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Gazette Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year: South Hadley’s TJ Fitzell

TJ Fitzell, second from right, splits Longmeadow defenders Nicholas Crews, third from left, and John Ryan during the Western Massachusetts Division 2 final Saturday at Chicopee Comprehensive High School.
JERREY ROBERTS

TJ Fitzell, second from right, splits Longmeadow defenders Nicholas Crews, third from left, and John Ryan during the Western Massachusetts Division 2 final Saturday at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

Whenever the South Hadley lacrosse team needed a play this past season, TJ Fitzell was typically the man to supply it.

The senior midfielder led the Tigers in assists and finished two points off the team lead, while also serving as the primary faceoff man and a major part of the defense.

“TJ is a truly great player,” coach Matt Benoit said. “He helped raise the level of his teammates, and expected a lot out of them. He will be a hard player to replace.”

For his efforts, Fitzell has been named the Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.

He is the third different Tiger to earn the distinction in the last three seasons. Chris Menard won in 2011 and Evan Marcus in 2012.

“It’s a great feeling, especially after Chris and Evan were able to win it,” Fitzell said. “Those guys are my buddies, so it’s pretty cool to keep it going for our program. I learned from them how to play the game the right way. They were both great role models.”

Benoit added, “We have a strong lacrosse tradition here in South Hadley. That’s why we have had three straight winners of this award, and TJ has helped to continue that.”

Fitzell scored 46 goals and assisted on 40 others for 86 total points. Only attackman Sam Duda (75, 13) edged him out with 88.

“I like to be an offensive catalyst, either scoring goals or creating for others,” Fitzell said. “My numbers have always pretty much been even in terms of goals and assists. We’ve had great scorers in recent seasons, which makes it easier to pass off.”

For the first time in five seasons, South Hadley failed to reach the sectional title game. The addition of central Mass. programs to the western Mass. tournament made the road much more difficult.

The No. 9 Tigers (13-6) lost a 12-10 heartbreaker at Algonquin Regional after leading most of the game.

“I was disappointed we didn’t go further, especially in my senior season,” Fitzell said. “But the season certainly wasn’t a failure. We had some younger guys coming up and a new coach who only I had experience with. The systems were pretty similar, so there was a bit of a learning curve, but it didn’t take too long.”

Former South Hadley coach Matt Benoit replaced Kyle Cloutier before the season. But no matter the Tigers’ coach, their up-tempo style always remains the same.

“Either off faceoffs or on the defensive end, I tried to help our team get the ball back and drive the transition game,” Fitzell said.

Also like predecessors Menard and Marcus, Fitzell was named an All-American, joining four others from western Massachusetts — Drew Kelleher and Reid Leveillee of Longmeadow, Jake Cupak of Westfield, and Michael McCormack of Mount Greylock.

Becoming an All-American “was always in the back of my head,” Fitzell said. “I thought it would be pretty cool, but if it didn’t happen it wouldn’t have been a big deal. I’d much rather not be an All-American and win more games. But it’s definitely a great thing to have attached to your name.”

The selection earned Fitzell an invitation to play in the BostonLax.net All-American Game at Boston University. Not only did he participate, he took home most valuable player honors after scoring twice with an assist.

“That was such a great experience, playing with the best players in the state,” Fitzell said. “Being named MVP is something I couldn’t have dreamed of. At the end of the game, I thought maybe I had a small chance. But when they announced it I was pretty shellshocked.”

Despite such an outstanding senior season and a strong high school career, Fitzell continues to seek improvement in all aspects of the game.

“I continue to work on my shooting, especially on the run, as well as shot speed and overall quickness,” he said. “The next level is a completely different game, so I need to adjust any way I can. In college there are guys who are specifically faceoff efforts,” he said.

Fitzell is bound for Sacred Heart University in the fall. He said there’s been some discussion about his immediate role.

“The more well-rounded you are, the more opportunities you’ll get to play and contribute right away,” he said.

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

FIRST TEAM

Alex Bachand, junior, Belchertown

Tom Crotty, senior, South Hadley

Sam Duda, senior, South Hadley

TJ Fitzell, senior, South Hadley

Will Lombardi, senior, Northampton

John O’Hara, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Donovan Riley, senior, Amherst

Wyatt Rousseau, senior, Belchertown

Jake Smith, junior, Belchertown

Alex Zadworny, senior, Northampton

SECOND TEAM

Nick Albers, sophomore, Granby

Griffin Fitzell, sophomore, South Hadley

Jason Krasinkiewicz, junior, Belchertown

Brendan Lavallee, senior, Holyoke Catholic

Jake Lesieur, senior, South Hadley

Ben Magarian, sophomore, Belchertown

Conner Quinn, senior, South Hadley

Bryce Wall, sophomore, Northampton

Alex Wordsworth, junior, Belchertown

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