Melrose lax coach & captains brace for uncertain future

THE MELROSE Red Raider lacrosse team still remains a team to beat no matter when they start their season. (file photo)

Published March 27, 2020


MELROSE—At the end of last season, the Melrose Red Raider lacrosse team anticipated a return that might have found them as one of the top teams in the division, if not the state. They came off a season in which they only lost one starter and was set to return with a boatload of experienced players, including an All-American and Div. 1 commit.

Now, like every other team in the Commonwealth, they face an uncertain future as their season remains suspended due to the outbreak of the COVID 19-virus. All Massachusetts high school athletics are penciled in to resume April 27 and to run to June 20 per MIAA vote but with a revised schedule and the potential to forgo a postseason.

It’s the worst possible start for the Red Raiders, who should be competing in scrimmage play right now. According to Melrose head coach Matt James, they’re taking it one day at a time.

“I think Principal Merrill, AD Fogarty and the MIAA have done a great job getting us through this and communicating with us. They have the best interests of the kids in mind,” says the coach. “This is something that we’re taking two weeks at a time, step by step. I think everyone in the state is.”

Coach James has communicated with his players in order to keep spirits up. “We’re trying to stay creative. I email them and we have a Google Classroom set up and video challenges that allow players to play wall ball, or track their speed and report back,” he says. “I think at first, when this happened, no one was ready for that, maybe we were all in a bit of shock and didn’t know this pre-season would be so limited. Maybe they expected captains’ practices. None of that can happen, and they know they have to stay away from each other and stay off the field. It’s hard. But they get it now.”

Still, it’s extra difficult for a team so hungry to win and wearing a target on their backs. Confirms James, “These kids, not just our seniors, came into this season pumped and ready, and now just hit a wall. You want to do your best to keep them mentally positive and focused. These are multi-sport athletes coming off a Super Bowl season and solid hockey play. They came into the spring thirsty. I know this is hard on them.”

One thing is certain, expect a very different kind of season when they return.

“We usually play 18 or so games, that’s not happening,” said James. “I actually loved the non-league schedule we had created and was really looking forward to those games. They may not happen and if we’re forced to only play a league schedule then that’s what we will do.”

That’s a shared sentiment among their three senior captains, Andrew Calvert, Chris Cusolito and Brendan Maher. All three are multi-year all-stars and two-year captains. Cusolito is an All-American and three-time lacrosse all-star. Maher has committed to play lacrosse at Div. 1 UMass Amherst. Right now, it hurts for these kids. Lacrosse is in their blood.

Says Andrew Calvert, “We had such a great season last year and this year everyone had circled us on the game calendar. In the meantime, we’ve set up a Google classroom, which is awesome, and my coach posts workouts to keep up prepared and ready to go when we are able to get out there. Definitely very hard to deal with but our coach has been pushing us in the right direction.”

His teammate, Brendan Maher, agrees. “It’s been really tough. We were all really excited about this year with all the talent we have, and we’ll be ready to go whenever we are able to get out there.” Maher has taken the time to improvise his pre-season technique. “We aren’t allowed to get together as a team, so I have been going on runs and practicing in the backyard with my brothers.”

Calvert is preparing solely too. “We’ve been doing our workouts alone outside, running different routes, playing wall ball wherever we can find a place to play.”

Cusolito, an All-American player, helped Melrose clinch the Super Bowl for the Melrose Red Raider football team before injury sidelined him for much of his varsity basketball season. Now he’s healthy and ready to put his final mark on his high school lacrosse career. And now—this?

“It’s been extremely challenging since everything happened so suddenly,” Cusolito admits. “We’ve been preparing to compete for a championship and remaining optimistic. Everyone has worked really hard since we lost last year to get their bodies right for this season. But we will be ready for April 27.”

Training remains important while he prepares. “Coach James challenges us by having us run a couple of miles and play wall ball to keep our skills sharp,” says Cusolito. “At-home workouts have kept me in shape as well.”

But one thing is for certain, whether this season starts April 27 or May 27, these Red Raider leaders will be ready.

Calvert, who will attend UNH and study civil engineering next year, predicts they will all be in great shape. “As soon as we get on the field everyone should be ready to roll. So, we will start the season off right and move right along.”

Cusolito, still undecided on college plans (but will likely play lacrosse or football there) has his eye on the big prize for the Red Raiders in his final swan song. “We want to win the state.”

Maher, who was recruited to play Div. 1 ball at UMass Amherst, agrees. “Our goal is to win the league and then eventually the state championship.”

Stay tuned.