NEWINGTON - If you go to a Newington boys lacrosse game one of the first things that will stand out is the constant yelling coming from the Indians’ sideline.
That would be head coach Zach Zarookian and it’s not him yelling at the players. It’s him trying to up the energy and get his players even more invested in the game.
“He is just so energetic and has such a passion for the game,” junior midfielder Connor Brennan said.
“He is young, he’s fresh and he knows the game,” junior defenseman Rob Petronio said. “He’s been playing his entire life, he’s never taken a season off before so he knows what he is talking about and his energy is infectious.”
Zarookian is in his second season at Newington and has already had a huge impact on the lacrosse program. Last season the team won just five games as it was adjusting to yet another new head coach. This season though, the team finished the regular season 8-8 and will compete in the state tournament for the first time in four years.
“Since my freshman year we have had, I think, three different coaches,” junior midfielder Mike Ganley said. “So it is nice to have a consistent coach from year to year.”
It also helps when that consistent coach has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game of lacrosse and can teach it in a way that high school kids can easily grasp.
“It has been a drastic culture change,” Brennan said. “In practice he has us doing a lot of collegiate drills, sweeping drills and a lot of things from top D-I programs. He tries to implement that kind of mindset with us. The same attitude, the same speed and the same tempo.”
The main thing Zarookian wanted to instill in his team when he took the job was in order to achieve excellence, it takes a year-round commitment.
“When I first came here I don’t think a lot of the kids realized how much of an investment of time and how much work it was going to be,” Zarookian said. “It has kind of been hard to get this group motivated to practice on Saturday’s and play every single day but I think it’s kind of getting them to buy into how much work we have to do.
“I am really proud of them though because they have come a long way in these two years. We are pumped we are going to the state tournament and it has kind of just been a commitment to every rep and every drill. The whole philosophy is that we are not trying to out-scheme the other team but we are trying to develop our players so that when we get into games our kids are better than their kids.”
Zarookian hasn’t just been preaching to his players that they need to play year round, he has taken an active role in helping them do so. The second-year head coach made calls to summer league coaches and travel coaches to ensure that his players had places to play outside of the school season. It’s things like that, that make it very easy for players to buy in to what Zarookian is trying to accomplish.
“The way he goes about things it is almost impossible to not want to follow his lead and play your hardest for him,” Petronio said.
No matter how much the kids play though, or how much talent they have, energy is always going to be a big part of Zarookian’s teaching style. As a fan on the sidelines you can’t help but get energized from his positive pep talks even when the team is trailing, so just imagine the effect it has on the players.
“I think playing really hard is important,” Zarookian said. “I think you can make a lot of small plays from playing hard and I think that there are different levels of playing hard. Last year when I came here I don’t think the kids understood how intense the game was going to be and how hard we wanted them to play.
“It is hard to keep everyone pumped up for the full 48 minutes because it’s a long game but I make it a point to try and do that. It’s one of the main things we preach is that we want to be playing harder than the other teams at all times whether that’s in practice or in games.”
So far it has all been working for Zarookian and the future for the Indians looks bright because of him.
“This season didn’t start so great but once we started getting more practice time things started to turn,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to the kids though because they have really bought in and they have worked hard to get us where we are.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @bigwoolf5