By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It's been almost two years since the Westwood High School varsity boys lacrosse team last took the field in an 18-6 defeat to No. 1 Medfield in the 2019 Division II Central/East semifinals.
After the entire 2020 season was wiped out due to COVID-19, the Wolverines enter 2021 with a lot of excitement, but at the same time, also a lot of unknowns. Like most spring athletic teams across the state, Westwood's roster is going to see major turnover in 2021, with only one member of the varsity team from 2019 returning in junior close D Thomas Demaio.
Despite the lack of varsity experience, the Wolverines enter 2021 with high expectations for themselves. The spring athletic season in Massachusetts will be the first athletic season to hold a postseason in nearly 15 months. The opportunity to not only return to the field and compete together, but also get the opportunity to play for a state championship, is something the Wolverines are looking to take full advantage of. Asked about his excitement for the season, Demaio made it pretty clear that he and his team are ready to grind and do whatever it takes to win.
"First and foremost, everybody needs to go in with a 'grit and grind' mentality," said Demaio. "As cliche as it is, it’s always true that every spot is earned, not given. Every single guy needs to walk into the start of the season ready to compete and do whatever it takes to help this team. Give 100 percent every minute and every second and fight for every inch. Al Pacino said it best in 'Any Given Sunday': 'You need to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes, and I think you're gonna see a guy that will go that inch for you.' We need to go in with a pack mentality and be ready to outwork every guy we line up against."
As far as goals, Demaio says he expects his team to be able to compete against whomever they take the field against.
"I think a big goal for us this year is to compete with the best of them," said Demaio. "We’re fortunate to play in the TVL, which is one of the premier conferences in the state. It’s going to be tough, but I fully believe in our guys to get out there and work."
Asked if he feels any added pressure as Westwood's only returning varsity player, a humbled Demaio says he doesn't look at it that way and hopes to simply build upon the playing time he received as a freshman in 2019. Demaio also says he looks forward to all the increased competition in practice leading up to the season as guys battle for starting spots.
"That’s not something I’m too worried about," said Demaio. "Every single team in the state is in the same position as us, and I think that just means we’re gonna have a lot more guys that are hungry and have a lot to prove. We got a ton of guys that are dedicated to this sport and are ready to make their mark."
As far as defensive depth, Demaio says he looks forward to seeing the emergence of sophomore LSM Donald Varnerin. A star on the club scene with Laxachusetts throughout the past couple of summers, Varnerin is expected to step in as Westwood's new starting LSM, a role previously held by now-Endicott freshman Matt Cawley.
"Defensively, I see sophomore Donald Varnerin making a big impact for us," said Demaio. "Like Matt Cawley, Donnie V can cause chaos all over the field and is an absolute joy to play with."
On offense, Demaio says he expects big things out of junior midfielder Andrew Watson and senior mid Connor Danieli, as well as senior attack-man Liam O'Regan.
"I think some names that are going to fair well for us are Andrew Watson and Connor Danieli at the midfield," said Demaio. "Watson is a sturdy presence for the offense and Danieli is a certified freak athlete with game-changing size and speed. Senior attack-man Liam O’Regan will be a good quarterback for our attack unit and his smooth hands are going to set guys up across the field. We also have a lot of underclassman that I’m excited about, too, and can’t wait to see what they they can do to help us win games."
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.