Getting swept in a two-game season series by a longtime rival stationed 5 miles down the road hurt. Losing nine straight games to the program, including three for Central Massachusetts championships, by a total of 49 goals did something more.
From the girls’ lacrosse teams in middle school up through all levels of the sport at Algonquin Regional High, the fear of Westborough was all too palpable.
So when the nine-game streak that began in 2008 finally came to an end on May 7, 2012, when Algonquin pulled out an 8-7 victory over Westborough, the Tomahawks hardly felt like they earned it.
“We just happened to be lucky enough to pull out the win,” said Hannah Lindgren, now a senior at Algonquin. “Even during the game, you didn’t know who was going to win and who was not. You’re just so nervous what the outcome is going to be. It was so indecisive.”
Lucky enough to win?
“We did beat ’em,” Lindgren said. “But it almost seemed like luck, just because it was so amazing that we did.”
Algonquin beat Westborough again two weeks later last spring, scoring five straight goals in the fourth quarter before sealing the victory in overtime.
And they met again two weeks after that, in the Central Mass. final, a game that Westborough had won for four straight years, including three over Algonquin.
This time, Tomahawks won, 7-5. Then they beat Longmeadow to become the first Central Mass. team ever to advance to the Division 1 state final. They finally lost to Westwood to end the run.
However, after last season’s three straight wins over Westborough and a berth in the state championship, Algonquin is playing lacrosse this spring without pain.
“All different feelings now,” Lindgren said. “That was just exciting.”
Algonquin coach John Healy , who took over the program three years ago, senses the change in confidence, with his team at 4-2 as of Tuesday.
But the Tomahawks are missing a key ingredient from last year’s formula, after the graduation of Carly O’Connell , the school’s first girls’ lacrosse All-American.
Just how good was O’Connell?
She already owns a school record at the University of Oregon, collecting 10 draw controls in one game, a 19-9 win over Saint Mary’s last Sunday. She has been named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Rookie of the Week twice. She leads the team in ground balls (23), and she is second with 35 points (19 goals and 16 assists) in 13 games.
“It’s different because it’s a little bit more work,” Healy said of moving on without O’Connell. “Carly being on the field was like having another coach on the field. We weren’t one-dimensional with Carly, but there’s more we have to think of and more sharing.
“The girls are still trying to figure out their roles in terms of how to figure the vacuum that Carly has left. But they’re doing a good job.”
Lindgren, whose speed was on display all winter as she sprinted the 55-meter hurdles for the track team, is still trying to adjust to her new role.
She is not being asked to fill O’Connell’s shoes, but she is the new face everyone else looks up to.
“That’s something she’s getting used to,” Healy said of Lindgren. “Last year she just played off Carly. They took Carly away and she was wide open. Now she’s the one everyone looks to.
“She loves it. She doesn’t back down.”
Lindgen is still adjusting.
“I’ve always looked up to Carly,” Lindgren said. “I played with her since I was little. She’s been my idol in lacrosse. On the field last year she was obviously the leader. It was nice to be able to follow her lead.
“She knows a lot of girls looked up to her. She was a really good leader, a little intimidating. She was so far above anyone else I had known that she was the person you would go to whenever you had questions, or wanted help with something.’’
Now that it’s her turn to be the team’s leader, Lindgren said, “It’s hard to have all that pressure but at the same time it’s good for me, because I’ll be playing in college next year and that’s more what it’ll be like. It’s fun to know people recognize you and see potential.”
Lindgren will be playing at Bentley University next year, while Carly’s younger sister, Algonquin senior Taylor O’Connell , will play at Loyola.
Taylor is a different player than Carly, directing the defense with confidence while often stepping up to aid the attack. Junior netminder Holly Pim has impressed between the pipes.
With juniors Maggie Wraight and Mel Wagner along with sophomore Jackie Healy , the coach’s daughter, progressing at attack, the offensive unit is finding its way. Lindgren has been scoring about five goals a game, splitting time between midfield and attack.
Carly O’Connell is gone. Algonquin is pain-free. And Central Massachusetts no longer belongs to one team.
“Everyone knows one player doesn’t win championships,” said Westborough coach Colleen Debish, whose team stood at 1 and 2. “We have lost some key players. They lost a lot of strong players. And Shrewsbury returns a lot.
“We’ll see what happens.”
Dover-Sherborn on a roll
The Dover-Sherborn boys’ lacrosse team got off to another 5-0 start this season, marking the third straight year the Raiders have won their first five games.
Without the services of Ben Newbert and Billy Polk in the midfield and on the offensive end, the Raiders are still trying to find their identity. But with senior Ryan Goodall in net and junior Rogers Boylan playing strong defensively, Dover-Sherborn has been successful while averaging just 4.4 goals allowed per game.
“My assistant, Gene Zanella , runs the defense and just does an unbelievable job,” said head coach Brian McLaughlin . “He’s been the EMass assistant coach of the year three of the last four years. He’s phenomenal back there.”
The Raiders faced a major test Tuesday against Lincoln-Sudbury Regional in the Coaches’ Challenge Cup.
Joining unbeaten crowd
Through Monday, there were 18 undefeated boys’ teams in Eastern Massachusetts, including Dover-Sherborn (5-0), Lincoln-Sudbury (4-0), Medfield (6-0), and Needham (4-0).
On the girls’ side, 19 were undefeated, including Dover-Sherborn (4-0), Needham (5-0), and Wayland (4-0-1).
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.