How does the Hingham boys’ lacrosse program compete for a state title each year regardless of division and roster construction?
It begins at the youth level.
The Harbormen graduated 21 seniors from last year’s sectional finalist squad, but reinforcements have arrived with a talented Class of 2020.
While the third-ranked Harbormen (7-1) fell, 12-9, in the final of the Coaches Challenge Cup to top-ranked Lincoln-Sudbury on Saturday, Hingham remains one of the favorites to vie for a state title in its second year as a Division 1 program.
The juniors, who are no strangers to success, have emerged as the vanguard of the program. They have won three consecutive Town Pride League titles with Hingham Youth Lacrosse during their middle school careers. They did not lose a single game to Massachusetts competition during that span, often taking down powerhouse Connecticut teams in regional competition as well.
Brian Hlidek, director of Hingham Youth Lacrosse (HYL), grew up in Fairfield County, Conn, where he got a first-hand look at some of the best youth and high school programs in the nation.
When Hlidek became HYL director in 2008, he immediately reached out to childhood friend Jim Raymond , director of the Darien (Conn.) Youth Lacrosse Association, and modeled Hingham’s program in the same mold.
“One of the things I immediately noticed was the positive impact of bringing in paid coaches to work alongside dads,” Hlidek said. “That pays huge dividends. There’s no biases. Everyone’s getting a chance to improve and getting the same coaching.”
By the time Hingham’s young players reached the high school level, they were able to play multiple positions, understand complex lacrosse situations, and were prepared to adjust to the speed of the varsity game.
But it wasn’t always that way, according to 30-year Hingham coach John Todd .
“When I first started, a lot of ninth graders picked a stick up for the first time on the first day of practice,” said Todd. “Now the youth program is a great resource, since it’s exposing guys to the game at an early age, and teaching them the fundamentals, so, by the time they get to high school, they have a really solid foundation of skills.”
Todd puts those underclassmen to the test right away by lumping junior varsity and varsity practices together as often as possible.
For players like junior midfielder Cooper Dainton, those joint practices are paying huge dividends.
Dainton, a 6-foot-5 walking mismatch with incredible strength and speed, tallied seven goals in the Coaches Cup to help Hingham advance to the final with wins over North Andover and Wellesley.
After spending most of last season on JV, Dainton was called up to varsity and scored four goals in Hingham’s final seven games. Like many of his classmates, his adjustment period was brief.
“There’s not much difference going from JV to varsity,” said Dainton. “We learn the system, so we’re ready.”
Along with Dainton, juniors Pat Doyle, Liam Foley, Owen O’Brien, and Owen Quinn have also made that transition rather seamlessly. Hlidek’s son, Gordon, is another junior playing a key role as the backup face-off specialist behind senior Charlie Egan.
Juniors Sam Ward, Cole Finney, Cooper Shape, Dylan Savitscus, and goalie George Egan were varsity contributors last season, and are taking on even more responsibilities this year. Todd said he’s used nearly every player on the roster through the first eight game, as the veteran coach looks for the right combination of players from a deep talent pool.
“We’re so deep,” said George Egan, who is committed to UVM along with his brother, Charlie.
“That’s one thing we have over all the other teams. Our backups would be starting on any other team, because of how good lacrosse is here. If you put the backups in for Hingham, I’m not worried they can get the job done.”
That depth is fostered in the youth program. Hlidek said his program focuses on developing the “middle 20 kids” more than the Top 10 players in terms of talent.
With over 60 players to draw upon in each grade of this lacrosse-crazed town, it’s no wonder Hingham has continually improved over the past decade, securing three straight D2 South titles from 2014-2016 before clinching a state title in 2017, the program’s first since 2002.
“Top to bottom, the program has really come together over the years,” said Hlidek. “High school players and coaches are heavily involved. It’s kind of seamless, from the time a kid enters the program in first grade until they graduate, it’s all the same program.”
Despite coming up short in the Coaches Cup, the future remains bright for Dainton and his classmates, who will have two opportunities to bring hardware back to Hingham.
“In our grade, players from the 2020 class, we’re making our name heard across state,” said Dainton. “We’re showing that we’re a problem for other teams, which is good, because we have another year next year. So there’s just more to come.”
■ Foxborough won its second straight Chowda Cup title on Saturday, jumping out to an early lead before storming back late against Norwell in an 8-6 final. Brendan Tully had two goals and two assists in the final for the No. 16 Warriors (7-0), who also knocked off Hanover and Marshfield in the tournament.
“It’s huge to get the competitive juices flowing,” Tully said of playing the in-season tournament. “It’s not just another league game, you get a chance to beat someone you don’t usually play and get a chance to hold a trophy. It’s good momentum for us and hopefully it keeps us going through the rest of the season.”
■ St. John’s Prep captured the Creators Crosse for the first time since 2014, knocking off No. 12 Franklin in double overtime before cruising past Walpole in the final. The Eagles stayed hot after picking up league wins over No. 8 BC High for the first time since 2015 and No. 5 Xaverian (first since 2012) the week prior. Pat Keefe had four goals in the final of the Creators Crosse for Prep, while Jake Surette and Michael Kelly each had a goal and three assists.
■ Lincoln-Sudbury netted the Coaches Challenge Cup, avenging a loss to No. 3 Hingham in last year’s state tourney with a 12-9 victory. The Warriors’ loss to Hingham in 2018 snapped their 58-game winning streak to in-state foes. Matt Ward had six goals and an assist in the title game for the Warriors (7-0). Jake Higgins had two goals and an assist for the Harbormen (6-1) in defeat.
■ At 6-0, Bishop Fenwick scored an impressive 15-14 win over Catholic Central rival Austin Prep on April 8 but has several impressive nonleague wins as well, including an 11-8 takedown of Newburyport on April 3 and most recently, an 11-10 victory over Pentucket last Thursday. The Crusaders have earned state tourney berths each of the past two years.
■ One of the top games of the week that was not part of a vacation week tourney? Defending D1 champ BC High vs. Reading, the reigning D2 champion. The No. 6 Rockets outlasted BC High, 15-14, on a goal by Michael Tobin , the last of his six goals for the UMass-bound middie. Tobin also spent some time at the faceoff-X for Reading, competing well in unfamiliar territory by earning a win in five of his 11 draws.
■ League and conference reps are asked to submit their weekly individual statistics (goals, assists, goalie stats) to be published on bostonglobe.com/schools by Sunday at 2 p.m., either to 617-929-2860/3235 or [email protected].
Games to Watch
■ Wednesday, St. Sebastian’s at Belmont Hill, 3:30 p.m. — Both Independent School League powers are undefeated and this afternoon could go a long way toward determining the eventual league champion.
■ Thursday, Newton North at Wellesley, 4 p.m. — First-year coach Nick Pfeifer takes his Tigers on the road to face second-year coach Jim Connolly and Wellesley in a key Bay State Conference tilt.
■ Thursday, Duxbury at Hingham, 7 p.m. — Last May, the Dragons handed the Harbormen their first loss of the season. Will Hingham exact some revenge in the latest installment of this heated rivalry?
■ Friday, BC High at Franklin, 3:45 p.m. — The defending D1 champion Eagles continue their taxing schedule by playing a road game at high-scoring Franklin, one day before they host Rhode Island power La Salle Academy (3 p.m. Saturday).
■ Saturday, Concord-Carlisle at Reading, 10 a.m. — A rematch of the Division 2 state final headlines Saturday’s full slate of lacrosse. Mike Tobin is an early Player of the Year candidate for the undefeated Rockets.Nate Weitzer can be reached at [email protected]. Jake Levin contributed to this report.