By Brendan Hall @BHallESPN
Throughout the regular season, Boston Lax will be conducting an in-depth look at the top contenders for this year’s inaugural “Bruce Lerch Player of the Year” award. The Player of the Year award, is named after our former Editor-In-Chief and dear friend, Bruce Lerch, who was so instrumental in growing and covering the game of lacrosse in Massachusetts.
Boston Lax will focus on five standout male high school lacrosse players in Massachusetts, who have elevated their game to the top of the charts. All coaches’ names are kept anonymous in our analysis of these players. We begin by highlighting five standout performers, who have opened their 2017 season’s in impressive fashion.
5 Early Season Standouts
Frankie Higgins, Jr. LSM/FO/D, Hingham
Has any MIAA team made as big of a statement in the early part of the season as the Harbormen? Last year’s D2 runner-up is off to a volcanic start to 2017, which started with a win over St. John’s Prep and continued last weekend with a statement upset of Connecticut power Simsbury. Hingham’s latest W’s, a decisive 12-6 semifinal win of North Andover and a 13-4 opening round win over Andover in the Coaches Challenge Cup, were two more notches on Hingham’s defensive belt.
The Harbormen are teeming with talent and appear to have finally broken through to the other side, and carrying them over the gap has been the Bucknell-bound Higgins. Watching Higgins is a treat. Rare is the long-pole that not only takes faceoffs, but dominates them, charging downfield after the scoop and picking seemingly any corner. At 6-foot-2 with a linebacker’s build, Higgins is the rare type that swings his stick like a scimitar and his body like a wrecking ball. He truly is a treat to watch.
“Jesus, he’s a machine,” says one opposing coach who faced the Harbormen in the playoffs last spring. “He’s been hanging out on offense more and gotten a bunch of points this year, but he’s still one of the better LSMs and one of the best at faceoffs. He causes a ton of problems. He’s too big to slide to his body, and his stick’s too good to leave to his own devices. Just a big, Division 1 athlete coming right at you. We spent a big amount of time in practice trying to deal with him, and he just invalidated us.”
Jack Geiger, Jr. M, Reading
Any rumors of a Rockets demise after last week’s stunning upset at the hands of Wakefield are, as usual, greatly exaggerated. The MIAA D1 contenders showed the state they’re not going anywhere with a statement win Tuesday afternoon over BC High, getting a hat trick from the UMass-bound Geiger in regulation and a man-up goal from senior attack Kevin Tobin 20 seconds into overtime to upset the Eagles.
Together, Geiger and Tobin form one of the more exciting – and imposing – scoring duos to watch in Division 1 this spring. And in case you’re just joining us, they have a knack for the theatrics. Witness April 4’s season rain-soaked, last-second, season-opening thriller over Billerica at UMass-Lowell, in which Geiger ripped the game-winner with 20 seconds left as part of a five-goal afternoon.
“He’s one of their spark plug guys – all energy, all the time,” says an opposing coach. “I actually think his stick is a little more polished than Tobin, but he makes himself the problem in every area of the field – riding, clearing, scoring, moving with and without the ball. He does everything fast, which a lot of high school kids don’t do.”
— Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7) April 12, 2017
Jack Cahill, Sr. M, Medfield
The Warriors graduated a good amount of talent from last year’s D2 state champion squad, and while they’re teeming with potential down the road, in the now they’re young. They’ll turn to the 5-foot-10 Cahill for guidance through the early-goings of the season, and so far he’s delivered. After registering 46-17-63 totals a season ago, the Holy Cross commit is on pace to at least match those totals, with 16-3-19 totals through the first six games, including a five-goal outpour in their 12-8 win over Shenendehowa (N.Y.).
Between John McLean and Kevin McCordic, last year’s Warriors boasted some of the state’s hardest shots. Now fully in the spotlight, Cahill’s own rocket is on full display. Adept at creating real estate for himself off the body, and armed with an array of deft dodge moves, Cahill is one of the MIAA’s toughest shots to stop on the run – he’ll pick his corner from seemingly anywhere within 20 yards of the cage. And when he winds up for one of his trademark uppercut swings, take cover.
It’s a crowded bunch in this year’s Bruce Lerch Award field so far, so Cahill may have to surpass last year’s totals to stay in the running. But so far, positive marks all around.
Dan Ryan, Sr. D, Lincoln-Sudbury
Warriors head coach Brian Vona hasn’t been totally satisfied with the two-time defending Division 1 state champions’ efforts so far – but considering what they’ve built the last few years, he’s entitled to his high standard. On an L-S squad that graduated four All-Americans, Ryan’s in the spotlight on the back-line, and the long-pole has thrived for the most part in the first half of this season. In four of the Warriors’ six wins, they’ve held their opposition to five or less goals – including April 13’s 9-5 win over a Xaverian squad missing several of its top players.
The Hobart College signee has all the traits you look for out of a top-flight defender in the MIAA, and he demonstrates it in spades – closing speed, face-guarding skills, lateral agility, and the fleet feet to ride a top attacker hip-to-hip and keep him from getting a great angle on net. Ryan is also comfortable in the offensive end of the field, scoring a recent goal in the Warriors semifinal win over Dover-Sherborn in the 2017 Coaches Challenge Cup. With marquee games on tap the next few weeks between juggernauts Longmeadow, Summit (N.J.) and Duxbury, Ryan’s candidacy for the award could take a sharp turn northward with good showings.
Ben Churchill, Sr. G, Rivers
If there’s anything we’ve learned from Michael Toomey’s outstanding 2016 campaign in net for Xaverian, which resulted in ESPNBoston’s final Mr. Lacrosse award, it’s that when a good goalie stands on his head, and carries their team, people take notice. If Churchill keeps going at this clip, he’s going to create an awful tough dilemma for the pundits at the end of the season.
“Plain and simple, the kid is a wall,” said one opposing coach.
The Red Wings’ will rely heavily on their Ivy League bound netminder, as he backbones a young defense, who graduated three All-ISL poles from last year’s squad, led by Ohio State freshman Caleb Mahoney. So far this season teams have found Churchill to be practically impenetrable in net; Rivers (6-1) and Churchill have allowed a combined 32 goals in their six wins this season (5.3 Goals Allowed Average) and have only allowed 41 goals in seven total games (5.8 GAA). And with saves like this, it’s easy to see why.
— Ryan Kilian (@masspreps) April 13, 2017
Like other top goalies from years past, Churchill makes those below-the-waist saves look mundane, virtually erasing the lower half of the cage for many of the state’s proficient scorers.