2022 CIAC Boys Lacrosse tournament: Storylines, top players and predictions

CLASS L

STORYLINES

DAILY (YEARLY) DOUBLE

Darien won the FCIAC final in 2018 but lost the Class L final to Ridgefield. It didn’t win the FCIAC in 2019 but won the Class L title on the same field. Last year, it won the FCIAC but was knocked out in the Class L quarterfinals. So this Blue Wave class has never doubled up in the postseason. Can the unanimous No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT Top 10 Poll do that for the first time in five years?

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Staples and Ridgefield met in the first round last year, when Ridgefield was getting healthy from some injuries and third-seeded Staples was coming off a rough FCIAC final. The conference rivals played a 4-3 game that, based on the imbalance of the bracket, pretty much meant Ridgefield was making the final. It outscored two opponents 35-8 on the way, then beat Fairfield Prep in the final. A Ridgefield-Staples game might be for a berth in the final, literally, this year: If they both get there, they’ll have their rematch in the semis.

TOO MANY

To lose one high school athlete would be horrible enough, but our state has lost way too many in just the past five months. Fairfield Prep has had probably the highest-profile loss, winning an SCC title on Thursday less than two weeks after junior midfielder Jimmy McGrath died after being stabbed outside a home in Shelton. If a talented team that made last year’s final needed any extra push, his memory gives the Jesuits something else to play for.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Matt Minicus, Darien, Sr. A: You could just about take your pick on the Darien roster, but for at least one local coach, Minicus is the state’s MVP, whether he’s scoring himself or drawing attention to make room for his teammates.

Charlie Howard, Staples, Sr. A: If he’d had his sophomore year, he’d probably be challenging the school scoring record. As it is, the BU commit has numerous honors and 73 points this year.

Marco Firmender, Fairfield Prep, Jr. M: He burst on the scene as a sophomore last year and helped the Jesuits to the Class L final. He has had another solid season and was SCC Player of the Year.

Kai Prohaszka, Ridgefield, Sr. D: When the North Carolina-bound Prohaszka has been missing, Ridgefield has been ordinary the past couple of season. When he has been in the lineup, they’ve been one of the best in the state and a champion last year, the reason he was our 2021 state MVP.

SEEDED UPSETS

Taking nothing away from No. 4 New Milford’s fine season, a matchup with Fairfield Warde isn’t exactly a 4-versus-20. No. 11 New Canaan beat No. 6 Glastonbury handily early in the regular season.

MICHAEL’S PICKS

FINAL FOUR: No. 1 Darien, No. 5 Fairfield Prep, No. 2 Staples, No. 3 Ridgefield

CHAMPIONSHIP: Darien gets 2018 vengeance over Ridgefield.

CLASS M

STORYLINES

WHO YA CALLING SMALL

Maybe the two biggest Class M storylines include Wilton. An expanded Class L kept it in with the big boys last year, and the Warriors made the semifinals. The enrollment breakdown this year made it way too tough to expand L far enough to include Wilton this year, and the Warriors look like the class of Class M, even if they’re not thrilled about it. We will fight like hell to get back in the L class next year,” coach Steve Pearsall said after Saturday’s FCIAC final. “We’ll talk to the CIAC to get the protocol in place to do that.”

BUSTED BRACKET

Wilton is the fourth seed. Cheshire is first. Hand is fifth. St. Joseph is 12th. Barlow is ninth. That means arguably the top five teams in the class are on one side of the bracket. Every effort to get away from purely winning-percentage seeding has failed, so here we are, Hand vs. St. Joseph on Wednesday, likely winner against Wilton while Barlow meets Cheshire on Saturday, and then whoever’s left in the semifinals. If it’s not quite as bad as last year, when two first-round matchups in the other classes (New Fairfield and St. Joseph, and Staples and Ridgefield) essentially decided a spot in the final, it’s imbalanced. (Having typed all that, congratulations to the East Catholic vs. Notre Dame-West Haven semifinal winner on your inevitable championship.)

YOU HAVE A CHOICE

Speaking of whom, St. Joseph and East Catholic, last year’s Class S finalists, were the first teams affected by a new “success factor” rule that bumps up one class any school of choice that made the semifinals in two of the previous three years. They would have been competitive again for a Class S title but will compete in Class M instead.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Dom Basti, Notre Dame-West Haven, Soph., M: Son of Sacred Heart University’s coach, he could help his team get to Dad’s home field for the final. He put up big numbers, including 62 goals, this season and became the fastest Green Knight to reach 100 career points.

Charles Kurtz, Cheshire, Jr. A: Another big scorer with over 60 goals, and a two-time all-conference player. The Rams have had some players banged up during the year, but their offense has not faltered: The SCC final was the first time they failed to score 10 goals since opening day.

Colin Lenskold, Wilton, Sr. G: One of the state’s top goalies, he had a stellar FCIAC semifinal to get the Warriors past Staples and will be a big piece of their attempt to win a championship (of either sort) for the first time since 2013.

Josh Newall, St. Joseph, Sr. A: A young Cadets offense had its early ups and downs, but Newall was its rock up front, putting up over 60 points, including seven points in an early 19-10 loss to Staples and five in a late 13-11 loss to Wilton.

SEEDED UPSETS

Hand is a solid favorite against St. Joseph, but “12th-seeded St. Joseph” is no reward for the fifth-seeded Tigers. Similarly, 15th-seeded Avon is no reward for second-seeded WCLC champion Watertown. No. 10 Notre Dame-West Haven beat its first-round opponent, East Lyme, 19-7 in the regular season.

MICHAEL’S PICKS

FINAL FOUR: No. 1 Cheshire, No. 4 Wilton, No. 10 Notre Dame-West Haven, No. 3 East Catholic

CHAMPIONSHIP: Wilton may want a different trophy, but it tops Notre Dame-West Haven to win this one.

CLASS S

STORYLINES

TROJAN HORSES

Only a small handful of non-FCIAC schools have won consecutive CIAC lacrosse titles: Somers twice, 1996-97 in the old Division II, then again in Class S, 2016-17; Fairfield Prep twice, 2006-09 and 2012-13 in Class L; and New Fairfield, 2018-19 in Class M. Weston bids to become the fourth: Last year’s Class M champion dropped to S based on its enrollment. The SWC champions appeared in the GameTimeCT Top 10 Poll earlier this season and look like the favorites in this tournament, too.

REGION OF CHAMPIONS

There were 10 conference championship games over the past week, and Class S has the winner of five of them: Northwest Catholic (CCC South), Weston (SWC), Waterford (ECC), Haddam-Killingworth (Shoreline) and Somers (NCCC). It has five runners-up, while we’re at it. There are a lot of teams in this bracket that have been playing some intense lacrosse already. (Perhaps notable, though: one of those runners-up, St. Paul, lost to Holy Cross, a team it had defeated twice in the regular season.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jake Kozlowski, Waterford, Sr. G: The top-seeded Lancers have allowed more than nine goals only once, and they won’t see East Lyme in this tournament. Kozlowski has been well-regarded for a couple of years and helped Waterford to the ECC championship.

Duncan Craine, Weston, Sr. D: The Trojans have a similar defensive resume, helped by some good possession time and a defense led by this all-conference senior.

Brian McGowan, Somers, Sr. A: The Spartans are usually competitive in Class S, and they come into this tournament off an NCCC tournament championship in which McGowan, bound for AIC, scored eight goals in the final.

Ryan Weller, Canton, Jr. A/M: He had a breakout year last season and has been solid again this year, helping the Warriors to the NCCC final and a 12-4 mark coming into this tournament.

SEEDED UPSETS

Having just popped a Canton player, let’s pick against them somewhere in the first two rounds: While this hasn’t been a New Fairfield team like the Rebels had the past few years, the 14th seed might have a shot against third-seeded Canton, and sixth-seeded Somers likely lurks for the winner of that game. If it’s second-seeded Ellington waiting for Northwest Catholic, the Lions may well have the edge.

MICHAEL’S PICKS

FINAL FOUR: No. 1 Waterford, No. 5 Weston, No. 7 Northwest Catholic, No. 6 Somers.

CHAMPIONSHIP: Weston over Somers, not needing overtime this time.