PEABODY — Perhaps now that the Peabody boys lacrosse coaching situation has stablized somewhat, the Tanners can go forward.
It’s been an awfully eventful preseason for Peabody, and it carried over into the Tanners’ first games — both losses. They fell to Masconomet (14-4) and North Reading (18-6). But that’s only half of it. The Tanners lost their coach, Tony O’Donnell, who abruptly resigned one week into the preseason. O’Donnell had come on board in 1999 as an assistant and served the last six seasons as head coach.
However, now that the coaching situation has been taken care of with the appointment of assistant Greg Welch as interim head coach, the Tanners feel they are back in business in a big way.
Welch, a 2003 Peabody High grad, knows a thing or two about Tanners’ lacrosse, having owned the school record for most career points (225) for 10 years. He is also the first, and only, Tanner to be named a U.S. Lacrosse high school All-American. Welch played four years under O’Donnell at Peabody. Originally recruited to play Division 1 at Bryant University, Welch switched gears after redshirting as a freshman and transferred to Springfield College, where he played four years, serving as senior captain in 2008.
“Coaching is extremely time-consuming, especially when you have full-time job and other responsibilities, so we had talked about it,” said Welch. “The plan had been this year for me to do most of the coaching and Tony to handle the administrative duties, but things changed. At first the kids were shocked a little bit. But it is business as usual and I told them everything isn’t handed to you on a silver platter where you walk through life and everything is easy. There is adversity and change, which are good things. Sometimes you just have to go outside your comfort zone, and this is one of those times.”
Peabody athletic director Bob Bua said Welch was a logical choice as O’Donnell’s successor and that the transition has been smooth.
“Greg brings a lot of enthusiasm to the program and has been a part of the program for several years,” Bua said. “He relates well to the kids and I think he brings a lot of intensity, as you can see, to the sideline. I think once the kids get adapted to his style everything is going to get better. The expectation with having Greg is that the team will pick up where there left off without interruption and it has been It has been a seamless transition, a good transition.
“Obviously, like Greg, with Tony, it was always all about the kids. He put his heart and soul into Peabody lacrosse and I know it meant a lot to him. He did a lot for the program and did a lot for the kids. I wish him nothing but the best.”
As far as team goals goes, Welch said there is no reason why Peabody cannot get back to the tournament, which it has not made since 2015.
“We are very young with five freshmen, and I think we are having a hard time taking the shot when they are open,” he said. “If I saw a shot I liked, I took it and am trying to instill that in them and we need to put more time in on the man up. We are still teaching kids the fundamentals, but we will get there.”
2013 Peabody High graduate Keifer Heckman should be able to help in that department. Heckman, who signed on as an assistant coach this season, knows a thing or two about taking shots as is the man who broke Welch’s scoring record in his senior year. He finished his career with 286 points, scoring a staggering 77 goals and 49 assists that year to lead the state in scoring. Ironically, he broke it in a game against Smithfield High at Bryant University while Welch was an assistant coach.
“I had nothing but good feelings about what Keifer did, especially considering the irony that he did it at Bryant, I guess the stars were aligned,” said Welch. “He was one tough kid that had an incredible will to win and I am hoping that he can instil that toughness and desire to win in these young kids.”
So far, Welch’s biggest challenge has been off the field.
“The biggest thing is the non-lacrosse stuff, dealing with the boosters, the school administrators, the parents, who so far have been great,” Welch said. “There’s a lot more to to coaching than just coaching.”