January 22, 2013

13 newsmakers to watch in 2013

There are a million stories in the lacrosse world. They’re found in small towns and at big colleges, on high school fields and in the pro ranks. They’re uncovered in the statistical rankings that paint a picture of who was among the best in the game, or who was a disappointment.

It’s impossible to tell even a meaningful fraction of those deserving stories, but it’s worth trying to take a look at people whose successes and failures will be a big part of what people talk about next winter when they retell the story of what happened in New England lacrosse in 2013.

Here are 13 stories that New England Lacrosse Journal believes will be a big part of the fabric of 2013 around the region, players and coaches whose accomplishments or disappointments are likely to be part of the wow factor in the new year.

Paul Rabil

Boston Cannons
Midfielder


Paul Rabil had a record-breaking season for the Cannons in 2012. (Getty Images)
    

The most recognizable lacrosse player in the world — considered by many to be the best — Paul Rabil again dominated Major League Lacrosse during the 2012 regular season. He broke the league’s single-season scoring record and was named Offensive Player of the Year for the third time in four seasons.

But when the calendar turned to the playoffs, Rabil again found himself contained by an opposing defense determined to make anyone but him beat it. He was held without a goal — notching just two assists — in a 16-10 loss to the eventual champion Chesapeake Bayhawks in the MLL semifinals.

With an aging roster that the Cannons’ front office and coaches have admitted needs an infusion of new talent, a trade of Rabil could bring a franchise-altering haul of draft picks and young skill. Cannons head coach Steve Duffy, however, insists Rabil is very much a part of Boston’s future as the cornerstone of its 2013 championship ambitions.

Somehow, even after a record-breaking season, it isn’t unfair to expect more from Rabil.

“Paul has matured into an incredible player and leader,” Duffy said. “He showed he was a consummate team player last year when we had him playing a lot of defense when we suffered through some injuries and, frankly, didn’t have anyone else. I am in contact with him all the time in the offseason, talking about our plans for the team, and the thing that comes through is his passion to win. That’s his main objective.”

Rabil also has been a champion playing pro box lacrosse, and his indoor fortunes changed on Dec. 14 — Rabil’s 27th birthday — when the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League traded him to the Philadelphia Wings in a blockbuster eight-player deal that also featured former Boston Blazers star Dan Dawson.

Sources told New England Lacrosse Journal that Rabil had considered suspending his indoor career — instead focusing full-time on the outdoor game — until the trade sent him to a franchise closer to his Maryland home. If he plays for the Wings, he likely will miss the start of the Cannons’ season, making it harder for his 2013 numbers to stack up with his record-setting 2012.

- SCOTT SOUZA

Mallory Collins

Boston University
Sophomore attackman

While all eyes are on U.S. National team member Danielle Etrasco, Boston University’s success in 2013 may ride on the star lurking in Etrasco’s shadow, sophomore Mallory Collins.

Collins (Boston, Mass./Thayer Academy) was the American East Conference Rookie of the Year in 2012 — the Terriers’ first winner of the award since 2007 — and finished fourth overall in league scoring, earning second-team all-conference honors. Her 2.81 goals per game was tops among all freshmen in Division 1.

“Mallory has the skill set and ability to read the game the way some of the other great Terriers who have come before her and become household names like Danielle Etrasco, Sarah Dalton, Lauren Morton and Alyssa Trudel to name a few,” Boston University head coach Elizabeth Robertshaw said. “She shows her enjoyment for the game every time she comes out to practice and on game days, and people who do that and play at her level have a good shot at achieving greatness.”

Etrasco, the Terriers’ top dog, has been a positive influence.

“Playing with Danielle in my first year at BU has helped my game take off,” Collins said. “She is obviously a very talented player who knows a lot about the sport of lacrosse. Coming in as a scared freshman and not knowing what to expect, Danielle was very patient with me and set aside extra time to help me in any ways possible.”

Robertshaw wants Collins to ignore the lofty expectations and comparisons and to just be herself.

“I want (Collins) to go out and have fun playing, not get bogged down by expectations,” she said. “She’s seeing more variety in her challenging lanes to cage, and has continued to work on her finishing skills, which put her in a position to really find success in any situation this spring.”

— ANDY HENDERSON

Ryan Polley

Boston University
Men’s head coach

For many, the idea of establishing the identity of a new lacrosse team at one of the most prominent academic institutions in the nation would be a daunting one.

Not so for Ryan Polley, who last summer was announced as the head coach of Boston University’s new men’s’ lacrosse team.

In his first months on the job, Polley has been eager to prove that the Terriers will have what it takes to compete against the lacrosse establishment. For the time being, he can only do that on the recruiting front, as BU won’t take the field as a varsity team until 2014.

Still, being the new kids on the block in the nation’s oldest game — and in an area such as New England, where so many colleges have long-established teams — means that Polly will be one to watch when the fall rolls around and his Terriers step on the turf to give a preview of what lies ahead.

“Everything has gone great,” Polley said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how we’re executing my vision and just moving toward starting this thing up next fall.”

Polley, who earned second team All-American honors at Merrimack College, cut his collegiate coaching teeth at his alma mater, taking what was a middling 6-8 program in his first year to two consecutive 11-5 seasons. In 2006, his final year, the Warriors were ranked eighth in Division 2 and Polley was named New England Div. 2 Coach of the Year.

Polley then joined Yale as an assistant, becoming the team’s defensive coordinator in 2010; in his three seasons leading the ‘D,’ the Bulldogs went 31-13 and twice ranked among the nation’s top 10 defenses.

Swapping surging Bulldogs for new Terriers has only raised Polley’s level of excitement, as he believes he can lead the new program to success.

“I was in a great situation there, we were just kind of starting to turn a corner — we won the Ivy League two out of the last three years or had a share in it, we had our first NCAA tournament appearance,” Polley said. “(Boston University) convinced me that this was just a special place, and it has been every bit of my expectation.” 

— BRADEN CAMPBELL

Will Manny

University of Massachusetts
Senior attackman

Will Manny made a lot of great memories at UMass-Amherst’s Richard F. Garber Field in his first three seasons as a Minuteman.

May 12, 2012, was not among them.

At the outset of the NCAA Division 1 lacrosse tournament, UMass was undefeated and ranked as the top team in the nation, seemingly ready for a deep playoff run — but Colgate ended that dream in a hurry, eliminating the Minutemen, 13-11, in their first game of the tournament.

When Manny set foot on Garber Field this fall for the first time as a senior, the gravity of the moment was not lost on him.

“I think it’s more fuel for the fire for our returning seniors, now my class,” Manny said. “I remember the first practice (of the fall) on Garber Field, we were like, ‘This is our last first time,’ and ‘Last time we were on here, we lost.’ And that just pushed us through the fall.”

While UMass itself had a tough exit, nothing could tarnish what Manny did in 2012, as the slick, 5-foot-9, 160-pound attackman from Massapequa, N.Y., notched 44 goals and 33 assists en route to being named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award given to the nation’s most outstanding player.

This year, it’s do-or-die for the preseason All-American, who said he believes last year’s team was better than its early end suggested. And if he can harness that frustration and carry it into 2013, this year’s Minutemen squad might just live up to its potential as he gives the team his last, and hopefully best, shot.

“That’s was what was running through my mind,” Manny said, “and I remember I talked before the first practice in the huddle. I called out the seniors in front of the entire team, first time stepping on the field coming back in fall, to make it happen.”

— BRADEN CAMPBELL

Acacia Walker

Boston College
Women’s head coach

Stepping in to coach an NCAA Division 1 program is daunting enough, and made tougher when it’s your first head-coaching position. For Boston College’s new leader Acacia Walker, however, the situation is far less intimidating with a battle-tested squad on the field.

   “Our main strength has to be experience,” said Walker, who takes over for Bowen Holden after working as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator and associate head coach for two years. “We have a resilient senior class and strong supporters — including a star freshman class — and they got a lot of incredible experience in those tight games (in 2012). The kids want to win more than ever and the big thing for us is building that confidence.”

Expectations were high last season as Boston College was coming off its best season and had landed the sixth-ranked recruiting class in the country. The problem was that the Eagles were rated right around the top 10 preseason but had four Atlantic Coast Conference rivals ahead of them.

A brutal schedule and a number of close losses saddled BC with a 10-8 record and only one win in the ACC. With an equally daunting schedule this season, including traveling to face national champion Northwestern and games against two other squads that reached the Final Four, Walker’s path to success looks to be a rocky road.

Walker — who earned All-American and All-ACC honors while playing at Maryland and a gold medal playing for the United States in the 2009 World Cup — has played or coached in 10 of the last 11 NCAA tournaments, winning titles as an assistant coach at Northwestern from 2006 to 2008, and she believes BC can earn a spot in the Big Dance.

This year and into the future, Walker will have plenty of weapons to use in her battle to improve results. ACC Freshman of the Year Covie Stanwick  and classmate Mikaela Rix — who earned all-conference honors at midfield — have only taken their first steps in college. Walker also is excited about freshman Sarah Mannelly (New Canaan, Conn.), the Eagles’ leading scorer this fall, who Walker says “plays like a senior who has four years experience under her belt.”

As that talent matures under Walker’s tutelage, BC could actually take the “next step” that has looked so close in recent years.

— DIANA PUGLIESE

Zach Davidson

Castleton State
Sophomore attackman


Vermont native Zach Davidson had an electric freshman season for the Spartans. (Photo: Deborah Slawinski)

In his college debut, Castleton State attackman Zach Davidson exploded to the top of the NCAA Division 3 leaderboards. The question for 2013 is whether he can stay there while leading the Spartans to a North Atlantic Conference championship.

Davidson finished his freshman season ranked third in points per game in Div. 3 play, one of just three players nationally to record more than five points per game. The South Burlington, Vt., native showed remarkable balance, ranking in the top 15 for both goals (2.94) and assists (2.18) per game.

He capped his breakout season being one of only two freshmen on the all-conference First Team, where he was joined by teammate and fellow freshman Eric Horsfield (Tolland, Conn.).

“Getting that recognition is always special,” Davidson said. “I didn’t expect to crack into the all-league honors.”

This season, Davidson has his sights set even higher, looking to lead the Spartans to the North Atlantic Conference title. In 2012, Castleton lost out on the conference championship to New England College.

“The NAC is always our destination,” Davidson said. “I want to make a run for the NCAA.”

Davidson shows no signs of slowing down as he prepares with his team for the upcoming season.

“Right now, we are getting bigger, faster, strong and getting better as a team,” Davidson said. “I believe our team has the ability to go all the way.”

Whatever the outcome of the 2013 season, Davidson appears likely to continue engraving his legacy into both the Castleton program and the NCAA record book.

Said Bo McDougall, Castleton’s head coach: “He is a great player and has made us better every day.”

— SAMMI GORMAN

Grace Politis

Regis College
Sophomore attacker

Teresa Busiek

Regis College
Junior midfielder

This past season, sophomore attacker Grace Politis and junior midfielder Teresa Busiek set the lacrosse world on fire with offensive production coaches only dream of.

The shocking part wasn’t just the numbers, but that they were achieved playing for Regis College, a Division 3 school nestled in the Boston suburbs, where the teams are known as the Pride, but where lacrosse history was lacking until Politis and Busiek arrived.

Politis (Billerica, Mass.)  averaged 5.69 goals per game in 2012 as a freshman, not only tops in Div. 3 but also the best overall average in the country regardless of gender and division.

 “Going into the season, I was extremely nervous about the higher level of competition,” Politis said, “as well as getting to know my new teammates and coaches.”

Busiek (Arlington, Mass./Arlington Catholic) wasn’t far behind, finishing fourth in the nation in scoring at 5.27 goals per game.

“I’m always excited to get onto the field each spring for lacrosse season, because of the great teammates I have and the fact that our program is becoming competitive,” Busiek said.

That competitiveness has been true in Busiek’s tenure at Regis, but the school’s history makes the high-scoring exploits of its top attackers even more impressive.

Regis established its women’s lacrosse team in 2005, and over its first four seasons, the Pride  scored a total of 55 goals and posted an overall record of 0-34. The program took a year off in 2009, re-emerging with a 1-13 record before Busiek’s arrival spurred an improvement to 4-12.

In Regis’ breakout 9-4 season in 2012, Politis and Busiek combined for almost as many goals as the entire team scored over the program’s first six years of existence.

Slated for two more years playing together, what this statistical dynamic duo can achieve for an encore will be worth watching.

“The two of them were an incredible one-two offensive punch for us and they have helped take our program to the next level,” head coach Liz Conant added. “I truly believe we have a very bright future, and the two of them will play a large role in our continued improvement and success.”

— MATT POLIQUIN

Sarah Allen

Quinnipiac University
Senior attackman

Many lacrosse players get labeled as “pure scorers,” but Quinnipiac University senior Sarah Allen is the rare player who truly can be described as a “pure feeder.”

The Glastonbury, Conn., native recorded 64 assists in just 15 games last season, setting an NCAA record for assists per game at a blistering pace of 4.27.

“I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Allen said. “We really had a vast number of cutters. Our goal is to win, and I do whatever I can to help win.”

Allen scored just four goals last year. Her 68 points was good for 36th overall in Division 1; no one else in the top 100 had fewer than 23 goals.

“Sarah had an amazing statistical season last year,” Quinnipiac head coach Diane Caro said. “It’s mind-boggling when you consider our overall season, and finishing with a .500 record.”

Allen now has 110 assists in her career, just one shy of the school record. Allen, however, is more focused on team goals than individual achievements.

“Ultimately, I want to win a championship,” Allen said. “I would like to be less predictable, so that means less passing and more shooting.”

Caro is eager to have Allen back for one final campaign and is hoping her star will produce a more well-rounded campaign in 2013.

“She is very adept at understanding what the team needs,” Caro said. “I wouldn’t expect her to put up the same numbers. She’ll still be a feeder, but also a much more complete player.”

— PATRICK MCINTYRE

Jon Hayes 

Boston Cannons
Midfielder

Matt Smalley

Boston Cannons
Midfielder

While some viewed the 2011 Major League Lacrosse champion Boston Cannons as a team of stars that finally got its due, the most ardent fans realized the title breakthrough came through a combination of its elite talent and hard-working, local grinders.

No two players epitomized that better than Matt Smalley (Cumberland, R.I.) and Jon Hayes (Waltham, Mass.).

Yet while both were critical to the Championship Weekend success in 2011, both suffered hardship in 2012. Smalley was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the start of training camp, and Hayes suffered a broken foot midway through the season.

Smalley made a surprisingly effective return shortly after the end of his treatments late in the year, while Hayes is expected to return to the playing field this winter with the Boston Rockhoppers of the North American Lacrosse League.

With the retirement of defensive midfielder J.J. Morrissey, Cannons coach Steve Duffy is counting on both Hayes and Smalley to play major roles in 2013. They won’t make a big impact on the stat sheet, but it will be hard to return to the top of the league without a significant contribution from both.

“The unsung heroes on the field are the guys at the positions these guys play,” Duffy said. “These are the guys who get you the ball and transition it to the attack. Smalley does it with his ability to get groundballs, and Jon does it with his play in the defensive midfield.

“We really missed both of them when they were out last year. They were like two ships passing. I think they played a quarter together all season,” Duffy added. “Those two have a strong bond that’s a big positive for us. We can’t wait to get them back out playing together (this) year.”

— SCOTT SOUZA

Chris Gabrielli

Providence College
Men’s head coach


Chris Gabrielli previously served as an assistant coach for the Blue Devils. (Duke Photography)

The Big East created a men’s lacrosse league three years ago with Providence College as a charter member with a chance to play with the big boys. Membership hasn’t meant success; Providence hasn’t won more than three games in a season since, including an 0-14 campaign in 2010.

Enter Chris Gabrielli, the former Duke assistant now charged with turning the program around.

It won’t be easy, but the new head Friar is up for the challenge.

“It’s a great school that’s made the commitment to be great at lacrosse. They’ve recommitted in resources with athletic scholarships, facilities, budgets and salaries,” he said. “It’s a great school in New England, which is a hotbed of our sport, so it was a great opportunity.”

Gabrielli is no stranger to New England. He was a defender at UMass from 1998 to 2001 and an assistant coach there from 2003 to 2005, and he was on the Boston Cannons practice squad in 2004.

He’s also no stranger to success.

At Duke, he worked mainly with the defensive unit. During six seasons there, the Blue Devils reached the Final Four each year, made two finals appearances and won the NCAA crown in 2010.

It’s his job to impart that experience onto the Providence players now.

“We need to establish a culture of competitiveness, focus on the fundamentals and focus on having fun,” Gabrielli said. “We have ample talent right now to compete in every game. If you look at some of the scores from last year, Providence was very competitive. Now it’s just about getting over the hump.”

Gabrielli promises to preach teamwork and work ethic as the foundations of future success.

Said Gabrielli: “We’re going to teach the guys to work harder than they ever have before, as well as lean on each other more than ever before.”

—  PHILLIP SHORE

Greg Melaugh

Merrimack University
Senior attackman

When Merrimack University coach Mike Morgan recruited Greg Melaugh four years ago, he knew the attackman was something special.

Melaugh more than delivered in his third season, being named the Northeast-10 Player of the Year while the Warriors went 13-3 en route to their fourth consecutive appearance in the league championship game.

“I told him, ‘You’re not a role player, we need you to be the guy,’ and he stepped up,” Morgan said of Melaugh’s production increase last year. “He’s a grinder. He can score from anywhere on the field and is one of the best ground-ball guys. Greg doesn’t really have a hole in his game.”

Despite appearing in only 13 games, Melaugh nearly doubled the total points he had produced in his first two seasons at Merrimack. His more selfish play around the net paid huge dividends for the Warriors, as the Billerica, Mass., native led NCAA Division 2 in points (4.38) and goals per game (3.39). Five of his 44 scores were game-winners, and twice he netted a career-high seven goals in a game; his play garnered second-team All-American, first-team all-conference and NEILA All-New England honors.

While Melaugh admits the season of personal accolades was exciting, he enters his senior year with a bigger goal: leading a championship squad. After a strong fall, the Warriors’ captain has high hopes for bringing home Merrimack’s first title since his freshman year.

Melaugh teamed with fellow senior All-American Corey Lunney (sixth in the nation in scoring) to form the highest-scoring pair of teammates in the country last year, combining for 89 goals and 116 points.

If the duo can repeat that kind of leadership and performance, 2013 could be the year Merrimack upsets rival LeMoyne College and brings the NE-10 crown back to New England.

— DIANA PUGLIESE

Katie Keenan

Fairfield University
Senior goalie

Kelly Keenan

Sacred Heart University
Sophomore goalie

It is one thing to stand behind your sister and support her on the field. It is quite another when she is standing in the cage opposite of you.

Katie Keenan is a senior at Fairfield University.

Kelly Keenan is a sophomore at Sacred Heart.

Both are starting goalies for Division 1 schools that are separated by six miles but that are similar in that they expect their goalkeeper to lead them to victories this year.

“Kelly is a really unique goalie and extremely coachable,” Sacred Heart coach Laura Cook said. “She is a backbone of our defense.”

“We are offensively weaker this season,” Fairfield coach Mike Waldvogel said, “and are looking to Katie a little more.”

Bragging rights in the Keenan family would depend on how you view the numbers. Katie finished fourth in the nation in save percentage, and seventh in goals-against average, while Kelly was 22nd and 41st, respectively, in those categories. Kelly, meanwhile, finished in the top 10 in both saves and saves per game, while Kelly was in the top 40 players in those categories.

When their paths cross on the field, the sisters from Wantagh, N.Y., say it makes for some healthy competition. Last year, Katie’s Stags topped Kelly’s Pioneers, 16-12.

“(Competing against Katie) is a lot of fun,” Kelly said.

“I enjoy it,” Katie said. “It’s not ruthless.”

Having earned first- and second-team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference honors during her career — and already owning three of the top six statistical seasons in school history — Katie will round out her career in 2013 looking to be the second goalie at Fairfield to register 500 career saves, and hoping to help the Stags continue the improvement they have made over the course of her career.

“Katie was the first player I recruited,” Waldvogel said.

Across the field, Kelly’s career is still in its infancy, but she earned second-team all-Northeast Conference honors as a rookie.

“Kelly gets tough and is mentally prepared,” Cook said in response to Kelly’s ability to recover after a goal. “She’s not your typical goalie.”

“It’s nice seeing Kelly getting the attention,” Katie said.

“We have a very young team this year,” Cook said. “It is amazing how much harder our freshmen will play when Kelly is in goal because they have so much respect for her.”

Fairfield and Sacred Heart will tangle at Fairfield on March 6, Kelly’s last chance to even the score with her big sister.

Each wishes the other good luck for the upcoming season, though not too much luck for that particular day.

— SAMMI GORMAN

Kevin Massa

Bryant University
Sophomore midfielder

People who do dirty work tend to leave a mark, and Bryant University’s Kevin Massa left his smear all over the NCAA Division 1 statistics last year, using what Bulldogs head coach Mike Pressler describes as a “work ethic that is second to none” to be one of the top X-men in the country as a freshman.

Playing all 18 games for Bryant in 2012 — and taking nearly all of the team’s draws, Massa posted a .639 faceoff winning percentage and 7.61 groundballs per game, finishing respectively third and fourth nationally in those categories.

Thanks to graduation of the players who finished ahead of him, Massa isn’t just the top returning freshman specialist, but the top returning faceoff man in NCAA Division 1 lacrosse, period.

Massa was a three-year starter for Elwood John Glen High School (Huntington, N.Y.), where he also excelled at wrestling and football. Battling at the faceoff X combines many of the best attributes of all three sports, and Pressler noted that Massa is a “student of the game,” who clearly put that education to work immediately upon arriving at Bryant’s campus in Smithfield, R.I.

Massa won 257 of the 402 draws he took, including a career-high 23 against Albany on March 17. Scoring is generally considered a bonus for a faceoff specialist, but Massa notched two goals and added nine assists mostly by generating fast breaks off of clean wins.

While faceoff men seldom earn a lot of attention, Massa enters the 2013 season with hype to live up to. If he can, Bryant’s men’s squad could be making headlines in 2013 by earning a conference championship and an NCAA berth.

— JAKE WALNUT

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.