Following a back and forth first half, the Billerica High boys took a rather uncomfortable 5-3 lead into halftime against Merrimack Valley Conference rival Chelmsford last Friday afternoon.
As soon as time expired, senior goalie D.J. Smith ran out from the net and waited for his teammates to catch up to him at the far end of the field. Surrounding him, the Indians were fixated on Smith as he voiced his displeasure.
“Seniors: We’ve got two chances against these guys, and we come out like this?” he bellowed.
Then he let it fly on other specifics — “and you’re just standing there,” he said to one of his defensemen. “You need to play better. We need to play better.”
Suddenly, rally cries echoed across the field, a signal for coach Craig Flynn to make his way over to the pack for his halftime adjustments — something he wouldn’t do until Smith had finished.
If one thing is certain about the Indians this season, they’ll go as far as Smith carries them, whether it’s through his play in net, his vocal leadership, or a combination of the two.
That’s why it was no surprise for Billerica to come out blazing in the second half and surge to a 13-4 victory. Smith blanked the Lions in the third quarter and didn’t yield a goal in the second half until there were six minutes remaining in the game.
A University of Massachusetts Amherst recruit, Smith is a two-year captain and a returning All-American.
His play in goal allows his teammates to play relaxed, and with confidence, allowing their strengths to flourish.
“DJ’s been my goalie my whole life since youth,” said senior Dan Trainor, who netted four goals in the win over Chelmsford.
“It’s just really comforting knowing that he’s backing you up. I feel really confident, especially with a lead. He’s the best goalie in the state.”
“It’s awesome as an attackman knowing you have that strong a defense behind you,” he added. “When we have a lead with D.J., we’ll always try to do some new stuff — maybe some new looks we wouldn’t take. It loosens us up and allows us to just play our game.”
Off the field, Trainor said Smith “keeps the guys in line. His offseason leadership allows us to have good teams in the spring,” making sure his teammates stay out of trouble and in shape.
Freshman Drew Laundry has thrived early on at the attack position for the Indians. Smith’s presence, he admits, has helped calm his nerves.
“I’m always nervous before games because that’s just who I am,” said Laundry. “But when D.J. is in there, he leads the way. I feel really comfortable playing my game.”
Laundry, who scored 36 points as an eighth-grader at Austin Prep last year, scored two early goals to kick-start the Billerica offense against Chelmsford. He and Jeff Trainor , Dan’s younger brother, are two freshmen who have blended in well on an experienced squad that hopes to make some noise.
Smith likes the Indians’ team-first approach.
“I don’t think about the game being on my shoulders as much as me just trying to lead my team,” Smith said. “I put the pressure on my team’s shoulders because it’s not just about me, it’s a team effort that wins. I stay humble about it.”
As humble as he is, Smith can’t escape praise.
Smith, who played football, hockey, and golf, in addition to lacrosse growing up, received a goalie stick as a gift from his grandmother in the fourth grade. He loved the position and the game and has been in net ever since.
“He’s a returning All-American, he’s a returning captain, and he’s a four-year starter. . . . We know we can count on him,” said Flynn. “We set the bar high, but he helps the team reach it.”
The Haverhill High girls won a combined 14 games (coupled with 33 losses) the past three seasons. But thanks to the stellar play of senior Kristy Robertson , the Hillies have won two of their first three games this year, with Robertson scoring eight goals in each victory.
A four-year varsity player, Robertson burst onto the scene as a junior, pouring in 85 goals en route to earning Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 MVP honors. She has signed a letter of intent to play lacrosse at the University of Southern New Hampshire, quite an achievement for a player that had not played lacrosse before her freshman year.Pat Bradley can be reached at email@example.com.