March 17, 2012

2012 prep school preview

Nobles, Middlesex, Rivers among teams eyeing Governor's title

St. Sebastian returns a deep senior class, led by midfielder Jack Connolly, who is headed to Dartmouth. (photo: Mike Braca/MaxPreps)

The prep school landscape in New England features some of the area’s top talent, and changes faster than the public schools thanks to the influx of post-graduate students who, in many cases, starred on public-school teams before taking an extra year to prepare for college.

Here’s a look at the prep teams expected to shine in 2012:

Boys

Independent School League

After two years of being in the mix, including sharing the 2009 ISL title, Governor’s Academy finally took the division all for itself thanks to an undefeated 16-0 season. An impressive trio of midfielders — J.C. Vivian (Georgetown), Tate Jozokos (North Carolina) and Samuel Davis (Penn State) — should keep the Red Dogs toward the top of the pack.

They won’t easily repeat as champions, though, due to a deep conference that saw a total of seven teams finish with double-digit conference wins.

Noble and Greenough (13-4) finished second thanks to an incredible end-of-season run that included 13 wins in its final 14 games. The Bulldogs return attackman Brad Rigoli and will be tough competition for Governor’s Academy, as should Rivers (12-5), which is led by Vermont-bound defenseman Chase Williams and Army-bound midfielder Conor Van Duzer.

Middlesex (11-4), the 2010 champion, slipped to third in the standings last season after losing 13 seniors and will look to avoid falling any further. Thayer and Belmont Hill should be in the mix, and St. Sebastian may be the team most likely to break out of the pack of double-digit winners, with a deep senior class led by Dartmouth-bound middie Jack Connolly and two junior Notre Dame commitments in midfielder Dalton McAfee and defenseman Patrick Healy.

Western New England Division 1

It’s the same story, just with new characters. With Deerfield — the highest ranked New England team in the nation last season, according to Lax Power — coming out on top in the standings in 2011, it marked the sixth times in seven years Deerfield or Salisbury (which finished in a tie for second) has finished with at least a share of first place. Deerfield has won the title outright three of those times.

This year might be a prime opportunity for the Crimson Knights to steal another title. They return All-American defender Tanner Scales, headed to Virginia in the fall. They also bring back lots of Division 1-caliber players on offense, including attackmen Mike Morris (Johns Hopkins) and Myles Jones and midfielder Jack Clippinger (Denver).

The Big Green graduate three attackmen, including All-American Jimmy Bitter, but reloading is business as usual for the school. They have four attackmen lined up to play Division 1 lacrosse next year — and that’s before you get to the top recruits spread through the midfield — which means an offense that’s capable of keeping pace with Salisbury; and if the offense doesn’t keep pace, Duke-bound goalie Luke Aaron will be in net to turn away all comers.

Avon Old Farms and Johns Hopkins-bound goalie Will Ryan will look to improve on a disappointing 12-8 season in 2011, while Westminster — tied for second last season — will try to crash the party once again.

Western New England Division 2 & 3

Millbrook School has seized control of Division 2. For the second year in a row, the Mustangs won the title and finished undefeated in the conference. Things look good for them this year as they return a talented core of players, including midfielder Tyler Albrecht (Cornell) and goalie Will Gabrielsen (Drexel).

Canterbury has finished second the past two seasons. Midfielder Luke McDermott, committed to Franklin Pierce, will attempt to push the Saints past nine wins for the first time since 2008.

In Division 3, Chase Collegiate (7-8) finished under .500 overall but was undefeated in league play for the fourth consecutive year. It will need a better performance this year if it wants to get past the Harvey School — whose only league loss was to Chase — or Masters-Simsbury.

New England North

Brewster Academy in 2011 was once again head-and-shoulders better than everybody in New England North. The team finished 15-1 overall and 8-0 in conference, including beating second-place finisher Holderness by nine goals. It was Brewster’s seventh consecutive title.

The Bobcats graduate 13 seniors, but leading scorer Austin Shanks (50 goals, 67 points) is only a junior. He will team with Ryan Poirier (Merrimack) and Nick Price (Vermont) on offense and will be backed by Cody O’Donnell (Bryant) on defense; Poirer and O’Donnell were All-American teammates last year at LaSalle Academy, runners-up in Rhode Island.

Holderness and defensemen Dickson Smith — committed to Virginia — will look to provide some stiff competition, as will New Hampton.

Eastern Independent League

Portsmouth Abbey won its second consecutive title and third in the past four years after going undefeated in conference play for the second year in a row. The team has relied on its defense and will look to Trevor Kenahan to replace graduated All-American Morgan Green in goal.

Pingree usually hangs around the top of the standings and that should be no different this year, but it could be joined by Berwick Academy and Beaver Country Day.

Others

Led by returning All-American and Duke-bound midfielder Joe Kruy, Phillips Andover will look to push Phillips Exeter in the New England East division and get back to its winning ways. Phillips Exeter will not be easy to move, however, as it returns a load of top-end talent (see box).

Kingswood-Oxford is another perennial powerhouse in New England prep lacrosse.

Girls

Independent School League

The ISL is the most competitive league in girls prep lacrosse in New England. Last year, Noble and Greenough went 15-1 and won its fourth ISL title in five years. The Bulldogs get back senior attack Hope Hanley, a 2010 All-American honorable mention who missed most of last season due to a broken tibia, but the school will need Hanley to come back strong if it is to come out on top in a tight division.

Thayer, the 2010 champion, will look to take back the title and has the returning talent all over the field to do it. The headliners are All-American Bryn Boucher (Maryland), McKenzie Hunt (Penn) and Katherine McManus (Notre Dame) in the midfield, supported by Allison Hoffman (Columbia) on attack and Academic All-American Anna Kenyon on defense, but the truth is that the Tigers have top college-bound players at every spot on the field.

Middlesex (14-2), which returns Stanford-bound Julia Burns and Northwestern-bound Hadley Brooke, should be good once again this season, as should Brooks and Governor’s Academy (see box).

Eastern Independent League

Pingree (10-5) won its second consecutive EIL title thanks to an undefeated conference record. Louisa del Rio will be the main attraction in the Highlanders midfield before she heads to Boston University in the fall. Pingree also returns EIL Player of the Year Maura Grady, a junior goalie.

Portsmouth Abbey — led by midfielder Caitlin Villareal — should provide a stiff challenge, along with the Winsor School.

Founders League

Loomis Chaffee had won eight of the past 10 Founders League titles, but 2011 was all about Hotchkiss.

The Bearcats finished 11-1 and beat Loomis Chaffee as well as two other schools ranked in LaxPower’s top 10 in New England prep lacrosse. They were 6-1 against opponents with winning records and they were 4-1 in one-goal games. Hotchkiss always rose to the occasion and, led by Cornell-bound midfielder Abigail Hanson, it should not be a one-hit wonder at the top of the league’s talent pool.

Loomis’ 12-3 record last season, meanwhile, was nothing to sneeze at. The Pelicans were held under 10 goals only once all season, by Hotchkiss. Midfielder Devin Markinson, committed to North Carolina, returns this season; Loomis will remain an elite team but no longer feels like a preseason automatic for the league title.

Others

Madison Crutchfield was named an All-American as a freshman and her St. Paul’s School was the only team to knock off Noble and Greenough. It once again will be a team to keep an eye on this year.

Williston-Northampton has lost only twice in the past four seasons and should continue to be a force to be reckoned with thanks to returning All-American Bridget Instrum and Academic All-American Katherine Cavanaugh.

Penciled in on the trophy: Phillips Exeter boys

Last season was remarkable for Phillips Exeter. The Big Red won their third consecutive New England East title in an impressive fashion. They handed Brewster Academy its only loss in a thrilling 9-8 overtime victory, and defeated top-tier schools Gould Academy, Portsmouth Abbey, Pomfret, Pingree and Holderness.

Phillips Exeter has a well-rounded team, but defense will be its calling card. Last season, the Big Red allowed only 5.1 goals per game; this year, they keep some important players from that unit, which should only get better with another year of experience. All-American Matt Ryan will be a junior this season, and he will partner with Princeton-bound Luke Brugger and David Cappellini, who heads to Connecticut College next season. Behind those three talented long-poles is goalie Blair Friedensohn, who has committed to Dartmouth.

Scoring against the Big Red may never have been tougher.

Ready for the next step: Governor’s Academy girls

The ISL is a crowded, competitive league, but it may be the Governors’ time for a breakthrough.

Governor’s Academy is a defensive-minded team that brings back some talented pieces to that successful unit. Returning are Academic All-American PeriSchaut and Natalie Azarela, who will play for Colby College next year. The cornerstone of the defense, however, is Duke-bound goalie Kelsey Duryea, a two-time All-American who comes back this season with the experience of winning gold with the U.S. Women’s Under-19 team at the World Championships in Germany this past summer. Already boasting top-level talent, she now possesses knowledge of what it takes to be a champion; her presence alone gives the Governors a chance in every game.

The Governors will need to beat some combination, if not all, of Noble and Greenough, Middlesex, and Thayer to capture a share of the ISL crown — and they were 0-3 against those schools in 2011 — but this could be the year all those pieces come together for something special.

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.

Phillip Shore can be reached at feedback@laxjournal.com