WESTWOOD — There was a sense of urgency in the air when Bob Buckley asked his players at Xaverian Brothers High to run through an abbreviated 3-on-2 exercise at practice Friday, with the goals pulled in several yards on each side toward the middle of the field.
Named the assistant coach of the year by the Eastern Massachusetts Lacrosse Coaches Association last week, Buckley picked the fast-paced drill to give the Hawks as many reps as possible before the dark storm clouds decided to open up.
Senior midfielder Liam Driscoll took it to heart.
When it was his line’s turn, he sprinted down the field without either defender getting particularly close, and from about 10 yards out picked off the top left corner with a rocket of a shot.
“He’s back!” Buckley shouted.
Except Driscoll isn’t back — not completely, anyway. The team captain, who led the Hawks with 24 goals last year, missed the entire regular season this spring with a broken foot suffered during an indoor lacrosse game. The Hingham resident is cleared to practice now, albeit with some pain due to the screw in the base of his left pinky toe. His role for Xaverian, the seventh seed in the Division 1 East sectional, however, is unclear.
Head coach Tim Gardner is waiting to see how Driscoll’s 5-foot-8, 160-pound frame reacts to the workload after not seeing any game action since the end of February. Between his lingering limitations — if he can’t plant with his left foot, and, he insists, his shot doesn’t have as much zip as it normally does — and the other midfielders having settled into their roles, working Driscoll back into the rotation isn’t an easy task.
But no fear — the Hawks boast multiple talented middies who have stepped up just fine in Driscoll’s absence.
“It’s my 15th year here at Xaverian. Kids get hurt. Kids graduate. Kids aren’t playing for one reason or another,” Gardner said. “You have to allow the other kids on the team to know that you trust them, that you trust them with the ball.”
So it didn’t come as much of a surprise either, then, when the Hawks posted a 12-6 regular-season record and captured the Catholic Conference crown. Xaverian is scheduled to play the Medford-Westford winner in a first-round match Saturday at 4 p.m.
Gardner attributed the success to the offense being more balanced. Last year, then-sophomore midfielders Jack Wheeler and D.J. Sperzel , while talented, were sometimes too content to “sit back and watch the Liam Driscoll show,” as Gardner put it.
This year they didn’t have that option.
“It definitely hurt us — there’s no doubt about that — but I feel like we did a good job adjusting to the loss of Liam,” Wheeler said. “Our offense is mostly run out of our middies, and I’d say we all stepped up to the plate pretty nicely. . . It’s nice to have the ball. Can’t complain about that. I enjoy being able to play a bigger part in the game.”
Wheeler, a 6-foot, 170-pound Boston University commit, led the way by tallying a team-high 32 goals to go with 10 assists.
What makes Wheeler good, the coach says, is his speed. Wheeler was a part of Xaverian’s third-place 4x200 and fourth-place 4x400 relay teams at the all-state indoor meet this winter, and he flashes that same speed on the lacrosse field.
“More so than his top speed, which is tremendous, is the fact that he can get to his top speed very, very quickly,” Gardner said. “It’s the first couple steps that he takes. If you’re not expecting it, he’s gone.”
Wheeler — appropriately nicknamed “Wheels” and “Jack Wheeler, goal dealer” — is far from alone.
Sperzel, a Providence College recruit, collected 22 points despite missing several weeks with a broken hand, and senior attack Tommy Dion had 23 goals. Sophomore Lucas Buckley served as a spark plug up front with 51 assists.
In all, the Hawks had seven players with at least 20 points.
Gardner also credited senior long-pole Robert Breed and senior goalie Jay Pourbaix , a first-year starter, with anchoring the defensive corps.
Watching wasn’t always easy for Driscoll, who served as another set of eyes on the sideline, offering words of encouragement or strategy whenever he could.
“It was really, really difficult’’ to sit out of games, he said. “Some games it’s almost impossible.”
“This was finally going to be my year, this was my team, these are my closest friends,’’ said Driscoll, who will suit up for Holy Cross next year. “I did a lot of weight training, speed training and played a lot of indoor lacrosse, which got me in peak condition. I was just ready to go as hard as I could and really help out the team.
“And then all of the sudden, the last game of the indoor season, to break my foot was devastating because I had put in so much work in the winter and the fall and the summer to get ready.
“With time, you get over it. The focus becomes just looking ahead rather than, ‘Aw, man, what could’ve been.’ ”
Now, the hard part is over. With surgery and rehab complete, all that’s left is to shake off some rust, which is, well, a work in process.
“I gotta get used to being this slow,” Driscoll said between swigs of water after the 3-on-2 drill, the storm clouds looming ever closer. Then he adds, with a wry smile, “I used to blow by guys, and now I can’t.”
When the MIAA announced the girls’ lacrosse state tournament pairings last week, something was wrong: Weymouth, which qualified with a 9-9-2 record, was missing.
As a result of “total oversight,” according to coach Ross Maki , the Wildcats were left out before the MIAA rectified the situation by slotting them in as the No. 17 seed in the Division 1 South sectional to face off against a Bay State Conference rival, No. 16 Braintree.
Weymouth made the confusion worth it by topping the Wamps, 17-12. It was a big turnaround from the teams’ previous meetings, Braintree wins on March 30 (19-7) and May 14 (13-12).
Junior attack Sam Coyle led the way with eight goals to give senior captains Alex King and Kayla O’Toole a win in their first trip to the postseason.
King, who will graduate as the program’s all-time leading scorer, walked away with a hat trick despite being double-teamed whenever she got the ball.
“The focus . . . on her allowed everybody else to step up,” Maki said. “It wasn’t about her offensive numbers. It was more about her presence.”
Even though it meant a match against No. 1 Westwood (20-0) in the next round, nabbing a postseason win in Maki’s first year as head coach — and the team’s first trip to the tournament in half a decade — is something the Wildcats can hang their hats, or sticks, on.Tim Healey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter