Excitement geared toward the fast-paced sport of lacrosse is trickling all the way down to the Lower Cape, where Nauset Regional High is starting to reap the rewards of a reinvigorated youth program.
The Warriors are off to an 11-2 start with Andrew Berardi, Payton Kender, Quinn Mucha, and Cooper McIntire leading the way. Those four juniors learned their fundamentals early while playing in the Lower Cape Youth Lacrosse program and honed their chemistry playing club lacrosse together with the Cape Cod Kings.
“I wasn’t into baseball when I was younger,” said Berardi, who leads Nauset with 46 goals and 18 assists this season.
“I needed something faster and lacrosse was the perfect spring sport. They hammered the fundamentals into us when we were young and that really has carried on. Now we know how to play well together and do the little things. It feels like that’s how we’ve come away with wins in some close games.”
Coach Jesse Peno saw his oldest son, Aidan Sullivan, go through the same process when picking a spring sport. When Sullivan got into lacrosse in the fourth grade, Peno — who played football, basketball, and baseball in high school — started attending coaching clinics and immediately gravitated toward the sport.
Peno, a 1999 Nauset graduate, has been coaching football since 2003 with Nauset, Randolph and Wareham, serving as defensive coordinator when Mike Sherman coached Nauset in 2015-16. Peno took over the Nauset boys’ lacrosse program ahead of the cancelled 2020 season and was named head football coach in February.
“I thought, this game is really cool,” Peno said about lacrosse. “I really like that it’s a mix of the spacing and motion of basketball with the physicality and foot speed of other sports. Lacrosse is kind of exploding down here, and you can see it with the numbers at the youth level and with JV teams at the high school level.”
Commuting from his Rockland home, Peno also works with Nauset’s youth lacrosse program in an effort to maintain interest in the sport for the regional high school, which draws students from Brewster, Eastham, Orleans, Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet.
In Peno’s first season at the helm, Nauset earned an 11-8 win over Plymouth South in the state tournament before falling, 15-11, to top-seeded Canton in the Division 2 South quarterfinals.
This year the Warriors have played a number of close games against off-Cape foes, including close wins at Catholic Memorial (11-10), Silver Lake (9-8), and Falmouth (9-5).
“We never thought, ‘We’re just some Cape team,’ we thought we could compete,” said Berardi.
“Being able to play in some big games Off-Cape shows we can really win some big games for Nauset even though we’re a team from the Lower Cape.”
While Berardi leads the scoring, Peno’s program rewards the players who do the dirty work by giving out a “Hard Hat Award” to the unsung hero of every game.
Kender, a junior midfielder with 15 goals and the most caused turnovers on the team, has earned the most of those awards thus far.
“My whole game is doing those little things,” said Kender, who plays club hockey with South Shore Kings.
“I’m about getting that ground ball, that steal, and having the urgency to do the dirty work because one ground ball could be the winning goal or the losing goal.”
Senior defensive midfielder Cam Viprino and junior middie Kevin Wright have also done plenty of dirty work, and the Warriors received a huge lift from freshman goalie Zach Coelho when he was thrust into a starting role due to injury and made 16 saves in the win at Silver Lake.
Training hard all offseason with player-led workouts and drills has Nauset in position to compete for the Cape & Islands Atlantic title, and making a run in the statewide tournament could only help cement the growth of youth lacrosse in the region.
“That’s what every guy wants,” said Kender. “We want those [youth lacrosse] kids to look up to us and see what we’re doing at the high school level and stay focused so that they can battle every day to earn that spot once it’s their turn.”
▪ In 18-8 win over Pinkerton (N.H.) on April 30th, Hingham coach John Todd earned his 500th career win, a first in state history. Todd joined the Harbormen’s staff in 1987 as the coach of the freshman team before accepting the varsity head coaching position two years later.
In 30-plus seasons, Todd has crafted a lasting culture in Hingham — one that emphasizes family and the impact that lacrosse can have long after athletes string their sticks for the final time. Thanks to a 13-1 start for the No. 3 Harbormen, Todd is up to 504 victories. Former Newton North coach Bussy Adam is next with 457.
“You’re coaching and teaching to the broader base that your time in the game is very short, but your time with the people you’ve connected [with] through the game is infinite,” said Todd, a member of the US Lacrosse Massachusetts Hall of Fame. “You can have it forever.”
Hingham has won three state championships in his tenure, the last in 2017. When Todd joined the program, there were only 30 public school lacrosse programs statewide. A lot has changed since then, but the selfless culture of the Harbormen has remained constant.
▪ At Thursday’s MIAA lacrosse committee meeting, held virtually, state lacrosse tournament director Dan Brothers announced that preliminary round and Round of 32 games can begin June 6, Round of 16 games are scheduled for June 10-12, and state quarterfinals run from June 13-15 with all games taking place at the higher seed. The state semifinals will be held at the best geographically neutral location of 12 available sites from June 16-18. The state finals will take place at Worcester State and Babson from June 20-22, with a rain date allotted for June 23 at Worcester State.
Games to watch
Friday, Billerica at Chelmsford, 5:30 p.m. — It’s a huge tilt between the Thanksgiving football rivals on Friday evening. Billerica has been dominant against MVC competition aside from a loss at North Andover.
Saturday, Canton at Hanover, 10:00 a.m. — When these teams met in the Division 2 South tournament last June, Hanover prevailed in an 11-10 overtime thriller.
Saturday, Scituate at Norwell, 5 p.m. — Two of the top teams in the South region meet in a nonleague showdown. Scituate made the D2 state final last season and Norwell fell to Dover-Sherborn in the D3 state final.
Tuesday, Silver Lake at Duxbury, 4 p.m. — The Dragons regroup for another tough test after battling arch rival Hingham last Thursday. Silver Lake is coming off a narrow 12-11 win over Hanover last Tuesday.
Tuesday, Nauset at Sandwich, 4:30 p.m. — Nauset is a program on the rise with quality wins over Silver Lake and Falmouth. Sandwich beat the Warriors, 11-7, on April 28, and will look to remain in control of the Cape & Islands Atlantic Division with a season sweep.
Correspondent Ethan McDowell contributed to this story.