On a cool Sunday evening over on Turf 2 in back of Reading High, coach Charlie Hardy jumped in on a set with his offense, whizzing a pass through defenders right on target to a cutting attack, then backing up to reset into position.
After giving a quick explanation to a few onlooking players, he jogged back to the sidelines to watch.
“I can’t help myself,” said the 12-year coach, who started the program at Reading High.
“When I’m out here, I’m 12 again. It’s the best three hours of my day.”
It is the team’s first Sunday practice of the year, and it is unforgiving. Temperatures drop into the low 50s, the wind is swirling, and coaches are bundled up.
“If they have homework, they don’t have to come. If they have a job, they don’t have to come. It’s about dedication and wanting to be out here,” said Hardy, taking note that every member of his roster, including injured freshman Dan Cozzi , is on the field.
For the few players who are underclassmen, Hardy leaves their participation in their own hands. If the freshmen want to get action in a freshman game, then a JV game on a day in which the varsity is playing a quality opponent and they won’t see the field, they’re encouraged to do so. If they would rather sit and soak in the experience with the older boys, that’s OK too; it’s up to them.
Hardy and his coaches have a somewhat unorthodox approach, but it is not faulty. He has several assistants, including Ray Cozzi Sr. , father of Dan, a freshman, and Ray, a junior defender. The elder Cozzi played football and lacrosse collegiately at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and was on the alternate list on the Lacrosse World Cup team in 1986. “We beat the first team three times,” Cozzi remembered through a chuckle. Current Boston Cannons defenseman Kevin DeBenedetto , a 2006 Reading alum who played for Hardy, is volunteering his Sunday night at practice as well.
The experienced Rocket roster, made up of 18 seniors, knows what it takes to win. Fifteen of their seniors played on the Division 2 Super Bowl championship squad last fall, or the Super 8 hockey team in the winter. At least seven players, including all four captains, will be playing sports collegiately.
“Our theme is just to play,” said Hardy. “We just want to have fun out here. We have fun at practice, and we’ve been having fun winning. We just come out here on the weekend to have a few laughs and break a sweat.”
The Rockets are off to a scorching 10-1 start, their sole loss coming to a tough Masconomet squad (8-4). They returned their All-America goalie, 6-foot-5 Matt Comerford, a senior captain who will play lacrosse at Assumption College. In 11 games, he has a stellar 5.0 goals-against average.
“He’s been a big part of our success. He’s outstanding in net,” said fellow captain Mark Dente , an attack who will play lacrosse at Roger Williams. “He keeps the defense in line. He does everything well.”
On offense, Reading is producing 10-plus goals per game, led by Dente (22 goals, 22 assists) and Connor Frazier (23-20).
“We have that experience of playing big games together. That brings us closer together and makes it easier,” said Dente.
Added captain Andrew Lawrence , who is headed to Massachusetts Maritime Academy, “We’re very senior-laden. We know we can be a very good team. We can push hard in the playoffs if we put our minds to it and really want it. I think we will.”
Greg Connery , the Rockets’ fourth captain, who will enter the ROTC program at UMass Amherst and hopes to play club lacrosse, said, “It’s not hard to get them motivated.”
“The seniors know this is our last high school sports season. It’s just awesome to be out here with these guys and enjoy it, but we also want to keep winning our next game.”
Winning the next game is key, a fact Hardy stressed to his squad. But it is not the only goal.
“They’ve played in a Super Bowl and they’ve played in a Super 8 and they want to end their high school careers with another win. They want a three-peat, so to speak — a championship in all three seasons for Reading,” Hardy said. “But I always tell them if you win the last game, you did well. Hopefully at the end of the season, we can say we did well.”
Magicians heating up
After starting the season losing three of four games, the Marblehead boys responded with an 11-2 win over Swampscott, triggering an eight-game winning streak, beating the likes of Danvers, Peabody, Newburyport, Masconomet, and Beverly.
Nathan Maselek , a 6-foot-3 sophomore goalie who sported a 6.67 goals-against average as a freshman, yielded just 5.3 goals per game during the winning streak. The victory over Masco was the first in recent memory, and the Beverly win was the first in the last nine tries for the Magicians.
The Westford Academy girls continued to roll, winning their 15th game to remain perfect with a 14-2 blowout over Groton-Dunstable (9-3). . . . The Andover girls (3-5-2) are in a fight for a tourney spot, and the Golden Warriors may have to win out in their final seven games.
Pat Bradley can be reached at email@example.com.