, after leading Mid-Mass in goals against average at 5.1, thanks in part to the dominance of senior goalie Dan Hollis.

Mid-Wach C champion Oakmont enters the tournament on a five-game winning streak, and the Spartans have scored in double figures in all but four of their outings. Elsewhere in Mid-Wach C, Lunenberg heads into the section with a few weapons offensively, but keep your eye on junior Declan Fitpatrick. A varsity letter winner since 8th grade, Fitzpatrick crossed the 200 goal (over 100G & 100A) and 200 ground ball plateaus this year to lead the Blue Knights to their second tournament berth.

Over in Hopedale, creative middie Jake Wollensak will help guide a loaded offensive unit that also includes the region's leading scorer, sophomore Blake Moxim, and 70-point scorer Nick Fayad.

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