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Former NEPSAC Lacrosse Standouts Still Standing Out on Collegiate Level

6/19/17
By BOB YORK

Reunions inevitably occupy the bottom line of the school-year calendar. Throughout the New England prep school community, these last-but-not-least gatherings are typically scheduled for the first or second weekend of June. If you happen to be a lacrosse coach, however, there’s a pretty good chance of getting a head start on this year-end revelry.

For many of these mentors, the names and faces of the past begin popping up in the present during the last weekend in May, which is when the NCAA annually pencils in its men’s and women’s lacrosse tournaments. This spring’s festivities featured at least 19 former players representing 13 New England Prep School Athletic Council schools who fought it out for one of the six national championships: three men’s titles and three women’s crowns.

Of all the participants earning a berth in their respective title tilts, the Boston College women’s team, which dropped a 16-13 decision to Maryland in the Division I finale, boasted the largest NEPSAC contingent. The Eagles registered four former New England standouts on their roster: Kenzie Kent, Nobles; Dempsey Arsenault, New Hampton; Christina Walsh, St. Mark’s and Kayla O’Connor, Governor’s Academy.

Maryland and Ohio State, the men’s Division I bracket finalists, featured three NEPSAC school grads each in their lineups. Maryland, which captured the crown following a 9-6 victory over the Buckeyes, listed Will Snider and Kai Storrs of Salisbury and Connor Kelly of Avon Old Farms. Josh Kirson and Caleb Mahoney of The Rivers School and Brendan Wallace of Salisbury dotted the Ohio State roster.

The men’s Division II showdown saw Limestone College prevail following an 11-9 decision over Merrimack in a title tilt that featured four players with New England ties. Limestone’s lineup included Patrick Hanley, a Bridgton Academy grad, and Rodney Felder, a former Hyde School standout, while Dom Thomas of New Hampton School and Mitch Green of Kent School helped fill out the Merrimack roster. In Division III action, Salisbury University bested the Rochester Institute of Technology, 15-7, as Salisbury’s Nick Nesbitt, Brendan MacDonald of Trinity Pawling and The Gunnery's Luke Smeltzer suited up for RIT.

In the women’s Division II bracket, Adelphi University ended up wearing the crown by chalking up a 6-4 victory over Florida Southern, despite the efforts of Grace Maganzini, a former New Hampton standout. In Division III, meanwhile, Gettysburg College outlasted The College of New Jersey, 6-5, as Maggie Welsh, a former standout for the School of the Holy Child took part in the victory celebration.

Despite Boston College’s setback in the Division I finals, Kenzie Kent proved to be the belle of the ball. Her 10 points during the championship game – on five goals and five assists – tied an all-time tournament record and resulted in her being named the tournament’s Outstanding Player. The presentation marked the first time that a player who won the trophy had not been a member of the championship team.

“I’m simply thrilled for Kenzie,” said Sarah Plumb, who, as a coach, admitted “feeling blessed to have had Kenzie on my team when I first came to Nobles. She’s a special kid. She’s an outstanding athlete and a tremendous leader and what’s more, she’s one of the most humble people you’ll ever meet. She’d be the last person to tell you about her successes”

Those successes have been plentiful, too. The former three-sport standout – lacrosse, hockey and soccer – whittled that number down to two at Boston College: lacrosse and hockey. During her first three years at BC, where her mother, Jennifer Lally Kent, has served as an assistant coach on the lacrosse team for the past nine years, Kent has proven to be a standout on the ice as well. In fact, she will enter her senior season ranked 14th on the Eagles’ all-time scoring charts, as she has accumulated 107 points on 31 goals and 76 assists.

Kent, who spent her freshman and sophomore years at Thayer Academy, the same school her mother graduated from in 1986 and was later inducted into its Hall of Fame, has been named one of four finalists for the Honda Sports Award as one of the NCAA’s premier female athletes. She has logged 214 points during her BC lacrosse career, netting 118 goals and setting up 96 others. This spring, despite having missed half of the Eagles 24 games due to her commitment to hockey, Kent still finished among the team’s scoring leaders with 77 points on 39 goals and 38 assists in just 12 games.

“I’m not surprised at all at how successful Kenzie has been on the collegiate level,” said Plumb, who watched Kent notch 134 points on 80 goals and 54 assists and a league title over two seasons and earn All-Independent School League honors for her efforts. “She’s one of the best all-around athletes I’ve ever coached.”

Dempsey Arsenault, meanwhile, settled in at a midfield slot for Boston College during her sophomore season and the move paid dividends for the Eagles as she tallied 15 goals – including one against Maryland in the NCAA finals – and assisted on eight others to pick up 23 points on the season. Her efforts saw her receive a second-team berth on the IWLCA Northeast All-Regional squad as well as third-team All-America status from Inside Lacrosse Women’s Media.

The two-time All-American midfielder capped off her senior season at New Hampton with an 87-point effort on 45 goals and 42 assists. Those figures earned Arsenault a berth in the Under Armour All-American Game, as well as a spot on the New England Prep School Girls Lacrosse All-Star Team for a second straight year and the Lakes Region League All-Star Team for a third consecutive season.

“Dempsey was an outstanding midfielder during her four years here … in fact I’d have to say she’s one of the very best we’ve ever had at that position,” said Jenna Simon, Arsenault’s mentor at New Hampton. “She was also an outstanding leader,” she added of her two-year captain.

Simon took in this spring’s tourney, but it wasn’t just to cheer on Arsenault. The New Hampton coach played her college lacrosse at Boston College, where she earned All-ACC, All-Regional and All-American laurels following a career at Loomis Chaffee, where she landed All-New England and All-American laurels.

Senior attack Kayla O’Connor (Governor’s) and sophomore defenseman Christina Walsh (St. Mark’s) rounded out the Eagles’ local ties. O’Connor chalked up 70 points during her senior campaign on 46 goals and 24 assists and finished her collegiate career with 59 goals and 26 assist for 85 points. During her days at Governor’s, she picked up All-American, All-New England and All-League honors.

Walsh, meanwhile, helped lead St. Mark’s to the 2015 ISL league title, then earned All-American and All-League honors for her play. She culminated her junior season by being invited to play in the Under Armour Tournament.

The New England area had plenty of players to root for come Memorial Day when the NCAA rolled out its feature presentation: the men’s Division I showdown. When the Terps and the Buckeyes took the field, no less than six former NEPSAC players were seeking claims to No. 1. Maryland, the eventual champion, listed Avon’s Connor Kelly as well as Will Snider and Kai Storrs of Salisbury. Josh Kirson and Caleb Mahoney of Rivers and Brendan Wallace of Salisbury, meanwhile, represented Ohio State.

Kelley closed out his junior season as the Terps’ second-leading scorer (42-8—50) behind 2017 Tewaaraton Award winner Matt Rambo (42-45—87). The former Winged Beaver will head into his senior campaign having already surpassed the century mark in career scoring with 102 points on 78 goals and 24 assists.

“Connor’s a superb athlete … probably one of the best we’ve ever had here,” said Skip Flanagan, Kelly’s former coach at Avon. “I think what made him such a great athlete was his sense of pride in his performance and his ability to step up and produce whenever there was a need for him to do so.”

It would seem as though Kelly stepped up quite frequently during his Avon days. He finished his career with 285 points on 188 goals and 97 assists, was named to the 2014 Under Armour All-Star Game, earned an All-American selection and a Founder’s League MVP nomination as the two-time captain helped the Winged Beavers capture a pair of league titles.

In football, “Connor never came off the field,” said Flanagan, as Kelly played wide receiver on offense, cornerback on defense, returned punts and kickoffs and was named the New England Player of the Year for his gridiron exploits.

As for Will Snider (midfielder) and Kai Storrs (defenseman), both had very limited success at cracking what would prove to be a championship lineup at Maryland. During their sophomore seasons Snider made his way into just four games, while Storrs entered just two. Neither player registered a point on the campaign.

There was a third Crimson Knight alum who took part in this year’s Division I title tilt, as Brendan Wallace, a freshman defenseman, suited up for Ohio State. Wallace was named Salisbury’s 2016 MVP and earned a berth on the first-team All-New England squad. As a junior, he was invited to participate in the Under Armour All-America Tournament.

Two other freshmen on this year’s Buckeye team were Rivers grads Caleb Mahoney (defenseman) and Josh Kirson (goalie). Mahoney, a four-year starter, was named to the All-Independent School League as a senior and earned honorable-mention status following both his sophomore and junior campaigns. Kirson, meanwhile, was a two-time All-Independent School League selection with the Red Wings and a member of the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game. Like their rookie counterparts, however, they did not accumulate any playing time this past spring.

“Josh was a very mature athlete … almost adult like, and that’s what made him such an outstanding goalie,” explained Rivers coach Justin Walker. “He was always cool, calm and collected. He always handled whatever pressure came his way with ease and those are the traits you need to be an exceptional goalie.

“Caleb was blessed with a great deal of athleticism,” added Walker, “but what’s more than that, he used that gift to the utmost.”

Former New Hampton standout Dom Thomas maintained the same scoring touch at Merrimack College during his freshman year that he enjoyed at New Hampton, finishing with 22 points on 11 goals and 11 assists. During his junior and senior seasons with the Huskies, Thomas notched 50 goals and 130 assists for 180 points while helping earn a pair of Lakes Region League championships and back-to-back Northern New England All-Star Team berths.

“Dom was a four-year starter for us and was a huge contributor to our program,” said New Hampton mentor Justin Simon, whose Huskies were rated as a top-10 team in New England and were ranked 17th nationally following Thomas’s senior season, “and I’m not a bit surprised by the level of success he has achieved on the collegiate level. By his senior season, I knew he was more than ready for the next level.”

Former Hyde School standout Rodney Felder joined in the Limestone postgame celebration. Despite seeing limited action during his junior season, Felder knows a thing or two about winning as he helped lead the Wolfpack to three straight SENE Conference championships. That final season, he collected 38 points on 17 goals and 21 assists.

On the Division III level, Rochester Institute of Technology senior goaltender Nick Nesbitt, who helped backstop Salisbury School to the 2012 Western New England Prep School Boys Lacrosse Association title, helped get RIT to the title tilt this spring. Despite the loss in the championship game, Nesbitt had a dream season with a 20-3 record between the pipes. Coupled with a 9-1 showing his junior season, Nesbitt finished his career with the Tigers with a 29-4 record.

Senior attack Brendan MacDonald, who hails from Trinity Pawling, wrapped up his career with the Tigers with a 43-point season after reaching the 30-goal plateau and dishing out 13 assists, while Luke Smeltzer, a freshman midfielder out of the Gunnery, saw action in just seven games during his collegiate debut. At the Gunnery, Smeltzer was a three-time Western New England Prep School Boys Lacrosse Association first-team All-Star selection.

In the women’s Division II finale, Gracie Maganzini saw her hopes of capturing a second straight national championship fall a pair of goals short when Florida Southern dropped a 6-4 decision to Adelphi.

“Gracie was a four-year letter winner as well as a four-year starter here at New Hampton,” reflected Jenna Simon, the Huskies coach, of Maganzini, who recently concluded her sophomore season at Southern, “and she played a prominent role her senior season in our capturing both the Lakes Region regular season and postseason tournament titles.

Maganzini has fit right into what can only be described as a hotbed of lacrosse on the collegiate level. During her freshman season, which saw Southern capture the Division II national championship, she rang up five goals in just 12 games. This spring, Southern finished second in the national rankings, but Maganzini rose to the occasion by ringing up 14 points on eight goals and six assists in 18 games.

Maggie Welsh, who concluded her four-year stay at the School of the Holy Child as its career point leader, has averaged nearly a point per game average for Division III champion Gettysburg. In her first 30 games, the junior attack has produced 26 points on 13 goals and 13 assists.