When Chris Baker watches his daughter, Kenzie, play lacrosse for Franklin High, he makes sure to do so as a father rather than as a coach.
Baker, who coaches the junior varsity boys’ team at Franklin, “bites his lip” and deliberately lets her play her game. Sometimes they exchange a knowing nod, but for the most part, he simply looks on in admiration and marvels at how far she has come.
“Once you get in the car, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, that was awesome,’” Chris Baker said. “We’ll just recount the whole thing. She goes through all the plays, and it’s just so much fun. She says, ‘All right, let me have it.’ She’s always looking for improvement. ‘You’re not going to make me better unless you give me constructive criticism.’”
Kenzie Baker — a junior midfielder and catalyst who leads the second-ranked Panthers (11-0) with 27 goals and is second with 25 draw controls — is already one of the most dynamic players in the state. She has verbally committed to UMass Lowell. But she’s never complacent or satisfied with her progress.
As she tries to help fuel the Panthers to a Division 1 state title on a deep and talented roster, she’ll rely on the work ethic and commitment to her craft that has gotten her to this point.
“She’s always been one of the hardest-working kids,” Franklin coach Kristin Igoe said. “She always wants to better herself. There’s really nothing more I could ask for. She’s every coach’s dream player.”
As a kid, she dabbled in everything from gymnastics to softball and was “completely against” lacrosse when her dad first encouraged her to try the sport in second grade.
Baker said she cried every day, was miserable, and was fully convinced it wasn’t for her. Chris, who also currently coaches football at Hopkinton and has been around sports his whole life, was there to encourage her to stay patient.
“I was like, ‘No, this is not for me.’ He’s like, ‘But you can’t quit. You just have to push through it,’” Baker recalled. “I stuck with it, and eventually I ended up falling in love with it.”
She sharpened her skills through Franklin Elite and also spent much of her time on the sideline at her father’s games. Chris said his players have always taken Kenzie and her younger brother, Flynn, under their wing and have shown them the beauty of being part of a team.
He believes seeing that camaraderie first-hand helped his daughter want to pursue a similar path herself. As far as the sport takes her, he and his wife Leeanne will always cherish those interactions from her childhood.
“My daughter would look at me after a loss and be like, ‘That’s OK, Dad. We’ll get them next time.’ It’s moments like that that are worth everything,” Chris said.
Chris and Leeanne — who has run multiple marathons — started waking her up at 5 a.m. and asking if she wanted to join them at the gym. It didn’t take long before the roles reversed and she was knocking on their door.
People at the gym always asked Chris and Leeanne how they instilled that work ethic in their kids, and they would just shake their heads and smile. It was a lot more on Kenzie and Flynn than it was on them. The work she put in during the offseason paid dividends on the field, and she started to take the sport even more seriously.
Baker steadily improved in middle school and chipped in 23 goals and 25 ground balls as a freshman. She worked with Chris multiple times a day during quarantine, continued to sharpen her ability to go left, and prepared herself for an increased role this spring.
She said she barely recognizes her freshman year self now when she watches old film, and Igoe believes she’s a significantly more confident and polished player.
Chris said she comes home every night, does her homework, and is consistently in bed by 8 p.m. She wakes up early, goes to the gym, practice and school, then does it all again without any complaints. Sometimes he reminds her it’s OK to look at her phone or goof off for a bit, but that goes against her natural instincts and regimented and relentless approach. They watch Survivor as a family, and that’s one of the few times she’s not zeroed in on lacrosse.
Whenever she has a question or needs a tip, Chris is there to offer his two cents. He taught her at a young age how to fall in love with the hustle and grind, and that mind-set has stuck with her throughout her budding career.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere without my dad,” Baker said. “He’s the best. I take what he says to heart all the time, because I know he always wants the best for me.”
▪ At 8-1, St. John Paul II is off to its best start in program history, having clinched its first Cape & Islands title despite fielding one of the youngest rosters in the league. SJPII graduated seven seniors in 2020 and has just two on its roster this season, but in the absence of a large senior presence, the underclassmen are making their mark.
“They’re all just melding together as a phenomenal team,” coach Pat Van Cott said. “Our team has come together. Everybody knows their roles, and that’s the difference between a really good team and a mediocre team.”
The duo of sophomore Hadley Crosby and freshman Ella Bartolomei, affectionately known as “Thunder and Lightning,” has been a driving force behind the Lions’ success. Crosby leads SJPII in assists. Bartolomei has dominated the scoring.
In a 19-6 win over Dennis-Yarmouth on Friday, Bartolomei, a freshman who has been on varsity since seventh grade, potted 10 goals — her highest total of the year. Although the official school record is unknown, double-digit scoring is a feat unmatched by another Lion in recent years.
When Van Cott saw a need in the midfield, he moved Bartolomei, typically an attacker, to fill the vacancy. Since then, she has exploded for 69 goals and 13 assists in just nine games.
“She’s the real deal,” Van Cott said of Bartolomei.
▪ Boston College captured the program’s first NCAA title on Sunday with a 16-10 win over Atlantic Coast Conference rival Syracuse. This year’s final four teams — BC, Syracuse, Northwestern, and North Carolina — featured a number of players from eastern Massachuetts.
“I’ve had a lot of fans reach out from my hometown,” said Jillian Reilly, a BC defender from Westwood. “It was a win for us as much as it was a win for them.”
Boston College — Annie Walsh (Franklin); Annabelle Hasselbeck (Weston/Rivers); Maddie Cooney, (Old Rochester Regional); Jillian Reilly (Westwood); Andrea Reynolds (Sudbury/Holderness); Addison Kent (Norwell); Haley Cogliano (Westford); Erin Walsh (Franklin); Grace Arthur (Marblehead); Julia Barry (Duxbury); Bridget Simmons, Milton/Notre Dame Academy); Sydney Scales (Walpole).
Syracuse — Grace Fahey (Boxford/Masconomet).
Northwestern — Jane Hansen and Elle Hansen (Cohasset); Dylan Amonte (Norwell/Thayer Academy); Taylor Pinzone (Waltham); Maddy Balter (Wellesley).
North Carolina — Bailey Horn (Framingham/St. Mark’s); Maggie Skillman (Hingham/Thayer Academy).
Games to watch
Thursday, Norwell at Notre Dame-Hingham, 4 p.m. — The No. 11 Clippers gave the No. 3 Cougars a scare last time they met, and they’ll try to get over the hump this time around.
Thursday, Andover at North Andover, 4 p.m. — After hosting the No. 20 Scarlet Knights on Wednesday, the Warriors will battle NA on the road the following day.
Friday, Hingham at Cohasset, 4:30 p.m. — The No. 13 Harborwomen look for another signature win when they face the 10th-ranked Skippers on the road.
Saturday, Reading at Lexington, 6:30 p.m. — No. 14 Reading prevailed, 12-10, last Monday, and the Minutemen are on the hunt for a bounce-back victory.
Monday, Walpole at Natick, 4 p.m. — An upset win over No. 8 Walpole to highlight an unblemished week would likely vault Natick back into the Top 20.
Correspondent Emma Healy also contributed to this story.