SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 9, 2013

Lax Lowdown: Looking ahead at high expectations


The Salem News

---- — Lax Lowdown

Matt Jenkins

Only one week of lacrosse has passed, but there’s never a better time to look ahead.

The future seems bright for a lot of our area teams — both boys and girls — so here’s a snapshot of some of the area’s best bets.

There are four teams with rising expectations on the boys’ side of North Shore lacrosse, and two more teams that seem to be headed in that direction.

St. John’s Prep — The Prep program has climbed to such heights that a 12-6 loss to a good Lincoln-Sudbury team in the second game of the East Division 1 state tournament last year is considered a disappointment. The Eagles have a lot returning from that team, and even though they dropped their season opener to conference foe Xaverian this season, they are expected to be the team to beat in the league.

This year’s team is strong on defense with Tucker Mathers, Lucas Bavaro and Brian Uva bringing skill and experience. The Eagles have one of the best faceoff specialists around in Derek Osbahr. They also have talented offensive players in Jack Sharrio, Drew O’Connell, Andrew Gallahue and Joey Cavallaro.

Beverly — Similar to the Prep, Beverly had a disappointing end to last season, losing to Burlington in the preliminary round of the East Division 2 tourney.

The Panthers offense, led by Dom Abate, Brendan Flaherty and Ryan Shipp, should be good enough on its own to make Beverly a more dangerous team this spring.

Hamilton-Wenham — They’re young, but the Generals opened some eyes with their 5-4 overtime loss to Beverly to start the year. Freshmen Cam Macri and Jimmy Littlefield are starting on defense while classmate Jake Merrill should also see a lot of time. How that trio blends with veterans like Matt Vogus, Stephen Turpin and Christian Ecker should determine how far the Generals can go in Division 3.

Marblehead — The one hurdle that the Magicians can’t seem to get over is defeating the Panthers in Northeastern Conference play. They’ll get their chance to flip that today when the two teams meet at Beverly, but Marblehead arguably had just as good a season as the Panthers did last year. Marblehead finished 15-5 with a win in the Div. 2 tournament.

Ian Maag, Zac Cuzner and Brooks Tyrrell return to form an excellent midfield, and the Magicians’ defense should be strong in front of sophmore goalie Nathan Maselek. Crandall Maxwell, Liam Gillis and Will Hughes are solid defensive players for Marblehead.

The two teams that seem ready to make the next step are Peabody and Salem. Even though neither team has experienced any postseason success the past few years, there is reason for optimism this year.

Peabody coach Anthony O’Donnell was thrilled with the preseason preparation his team put in before tryouts began.

“They’ve put in the time,” O’Donnell said. “We did team goals and the kids want to bring pride back to Peabody lacrosse, and winning the NEC title is achievable this year.”

The Tanners are led by their captains. Seniors Keifer Heckman and Nick Ouellette will power the offense, while Andrew Najjar is a rock on defense in front of goalie Evan Connolly.

Salem, meanwhile, could be getting a big boost from new coach Anthony Nardella, a former assistant at Beverly.

The Witches have seemingly climbed on Nardella’s bandwagon pretty quickly, racing out to wins in their first four games. One of the things Nardella and his players would like to do this year is make an impact in the postseason.

Like O’Donnell in Peabody, Nardella has a good group of seniors in Alex Veloukas, Mitch Osgood, Matt Wilson, Chad Coelho and Billy Muse.

On the girls’ side of things, it seems the two teams to watch are Marblehead and Ipswich.

Both clubs had impressive runs in Division 2 North last year before to Winchester. Marblehead lost to Winchester in the semifinals and Ipswich fell in the final.

Each team seems primed for another solid season and a postseason meeting with a lot at stake is not out of the question.

One thing Marblehead really has going for itself is its veteran leadership. Seniors Meggie Collins, Cassie Rodgers, Allie Foreman, Tyler Phillips, Kiley Fischer, Pamela Gregory and Ali Hanratty are talented and experienced.

The Magicians are very capable on offense with dangerous scorers like Collins and Rodgers and Foreman has been solid in net for a couple of years now.

Ipswich, on the other hand, has a little less stability coming into the season because it is welcoming in new coach Nicole Linehan, who coached in Lexington for nine years.

The Tigers are experienced and talented, just like Marblehead. Natalie Soliozy, who is headed to Division 1 Johns Hopkins University, is one of the best individual talents in the area, and classmates Brigid O’Flynn, Molly Markos and Lauren Barney should help Ipswich make a lot of noise this spring.

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Peabody’s Keifer Heckman, who is line to become the Tanners’ all-time leading scorer this spring, notched his 100th career goal last week.

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A familiar face at Pingree took over for former coach Sarah Powers this spring. Former Highlander star Sam Taylor has stepped in to take over for her former coach.

Powers accepted a job at St. John’s Prep this year and didn’t have time to continue coaching at Pingree. That opened the door for Taylor, who graduated from Boston College last spring.

“This past year I was working in the UK for eight months,” Taylor said. “Sarah was like my mentor and I coached club with her and she decided she would be leaving. I was in education throughout B.C. and I want to work at a school and coach lacrosse. This is a great opportunity.”

Taylor played and coached lacrosse while in the UK and worked at a school and taught physical education.

“I’m job searching now. I’ve been gone and I’ve been enjoying my somewhat unemployment, but I’m looking for a job now,” Taylor joked.

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For the past few years, all the local lacrosse fans were hoping to see local Division 1 powers St. John’s Prep and Masconomet meet in the postseason. It hasn’t happened, but there is potential for a regular season meeting this year and more meetings in future regular seasons.

St. John’s and Masco are participating in a new regular season tournament called the Creator’s Cup.

“It’s a new thing in April. It’s going to be small this year with Masco, Lexington and Walpole,” Prep coach John Roy said. “We would like to expand. (Lexington coach) Dave Walsh had this idea and he knows a guy who hand carves wooden lacrosse sticks, so that will be the trophy. The first round will be the Thursday of April vacation, all at Walpole, then the championship and consolation games will be at Lexington on Saturday.”

St. John’s opens against Walpole and Lexington will play Masco in the opening round.

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Lax Lowdown, a column on North Shore high school lacrosse, runs each Tuesday during the spring sports season in The Salem News. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at 978-338-2648, by e-mail at mjenkins@salemnews.com, or follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.