The Rockland boys’ lacrosse program was seeking it’s first win over Hull in the program’s seven-year history Hull last Tuesday when senior defender Nick Leander decided to take matters into his own hands.
With the Bulldogs trailing, 4-1, to a squad that beat them, 8-3, at home on May 14, Leander asked the coaching staff if he could grab a short stick and join the attack. The game turned from there; he combined with his younger brother, Lucas Leander, a sophomore attack, for seven goals in an 11-7 victory.
“Ever since that point in the game, it started going our way,” said Leander, who will play football and lacrosse at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “It felt great [to combine with my brother] because that was one of the first situations we’ve played together, or scored goals together at least.”
The Leander brothers have played youth and club lacrosse growing up, but tend to stick with their traditional positions. But Rockland only has 18 varsity players this spring, and the Leanders are the only returning starters from 2019, so coach David Taylor and his staff have to get creative with how they deploy their experienced leaders.
“Due to a number of factors this is probably the lowest numbers we’ve had,” said Taylor, who started the Rockland youth lacrosse program 10 years ago and has coached the varsity program since its inception.
“We only have a few set positions and we’re moving guys around. We have to be very creative to get the best personnel in at all times, and the approach changes every game.”
While it’s not uncommon for programs to make substitutions when their team is in a man-up or man-down situation, it’s rare for a pole like Leander to sprint off the field, grab a short stick, and join the attack multiple times during a game.
Nick, a four-year captain, has embraced his double duties, and Lucas has had no qualms shifting to midfield to help out defensively on the opposition’s top scorers.
Thanks to the efforts of the Leanders, and several new contributors, Rockland (5-2) will enter the South Shore League tournament as a top seed next week. Taylor said he hopes his program can take another step forward after making the state tournament in three straight seasons.
“Coming into this year, I was just hoping we could hang with teams, and we’re pleasantly surprised to say the least,” said Taylor, who played at Nichols College and Bridgewater State.
“We never had huge numbers. Usually we’re in the thirties between JV and varsity, but expectations were a little lower this year with numbers so low.”
Taylor points to the standout play of first-time starters such as senior goalie Jimmy Tsiantoulas, who is averaging more than 15 saves per game after serving as a backup for three years. Defensive midfielder Jendry Mejia and close defender Nick Earner (who is headed to the Air Force Academy) are the only other seniors on the team.
Underclassmen are also stepping up in their first seasons, including Earner’s brother, Joe, who takes faceoffs. Freshman attack Tyler Beaner has 10 goals and sophomore Jake Coulstring leads the faceoff team.
“I’m pretty impressed with what we’ve done so far,” Nick Leander said about the underclassmen. “This is probably the best record we’ve had and we have a bunch of young players. They’re definitely getting a lot better every day.”
A new Somerville boys’ lacrosse program is also making the most of the season with limited numbers.
After two years as a club program, the Highlanders were about to begin their first varsity practices last March when the season was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rob Benevides and the other seven seniors on this year’s team waited patiently for their chance to play at a higher level, and have started 2-1 during the Greater Boston League’s adjusted spring schedule.
Coming off a solid Fall II soccer season, Benevides has showcased his stamina by running the midfield for a Highlanders team that only has 13 players, all while adjusting to the speed of the varsity game.
“We’re learning how to manage the clock and use our energy wisely,” Benevides explained.
“We always talk about picking our spots. Time is a big difference [in varsity games] since club games use a 15-minute running clock. So we have more time to plan our strategies and think about how we’re going to attack.”
In Somerville’s second game, Benevides scored two late goals to tie Revere before Aidan Johnson and Cole Martell scored to secure a 9-7 win.
Coach Charles Graham has worked with the school system to raise funds for jerseys and equipment so his program can continue draw increased interest.
“We’re trying to build skills along with IQ, so we can build up the program,” said Graham, who played at Lasell and teaches at the Arthur D. Healey School. “It’s been tough, but the guys have really stepped up and they want to play, and they want to be there, so it’s easy on my part when I have guys who are committed and are happy just to have a season.”
▪ Canton has fielded a boys’ program for decades, but is undergoing a renovation during its 9-0 start. First-year coach Ryan Quinn is no stranger to learning on the fly, having picked up lacrosse for his final two years at Merrimack College after playing baseball in high school and soccer in his first two collegiate seasons. With help from assistants Tommy Galvin, Travis Reed, Michael Leonard, and Kevin Albert, Quinn has made some key in-game adjustments to preserve close wins, including a 9-8 Hockomock League thriller against North Attleborough this past Friday.
“It’s kind of a group mentality,” Quinn said. “Obviously I have to make the decisions at the end of the day, but giving each other feedback and giving the players feedback has been key. Everybody has this ‘go-get-it’ mentality and those guys have seen a lot of things that we might not see.”
Canton also has limited numbers, but 11 of 15 varsity players are on the honor roll and showcasing their lacrosse IQ, especially on defense. Albert’s younger cousin, Jack Albert, leads the defense along with senior Carson Campbell and junior Sean Connolly. Senior goalie Dylan Coyne, defensive middie Eamon Kelly, and senior attack Jeff Fitzpatrick have also been vital contributors. Quinn also gets advice from 17-year-coach Bill Bendell, a fellow teacher at the Galvin Middle School. Plus Quinn has the support of his first grade son, Liam, the program’s biggest fan.
▪ Norwell provided a pair of thrilling finishes in nonconference action this week. After handling conference rival Scituate, 18-7, the No. 17 Clippers (7-3) dropped a 10-9 overtime decision against Duxbury on Thursday, then tested No. 7 Medfield in a 9-8 road loss Saturday. For Norwell coach Josh Stolp, those losses will prove valuable come tournament time, saying that “Every year try to schedule good teams, because we know at the end of the season those are the teams you’re going to see.”
Correspondent Jake Levin also contributed to this story.