The Day's All-Area Boys' Lacrosse Player of the Year: Waterford's Jake Kozlowski
Fancy the perspective of the lacrosse goalkeeper, willfully subjecting himself/herself to whizzing little white projectiles, knowing there's a decent chance of 1) not stopping the ball or 2) getting plunked by it.
"Growing up," Jake Kozlowski was saying recently, "that was always the question. It's like goalies are psycho."
Turns out that Waterford High School had the best goalie of all around here this season.
Kozlowski, who made several timely saves in the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship game, is The Day's 2022 Boys' Lacrosse Player of the Year. Rare is the occurrence that this award goes to a goalie. But then his .690 save percentage — roughly the equivalent of a .400 hitter in Major League Baseball — says it all.
"Jake is a perfectionist. He has a drive to get better — and it's not just on the field," Waterford coach Paul Deon said. "In the classroom as well. He's an Academic All-American. There are only 16 of them in all of Connecticut. That's why he's going to Colgate, a school that's really hard to get into."
The Lancers allowed but six goals per game this season. Impressive. But ironic, too, that had they allowed goal No. 6 in the ECC final, they'd have lost to Stonington. Kozlowski was impervious in two overtimes before John Zimmermann won it.
Kozlowski was named the winner of the James J. Courtney Award that goes to the most outstanding player in the championship game.
"There were a few plays in overtime that Jake decided the lights are on and he just stepped up and into the player of the year you guys just picked," Deon said. "He was that leader, that guy, that voice we all looked up to."
Kozlowski grew up in East Lyme but was attending the Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton when the family moved to Waterford during his freshman year. The Marine Science school doesn't offer sports, meaning its students play sports for the high school in their town of residence.
"It was a weird transition because I decided to go to the Marine Science School, so I didn't really know any of the Waterford kids," Kozlowski said. "But they all embraced me when I came my freshman year."
Now he leaves as a pied piper for lacrosse in a baseball town. Current athletic director Chris Landry coached the program earlier in the decade and led the Lancers to the state championship game. Now they've won two ECC lacrosse tournaments since 2019 with players of the year Caleb Holdridge and Kozlowski. Not an easy undertaking in Waterford, where a young man's thoughts often turn to baseball in the spring.
"The baseball program has been around the town forever and is very strong," Deon said. "I think kids are going home to watch the Red Sox, the Yankees or even the Mets. I don't think many dads in town played lacrosse."
And yet ...
"My friends who are juniors started for the first time last year and they had a really big impact," Kozlowski said. "Now they're just getting better and better. And the youth program is getting stronger. That kind of funnels into the high school and will allow us to be more successful in the future. So I think that there's definitely room to continue growing — but it's definitely starting to become a lacrosse town as well."
Deon hopes that kids remaining in the program understand Kozlowski didn't do all this on talent alone.
"I would hope they notice more how hard he worked on and off the field," he said. "There are a lot of good athletes who have good seasons. There are a lot of students who get good grades. But Jake's work ethic has helped him excel. That's what I hope his legacy will be."
Player of the Year - Jake Kozlowski (Waterford)
Attack - Nick Cox (Old Lyme), Cam Elenteny (Stonington), Sean McCusker (East Lyme)
Midfield - Sam Blumberger (Bacon Academy), Anthony Gesino (East Lyme), John Zimmermann (Waterford)
Defense - Sterling Frost (Williams), Liam Pickett (Waterford), David Stoddard (East Lyme)
Goalie - Mason Gallo (East Lyme)
Long-stick midfield - Shawn Beebe (Fitch)
Short-stick midfield - Henry Hatt (East Lyme)
Faceoff specialist - Nick Lang (Bacon)
Utility - CJ Landry (Waterford), Ben Massengale (Stonington), Sawyer Tighe (East Lyme)