For the past eight springs, a Fairfield high school boys lacrosse team has reached a state championship game. Each time it has been Fairfield Prep, and the Jesuits, who are looking for a three-peat in Class L, are 6-2 on Championship Day in that stretch.
Overall, Prep is 6-3 in championship games, having lost the 2001 Division I final. Notre Dame-Fairfield lost in its championship appearance in the 2004 Division II final, Fairfield Ludlowe lost the 2006 Class S title and Fairfield Warde is still seeking its first championship-game berth. Fairfield High School, before splitting in 2004, won Divsion II titles in 1995 and 1998. So there is a firmly established tradition of winning lacrosse in town for years.
Prep, which has worn the championship mantle recently, has lost most of its starters from last year's Class LL champions over Staples, but has a core of six returning players who will be playing next year in college.
The Falcons qualified for the FCIAC and CIAC Class L state tournaments last year, and finished 10-8 after being eliminated by No. 5 Xavier 8-6 in the first round as the No. 12 seed. They lost to Ridgefield in the FCIAC quarterfinals. They brought a five-game winning streak into the conference game against Ridgefield.
After losing 22 seniors through graduation last June, 18 of whom played significantly, veteran coach Chris Parisi acknowledges that the Falcons have been thrust into a rebuilding mode. Due to the impressive attitude of this year's team, he is optimistic that postseason games won't be out of the question.
"Because of their attitudes, we'll compress a learning curve faster than we've ever done before," Parisi said. "They have a lot of enthusiasm and a great work ethic. They came in (to the preseason) real strong. They're willing to play roles. As long as they don't hog the ball and understand how to distribute the ball, we should be OK. I think we can run with anyone."
Ludlowe's rotating FCIAC schedule has gotten tougher with the addition of games against perennial state tournament teams Ridgefield, Staples and McMahon, along with Stamford. Plus there's FCIAC East games against Darien, Wilton and New Canaan (approaching 40 combined state titles, pre-CIAC included), so free passes will be few if any. The season opener is April 9 at 6 p.m. in Ridgefield, which was a Class L semifinalist last spring.
New rules, designed to speed up the game, along with new players will make April's schedule full of adjustments, Parisi said.
Senior John Carey returns in goal. He'll be aided by defender Matt White, a senior. In the midfield, expect contributions from senior Ryan Vitale, who will take the faceoffs, and senior Blake Davis. Senior Graham Browne returns with some experience on attack and sophomore Riley Larson started last year as a freshman. Junior midfielder Lorin Tobey started last year until an injury sidelined him in midseason.
The Mustangs, coached by Tom Cunningham in his sixth year, are seeking to make the state tournament for a third straight year. They also have their eyes on their first appearance in the conference tournament.
Warde finished 2012-13 with a 9-8 record and a 12-6, first-round loss in the Class M tournament to No. 5 New Fairfield. The Mustangs were seeded 12th. Warde was 5-6 in the FCIAC a year ago, finishing in a three-way tie for fifth along with St. Joseph and Norwalk in the FCIAC East.
Cunningham, whose career record is 35-64, has reason to be optimistic for a season of improvement. His team boasts nine seniors with two years or more of varsity experience. Warde's defense is returning four starting players, its offense is bringing back four starters as well. Overall, the Mustangs graduated seven varsity players, five of whom were starters.
Five seniors have been named captains -- goalie Jason Nerreau, attackman Kyle Scheetz, midfielder Mike Pehota, defender Greg Adams and defender Brian Kerrigan, who served as captain of the Mustangs' football and basketball teams as well. Scheetz, honorable mention all-conference a year ago, will play at the University of Pennsylvania in 2014-15.
The Mustangs will rely on their captains along with junior midfielder Brendan King and senior middie Mike Adams.
"There are no easy games in the league, and we plan to give every team a tough game," said Cunningham, also the head of coach of Warde girls' soccer. The FCIAC East features Wilton, New Canaan and Darien, who have won more state titles (CIAC and pre-CIAC) than any other schools.
The Mustangs kick off the season April 9 with a 7 p.m. home game against Stamford. They visit Ludlowe on April 29 at 7 p.m.
The Jesuits went 18-4 a year ago in capturing their second straight state championship and sixth overall. Thirteen varsity players are gone through graduation, including seven starters. Coach Chris Smalkais has compiled a 361-140 record in 26 years and believes his core of six can lead the Jesuits, who won the SCC regular-season and touranment championships last year, to their customary heights. Since 1995, Prep has won 12 SCC titles, including the last three in a row.
Two of their eight first-team All-SCC players are back for 2014 -- defender Anthony Johnson, who has signed to play at Bryant in 2014-15, and attackman/midfielder Austin Sims, who play for Princeton next year. Both were named to the Class L All-State team in 2013, along with seven others who were seniors last spring.
Joining Johnson and Sims in the mix of talented returning players are four seniors -- attackman/midfielder Burke Smith, who will play at Bates next year; defender Logan Ryan (Dickinson), attack/middie Colby Monachino (Ohio Wesleyan) and middie Steven Walsh (Boston College).
Smalkais is expecting tough regular-season competition to come from Cheshire, Hand and Guilford. A key to the Jesuits' success this spring, he says, will hinge on developing team chemistry. "The players in our program must remain hungry and humble for us to have a succesful season," Smalkais said.
Prep, which beat Amity, Xavier and Ridgefield before the state final last spring, opens the season April 9 against Hand at 4 p.m. at Fairfield University's University Field.
The Lancers qualified for the Class S tournament a year ago and were eliminated in the qualifying round by No. 16 Old Lyme 8-6. They were seeded 17th and finished with an 8-10 overall record after an 8-8 regular season. Notre Dame, which started 2013 with a 1-6 record, lost to Bethel in the SWC Division 2 playoffs. The Lancers enjoyed a stretch of six win in seven games after the rough start.
Frank Skawinski, in his eighth season, will be banking on the largest senior contingent he has coached, which totals 13. The Lancers have lost eight varsity players through graduation, including five starters. He says the keys to the season will be to "utilize the depth we have, make the most of our transition game (and) keep players healthy.
"We have excellent leadership with upperclassmen," Skawinski said. "Defense will also be a focal point this year; it's a veteran group with only one junior in the rotation. We have good offensive-minded palyers who will fill in for these graduated players."
Gone are Duncan Plumb (now at Penn State), who had 50 goals and 20 assists; Justin Bennett (Albertus Magnus), who had 20 goals, and Mike King (UConn), who had 10 goals and 10 assists.
Manny Rosales Jr. and Garret Gintoli are the senior captains. Rosales, a defender, came up with 22 ground balls in 2013; Gintoli, an attacker, supplied 17 goals and 19 assists a year ago. Junior midfielder Craig Hessenius contributed 27 goals, eight assists and 28 ground balls last season, and senior middie Mike DeGennaro, who missed much of 2013 with an injury, had seven goals, two assists and eight ground balls a year ago.
Notre Dame, aiming for a third consecutive year in the state tournament, opens on April 9 at New Fairfield at 4 p.m.
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