- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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DUXBURY, Mass. -- If the story of Duxbury boys’ lacrosse’s 2011 season were to be cast as a major motion picture, the tag line to the publicity poster would be “The Road to Redemption.”
While the marketing element practically writes itself, it will ultimately fall to the Dragons how this story will end.
The undisputed kings of Massachusetts lacrosse, the Dragons went down in the most dramatic of fashions in last year’s Division 1 state title game in an overtime loss to St. John’s Prep. After a montage depicting a long offseason, the credits would begin to roll with Central Casting filling out Duxbury’s roster with big name stars, many of whom would fill the roles of the Dragons’ highly regarded junior class — which is held in esteem by many as perhaps the strongest lacrosse recruiting class that’s ever been seen in the Bay State. When you have 11 Division 1 college players, there needs to be some star power.
Then, we fast forward to the start of the ’11 season. There was a setback (an opening loss to Washington state power Mercer Island) and the ready-made scene of the team rising to the occasion at gut-check time (evidenced by their come-from-behind win at Billerica in April).
Once again the Dragons steamrolled through their Massachusetts schedule and will return to Harvard Stadium in tonight’s Division 1 final. After turning in perhaps their strongest result of the season in a 19-9 throttling of Billerica in the semifinals, Duxbury has the chance to exact some real revenge in a rematch against Prep.
The screenplay’s resolution will play out tonight. And this production’s director, Duxbury head coach Chris Sweet, knows a thing or two about how the cast has to get along behind the scenes to make it a success.
While the junior class might attract the attention of the paparazzi, it will be the supporting roles played by the Dragons’ senior class that will decide whether Duxbury’s latest campaign wins Best Picture or goes straight to DVD.
“This, like any season, is the senior’s season,” Sweet said following a recent practice. “It’s up to them to make plays and to set the example for the team in terms of their leadership.”
All the Dragons will need to garner inspiration in Tuesday night’s final will be to look down the sideline toward their opponent. And while the success of their season will ultimately come down to one game, there’s a whole lot more riding on it.
To put on the Duxbury jersey is to be a part of one Massachusetts’ true high school sports dynasties. The Dragons have made an appearance in the last 10 state finals, winning six of those titles.
They not only play for their teammates, they play for the town and the legends who’ve called themselves Dragons.
“Tradition is everything,” said senior captain Kane Haffey, who also quarterbacked the Dragons’ football team to a Division 2A Super Bowl in the fall. “It means more than you. It’s the guys that have come before you and you’re playing to represent them and the town.”
That notion is instilled from a young age.
Senior defenseman and captain Peter Willauer watched his older brothers play lacrosse and followed suit, signing up for the town youth league in fourth grade.
“There’s competition from the very beginning,” Willauer said. “There’s so much depth in the youth program even. Then, you get to high school and there’s only 30 spots on the varsity roster, so you have to work that much harder just to get on the team.”
Which, in turn, provides a built in drive, a work ethic to not only stay ahead of the competition, but teammates vying for playing time.
“If you don’t work you’re hardest every day to keep that spot,” Willauer said, “you’re going to be replaced because there are a lot of other kids out there who are just as good as you.”
That humble attitude is at the heart of Duxbury’s success and it’s instilled by Sweet. The Dragons’ coach also leans on his seniors to get that message across.
“They all have great leadership qualities and they learned from a great group of seniors last year who were just outstanding,” Sweet said.
The Dragons also have last year’s upset at Harvard Stadium to learn from. It’s shaped everything they’ve done since then, from the offseason workouts, to tryouts, the preseason and through the moment they take the field against the Eagles again.
“It’s been a point of motivation for the team, certainly,” Haffey said of looking back at last year’s championship. “If you’re going through a drill or going through sprints and feel tired and beat up, just think back to that game last year and what was going through your head then.
“That gives you the motivation to push harder.”
There’s also the fact that this is the senior’s last chance at history. For Kris Andren, Bryan Barry, Christian Connolly, Clark Demos, Stephan Krall, Tim Matthews, Alex Poore, Tory Walker, Haffey and Willauer, they don’t want to be the ones who let another one slip away.
There’s a name to live up to.
“It really does come down to leadership,” said Barry, tri-captain and midfielder. “We just had a hockey season where we weren’t the most talented team, but we worked so hard to get into the playoffs because we’d never been there as a group before. We willed it to be and that all comes from leadership.”
Those are the life lessons they will take with them, win or loss.
“You make a big leap from 17 [years old] to 18,” Krall said. “I know it’s just a number, but it really is a huge step in maturity. That comes with experience.
“Now, you take everything you’ve learned from your high school experience and it gives you a different insight into things. You realize that this is it.”
That’s when the credits roll.