Boston High School: John Merwin

D1 lax final: Xaverian 9, Lincoln-Sudbury 5

June, 13, 2013

ALLSTON, Mass. – Xaverian made history on Wednesday night at Harvard Stadium. The Hawks claimed the lacrosse program’s first-ever Division 1 state title with a solid 9-5 victory over the top seed Lincoln-Sudbury.

Xaverian jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the second quarter and controlled the majority of play to bring home the championship. Following the final whistle, head coach Tim Gardner reflected on what it meant to finally earn the elusive first trophy.

“It’s your primary goal every preseason…you work for this day and hope that it can happen and we’ve gotten close a few times and to win this game against that team…to win it in this fashion is pretty incredible,” he reflected.

Junior attack jack Wheeler was the star of the game offensively with four goals and he could only marvel at the accomplishments that the Hawks reached this year.

“It makes us feel great. We came out Catholic Conference champs and no. 7 coming into the playoff and knocked off no. 2 Needham and then L-S right now,” he remarked.

When asked if he was surprised about the Hawks quick start to the game, Wheeler replied, “I actually had a dream last night that we were going to come out and it was going to be 2-0 and then we’d go on to win.”

It took more than eight minutes for the opening goal and junior midfielder D.J. Sperzel opened the scoring for Xaverian. Wheeler followed almost two minutes later with his first and it was 2-0 Hawks after the opening quarter. The slow start continued for L-S, as Wheeler and semi-final round hero Lukas Buckley added a pair to make it 4-0 before the Warriors got on the board.

Head coach Brian Vona admitted after the game that his team just could not match the speed of the Hawks out of the gate.

“I think they outplayed us and they played with a different speed,” he explained. “ I didn’t see any of my guys run by someone or even try. I saw guys that we covered a month ago run by our guys.”

Vona added, “Our kids played with heart…but I felt like we got outplayed. It’s just that simple.”

L-S got back into the game in the second quarter. First, senior Dan Delaney struck to make it 4-1 and then senior attacker Jordan Dow made it a two-goal game. Sperzel and John Merwin traded goals and the score was 5-3 heading into halftime.

The top seed made it a one-goal game just 1:37 into the third quarter on Merwin’s second of the night, but Xaverian answered the challenge. It was Wheeler who struck back with a great move and rocket of a shot to make it 6-4. Gardner was proud of his best players coming through on the biggest stage.

“This is a great day for stars to step up, you know, and Jack [Wheeler] really earned it today with big goals at big times,” he said.

Wheeler pointed to the Hawks attacking with speed as one of the reasons behind Xaverian’s strong offensive performance.

“When we pushed it, we scored almost every time,” he said. “Most of our shots were on net, which was helping us out. We kind of just pushed it and it worked out for us and we kept pushing it.”

Following Wheeler’s third, Eric Hoffman notched his first to make it 7-4 and give Xaverian a much needed cushion. Chris Giorgio gave the Warriors hope with a score 2:21 before the end of the third quarter, but it would be the last goal from L-S in the game.

The Hawks defense has been strong all postseason against some of the top attacking talents in the state (including Nico Panepinto of Needham and Jay Drapeau of Westford Academy) and it was stout once again in the final.

“We tried not to let them pass around and pass around and possess and not give them any space when they drive,” Gardner said. “We were just preaching team defense, get a body on body, don’t let them see the back side of the field and just try to prevent easy goals.”

Vona was also full of praise for the strength of the Xaverian defenders, which had a much bigger impact than in the team’s regular season meeting (L-S won that game 10-5).

He noted, “I don’t feel like we ever got into a rhythm and I feel like that’s because of them. I think they played that well. I don’t know how many times we turned the ball over, but that wasn’t just us turning the ball over – they helped us turn the ball over.”

In addition to the Hawks’ long poles Rob Breed, Joe Gaziano and Elijah Jolly, who all had solid performances, Xaverian could count on goalie Jay Pourbaix to make the key stops. The biggest sequence came with the score at 6-4 and Pourbaix made two close-range saves to preserve the two-goal advantage.

Gardner made sure to highlight the contributions of his goalie, especially the way he battled through injury in the final.

“Jay [Pourbaix] has been playing hurt all week,” said Gardner. “He was banged up coming out of the B.C. High game. His knee is hurting and every step of his hurt, but he stepped up and it was just an incredible performance.”

In the fourth quarter, Wheeler capped his great night with a great goal to make it 8-5. He gave a pump-fake that forced two defenders to charge at him, stepped inside the defense and fired an unstoppable shot past the goalie. With 3:10 left in the game, Backus added his second to wrap things up and secure the title.

“It’s really remarkable and all the credit to the guys for their hard work and not giving up, not backing down when they started coming back a little bit and, really, at points in the season when it looked like we could have gone downhill…we really made a decision to step up and improve every day.”

D1 lacrosse: Lincoln-Sudbury 14, Billerica 1

June, 6, 2013
SUDBURY, Mass. - Something wasn't right with Jordan Dow.

During the past few weeks, the Lincoln-Sudbury senior attackman was having trouble getting into a rhythm with his teammates. His coach, Brian Vona, said the two-sport athlete couldn't even score goals in practice. Before the Warriors' game against Billerica in the Division 1 East lacrosse quarterfinals, Dow decided to shake things up and go through a pregame routine he uses during hockey season.

It worked.

Dow scored three goals and had seven assists against the Indians, as Lincoln-Sudbury cruised to a 14-1 win. With the victory, the Warriors advanced to the Division 1 East semifinals, which will be played on Saturday against Dual County League rival Acton-Boxborough.

“I prepared a little differently today. I went back to some of my hockey preparations, some of the routines that I did there. Things just clicked for me today. It's one of those things that you can't really put a finger on,” Dow said. “I just got out of it today, and hopefully it can continue from here.”

The Warriors put on a steady attack against an overmatched Billerica team, which spent most of the game in its own end. After testing the Indians' zone defense in the first half, Lincoln-Sudbury exploded in the third quarter with five goals – two of which came while a man up.

Dow netted all three of his goals in the third quarter. Chris Giorgio and Dan Delaney also scored during the period to put the score at 11-1.

The Indians, who began to sense a tide change, started getting extra aggressive with the Warriors and picked up a few penalties on some extracurricular pushing. John Merwin, a junior midfielder for Lincoln-Sudbury, said he could feel the momentum start to turn.

“When we really play together, we begin to notice that other teams start to fade away and turn on each other,” said Merwin, who had three goals in the game. “Once that started to happen, once it got a little chippy, we decided to stay together and play our game, and our offense moved the ball better than we've seen in awhile, and that's what we need going into this type of tournament.”

Lincoln-Sudbury put up another three goals in the fourth quarter, including a quick finish by Jake Klein, a junior attackman who game off the bench. It was Klein's first goal of the season.

Vona, whose Warriors squeaked by Billerica, 10-7, on May 6, knew his team needed to figure out a way to break through the Indians' zone defense, which tends to slow down the pace of the game.

“We practiced for the zone, and the kids moved the ball around well today. Ironically, we didn't do it so well in practice the last couple of days, but that's the way coaching goes,” he said. “We practiced for a couple of different looks, they gave us those looks … and they gave us the opportunities.”

Billerica goalie and UMass commit D.J. Smith slowed the Warrior attack through the first few minutes of the first quarter and made two point-blank saves on torso-level shots. Lincoln-Sudbury broke through with 7:14 left in the quarter when senior attackman Matt Hall went top shelf off an assist from Dow. The Warriors picked up another goal three minutes later when Greg Roder sidearmed a rocket to the top-right corner to put the score at 2-0.

Lincoln-Sudbury scored two more goals with less than two minutes left in the quarter – one on a quick-stick goal from Merwin and another from Hall, who hammered home a pass from Dow with 13 seconds left. The Warriors picked up where they left off in the second quarter when Hall scored an awkward goal on a pass that bounced off Smith's stick and rolled between the pipes. Merwin put the Warriors up 6-0 with 5:39 left in the half.

“They have some great athletes, they have a great team, and they're a force to be reckoned with,” said Billerica head coach Craig Flynn. “They can all move the ball really well. They don't have one-handed players – those guys play righty and lefty. … We put ourselves in a hole right away. It was one of those days where nothing bounced right.”

Billerica's only goal in the game came on an unassisted strike from senior caption Sean Farmer with 1:17 left in the first half.

The Indians, who entered the tournament as a No. 8 seed, will graduate 19 seniors.

“Our seniors have had a great four years and have a lot to be proud of,” Flynn said. “They were [Merrimack Valley Conference] champions four years straight. [Smith] was an All-American, he's had a great career here, and now he's going to UMass-Amherst. Those guys have a lot to be proud of.”