Division I high school lacrosse has long been a one-way street
The atmosphere at Stellos Stadium during the Nashua High School North-South Battle of the Bridge doubleheder on Thursday was one of community – the Nashua lacrosse community.
It’s always a great gathering, just like it is in the fall when the soccer teams tangle. Competitive, but a gathering of like minds, with youth team (Nashua Blast) players present, etc. The boys and girls games weren’t really that close, but it’s always basically a celebration of a sport that has grown and thrived for high school boys and girls over 20-plus years.
Contrast that with the tense, every possession matters, ultra-competitive atmosphere of the Bishop Guertin-Pinkerton Academy boys lacrosse game in Derry three days earlier.
The difference? Those two teams are eyeing a state championship, and know with near complete certaintythat it’s going to be one of the two to win it, because they’ll both be in the finals. They’re the best and then there’s all the rest. The remaining teams are playing for the requisite two other Final Four spots.
That’s where Division I boys lacrosse has been for several years. Oh, every once in a while a team like a Hanover or a Bedford slips in there. Pinkerton is a power because lacrosse has been at the school for decades, well before it became an NHIAA sport 24 years ago as the Astros played a prep school schedule and competed in a prep league. History will show that Pinkerton as expected dominated the first 10 years or so, although the unified Nashua won in 1998 and Concord had a two-year run.
Then it changed.
With head coch Chris Cameron’s arrival, Guertin first became a power in 2005. Pinkerton and BG have played each other in the finals for five straight years and six out of seven. The Cards have been in the finals every year since 2005. The two schools will face each other again on June 9 barring some unforeseen twist of fate.
The Norths, the Souths, the Souhegans, you name it, just aren’t at the same level. Will that ever happen?
“It’s coming with Exeter,” Cameron said. “The key is for high school coaches to spend time with their youth program. It takes years, but you’re going to see it. Londonderry’s coming, Exter’s coming, Souhegan’s coming.
“Is anybody ever going to be able to catch a Pinkerton that has three feeder programs and 3500 kids? It’s going to be tough.”
All true, which is expected. But for two schools to be so dominant, so far above the others, certainly throws competitive balance out the window.
How much longer? Pinkerton and Guertin’s domination every spring is like death and taxes. A sure thing.
Guertin’s success may hinge on Cameron’s future. One son Brian graduates from BG this spring and will be a Tar Heel in the fall. Another other, Sean, has another couple of years to go and then it’s off to the University of Maryland.
The Astros? Cameron already laid that one out for you. Brian O’Reilly, who also coaches football and is the school’s AD, knows that his lacrosse coaching future is down to low number of seasons. “I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “It’s not much longer.”
Of course, the sport, being a tradition at Pinkerton, should still thrive. O’Reilly will have his people in place. He’s put about four decades into that program. He agreed with Cameron on what could help make a difference for the have-nots.
“Youth programs,” O’Reilly said. “Coaching. I don’t do that (spend time with youth programs) anymore, but I have assistants to do that.”
No doubt the athletes at North and South are competitors; same for those at Exeter, Souhegan, etc. They want to go into every game believing they have a chance. They want to start the season believing they have a shot at a title.
They don’t. But are they OK with that? Kinda maybe sorta.
“I wouldn’t say I’m sick of it because I appreciate all the things that both programs do well,” South coach Bill Monsen said. “Watching them is a treat for anybody who loves the game.
“One thing is the quality of lacrosse around the state is much higher than it was eight years ago when I first came in here. Programs are getting better, even with that dominant finals matchup.”
Monsen said that he expects improvement from other programs.
“I definitely think so,” he said. ” Programs like one of the Nashua schools or Souhegan. Exeter’s always in the mix. Hanover is a quality program. Londonderry. I definitely think they could. They’re not as deep as those (PA and BG) teams right now.”
Yeah but will they ever be? Monsen said Nashua lacks what some of the other schools, such as Londonderry and Souhegan, have – feeder programs. “Amherst has middle school lacrosse,” he said. “So does Londonderry. Nashua needs that. That type of feeder program would definitely change the quality of the product for both city high schools.”
Lacrosse could face other issues down the road that would impact not only the have-nots but also the haves. Pinkerton lost a key faceoff player to prep school, and one local coach said he’s seen prep coaches talk to a couple of his younger players. But most schools don’t have the depth to survive losing good players to other institutions.
Lacrosse is certainly a skill sport. Shooting accuracy is key, but so are faceoffs and ability to scoop up ground balls. Possession in this game is 10-tenths of the law.
And right now, the law for years has clearly been on the side of just two Division I schools.
Good for the sport in one way, possibly bad for it in another.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, or @Telegraph_TomK.email@example.com