BRISTOL - They call it âhoods offâ mode, a mentality that began last spring.
Leading into his third season as head coach, Chris Kennedy knew something special was happening in his St. Paul boys lacrosse program, and he was fired up before the Falcons took the field for their 2018 season opener against Wolcott.
In an impassioned pregame speech, Kennedy detailed the process of how falcons are trained - hoods being thrown over their heads to control their sight so they can only see their trainer. As young people, Kennedy said, the players are often wearing a metaphorical hood to act in a way that pleases their parents, school leaders or other authority figures.
But on the lacrosse field, these Falcons are let loose: âWhen we get going and play our brand of lacrosse,â Kennedy said, âwe take off our hoods and hunt.â
Apparently, the speech worked. The Falcons went out and dominated in a 15-0 win, and ever since that offensive explosion, they have been on the prowl, making quick work of most of their opponents.
With the full-throttle attack as its identity, St. Paul exploded for an 18-2 campaign highlighted by a regular season conference championship, a conference tournament title and a trip to the state quarterfinals. The success was all jump-started by the Falconsâ high-octane offense.
âIt gives you confidence,â senior Kevin Ashworth said. âWhen youâre playing high-scoring, fast lacrosse like this, your brainâs not really thinking. Youâre really just going out there and playing instinctual lacrosse. Youâre playing with your instincts.â
Kennedy guided St. Paul to a 19-19 combined record over his first two seasons. Ashworth was a freshman on Kennedyâs first team, and Tucker Raymond joined as a freshman the following year. Kennedy knew both were special players, but there was a key component missing. They needed another scorer.
Insert Brycen Kennedy.
The coachâs son came to the Falcons last season as a freshman, and he helped take the offense to a new level. The addition of another lethal weapon gave St. Paul a three-headed attack âthat could score from anywhere in the field,â Chris Kennedy said.
Brycen Kennedy, Raymond and Ashworth finished last season ranked No. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in the state in points. Kennedy and Raymond finished No. 1 and 2 in goals scored, and Ashworth ranked sixth. All three finished in the top 10 in assists. It all added up to a 17.3 goals per game average, the No. 1 mark in the state.
âWe have set plays, but Coach advocates for us having so much freedom with what we do,â Raymond said. âHe wants us to be free so we can make what we can of the defense and make a decision ourselves so weâre not on a set play.â
It starts with what Raymond touched on: Chris Kennedyâs loose environment and free-flowing offense that allows the players to let the shots fly.
âBut itâs gotta be a good shot,â Brycen Kennedy said. âIt gives us that mentality that Coach knows we have the talent, and he trusts us. Thatâs a big reason why we say, âOK, we can do this. Coach believes in us.ââ
Donât expect any changes this season, especially not after back-to-back wins over Amistad (16-1) and Watertown (14-1) to start the season, the latter coming on a Wednesday afternoon in which Kennedy (six goals, three assists), Raymond (three goals, two assists) and Ashworth (four goals, five assists) each had their fingerprints on a dominant victory.
One of the eye-popping plays against Watertown came when Ashworth linked up with Kennedy on a behind-the-back pass, and the sophomore lined up a shot and catapulted it into the back of the net.
It was a perfect microcosm, Ashworth said, of the relaxed persona these Falcons enjoy.
âWhen I caught that ball, itâs not like I was thinking in my head, âOh, this is gonna be behind-the-back. Itâs gonna look cool.â It was just how the defense was set up,â Ashworth said. âReally, with this high, fast lacrosse itâs not like weâre purposely saying, âLetâs go. Letâs go. Letâs go.â Itâs just that weâre a bunch of athletes. We like to run and get up and down the field, and definitely like to put the ball in the back of the net.â
The Falconsâ success starts with their offense, but is bolstered by a defense that allowed just five goals per game in 2018. That trend continued against Watertown, as the Indians had to scrounge for any shot attempts, finishing with just four total attempts and the one goal that came during a man-up advantage.
âWe have so much confidence in our defense right now. Weâve got some great players back there,â Ashworth said. âWeâre gonna have games where the defense is gonna have to grind it out. If they keep playing the way they did [Wednesday], weâre gonna have a great season.â
The schedule is about to ramp up its intensity right away, however, and that defense will attempt to lock down some of the stateâs best in East Catholic, Northwest Catholic, defending state champion St. Joseph (which defeated the Falcons in the quarters last season) and Bacon Academy, which comes to St. Paul for a 5:30 p.m. tilt Saturday.
Raymond said him and the rest of these Falcons are itching to square off against the stateâs best. Thatâs why they play the game, and itâs why they play for this program. They are âalways looking forward,â Raymond said. ââŠ We come to every game with the same intensity. We donât back off, and we are always looking to be better each game.â
As the calendar turns to May and June, the Falcons (2-0) will almost certainly have to face the stateâs perennial powers, something Chris Kennedy is hoping his program will soon become. In order to earn that distinction and respect, though, it might take raising a banner to get there. And thatâs something each Falcon is starving for - a state championship.
âIf youâre not aiming for the top, youâre never gonna get there,â Raymond said. âYouâve gotta set your goals high so that you can get there. If you believe you can do it, and we have the skills to do it, I believe we have a shot. Weâre working hard. Everyone on the team has a huge part in it.â
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org