SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 21, 2012

Not letting up

Lax Lowdown, Matt Jenkins
The Salem News

---- — College commitments often take the pressure off high school student-athletes. St. John’s Prep sophomore Drew O’Connell finds himself in a slightly different situation.

O’Connell is currently on the path to continue his lacrosse career at Princeton University, in essence having verbally committed to become a Tiger upon graduating from St. John’s in 2014.

That doesn’t mean O’Connell can relax. Far from it.

Technically, O’Connell has committed to the admissions process. Obviously, Princeton has very high standards, both academically as an Ivy League institution and athletically when it comes to lacrosse.

Over the next two years O’Connell has to continue thriving in the classroom and on the field, or his Princeton opportunity could slip away.

“In the back of my mind I know that I can’t mess up,” O’Connell said. “Look at the opportunity in front of me ... if I did something to mess up, like getting in trouble or failing a class, then I couldn’t forgive myself. I would just be throwing something away that would have shaped my life in a totally new direction that most people don’t get the chance to have.”

O’Connell stormed onto the scene at the Prep as a freshman in 2011, registering 35 points for a Division 1 state finalist, playing on a midfield line with his older brother Jimmy O’Connell.

This season, O’Connell became the Eagles’ biggest threat, always drawing the opponents’ toughest defensive player.

O’Connell has made an equally impressive mark academically at St. John’s. He takes all honors and Advanced Placement classes and maintains a 4.13 GPA. He’s also a member of the National Honor Society.

His commitment to both academics and athletics makes Princeton a perfect target for O’Connell.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing at Gillette Stadium in the (NCAA) Final Four,” O’Connell said. “I’ll be going to a place that offers that opportunity while giving me a great education. It’s the ideal school.”

O’Connell, who plays for the Top Gun Fighting Clams 2014 AA club team, was first approached by Princeton in the recruiting process and also drew interest from Division 1 schools Notre Dame, Georgetown, Harvard, Duke and Johns Hopkins. 

He also visited Notre Dame, Duke, the University of North Carolina, Georgetown and Harvard. Georgetown offered the junior-to-be a scholarship.

“He definitely has the skill set (to play at Princeton),” St. John’s head coach John Roy said. “Being mentally ready is the next thing, but he’s still so young. The next two seasons we’ll see what he’s made of.

“He always drew the long pole or the best defenders and he didn’t always get a tremendous amount of help. He has the skills to be fantastic.”

Roy felt O’Connell grew a bit frustrated at times playing against such tight defense every game, but he believes it will only help in the long run.

“At Princeton he’s not going to get any easy defenders,” Roy said. “It’s the idea that facing tougher defense now will be better for him in the future. He’s fast and can shoot with both hands. He has the potential to be a great midfielder.” 

O’Connell is hoping to continue developing his lacrosse skills over the next couple years before settling into his place at Princeton.

“It’s such a great school, great lacrosse and a beautiful campus, but to be honest it wasn’t my No. 1 choice right off the bat,” O’Connell said. “I visited a couple of schools and then did an overnight at Princeton and realized that was the place that I wanted to be.”

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For two years, Brigid O’Flynn was a defensive whiz for the Ipswich girls lacrosse team. Then, this preseason head coach Greg Churchill felt like he couldn’t hold her back anymore.

“She was the one girl in preseason that we would do some shooting drills and she’d be ripping it,” Churchill said. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t not put her in some scoring positions.’ She stepped up (offensively). She was still a huge presence in the (faceoff) circle and on the defensive end.”

O’Flynn, a senior-to-be and captain-elect, ended up third on the Tigers in goals with 39, second in ground balls (52) and draw controls (65) and first in takeaways (19). She also added 14 assists.

“She really is the type of player that just goes,” Churchill said. “If I pull her off the field she gets mad. I’ll say, ‘What? I just want to give you a break.’ Then she’ll say, ‘OK, I’ve had a break. Put me back in there.’”

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Anthony O’Donnell would have loved to take the Peabody High boys team to the state tournament in his first year as head coach, but he really enjoyed coaching this group of players. He’s also excited about what’s coming back, especially in attackman Keifer Heckman.

Heckman led the Northeastern Conference in points this year as a junior (97) and produced the fourth-best scoring season in Peabody High School history. Heckman ended the year with 55 goals and 42 assists. He produced 12 points in the team’s final game against Malden Catholic and he currently ranks sixth all-time in career points for Peabody with 160.

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Speaking of all-time leading scorers, Danvers’ Sara Perry wrapped up her career with a solid grip on the Falcons’ top spot. It will take more than 362 points for someone to wrestle away that honor.

“Sara just was always open and in the right spot, then able to make a quick, little move and finish,” Danvers coach Julie Bevad said. “She’s athletic. One year she had 115 points. It seemed like every game she had eight to 10 points; it was crazy.”

Perry has graduated and Bevad is also moving on from Danvers. After four years at the program’s helm, Bevad is moving to England to teach math at The American School in London.

“I just applied for a job on a whim, not thinking I would get it ... and I did,” Bevad said. “It will be a cool experience and I thought it was a good time to spice it up a bit. My sister lives there, so I was interested.”

Bevad is sad to say goodbye to Danvers, but she doesn’t intend to say goodbye to lacrosse.

“I’ll coach over there, hopefully. I will hopefully start a team (at The American School) and there is the English Lacrosse Association,” Bevad said. “There isn’t a team at the school right now, but I’m hopeful that I can generate interest and get them going.”

Bevad led the Falcons to the Division 2 North state tournament in each of her four years and concludes her tenure with a 55-23-1 record.

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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.