December 9, 2012

Greatest rivalries: Framingham vs. Westwood

By Phillip Shore

Framingham and Westwood have been chasing each other for years, with the schools combining to claim every Mass. state title since 2005.

With six seconds remaining in the 2007 Eastern Massachusetts state finals, the 24-0 Framingham Flyers and the 22-1 Westwood Wolverines were deadlocked at nine goals apiece.

Westwood was called for a charge, giving Framingham a free shot. The Flyers gave the ball to then-senior and 2007 Boston Globe Division 1 Player of the Year Kristin Igoe.

“It was just one of those deals where there’s no play called from the sideline. The coaches just wanted to watch the team figure out a way to win,” Framingham head coach Stacey Freda said. “It’s nice to have the venue to see players rise to the occasion.”

Igoe scored on her shot, giving Framingham the 10-9 victory and sending the Flyers to the Massachusetts state championship game, where they would eventually defeat Longmeadow to cap the school’s second consecutive undefeated, state championship season.

That game between Westwood and Framingham, however, was a prime example of how intense that matchup is and how the stakes always are so high.

“I was so upset. We were a goal away from going to states,” said Alex Frank, then a junior at Westwood and the coach’s daughter. “It showed how bad both teams wanted it. It was neck and neck to the end. That motivated me so much my senior year to keep pushing.”

Come back stronger is exactly what Frank would do. She would be named the 2008 Boston Globe Div. 1 Player of the Year and would be a crucial part of the Wolverines completing an undefeated, state-title winning season of their own.

Whether it be the score of the individual game, who would win the state title or which school would receive the highest individual honors, back and forth is the best way to describe the rivalry between Westwood and Framingham.

“I really feel we have two programs that work hard. We enjoy playing against each other,” Westwood head coach Leslie Frank said. “I have nothing but respect for their program. … We know we’re going to get a fight, and they’re going to get an intense game.”

Since 2005, either Westwood or Framingham has won the Massachusetts state title, with the Wolverines edging out the Flyers in championships, 5-3. In five of those eight years, Westwood and Framingham have faced each other in the state semifinal, with Westwood having a slight 3-2 edge.

“It was the unofficial state championship of Massachusetts,” said Bob Holmes, high school sports editor at The Boston Globe. “The winner of the game, regular season or tournament, was usually the Div. 1 Eastern champion. And whoever it was got to beat up on Longmeadow (for the state Div. 1 championship). When those two teams met, you knew you were watching the best players in Massachusetts.”

The teams have played each other 13 times in the past eight seasons with Westwood ahead in the series, 8-4-1.

“We look at it as the Super Bowl every year,” Freda said. “Because of the longstanding tradition we’ve had, it’s as tough a game as we’ll have each and every year.”

The rivalry doesn’t just exist in the fact that the two schools play each other every year. It’s not even solely that they routinely play each other with so much on the line. The rivalry thrives because each year both programs recognize that in order to get to the Promised Land — to achieve their ultimate goal — they most likely will have to go through the other team in order to get there.

And that serves as a motivational tool for the players year-round.

“My coach at Northwestern, her dad had this list of quotes, and when he passed away, she gave it to us. One said, ‘You can’t stop working, because there’s always someone better,’” Alex Frank said. “At Westwood, we knew who that someone was that was going to be working. … It makes you work harder and that makes you a better player and better person.”

Five times in the past eight years, Westwood or Framingham has finished the season as New England’s top girls’ team, according to the LaxPower computer ranking system. Six times, both schools have been in New England’s top 10 — including 2010, when they finished 1-2 — and four of those times, they were in the region’s top four at the end of the year.

While the rivalry may be between two programs, it’s the people involved that makes it special. It starts with coaches Freda and Frank, who have been in charge of their programs for quite some time and have both been successful, winning multiple Globe Div. 1 Coach of the Year honors apiece.

There’s a mutual respect between the two.

“Any time they beat us, I just think, ‘How does she beat us?’ When we do lose, there’s always a chance we’re going to learn something,” said Freda, who worked with Frank on the Mass Elite club team before breaking away to start the Mass Mavericks program. “She’s very gracious in winning. I can respect her because she’s always willing to give us back something. She’s always respected us and I respect her for that tremendously.”

Then there’s the caliber of players that have come through the programs.

For seven of the past eight years, either a Framingham or Westwood player has been named Boston Globe Player of the Year. The schools fill the Globe All-Scholastic selections with players. In both 2005 and 2010, the schools combined for six All-Scholastics nominees, for 35 and 27 percent of the selections in their respective years.

“There’s a lot of ‘To the winners go the spoils,’” Holmes said about the selections. “The top kids by the coaches’ standards are kids from Framingham and Westwood. The coaches say that, the teams say that, the statistics say that, so it’s easy for a dumb journalist to figure it out.”

Adding to the success of the rivalry is the level of competition the players continue on to after high school. Alex Frank and her sister, Meredith, played at Northwestern, as did Sara Harrington, Ali Jacobs and others. Westwood grads Kerri Harrington and Kelly Rich play for the current NCAA champions now.

Alex is now an assistant coach at Boston College, where her charges include Framingham’s Rachel Igoe — Kristin’s younger sister followed her to the Eagles — and Moira Barry, the 2010 Globe Player of the Year. Also on the BC roster as a freshman is Kate Rich from Westwood.

At Curry College, Nikki Mackay (Framingham) held the NCAA Division 3 record for points scored in a career for three years. Others from these powerhouse programs have gone on to star at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, UMass and the University of New Hampshire, and many more programs at all levels of the NCAA spectrum.

The coaches see a motivation both on and off the field that drives their players to do great things at the next level.

“Both schools drive these kids in the classroom. If you have smart kids, you’ll get good aptitude for understanding,” Leslie Frank said. “They realize very early on if you don’t have the academics in the lacrosse world, the top schools are very tough to get in.”

That success at the next level has more people paying attention to the already highly publicized Westwood-Framingham rivalry, Freda said.

“When you do see college coaches lining up for these girls, it’s great to be a part of this revolution of the sport,” said Freda, who noted that the attention the top schools have gotten has helped all programs in Massachusetts and New England by helping to create “opportunities for players to play at higher levels.”

In the classroom and on the field, Westwood and Framingham have set the bar for success in high school lacrosse in New England, and they’ve done it together, going head-to-head over the years, with recognizable stars creating some memorable outcomes, like that semifinal game in 2007.

“They’ve been good enough long enough for people to understand that they’re the heavyweights and everything goes through them. For the most part it begins and ends with Westwood and Framingham,” Holmes said. “It’s kind of a tribute to the two schools that people know that it goes through them. And they deserve it.”

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2012 issue of New England Lacrosse Journal.

Twitter: @PShore15