DANVERS — Pro basketball executive Pat Riley likes to say he patented the word “three-peat” while he was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers during the Magic Johnson era.
It is undoubtedly not lost on St. John’s Prep boys lacrosse coach John Pynchon that such distractions can add weight to the shoulders of the players and create unneeded stress.
Case in point: Riley’s Lakers did not win three NBA titles in a row while Riley coached. They didn’t do it until Phil Jackson coached them while Riley had moved onto the Miami Heat as president.
“We have internal pressure on how we want to play,” said Pynchon, whose Eagles are two-time Division 1 state champions. “Meeting those expectations, as opposed to thinking about ‘three-peats,’ is more important to us.
“We just want to work hard, practice hard, and do the things we can focus on,” he says. “We want to put ourselves in a position to compete. If we come out on top, great. This way of thinking takes the pressure off the guys. We can talk about it more later, when the time is right.”
Pynchon says all the external pressure isn’t necessarily negative. The best way to describe it is that it’s simply “there,” like the proverbial elephant sitting in the middle of the living room.
“They are all the outside voices,” he said. “They’re not meant to be negative. It’s more the talk among the alumni, fans, the media, parents, etc. Social media. All that stuff. Polls and rankings. All that outside influence can distract us. We try to acknowledge them, and we talk about how we can’t control it. We can only control what we do in the weight room, on the practice field, in games.”
Beyond the usual preparations, Pynchon wants his team to play the game with the joy he says it deserves.
“Lacrosse is a game that’s meant to be played fast,” he said. “The ball needs to be off the ground. And it’s an athletic sport. It requires a nice blend of athleticism, running, explosiveness, and physicality.
“We want to use that to our advantage,” he says. “We’ve focused more on the athletic development side. We have our athletes in a good position to perform. Yet, it’s a game that’s designed to be fun, too. You should have joy when you play it.”
With one exception, the joy has been all Prep. The Eagles are 7-1, with the one defeat coming at the hands of an out-of-state team from Connecticut.
Pynchon says the team’s roster makeup enables the Eagles to play aggressively.
“We have a lot of returning guys on offense, and we want to play really fast on the offensive side,” he said. “It plays to our athletic ability.
“On the defensive side we want to be aggressive as well,” he said. “We figure if we’re going to make mistakes, we can make them at 100 miles per hour and force them to react.”
Leading the way is Jimmy Ayers, once again. Ayers was a mainstay on last year’s title-winning team. Also among the team leaders is Luke Kelly, a sophomore “who has really stepped up and developed.”
Pynchon also includes Alex Perault, “who doesn’t show up in the scoring column, but he does so many things at midfield — running, moving the ball. He’s great for us as a senior.”
Also among the leaders is Kurt Schillinger, a junior defensive midfielder.
“He’s been playing great,” Pynchon said. “He’s really doing well. All around, we have a great group of kids.”
One of the things the Eagles face, almost every time they play, is the knowledge they’re going to get their opponents’ best.
“When teams prepare for us, we know they’re preparing for the biggest game on their schedule,” Pynchon said. “We welcome that. I consider that an honor.
“Is there pressure? Yes,” he said. “Stress? Sure. But would I give up those two titles? No. It’s a welcome burden. It’s an opportunity. Our guys play better when they know they’re going to be tested. It’s part of the allure we’re trying to drive home. We want it to be hard. We want it to be a challenge.”