Thornton Academy senior CJ LaBreck looks to make a play during a regular season game. The Trojans won the Class A title this season, with LaBreck scoring five goals in the championship game against Falmouth (Courtesy Photo)

SACO — After an 8-7 overtime loss to Cape Elizabeth early in the season, Thornton Academy boys’ lacrosse coach Ryan Hersey implored his All-American midfielder, CJ LaBreck, to involve his teammates more in the flow of the game instead of relying on his overpowering athleticism. 

LaBreck took his coach’s guidance and vowed to make an adjustment. The tinkering worked.

The senior finished with 42 goals, 22 assists and a Class A title to earn him the Journal Tribune Most Valuable Player of the 2019 boys’ lacrosse season. 

“We felt like CJ was trying to do too much (in the Cape Elizabeth game) – too much one-on-one,” Hersey said. “We wanted him to get his teammates more involved, and he took that initiative.” 

With LaBreck showcasing his versatility, the Golden Trojans won their final 13 games, avenging the loss to the Capers in the regional final in the process, before beating Falmouth in overtime in the Class A state championship, 8-7, at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. LaBreck scored the winner in overtime and finished with a game-high five goals. 

“I don’t think we beat Cape the second time around if we don’t have that balance,” said Hersey. 

A football and basketball player as well, LaBreck, who Hersey described as a “freak athlete,” would often lean on his athleticism too much over his first two years of high school. 

But, over the last two years, he’s taken it upon himself to dedicate a majority of his focus into turning himself into a “true lacrosse player.” While sharpening those skills last summer, though, LaBreck suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and forced him to miss the entire football and basketball seasons. 

LaBreck attacked rehabilitation aggressively as soon as his shoulder healed, and he implemented more conditioning into his regime to make sure he wouldn’t be, as he described, “too big” when he came back. 

The only obstacle he found on his way back? Trying to do too much, too soon.

“I was ready to go as soon as I got out of my sling,” LaBreck said. “And obviously that can’t just happen immediately, so I had to take some steps back. I just needed to take my time and make sure I wouldn’t get reinjured.”

LaBreck entered the season with high expectations for himself, but the loss to Cape forced the Thornton standout to readjust his mindset. 

“(After the loss) I didn’t really care about my scoring,” he said. “My goal was to break the career goal record, but, as the season went on, I didn’t care about that anymore. I cared about us winning as a team and a state title. And, in order for that to happen, we needed to emphasize playing together.”

When Thornton needed their leader to care about his scoring, like in the championship game against Falmouth, LaBreck came through. The senior scored three of his five goals after halftime to help sink the Yachtsmen in overtime. 

“That final half, he went back to getting the ball and putting the team on his shoulders,” Hersey said. “You could tell that he wanted the ball … He was going to be the one that was going to win or lose the game.”

LaBreck will head to Monmouth University in the fall, citing a kinship in the Hawks community that was similar to Thornton Academy. He’s excited for a new chapter, but he’ll always cherish the times spent with Hersey, who he credits as one of the most instrumental people in his development.

“(Hersey’s) been incredible,” said LaBreck. “He wasn’t only a coach for me – he was a mentor. He was a person who taught me life lessons.”

The admiration between player and coach is mutual.

“He’s definitely one of those once-in-a-decade type players,” Hersey said. “Sometimes you get phenomenal athletes and sometimes you get really skilled lacrosse players, but someone with both of those attributes doesn’t come along a lot in lacrosse … He’s one of them.” 

MEET THE 2019 ALL-STAR TEAM

MVP: CJ LaBreck, Thornton

ROY: Jacek Kudas, Kennebunk

Tom Levasseur, Thornton

Eli Arsenault, Thornton

Ean Patry, Thornton

Jacob Sullivan, Kennebunk

Gavin Tanis, Thornton

Nick McSorely, Biddeford

Evan Shindler, Kennebunk 

Max Irons, Massabesic 

Cam Cote, Thornton

Matt Murer, Kennebunk  

Colin Petit, Biddeford  

Ethan Demoura, Noble

Kaigan Munch, Biddeford 

Levi Lambert, Noble 

 

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