PEABODY — In the opinion of his head coach, Tony O’Donnell , Keifer Heckman is the “greatest player to ever wear a Peabody lacrosse uniform.”
And in his final season, teamed up with his stepbrother, fellow captain Nick Ouellette , Heckman put together one heck of a season, powering the Tanners to an 11-9 finish.
Although Peabody was ousted 11-6 in its tourney opener by Boston College High School, a state semifinalist, it was a dramatic turnaround for a program that had compiled a 19-39 mark in its previous three seasons.
Heckman and Ouellette were determined to make a difference.
“Captains were never really taken seriously,” Heckman said. “We wanted to change that.”
The pair called mandatory captain’s practices in the offseason with their third captain, Andrew Najjar , and began lifts at 6 a.m. The hard work paid off: The Tanners qualified for the tournament for the first time since 2009, the spring before Heckman and Ouellette arrived.
The 5-foot-8 Ouellette graduates with 107 goals and 71 assists for 178 points, the fifth-highest total in program history. His 107 points this season are the second-best single season mark for a Tanner.
Heckman, who is 5-foot-10 and leaves as the program’s all-time leading scorer (166 goals, 120 assists), capped his career with a 77-goal, 49-assist aggregate this spring.
His stellar campaign surpasses that of Greg Welch, currently an assistant coach with the Tanners, who set the standard 10 years ago.
Heckman also set single-game records this season for goals (10) and points (13) in a win against Swampscott. He also rattled off six game-winning goals, two of which came in overtime, and one of which came on senior day in a 16-15 win over Salem.
Heckman, a first team Northeastern Conference and Agganis All-Star, like Ouellette, is a three-time team MVP, and also earned two Eastern Mass Lacrosse Coaches Association All-Star selections, the NEC Player of the Year award, and the Robert Danish Tanner Award as Peabody High’s best athlete.
The awards are deserving.
But more importantly, it is a confirmation of the pair’s desire and talent, which will allow them to continue their lacrosse careers together at the Southern New Hampshire University next year.
“I always kind of hoped that I could [play in college]; I realized it was a possibility but I never thought I would end up with Keifer. I’m really excited to go to school with him and keep playing with him,” said Ouellette.
“We had a shaky first season, but ever since then we’ve wanted to make a big impact in the conference and get the team back to where it should be,” he said. “It’s definitely an awesome feeling, but when I was in the youth program I always looked up to the high school kids; it made me want to play lacrosse at Peabody High. Hopefully we have the same effect.”
“It was a totally different year than any other year. It was great to leave Peabody on a positive note. I’m hoping the program will just build off of that and keep moving forward.”
There were a number of other storylines that developed this season from high school lacrosse programs north of Boston. Here are a few:
Marblehead girls have stellar season
In 2011 and 2012, the Marblehead High girls registered their best two seasons.
This year, the Magicians were even better.
After losing their season opener to Acton-Boxborough, Marblehead won 13 straight and 19 of 21 overall to advance to the North final for the first time. Senior Tyler Phillips delivered the game-winner in a nail-biting 13-12 win over Wayland in the semis.
The Magicians lost to Winchester in the final, but coach Annie Pugh sees this season as a sign of things to come.
More than 100 kids, many of whom have Pugh as a 5th grade teacher, came out sporting Marblehead jerseys to cheer on the girls, storming the field after the 13-12 win.
“This was definitely the best season we’ve ever had in 30-plus years,” said Pugh.
“There was a sense of pride and community. We saw success and the town of Marblehead was proud of us. I think that this group of seniors [seven graduating] has set the precedent for the program. For four years, these girls have been standing by my side, helping me at every youth lacrosse camp and building the program from first grade and up through the high school. My fifth-graders already want to play.”
Winchester makes the finals again
Winchester also enjoyed a terrific season, as the senior class advanced to its second state championship game in four years. The Sachems faced nemesis Norwell again, and lost the final.
For coach Suzanne Ontso , this senior class led by Megan Hennessy — by far the program’s all-time leading scorer with 462 career points on 297 goals and 165 assists — will be hard to replace.
“What can I say about Megan Hennessy?” Ontso began. “She finished her career as our all-time leading scorer, but her impact on our program is so much more than that. Good players make the big plays. Great players make everyone around them better. Megan is one of the greatest we’ve ever had.
“I’m so proud of this team. We finished one game short, but when you realize how far this team came, it’s stunning. We started the season with so many holes after graduating 10 seniors, our strongest schedule ever, and only 10 returning letter winners (of which only four had ever started a game). It’s been years since we had so few returners, but what we lacked in skill or confidence we made up for in effort and teamwork.”
Revere weighs in with ‘awesome’ year
In Revere, the future can only be bright following a terrific inaugural varsity season for the boys’ program.
The Patriots managed a 9-8 regular season to squeeze into the postseason before losing to a very talented Billerica team in their tourney opener.
The Patriots return their two leading scorers Stephen Piazza and Jay Siegal , as well as goaltender Doug Zingali .
“It was an awesome year. We made them work, and they were all on board. We started calling each other family and it really stuck. It’s an important thing to see each other as brothers,” said coach Mike Guanci .