Boys lacrosse: Connor McDonell, Granby take down Smith Voc to capture first-ever league title (PHOTOS)

Granby’s Tristan Moe (15) carries the ball while defended by Smith Voc’s Hunter Stockseth (34) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton.

Granby’s Tristan Moe (15) carries the ball while defended by Smith Voc’s Hunter Stockseth (34) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Jordan Vieu-Reed (6) is pressured by Smith Voc’s Jaiden Marney (11) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton.

Granby’s Jordan Vieu-Reed (6) is pressured by Smith Voc’s Jaiden Marney (11) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby goalie Jacob Weglarz (8) reaches out to catch the ball during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory over Smith Voc on Wednesday in Northampton.

Granby goalie Jacob Weglarz (8) reaches out to catch the ball during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory over Smith Voc on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Smith Voc’s Jaiden Marney (11) holds possession while pressured against Granby during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton.

Smith Voc’s Jaiden Marney (11) holds possession while pressured against Granby during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Kamdyn Lopez (12) is defended by Smith Voc’s Weston Pandolfini (16) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory over Smith Voc on Wednesday in Northampton.

Granby’s Kamdyn Lopez (12) is defended by Smith Voc’s Weston Pandolfini (16) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory over Smith Voc on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Granby’s Connor McDonell (1) carries possession of the ball during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory over Smith Voc on Wednesday in Northampton.

Granby’s Connor McDonell (1) carries possession of the ball during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory over Smith Voc on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Smith Voc’s Ty Chapdelaine (12) scoops up a ground ball during visiting Granby’s 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton.

Smith Voc’s Ty Chapdelaine (12) scoops up a ground ball during visiting Granby’s 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Smith Voc’s Jaiden Marney (11), right, holds possession of the ball with pressure from Granby’s Jordan Vieu-Reed (6), and help from Vikings teammate John Majewski (14) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton.

Smith Voc’s Jaiden Marney (11), right, holds possession of the ball with pressure from Granby’s Jordan Vieu-Reed (6), and help from Vikings teammate John Majewski (14) during the visiting Rams’ 7-4 victory on Wednesday in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-15-2024 7:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Granby boys lacrosse team hadn’t played in a bigger game in program history than Wednesday afternoon’s contest with Smith Vocational, as the Rams were playing for their first-ever league title.

One quarter into it, the Vikings looked as if they might play spoiler.

Smith Voc struck first on a goal from Alex Martinez, and took a 1-0 lead into the second quarter behind a suffocating defensive effort.

During the two-minute intermission between quarters, Granby rallied the troops.

“After the first quarter, we got the boys together and got everybody hyped up,” Rams attacker Connor McDonell said. “We realized we had a banner on the line here. League championship, we need to come out and win it. So we took that next step and went up a level.”

McDonell and Granby came out in the second on a mission, as he netted three straight goals in 2 minutes, 49 seconds to kickstart a 5-0 Rams run – which he capped off with his fourth goal just five seconds before halftime.

Granby never looked back, as it defeated Smith Voc 7-4 to claim the Suburban League title. An 0-10 season just two years ago made Wednesday’s moment so special, as the team sprinted to hound starting goalie Jake Weglarz the second the final buzzer sounded.

“It feels great right now, I don’t even know how to say it,” McDonell said. “My freshman year two years ago, we had some really bad losing streaks. This year, we won a league championship. It feels so good. It’s crazy how far we’ve come the last two years. [Coach] Jack [O’Brien] has been here this year and last year, and he’s just turned the entire program around.”

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Rams first-year head coach Jack O’Brien received a lot of praise from his players following the game. He was an assistant on the staff a year ago, but moved up to the lead role before this spring.

Under O’Brien, Granby now not only has its first league title in program history, it also has the most wins in a single season (nine) since 2016. And the Rams still have two more games left on the docket, which means double-digit wins is a real possibility. 

“I’m just really excited to be a part of it, because these guys have worked so hard all last year and this year to get to this spot,” O’Brien said. “This program is starting to take a turn and that has everything to do with these guys and the work they put in day in and day out. Turning over a new leaf and creating a winning culture here is a beautiful thing to see.”

As for Smith Voc, Wednesday’s contest started exactly how head coach Joe Cortese had hoped. The Vikings stymied Granby’s offense – one that had scored nine or more goals in seven straight games – and held them without a goal in the first quarter.

Aside from a few missed opportunities to grow the lead, the defense was clicking on all cylinders.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better start,” Cortese said. “That sums it up pretty good.”

Then the McDonell flurry happened, and Stew Slovek added one as well. The Vikings’ 1-0 lead turned into a 5-1 deficit. Martinez added his second to start the third and made it 5-2, but goals from Riley Goodhind and Kamdyn Lopez ballooned it up to 7-2 at the end of the third quarter.

Over the 24 minutes that spanned the second and third frames, the Rams gave up just one goal.

“Those guys are so tough down there, and they are some of the best athletes on our team,” O’Brien said of his defense. “They make my life a hell of a lot easier being able to rely on those guys to get the job done. Ground balls, playing the body, making smart plays and not ball watching, they do a great job with it all.”

While the Granby defense was flying around making it hard on Smith Voc, the Vikings defense struggled with communication and left open lanes for the Rams to cut into and get good looks on net.

Smith Voc goalie Wyatt Evans made a dozen saves to keep the game close.

“Our defense got a little lost,” Cortese said. “Our goalie was doing everything he could, standing on his head making a lot of saves. But we just got quiet on the defensive end. Our defense wasn’t talking and Granby took advantage.”

Martinez and Jake Adams each scored in the fourth quarter as the Vikings outscored the Rams a combined 3-0 in the first and fourth frames. Chad Hockenberry and Henry Harrison added assists.

Smith Voc (6-4) travels to St. Mary’s on Thursday afternoon.

Granby (9-6) hosts Hoosac Valley on Monday before wrapping up on the road at Belchertown on Tuesday. O’Brien was pleased with the way his team responded to a slow start on Wednesday.

“The guys realized they had to settle in and play the game that they know how to play, and they went out there and did exactly that,” O’Brien said. “They played their style of lacrosse and they weren’t afraid of the moment.”