It’s Monday, and you know what that means. It’s time for the Sports Buzz, the fastest three minutes in Brookline sports coming your way right now:
Well, it’s all lacrosse this week. Brookline boys lacrosse head coach Steve Zella knows there have been plenty of seasons in which the Warriors have been dismissed as an afterthought in the Bay State conference.
But based on a 12-10 season that featured its first playoff appearance in 25 years and 11 returning seniors, it appears it would be wise for opponents to start considering the Warriors a legitimate threat.
As the 20th seed in Division 1 the Warriors gained invaluable experience last year when they came back from a 7-5 deficit with eight minutes left to take down Bridgewater Raynham 8-7. Zella, in his fifth year as head coach, thinks this familiarity with the playoff stage has prepared his team for a deeper run this year.
“The kids know what to expect now,” Zella said. “They’re becoming mentally tough and finishing games – they showed this by winning six of our last eight games to get into the tournament.”
A big key to Brookline’s success this season will be health because of the team’s short roster (38 players total). One of the reasons the Warriors were able to make their run last year was they limited the injury total to one, which is the mark of strong conditioning.
“We don’t have the numbers, but we’re known throughout the league for doing more with less, which is a testament to the work these kids put in,” Zella said. “We want to be in the best possible shape and be the best-fit team in the league.”
Two things that Zella wants to focus on this year, because he believes the best defense is a good offense, is winning face offs and holding onto the ball for longer periods of time. Brookline will lean on senior All Stars Matt Hillman and Eli Yannekis, who led the team in overall points and points from mid field, respectively.
Zella wants to use senior mid fielders Max Shore and Peter Mihalopoulos to push the ball up the field in transition and play tough defense. Also leading the Warriors on defense will be seniors Tim Knoess, Jack Livingston, Jason Moon, Sam Burrington (sophomore) and Sam Lauffer. Sophomore Jake Bamberger will be in goal for Brookline.
“If we play four full quarters, we shouldn’t lose to anyone,” Zella said. “But we need to go out onto the field and prove it.”
The Warriors have yet to beat Wellesley, Walpole, Norwood or Needham during Zella’s tenure but he knows how important it is to start having success against the top teams in the league.
“These are powerhouse, quality teams and if we win at least two of those games this year we will be in good shape,” Zella said.
We turn now to girls lacrosse, where Brookline head lcoach Carrie Gross is looking for improvements out of her team, big or small.
The Warriors are coming off a 1-17 season, but for Gross, the record never resembled the strides her young program, in terms of experience, is starting to make.
“I would say that over the season we got stronger and better, and we made really great progress for our program,” said Gross, who is in her fifth season at the helm. “Our record never showed the progress that we made, because we are in the Bay State Conference, which is one of the best conferences in the state.”
Her goal this season is to implement some more complex strategies, which might sound easier said than done. Many of Gross’ new players in the program come to the girls lacrosse game with no experience. She is seeing the number of incoming players with experience growing, but there are still a large percentage of players just coming out to pick up a spring sport.
“Our youth program is strong and growing,” Gross said. "We haven’t seen those players come to the program yet.”
With that being said, Gross did see some things to believe her team is starting to improve. The Warriors earned their lone win of the season against Dedham last year, and in a tight, late-season loss to Newton South she believed Brookline had its best the game of the campaign.
“We saw all of our pieces sort of come together,” Gross said. “We had multiple girls who had three goals each. That’s been a big thing for us to have everyone contribute on the team and everyone is working hard.”
That would include incoming senior goalie Meghan Zak. Zak has starred in net for both the field hockey and ice hockey teams, and played on the lacrosse team last year, but has never played goalie in the sport.
Luckily for Zak, she has a pretty good tutor. Gross is a former goalie and she will spend extra time getting her junior stopper prepared for the year.
“While the assistant coaches run the other kids we will spend our quality time together,” said Gross.
Gross expects a team game out of the Warriors, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be leaning on some of her experience to help power a few more wins. She cited sophomore standout Taylor Hetnik as a driving force.
“I’m expecting to see big things from her,” Gross said. “She played a role last year, but she was new to varsity.”
The core of the leadership starts with senior captains Megan Keaveney, Siobhan Brennan, Zoe Hirsch and Lauren Grant.
“The captains have been getting people together for some preseason workouts,” Gross said. “Everyone is really excited and really motivated. We have four seniors. It’s a really strong class in terms of leadership and skill. This year, I think that we have some high expectations that hopefully we can fulfill.”
Pat Ouellette and Tom Layman contributed to this report.