There’s not much in Westford, a tiny town located about 11 miles northwest of Essex that could easily be a postcard for rural Vermont.
The population is barely more than 2,000. A general store and a gas station dot the town’s one paved road.
“It’s really not a gas station; it’s just a gas pump,” Ryan Forbes said. “In all of Westford there are no stop lights, just a few stop signs and a lot of dirt roads.”
And somewhere in this town, there might also be a lacrosse factory.
At least that’s the way it seems, considering the abundance of standout players coming out of Westford and shining in Essex High School’s powerhouse boys lacrosse program.
Essex High’s longtime coach Dean Corkum estimates there are, between the varsity and JV rosters, more than a dozen players from Westford. Eight from Westford are on the Hornets’ varsity team: Forbes, James and Matthew Olsen, Thomas and Sean Vanzo, Joseph Aiken, Connor Fulton and Dan Palker.
The wealth of lacrosse talent coming out of Westford has helped Essex reach the last six Division I championship games and capture three crowns.
After wins over defending-champion South Burlington, Middlebury and Champlain Valley the past two weeks, the Hornets (6-2) once again appear to be the team to beat in Vermont this spring. Their two losses are against out-of-state opponents.
“Coming from such a small town, not getting a lot handed to us, we work pretty hard over there,” said James Olsen, one of Essex’s big scorers as a senior attack. “It starts with our youth program.”
For kids growing up in Westford, lacrosse is more popular than any other sport. The town has youth teams for third and fourth graders, fifth and sixth graders and seventh and eighth graders.
“The team we had, everyone played all positions and everyone played the whole game,” said Thomas Vanzo, whose older brother Marty Vanzo is a standout lacrosse player at St. Michael’s College. “I think how close we’ve become because it’s such a small (elementary) school; you know everyone well, and that definitely helps on the field.”
The Westford youth teams play against Essex’s. “We’d always get killed,” Olsen said.
Since Westford doesn’t have a high school in town, many of the kids travel to Essex to continue their education. A few others from Westford play in Mount Mansfield Union High School’s program, including varsity player Nate Brown.
“They are a hard-working bunch, and it’s a close-knit community,” said Corkum. “We have Westford guys who are teaching the other Westford guys. They are just perpetuating this whole idea of small-town Westford playing in a bigger place.
“The one thing about Westford kids, they are good lacrosse players but even better kids,” Corkum added. “They are just good guys; you can always count on them.”