MARSHFIELD — Jake Jones , Mike Smith, and Greg Levings first met in the fall 0f 2005, as freshmen at Springfield College, and they hit it off almost immediately.
The three were all varsity athletes — Jones and Smith played lacrosse while Levings golfed for the Pride — and physical education majors who planned to coach as well as teach when they got out of school.
What if they could do it together? Smith called the possibility “awesome” back then. Jones called it “a pipe dream.” Now, though, they just call it reality.
After directing the Marshfield High boys to an 11-9 finish in his first season a year ago, Jones added both Smith and Levings to his coaching staff. Their focus: defense.
The personnel moves have paid immediate dividends: The Rams, leading the Atlantic Coast League, are 14-3, proving chemistry is as important on the bench as it is on the field.
“We all trust each other,” Smith said last week as the trio sat in a small office at the high school.
“I don’t have to look over my shoulder to see what [Jones is] doing down at the other end of the field, because I know whatever he’s doing is right. . . . Even though it’s our first year, it doesn’t feel like our first year.”
It does not feel like it is their first year as a staff, they all agree, because this collaboration has seemingly been in the works since the current seniors on this year’s Marshfield squad were in elementary school.
Jones, Smith, and Levings had many a late-night conversation throughout their college years about one day coaching together, discussions on what sort of drills they would run and how they would motivate their team.
They wanted to build a program and stick with it.
Jones, a high school All-American at Amherst Regional who became a three-time all-Patriot League midfielder at Springfield, and Levings, a native of Averill Park, N.Y., both teach at the high school. Smith, a defender in college, commutes up to Marshfield from his job at the Plymouth Community Intermediate School.
Their much-discussed, if idealistic, vision is taking its first steps toward coming to fruition.
The coaches credit the success to two things: a re-emphasis of fundamentals and a new sense of accountability. Jones and Co. hold the players, particularly the seniors, accountable, and the seniors do the same with the underclassmen. It has created a trickle-down effect, so each individual takes pride in getting stops in front of senior goalie Pat Burchill .
Senior Jimmy Connors is an anchor in the backfield, as is his classmate Tyler Kearns , who, according to Smith, did not play defense last season but has quickly become the Rams’ best one-on-one defender.
Kearns said Smith and Levings have been crucial in his transition from a short-pole defensive midfielder to long-pole defender, an anchor for a unit allowing just over five goals per game.
“I love them. I think they’re one of the best additions to the team,” Kearns said, adding that Smith and Levings have taught him good form, how and when to throw checks, and to communicate with his fellow defenders. “They’ve taught me more lacrosse in this one season than I’ve learned in my entire life.”
“They can relate to us, they’re young, they understand, and they know how to get us fired up,” Kearns continued. “They’ve gotten us into shape physically and mentally. The three coaches kicked our butts and got us into shape.”
Some days, Jones said, he has to take a step back and remind himself: He has a pretty good gig.
The offense puts up 14 tallies per game, many off the sticks of senior captain Robbie Keuther (36 goals, 22 assists) and senior attackman Mike Carbone 58 goals, 20 assists). A two-game skid in April — losses to Needham (12-6) and South Hadley (10-9) — and Monday’s defeat against BC High have been the only blemishes.
Under the keen eyes of their coaches, the Rams appear to be well on their way.
Jones termed it “a five-year plan” — Year 1, 2012, serving as a rebuilding, get-to-know-the-team season, Year 2 representing a significant step forward — but he later corrected himself.
“It’s going to be up and down. You’ll hit highs and lows,” said Jones.
“Our hope is our philosophy and our culture that we’re trying to [install] now continues to grow, and we’re able to continue to keep striving for, with our philosophy, what we’re trying to achieve with our kids. And that’s not just a five-year plan; that’s a forever plan.”
Shorthanded, but successful
It has been a long couple of weeks for the Whitman-Hanson girls, who have been minus Stephanie Warn since the junior midfielder suffered a concussion May 1 against Pembroke. But the Panthers responded, scoring 14.7 goals per game in three wins.
Junior attack Stephanie Hyslip (24 goals, 17 assists) and senior captain Jackie Sullivan , whose 37 goals and 27 helpers have overtaken Warn’s point total (52), have stepped up.
At the other end, senior goalie Meghan Mahoney (.570 save percentage) has held the defense together, particularly communication-wise, according to coach Megan Methven.
“The people who have been contributing are going to continue to contribute,” Methven said. “[But] Stephanie coming back will give us a confidence boost for sure. Most of the offenses we run have her in the front position. Having Steph back will definitely help us at both ends.”
Methven said Warn should be cleared to play at the end of this week. She could return for the team’s game vs. conference-leading Duxbury .
“There are a lot of very talented players and very talented teams in this league,” Methven said. “It definitely prepares us for the tournament, playing those games night in and night out.”
Marking some milestones
When the Duxbury boys (13-5) fell to Needham, 6-4, Monday, it was the Dragons’ first loss to an in-state opponent in 50 games. Duxbury’s next win will be the 300th of coach Chris Sweet’s 15-year career. . . . Archbishop Williams seniors Erin Flanagan , of Plymouth, and Jenn Dunphy , of Quincy, both scored their 100th career goals in Saturday’s 10-2 win over Plymouth North.