By Conor Walsh
---- — One would be hard-pressed to find two lacrosse teams in more different situations than the respective boys squads of Gloucester and Manchester Essex.
On one hand, there’s Gloucester, an experienced squad with a coach in his fifteenth season looking to tweak an experienced lineup, improve on last season’s 6-10 campaign and make a push to the state tournament.
On the other hand, there’s Manchester Essex. The Hornets are coming off a dismal 3-15 season, but with first-year coach John McCavanagh’s arrival after three seasons coaching Boston College with his brother and an influx of young talent to a team with plenty of returning contributors, Manchester Essex appears poised for a rebound.
The two teams may have very different stories. The goal, however, seems to be the same.
“Make the tournament,” Gloucester coach Drew Dominick said bluntly. “Without a doubt.”
To do that, each team’s going to have to put some things together fairly quickly.
For Gloucester, the biggest question mark is between the pipes, where senior captain Joe Taormina will fill a void, switching from defense. It was a team-first move by Taormina, to be sure, but his lack of experience coupled with the fact that the weather and lack of field space in Gloucester only gave the Fishermen a handful of opportunities to get onto the field could make the transition more difficult.
“To be completely honest, we’ve only been on grass for like five practices, so it’s going to be tough to figure out until we really play in a game,” Dominick said. “We’ve had so much stuff cancelled because of the weather. Three scrimmages cancelled. It’s just been a nightmare.”
The good news, though, is that Taormina got one scrimmage under his belt and will have talent helping him protect the cage. With co-captain Mike Falzarano and senior Jesse Glidden anchoring Gloucester’s backline, the lack of field time may end up being a non-factor when the team opens its season at Salem today (4:00). Throw in burly senior Devin Hemeon, a football standout and baseball-player-turned-defender, and it’s going to be no bargain for opponents to try to get through to Taormina.
The other end of the field appears to be the team’s strength. Dominick’s got his entire attack -- juniors Jason Lattof and Ian Kennedy and sophomore Winslow Lewis -- coming back, and another year of experience and chemistry could make the Fishermen a force to be reckoned with.
The Fishermen have a strong midfield, as well, with veterans like Austin Titus and John Curcuru supplemented by the arrival of defensive midfielder Peter Wood and talented freshman Cormac Flickinger.
It’s always a tough road for Gloucester, having to deal with some serious talent in the Northeastern Conference. If all the pieces fall into place, though, Dominick’s plenty confident that his team can push NEC opponents and make a run at the tournament.
“It’s hard to say this early,” Dominick said. “Do I think we have a good shot against the Beverlys? Yeah, yeah I do. If we’re solid and we’re not banged up, we have kids that can play so we should match up pretty well.”
Looking at Manchester Essex’s dismal record last season, it may seem that Gloucester’s the area’s only hope. However, despite their shaky season last year, the Hornets have an unexpected amount going for them.
Starting with co-captains John Beardsley (midfield) and Chris Dumont (defense), both star football players for the Hornets, McCavanagh has a ton of athleticism at his disposal. The trick for the former Providence College player and Boston College coach will be to harness that athleticism into a better year.
The goal for McCavanagh? Build up the program through high-intensity, college-like practices that focus on skill development, fitness and understanding of the game.
A year ago, the Hornets dropped several one-goal decisions. With his focus on physical fitness and mental toughness, McCavanagh hopes those tight games will belong to his squad this season.
Behind Dumont and junior goalie Alex Taliferro, McCavanagh looks to have a solid defensive group, and with a ton of young offensive talent -- highlighted by attackmen junior Eli Kaufmann and freshman Bennett Strayton -- the Hornets will be looking to surprise some of the Cape Ann League brass this spring.
They’ve had the benefit of a more extensive preseason than many area teams, as the Hyland Field turf allowed the Hornets to be outside for weeks and to have two scrimmages -- one early in the preseason against Salem and another last night with Hamilton-Wenham.
“The team looks good. We had a chance to get one early scrimmage in so far, and I won’t say I was surprised by how they looked, but I was impressed,” McCavanagh said. “Quite impressed. The program has an up-and-coming future. There’s not much of a lacrosse tradition here, but that’s what I’ll be trying to build over the next couple of years.”
Gloucester :Last Year's Record: 6-10 Coach: Drew Dominick (15th season) Captains: Joe Taormina, Sr., G; Mike Falzarano, Jr., D. Key Returning Players: Jesse Glidden, Sr., D; Austin Titus, Sr., M; Jason Lattof, Jr., A; Ian Kennedy, Jr., A; John Curcuru, Jr., M; Winslow Lewis, Soph., A. Key Newcomers: Devin Hemeon, Sr., D; Peter Wood, Soph., LSM; Cormac Flickinger, Fr., M. Strengths: Attack. With the Fishermen's entire attack corps of Lewis, Lattof and Kennedy returning, Dominick's looking for his squad to build on its offensive explosiveness from a year ago. Concerns: Depth. Gloucester's got talent, there's no denying that, but there's a significant dropoff between the upper echelon and the next level of talent on this squad. A case of the injury bug could really hold this team back. Coach's Outlook: "It's hard to say this early. Do I think we have a good shot against the Beverlys? Yeah, yeah I do. If we're solid and we're not banged up, we have kids that can play so we should match up pretty well." Season Opener: Today at Salem (4:00). Manchester Essex :Last Year's Record: 3-15 Coach: John McCavanagh (First Season) Captains: John Beardsley, Sr., M; Chris Dumont, Jr., D. Key Returning Players: Alex Taliferro, Jr., G; Eli Kaufmann, Jr., A. Key Newcomers: Bennett Strayton, Fr., A; Jack Hennigan, Fr., M/Faceoff. Strengths: Defense. With plenty of big bodies and experience in the defensive half of the field, McCavanagh feels comfortable relying on his defensive group to help the squad through tight contests. Concerns: Inexperience. While the Hornets are loaded with exciting young talent, particularly at attack, it remains unclear how that talent will translate to varsity level. Coach's Outlook: "The team looks good. We had a chance to get one early scrimmage in so far, and I won't say I was surprised by how they looked, but I was impressed. Quite impressed. The program has an up-and-coming future." Season Opener: Thursday vs. Peabody (3:45), Hyland Field.