The afternoon before one of the biggest lacrosse games of his high school career, a Division 1 East semifinal showdown against Acton-Boxborough Regional with temperatures in the high 70s, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional junior John Sexton was far from sinking into a couch.
Choosing not to rest his legs, and skipping a chance to relax his mind, Sexton was standing on the sidelines of a seventh-grade Town Pride League lacrosse game, holding nothing but a gallon jug of water.
“Great job; good work; finish strong,” he called out to the players, offering the encouragement of a veteran.
Sexton was living up to his commitment as a volunteer coach for the squad.
“For two or three hours,” noted Lincoln-Sudbury coach Brian Vona , who has coached Sexton for three years. “It’s not something I asked him to do. He wants to be there.”
Sexton put a bow on his coaching gig around 2 p.m. Saturday, and stepped onto the field at his high school for the 5:30 tournament game.
Described as one of the nicest guys off the field, Sexton becomes an armed lunatic with a long lacrosse stick in his hands. He’s 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, and he’s ferocious with the stick-check, graceful on his feet, and nearly unbeatable one-on-one.
Acton-Boxborough, which entered with the 12th best offense in Eastern Mass., was held to four goals. Entering Wednesday’s Division 1 East sectional championship against Xaverian, Sexton and his teammates had allowed just 11 goals in three tournament games.
“He’s probably the best defensive player in the state,” Concord-Carlisle’s coach, Tom Dalicandro , said of Sexton.
Concord-Carlisle was one of two teams to beat the Warriors during the regular season (the other being Duxbury), and the Patriots were able to do it because of a game plan that involved two crucial parts.
No. 1: Find John Sexton.
No. 2: Attack in the other direction.
“We just sent him to the crease with the guy he was covering,” Dalicandro said. “We didn’t want to try to initiate against him. With him, if you hold the ball, he’s going to take it away. We liked our chances when he wasn’t the guy on the ball. He’s not the guy we want to try to dodge.”
There are similar stories from three years ago, when Sexton was a freshman. He was working off what he calls a “chubby stage” from his elementary school and early middle school days, and was picking up speed. A lifelong baseball player, he abandoned the sport in favor of a campaign to hone his skills in lacrosse.
Nobody was quite sure how the transition would go. When Vona first met Sexton two years earlier, expectations were minimal. “Heard he was a great kid and he was a good little defenseman,” Vona said. “But nothing like he’s turned out to be. We had no idea.”
A few weeks into his freshman season, Sexton was already lining up against the most feared attacks on the most potent opposing teams.
The stories are still told, perhaps none more impressive than Sexton’s showing against Billerica in 2011.
The Indians had a small, dynamite-stick of a player with a familiar name. Grant WhitewayIII led the entire country in scoring that year, and Billerica scored at least 15 goals in a dozen games. But not against Lincoln-Sudbury.
Whiteway still did some damage, but a video of Sexton’s work against the stick wizard with a 100-mile-per-hour shot is worth watching on YouTube.
“His responsibility was to cover him and he held him to two goals,” said Lincoln-Sudbury senior Dan DeLaney , who is committed to Fairfield and also moonlights as a volunteer coach. “I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. He was very ambitious, so it was interesting to see how he would do against the state’s best players.
“And he never ceased to amaze me and the rest of the team.”
Sexton amazed others, too. After Sexton had played one season on the varsity team, some of the nation’s top college programs were working the phones and hoping to land a commitment.
Before his sophomore season, Sexton gave his word to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, who finished this spring ranked sixth among Division 1 programs, have one of the top defensive units in the nation.
“He’s a really humble kid. He hasn’t talked about his success to others and wouldn’t brag about college coaches recruiting him,” said DeLaney. “He kept it to himself. I admire that.”
Said Sexton, “It was all a little confusing at first.” Then he went on to thank all of his coaches and teammates, as he does frequently when asked about his own success.
This spring, Sexton added another skill, becoming one of the rare high school players to take faceoffs with a defender’s long stick. While coaches talk about the difficulties in maneuvering the bigger pole, Sexton thinks it’s an advantage. He’s won more than 70 percent of his faceoffs.
Here and there
Tess Chandler finished an outstanding three-sport career at Hopkinton High with another solid spring on the lacrosse field. The Hillers were edged by Duxbury, 13-12, in the Division 2 South semifinals, but they’ve gone 64-20-3 over her four years, with a state title in 2011. She is off to Boston College. . .
The Needham High boys’ finished the season ranked 12th in Eastern Massachusetts, after falling to Xaverian in the Division 1 East quarterfinals. The Rockets averaged just over 12 goals per game, led by senior Nico Panepinto and younger brother Mikey. . .
The Acton-Boxborough Regional boys’ squad reached the Division 1 East semifinals for the first time in program history. The Colonials have increased their win total in four consecutive seasons under coach Pat Ammendolia .