Pictured last year against Needham, Walpole High attack-man Conor Foley (16) will gear up for UMass-Lowell following his upcoming senior season for the Rebels this spring. Photos by Conor McNabb
By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Like any sport, college lacrosse has its purebreds - Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Duke, Loyola (Maryland), and defending national champ Yale, just to name a few.
Over the years, Walpole High has sent some of its high-level alumni onto some of these powerhouse institutions, with players like Davis Butts and Peter Bowes playing at Loyola (Maryland) and Ryan Izzo at UMass.
However, with the sport of lacrosse growing so rapidly, the American East Conference has taken advantage and begun to flourish here in the Northeast. The conference’s ascent has created a more competitive local recruitment environment, and also supplied more teams for high school players to watch and learn from.
Over the last several years, Albany has been the crown jewel of the American East, winning five of the last six conference tournaments and making a run all the way to the Final Four at Gillette last spring for the first time in program and conference history.
Along with Albany’s success on the national stage, the American East has also seen a rise from several other institutions on the lacrosse field. The University of Vermont is coming off arguably its best season in program history at 12-4, while UMass-Lowell went .500 last season (8-8) for the first time since joining Division I in 2013-14.
In Vermont, the Catamounts recently landed former Walpole High star and current New Hampton School (New Hampshire) midfielder, Colin Deery, on the recruiting front. Meanwhile, Lowell also landed a big-time Walpole recruit in rising senior attack-man and the leading scorer of the Rebels each of the last two seasons, Conor Foley.
In Deery’s case, he will be joining a team that is beginning to excel on the field, thanks to its recruitment of both local players from the New England area, as well as guys north of the border in Canada. The Catamounts saw an incredibly productive season from Canadian-born midfielder Ian MacKay in 2018 (39 goals, 19 assists), who currently plays for the Chesapeake Bayhawks of the MLL and the Buffalo Bandits of the NLL.
Another big name to come out of UVM recently is current Atlanta Blaze (MLL) close D, James Leary. Like Deery, who currently plays prep lacrosse up in New Hampshire, Leary is a local guy with ties to New Hampshire as a native of Seabrook. When asked about the future of UVM lacrosse and reflecting back on his time spent with the program, Leary says that the school’s recruitment of both Canadian and local guys like Deery shows the program’s commitment to becoming a legitimate power here in the Northeast. Leary also emphasized that the mix of diverse skill sets gives the Catamounts extreme versatility in comparison to the majority of their opposition.
“[Ian] MacKay definitely was a special player and a record-breaker, so being able to play with him for four years was really awesome,” said Leary. “We definitely made each other better on and off the field. I don't know the exact stats, but I'm sure we have to have close to the most Canadians on any roster in Division I. Being able to get those guys definitely makes the team better. They bring a different style and mentality to the field, whether it's during practice or come game time. I think it really elevates the team’s play. Having now moved to Atlanta and traveling a bunch this summer to coach, it is evident that the growth of lacrosse around the country, especially in New England, is booming. I know the coaching staff at UVM hits the recruiting trail hard during the fall and summer, which allows them to find great players and great young men.”
As for Foley, who has been committed to Lowell since the start of last season, the humbled star says that it is an honor to be given the chance to play Division I college lacrosse so close to home, and that he looks forward to competing against his former counterpart, Deery, whenever the Riverhawks and Catamounts meet up in conference play.
“Colin and I have been friends for a long time and played together for about nine years,” said Foley. “Knowing that we will be playing against each other in the near future is exciting, and I am looking forward to it. Although we will be on opposing teams, I am eager to see him do big things over his four years UVM.”
When asked what he believes has allowed Walpole High players like himself and Deery to compete at the next level, Foley says that a lot of it boils down to the coaching they’ve received - and the solidarity of Walpole’s youth lacrosse program.
“Guys like Colin and I were fortunate enough to grow up in a town like Walpole,” said Foley. “Having good coaching throughout youth was an important piece in our developments. As middle schoolers, we were lucky enough to have Coach Lanahan and Coach Deery (Colin’s father), who always taught us to compete our hardest. Coach Andalo has motivated us to work hard both on and off the field, which also helped us tremendously. Coach Andalo has been a great help throughout the recruitment process.”
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0.