By Dan Harrison
---- — The Salem High boys lacrosse program had its best season in recent memory last year when the Witches went 9-9 in the regular season and qualified for the Eastern Mass Division 1 State Tournament.
First year head coach Anthony Nardella isn’t bothered by that one bit. Nardella, who takes over this spring after Mark Higley stepped down, played at Beverly High and Western New England College before taking an assistant coaches position under current Panther skipper John Pynchon. He’s got the technical skill side covered. His new crop of Witches have just the work-ethic he is looking for.
“They’re very hard working. They’re tough, hard-nosed kids who do the little things like winning ground ball battles,” said Nardella. “That hard-nosed style is difficult to teach. The skill aspect is something we can build on, but I’m looking for hard-nosed, athletic people who show up and work hard day and day out.”
Salem High Athletic Director Scott Connolly is thrilled to have Nardella on staff.
“We put it out there and obviously through the grapevine he heard about it and came highly recommended from some very reputable sources,” explained Connolly. “The last few years he’s been under a great mentor in coach Pynchon — they don’t make ‘em any better than him.”
The 26-year-old Nardella teaches business classes in Billerica. He’s coached on both the Beverly football and lacrosse teams the past few seasons, but when the position across the bridge opened up, it was actually Pynchon who suggested a move to head coach for Nardella.
“The funny thing about that is John and I, we have similar views on the game of lacrosse and how it’s supposed to be played,” noted Nardella. “You’ll see some similarities between the way Beverly plays and the way hopefully we will be able to play this spring. But I will have some wrinkles.”
Nardella’s overriding philosophy when it comes to the game of lacrosse is to play fast. Salem’s never hurt for speed. Now, the trick will be executing in transition and making the smart passes while playing at that hurried pace.
“Offensively we are looking to generate a few different ways. I like to play at a fast pace and create a lot in transition,” said Nardella. “It’s about making good decisions and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.”
Defensively the Witches will lean on two of their senior captains, long-poles John Kapnis and Alex Veloukas. Mitch Osgood is the other Salem captain and he plays in the midfield. Nardella has already met with all three and looks forward to meeting the rest of the team next week.
“Starting out, I have high expectations for myself as a coach and for the team. I expect to come in and for us to be able to compete with all the teams we play,” said Nardella. “I look to pick up where coach Higley left off. They made the tournament for the first time in a few years so I hope to piggy back on the success and keep it rolling.”