By Bob York –
For a league that plays no postseason tournament, the ideology of “one-and-done” is still firmly entrenched in the thought process and the game plans of the dozen men who tutor teams in the Western New England Division I Lacrosse League.
The league has fostered a well-earned reputation as one of the most competitive prep-school/high school conferences throughout the country and so, a single setback during the regular season can often mean you’re aspirations of winning sole possession of the championship trophy just went poof.
This year, it turned out to be a case of “one and – not quite – done,” at least as far as Deerfield Academy was concerned.
“We lost our opening game and ended up 15-1, still managing to capture the league championship outright … that’s pretty cool,” said Chip Davis, the veteran Big Green boys lacrosse coach, whose team finished atop the league standings for the 10th time in the past 12 years.
The league standings weren’t the only listing that Deerfield finished atop of this spring, however. According to Laxpower, the Holy Grail of prep school/high school lacrosse, the Big Green received the number-one ranking in New England this season, topping off a list that included 534 other teams.
And while we’re on the subject, hanging out with New England’s elite laxmen is nothing new for this storied program. Beginning with the 2000 season, Deerfield has chalked up a record of 204-17 and has culminated seven of those 14 campaigns being ranked as New England’s number-one team by Laxpower.
Taking it one step further with a glance at the entire map, you will find this Deerfield program has annually scripted its name among the elite on the national stage as well. This spring it notched its best ranking ever, winding up eighth – in a field that includes 3,366 teams. The Big Green has logged five other top 10 finishes since the 2005 campaign, placing ninth on two occasions and 10th three other times, while making three other stops within the top 25 as well.
This spring marks the fourth time that Deerfield has grabbed sole possession of the Western New England League title, the other three coming via undefeated seasons, in 2002, ’07 and ’11. The Big Green has also been involved in five two-way ties for the league crown and one chase that ended in a three-way deadlock.
As Davis can attest, there’s nothing better than finishing off the season in first place, unless, of course, it’s finishing off the season all alone in first place. That final scenario, however, wouldn’t make itself clear this season until the final week of the campaign.
“I think our early loss to Brunswick may have been a blessing, because I think it took a lot of pressure off us,” explained Davis. “We had 22 seniors on the roster this year, so expectations were high. I think after that loss to Brunswick, though, the kids put those expectations aside and began concentrating on the particular roles they had to play in order for us to be a successful team. “
That would take a while, however. Following its 9-7 opening-day setback on March 30 to Brunswick, which would finish the season 13-3 and ranked sixth in New England and 38th in the country, the Big Green would have to wait exactly one month to see some light at the end of the tunnel. That’s how long it took for Brunswick to fall from the undefeated. On May 4, it dropped an 8-7 decision to Westminster, to slip back into a tie with Deerfield. Nine days later, the Bruins would drop a game back when, on May 13, the Bruins lost to Trinity Pawling, 14-13, in double overtime.
This year’s rendition of Deerfield lacrosse, would once again drive opposing coaches crazy, but for a very different reason. This year there was no single player that had to be kept from hitting double figures. This season it would seem as though shutting down the entire team was the only way to victory.
“This team distributed the ball as well as I’ve ever seen,” said Davis. “In fact, we finished the season with seven guys having scored 24 points or more … I can’t remember ever having that many players score that many points before and I can’t ever remember having as unselfish a team as this one was. Having that kind of a combination certainly makes it tough on the defense. If they try to concentrate on one or two players, a bunch of other players are capable of stepping up.”
Heading up this spring’s well-rounded offense were seven seniors who will all be playing collegiate lacrosse on the Division I level next spring. Joe French (Virginia), collected 42 points on 35 goals and seven assists, while Tyler Early (Penn) and Liam Kennedy (Notre Dame) followed. Early posted 37 points on 22 goals and 15 assists, as Kennedy notched 19 goals and 17 assists for 36 points.
Adam Phille (Dartmouth), who split this year’s Benjamin C. Haviland Trophy with JR Mastro, finished with 29 points on 21 goals and eight assists, as Matt Cunningham (Loyola) produced 25 goals and six assists for 25 points. Christian Wolter (Michigan) and Jackson Finigan (Delaware) both finished with 24 points, with Wolter netting 13 goals and 11 assists, while Finigan had 11 goals and 13 assists.
Goalie Ahmed Iftikhar (Penn) keyed the other end of the field as he turned in an outstanding season between the pipes for the Big Green with help from David Hamilton. Assisting him were a corps of veteran senior defensemen in Ray Horgan (West Point), Alec Webster (Virginia), and Mastro (Trinity) and Walt Gahagan (Cornell).
Next year’s co-captains will be John Jackson ‘14 and Dave Hamilton ’14.