Any athletic event between St. Mary’s of Lynn and Bishop Fenwick can be contentious, but Saturday’s boys’ lacrosse battle for first place in the Catholic Central League took on a new meaning.
Neither school has won a league title, and both got off to program-best starts to open the 2019 season, adding fuel to the fire of an already heated rivalry.
No. 20 St. Mary’s (7-1, 5-1 CCL) earned a 12-7 victory at Fenwick (8-1, 4-1) but suffered an 11-8 defeat against defending CCL champion Austin Prep Monday night to create a logjam atop the league standings.
For St. Mary’s coach Josh Field and Fenwick coach Steve Driscoll , both in their fourth seasons, even being in position to compete for a league title at the midway point of the season was an indication of the rapid rise of their programs.
“I have so much respect for Coach Driscoll and his program,” said Field. “Before the game, we were saying, ‘How great is this? Two teams in the CCL, battling it out at the halfway point, both undefeated.’
“There’s a great heritage of athletics at St. Mary’s and the gym is filled with state and league championships, but there’s a missing banner on that wall and we’re shooting for that.”
The two programs have followed a similar blueprint.
The private schools draw students from across the North Shore, many of whom played lacrosse at the youth level. Additionally, both coaches have helped their programs grow by integrating athletes who star in other sports, but have yet to play lacrosse.
St. Mary’s features two stalwart defenders new to the game in Jack and Owen Maguire. With ample experience as rugby and hockey players, the brothers from Nahant are making a smooth transition, and have been an integral part of a defense that allowed just 3.7 goals per game leading into Monday’s tilt.
“A lot of guys picked up the stick for the first time freshman or sophomore year, and they’re key players now,” St. Mary’s senior captain Damon Maribito said of Jack, a senior, and Owen, a junior. “A lot of that is because of coach’s willingness to expand the program.”
Field played varsity lacrosse at Newton North under legendary coach Bussy Adam , graduating in 1988. He spent eight years as the varsity lacrosse coach at Swampscott while remaining heavily involved in the town’s youth lacrosse program.
When he was hired as boys’ lacrosse coach at St. Mary’s in 2016, players in the area took notice.
Senior attack Brendan Laundry (team-leading 21 goals, 16 assists) transferred from Swampscott to St. Mary’s two years ago. And this season, the Spartans welcomed standout sophomore Zach Barden, who bulled his way through the Fenwick defense for three goals and an assist on Saturday.
Barden, an immovable 6-foot, 192-pound midfielder from Swampscott, transferred to St. Mary’s after helping Austin Prep to a D3 North title last spring. Now he’s relishing the challenge of supplanting his former school atop the CCL.
“Based on how [St. Mary’s] did last season, it’s definitely exceeded my expectations,” Barden said of the hot start.
While the players enjoy their new status as contenders, the coaches are taking a wide-angle look at the growth of their respective programs.
Driscoll played high school lacrosse at Manchester-Essex when the program was in its infancy. After graduating from the University of Maine, he spent three years as an assistant at his alma mater, then took the head coaching job at Fenwick in 2016.
“It was nice to see what a program is like over the first four years [at Manchester-Essex],” said Driscoll. “We definitely had our growing pains. It was some tough sledding, but in the long run, in my coaching career and life in athletics, it was a good thing.”
Driscoll, an admissions counselor at Fenwick, and has helped shape several student-athletes into excellent lacrosse players with little prior experience in the sport.
Also, he has helped students with dreams of playing college football channel their ambitions toward playing lacrosse at the next level, an approach that has senior captains Derek DelVecchio (Emmanuel) and Garrett Ruszkowski (Maine Maritime) preparing to play in college.
“A lot these kids didn’t think lax was their sport freshman year, but turns out by senior year, they’re going to college for lacrosse,” said Driscoll.
Whether drawing on a pool of students that specialize in other sports, or on the experienced lacrosse players from the 15-plus towns represented on their rosters, Driscoll and Field are getting the most out of their athletes.
“These guys are new to lacrosse, but they’re not new to varsity sports,” said Field. “They know what it takes to get better and by now, you can’t tell that they’re new to the game.
“Every year we’re getting kids to come out,” Field said. “We want kids to know that if you work hard, and you’re a team player, you have a home on this field.”
■ Needham senior attack Jason Child became the third player in program history to record 300 career points with an assist during an 18-3 victory over Weymouth Tuesday . . . Reading senior Mike Tobin also topped 300 career points during an 8-7 loss to Concord-Carlisle Saturday . . . Braintree junior Matt Hemmert scored seven of his eight goals in the second half, including his 100th career goal, to lead the Wamps in an 11-9 comeback win over Walpole uesday . . . Westford Academy junior Cam Barisano also scored his 100th career goal in an 11-10 win over Central Catholic Saturday . . . Melrose coach Matt James recorded his 100th career win when his Raiders (5-3) defeated Woburn, 18-3, on Tuesday.
■ Franklin edged BC High, 10-9, in overtime on Friday for the program’s first win over the defending D1 state champion Eagles . . . Mike McCutcheon scored the tying goal with 2.2 seconds remaining and netted the winner in overtime to propel Duxbury past Hingham 8-7, on Thursday night. The Dragons went on to upset Medfield, 12-7, on Saturday and are now primed to win a 19th Patriot League title in 20 years.
■ Top-ranked Lincoln-Sudbury hosted Manhasset (N.Y.), the No. 13 team in the nation per Inside Lacrosse, on Thursday and was dealt an 18-8 defeat for their first official loss of the season. The Warriors were also one of six premier programs selected to participate in the Geico High School Lacrosse Showcase at St. Anthony’s in South Huntington, N.Y. over the weekend. The Warriors competed, but ultimately fell, 20-10, to No. 5 St. Anthony’s, and 11-8 to No. 11 The Haverford School (PA).
■ St. Sebastian’s edged Belmont Hill, 9-7, on Wednesday to take sole possession of first place in the ISL. The undefeated Arrows (10-0, 7-0 ISL) are ranked No. 17 nationally per Inside Lacrosse.
■ Reading alum Kevin Tobin and Billerica alum Jeff Trainor hooked up for the go-ahead goal in an 11-9 win for No. 15 UMass over Delaware Friday. The Minutemen (10-4) host Drexel (6-7) in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals Thursday at 5 p.m.
Games to Watch
■ Tuesday, BC High at Xaverian, 7 p.m. — Xaverian ran away for a 16-7 victory earlier this month at BC High, the improving Eagles are capable of exacting revenge at the Hawks’ Nest.
■ Thursday, Hingham at Needham, 7 p.m. — These D1 South hopefuls could meet in the later rounds of the state tournament, but first they will face off in a premier nonleague tilt at Needham’s majestic Memorial Field.
■ Friday, Duxbury at Lincoln-Sudbury, 5 p.m. — The Dragons are soaring following defeats of rival Hingham and Medfield, while the Warriors look to use what they learned at the Geico National Lacrosse Showcase to survive this huge nonleague matchup.
■ Friday, Dover-Sherborn at Medfield, 6:30 p.m. — Medfield is back atop the Tri-Valley League and is looking like a state title contender once again, but the rival Raiders from Dover-Sherborn always provide a stiff test.
■ Saturday, Algonquin at Concord-Carlisle, 5 p.m. — After playing defending D1 state finalist Acton-Boxborough down to the wire in a 9-8 defeat last month, Algonquin comes back east to face defending D2 state finalist Concord-Carlisle.
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.