Deep Tourney Run Prime Goal For Natick Boys Lacrosse Team

KEN HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
April, 2020
Article Body: 

The boys lacrosse team at Natick High is determined to improve on its playoff history.
For the last four years, coach Nate Kittler’s Redhawks have qualified for tourney play but have bowed out each time in the Sectional quarterfinals. Based on Natick’s returning players and the strengths they possess, a deep tournament run seems likely and it’s one of Kittler’s objectives for 2020.
“Our goals are to win the Bay State Conference championship and to advance as deep as possible in the playoffs,’’ Kittler said. “Those goals are realistic because we’ve got talent, experience, depth and team chemistry.’’
Seven seniors from last year’s 16-4 squad have graduated but 18 players with different degrees of experience return. And, Kittler, who’s entering his 19th year as head coach, likes the assets they bring to the table.
“We’ve got players who are technically sound and have a high lacrosse IQ,’’ he said. “The players are also coachable and promote team chemistry. We have experience and depth. Every senior on the team has been to the tourney, so they know what it’s like. I also like having multi-sport athletes.’’
Kittler, who founded Natick’s lacrosse program 20 years ago, will field a team that’s up-tempo on offense and tenacious on defense. “We’ve got a lot of weapons,’’ he emphasized.
Four of those weapons are senior captains who’ve been BSC all-stars — attackmen Isaac Tallino and Josh Atwood, Aedan Knowlton on defense and Ryan Cassidy in goal.
Tallino, a three-time all-star and conference MVP, scored 28 goals and had 23 assists in only 11 games last year. Twice voted a second-team all-American, he’ll be playing at John Hopkins next spring. Atwood is a four-year veteran who had 31 goals and 10 assists last year; Knowlton is a four-year veteran and a two-time all-star; and Cassidy’s save percentage was .651.
The captains’ leadership styles complement one another effectively. They lead by example and by being vocal and supportive.
“Isaac is the most-talented lacrosse player I’ve ever coached,’’ Kittler said. “He’s got an accurate shot, a great work ethic, and he changes speed quickly. Josh is the fastest big man I’ve coached. At 6-3, 350, he’s quick, tough, has a high lacrosse IQ and he’s a powerful dodger. Aedan is a shut-down defender whose stick skills are magical. He’s always matched against our opponents’ top scorer. Ryan brings a lot of energy. The quarterback of our defense, he’s fearless and very instinctive.’’
Four key contributors include senior attackmen Sean McLaughlin and Liam Kelley; senior midfielder Luke Landon and junior midfielder Luke Rader. “They’re technically sound, coachable, and dedicated to the team,’’ Kittler said.
Natick has a plethora of talented midfielders. Three of them are seniors — Nick Palmer, who can also play attack, Jack Zeliger and Matty Reardon; and the others are juniors — T.J. Dalicandro, Nick Polymeros and Will Genaske.
“Nick scored eight goals and had four assists last year,’’ Kittler said. “He’s got speed, he’s shifty and he’s athletic. Jack is solid on faceoffs. An intense competitor, he’s a hard-worker who’s got speed and quickness. A very dedicated player, he surprised us last year. Matty should have a breakout year. He’s got a high lacrosse IQ to go with great stickwork and speed.’’
Kittler rates Dalicandro as the best defensive midfielder in the league. Polymeros had 19 goals and seven assists last year while Genaske tallied 25 goals and had 17 assists. “T.J. would run through a wall,’’ Kittler said. “He’s versatile and athletic. Resilient and mentally tough, he never quits. Nick is one of our toughest players. He’s a physical player who’s excellent in transition. Will is a great inside finisher who’s dynamic, intense and athletic. He’s able to get into the right position.’’
Senior Hunter Gallagher and junior Cody Adams are top-notch defensemen. “Hunter is a surgeon with his stick,’’ Kittler noted. “He’s got great instincts, he’s intense and also very athletic. Cody will be a huge impact player. He can play shut-down defense and even a
little offense if we need it.’’
Three other quality players include junior defenseman Alex Crook, sophomore goalie James Carr and soph attack Colby Leblanc. “Alex will be one of the most athletic players on the field,’’ Kittler said. “A ground-ball specialist, he’s a workhorse who’s mentally tough and resilient. James provides depth in goal and he shows good leadership traits. Colby had 15 goals and three assists as a freshman. A three-sport athlete, he’s got speed, he’s big and strong, and very skilled.’’
Kittler is acutely aware that winning the BSC title will be a challenge because Needham, Newton North Wellesley and Walpole are formidable opponents. “There are no easy games in the BSC,’’ he said. “All the teams can be a nightmare.’’
During the last 18 years that Kittler has led the Redhawks, they’ve qualified for the playoffs nine times. His competitive philosophy is rooted in bonding as a family. “No coach has success with individual-style players,’’ he emphasized. “It takes teamwork and teammates who have each others’ backs. If our players are striving to reach their potential and are good teammates, then winning will follow.’’
The Natick High boys lacrosse team appears to have all the attributes required for success. The Redhawks’ 2020 season is all about ending early exits from the playoffs and going on a deep tourney run.