Chelmsford Lacrosse Surging in 2017
By Nate Weitzer for Mass Prep Stars
CHELMSFORD, Mass. – Growing up as a lacrosse player in Chelmsford, there are certain expectations both positive and negative for each season.
Over the last decade and a half, the expectation has been that Merrimack Valley Conference power Billerica will sweep the Lions, as they have in 12 consecutive seasons.
Yet this spring, the Lions bounced back from what standout LSM Jack Gump '18 called “Years of abuse” at the hands of the Indians by defeating Billerica, 10-7, at home on April 11 to snap a 24-game losing streak against their conference rivals.
And last Saturday, Chelmsford completed the first season sweep in program history with a narrow 11-10 win over Billerica at UMass Lowell.
“It’s biggest win for this program since 2000,” said head coach Sean Wright. “When the kids started to realize it was happening, they were elated. It gave them the confidence to say that [Chelmsford] is a formidable program and they deserved to feel pride because they played their hearts out.”
Wright, who took over as head coach last spring after six years as an assistant, said that his primary focus has been to reshape the culture of Chelmsford lacrosse.
“We had some cultural issues and really wanted to renew a winning identity,” Wright explained. “[Defensive coordinator] Mike [Marshall] and I worked really hard to turn the program inside out and we went through some growing pains while figuring out how to win.”
Under his guidance, the Lions started 5-0 last year before sputtering down the stretch, as they dropped 7 of their last 8 games with a number of close losses.
In response, Chelmsford’s incoming upperclassmen immediately set out to train year-round in an effort to avoid another such let down.
“Last season was a major improvement and we had a lot of positives to take away, but we realized that if we wanted to become an elite team in this league, we had to start working now,” said the UMass-bound Gump.
“We didn’t want to go back to where we were, we wanted to change the face of the program and create a whole new culture.”
So Gump and captains Andrew Thayer, Nikolai Krupyshev, Sean Riley (pictured below) and Sal Lupoli began to arrange for offseason workouts as soon as the 2016 season ended last June.
They organized 6 a.m. runs before school, played in a recreational league in Bedford and joined indoor lacrosse leagues throughout the winter to hone team chemistry. This group never lost focus on their main goals even though Lupoli and Thayer are also captains of the football team.
“Billerica was the motivation,” Lupoli said about the impetus for those workouts. “We’ve been thinking about it since we played them last year.”
Lupoli, whose family is a fixture in Chelmsford and the proprietor of a local pizza shop, continued, “Seeing those youth lacrosse kids also really motivates me. I remember when I was a youth guy I looked up to those guys [in high school] and imagined playing against Billerica under the lights, so it’s really about coming through for the community.”
Sure enough, Lupoli came through with a goal and assist while winning over half of his faceoffs for the Lions in their most recent win over Billerica.
Gump also played a key role in leading Chelmsford back from a 6-4 halftime deficit with two scores during a four-goal outburst over the first couple minutes of the third quarter. He added an assist to bolster his total to 18 points on the season, a program record for a long pole.
“Our midfield is the strength for our team and our workhorses are our captains and Gump, who never comes off the field,” effused Wright.
“We’re a different team when [Gump] is on the field. Everybody plays faster and they feed off him. He’s a very passionate player and those types of guys discipline can be an issue, but Jack’s done a great job of balancing those issues and I’m excited to see if he can make the jump to the next level.”
Along with star attack Jake Green (video below), who leads the MVC with 55 goals and 25 assists after producing just 66 points over his first three years in a Lions uniform, Chelmsford has received contributions from up and down their roster, and picked up what Wright termed "the biggest win for the program this century".
The Lions used a balanced attack to methodically break down Billerica’s defense and it was actually freshman sensation Christian Gastonguay scoring the game-tying goal off a feed from Krupyshev.
Then Thayer scored the go-head goal with just over four minutes to play and Green helped the Lions maintain possession while salting away the win.
“[Beating Billerica] was the craziest experience of my life and the biggest win I’ve ever had in sports,” said Green.
“[This program] is definitely on the upswing,” Green added. “My freshman and sophomore year the atmosphere wasn’t about winning, it was just day-to-day playing lacrosse, but this team definitely has a common goal that we share and we’re getting after it every single day and we’re hungry.”
Chelmsford (12-1) has already accomplished some of those goals by making the Division 1 state tournament for the first time in five years, and the Lions could clinch a share of the MVC Small title with a win over North Andover this week.
But for the players who grew up watching their future high school lose to Billerica each and every year, this season is already a success.
And for the new coach of Chelmsford lacrosse, that success can go a long way in terms of earning enough respect to create a tough nonconference schedule going forward.
“We have to earn respect,” said Wright. “I wouldn’t blame any program if they didn’t want to play us because we haven’t made the tournament in five years. We have to earn that track record back and that comes with consistency. If we can bring that rivalry [with Billerica] back to what it used to be, it will be a good start.”
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