The Hand boys lacrosse team entered the CIAC Class M tournament with a 1-4 record in its previous five games. Hand coach Paul Deon and his coaching staff had their team working on fundamentals and improving team chemistry.
The hard work in the practices has certainly paid off for the Tigers (13-7), who defeated New Fairfield 8-7 in the semifinals on Wednesday.
The No. 6 Tigers get a rematch with No. 1 New Canaan in the Class M final today at McMahon at 3:30 p.m. New Canaan defeated Hand 10-5 in last season’s Class M final.
“The team has stepped up all around playing well as a unit,” Deon said. “Defense has been a strong point for us. All of our long stick defenders have been playing great.”
Goalie Eric Lyons needed only eight saves in the win over New Fairfield thanks to long stick defenders Ryan Kaufmann, Riley Filler and John Jibilian helping limit the Rebels to only 15 shots on goal. Midfielder Reid Sweitzer has also made an impact on defense and in the transition game.
“Defense has been a big part of our success in the state tournament,” Kaufmann said. “Our entire team has always been a tight and close group. But our defenders have been growing as a group, improving on fundamentals and we’re making fewer mistakes.
“A lot of midfielders and defenders have been stepping up big time. Everyone has their role to play and their specific strengths and everyone has been contributing.”
In the semifinals, the Tigers forced 25 turnovers, including 12 in the decisive fourth quarter. Hand dominated the final quarter, outscoring New Fairfield 2-0 to seal the win and advance to its second straight Class M final.
The difference between this season’s Hand team and last season’s team in the Class M tournament? In 2015 the Tigers allowed 25 goals in four games. In three Class M games so far in 2016, the Tigers have allowed only 11 goals including a 16-0 shutout over Pomperaug in the quarterfinals.
“As you move on you face tougher opponents in the state tournament,” Deon said. “At the end of the day, everyone has to contribute in every phase of the game and everyone has to work hard for you to succeed. Everyone on our team has been stepping up.”