CHESHIRE — Growing up playing lacrosse, Cheshire seniors Dan Bourdeau and Andrew Vernon developed a close friendship on and off the field.
As a goalkeeper, Vernon has always trusted that Bourdeau would protect him on defense.
“I know his game really well,” said Vernon. “It has been great playing together.”
While the friends will be teammates for just one more season this spring, both have committed to extending their lacrosse careers. Bourdeau will compete at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, while Vernon has chosen to play at Norwich University in Vermont.
“For me, it is super-exciting,” said Vernon. “It will be nice to help up there and have new scenery.”
“I’m happy to keep playing at a great school,” added Bourdeau.
In his recruiting process, Bourdeau looked at Eastern and Western Connecticut as well as Keene State. After making two visits to Salve Regina last fall, he felt that the school was the best fit for him.
“Coach (Patrick) Cooney sounds like a great guy,” said Bourdeau. “I think this is a good opportunity for me to play and get an education.”
In entering the Salve Regina program, he will share an immediate connection with assistant coach Colin Barnett, who played lacrosse for Cheshire and graduated in 2007.
“I didn’t know he was there until halfway through my recruiting process,” recalled Bourdeau. “It is nice to have someone from where I grew up.”
Cheshire head doach Mike Devine helped Bourdeau with his recruiting. He feels that Bourdeau has made significant strides since he made his varsity debut as a sophomore long-stick midfielder/defender.
“At first, I don’t think that Dan thought he could be a college player,” said Devine. “This summer, he was on a competitive team and exceeded expectations for himself. He listened to things we said and kept getting better and better.”
Bourdeau is the third member of his family to commit to college athletics. His sister Kierstyn, a 2013 Cheshire graduate, played softball at Mount Saint Vincent in New York. His brother Pat, as a senior in 2017, signed with Southern Connecticut football.
“I saw them both sign, so it was great to have us come together last year to watch me complete the trilogy,” Bourdeau said.
In fourth grade, Bourdeau started playing lacrosse and football. With his older brother being a football co-captain for Cheshire, he dreamed of following in his footsteps.
“Football was my first love,” Bourdeau said. “I always liked to watch my brother walk out for the coin toss at games.”
Bourdeau decided to pursue college lacrosse after his sophomore year, but he continued to play football. As a junior offensive lineman in 2019, he helped the Rams go 8-3 and make the Class LL playoffs for the first time in a decade.
“Being a part of that team was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done,” Bourdeau reflected. “We lost to Southington (21-20 in double overtime) on Thanksgiving, but that was probably the best I’ve played in at CHS.”
While he will give up football next year, Bourdeau feels that he will keep close contacts with his 19 senior teammates.
“Cheshire football is such a tight family,” said Bourdeau. “During the season, I spend more time with those guys than my actual family.”
He hopes to build new relationships with Salve Regina lacrosse players.
“By sophomore year, I want to be playing on the field and compete for a (Commonwealth Coast Conference) championship,” stated Bourdeau.
For his college experience, Vernon has wanted to serve in the armed services for a long time.
“When I got to high school, I saw the opportunities to serve in the military, go to school, and play lacrosse,” he said.
He feels that he has found that full package at Norwich. On his official visit to campus, he was able to stay with a cadet.
“From the start, Norwich was at the top of my list. I love the area,” Vernon stated. “I wanted to go up again, but COVID-19 held me back. The school didn’t allow out-of-state kids to come visit at that time.”
Vernon looks forward to playing this fall.
“I want to be among the top-four goalies and compete for a starting spot in the spring,” Vernon said.
Devine feels that Vernon will make an impact from day one at Norwich.
“In choosing to go to a military academy, I think that says a lot about Andrew and his family,” said Devine.
In playing lacrosse for 12 years, Vernon said that he has dreamed of getting to compete in college.
“I love the speed of the game,” Vernon explained. “It is the fastest sport on two feet. It is a mix between soccer and hockey.”
After starting out as a short-stick midfielder, he moved to goalie in fifth or sixth grade.
“They say that every goalie is a little crazy to stand in front of shots,” Vernon said. “I worked on it for about a year and then I fell in love with the position.”
Last summer, Vernon spent a lot of time working on his game.
“You can see that his outlet passing has really improved,” said Devine.
Like Bourdeau, Vernon has contributed in two sports at Cheshrie. As a sophomore, he decided to join the wrestling team.
“Wrestling is a tough sport to pick up. I think I had two wins in my first year,” Vernon said. “It took perseverance to stick with it and not quit.”
As a junior, he was voted as a co-captain with classmate Eli Moskowitz.
“It was a huge honor,” stated Vernon. “I saw it more as recognition of my leadership qualities than my skills on the mat. I’d never led a team before, but I ran with it and had a blast.”
On the mat last season, Vernon suffered a torn labrum.
“That was my first big injury in sports,” recalled Vernon. “I felt that I was getting into a good mojo until that happened.”
After talking with his family and coaches, Vernon decided to have surgery.
“Even though I couldn’t play lacrosse, I talked to the coaches about keeping up with being a leader,” said Vernon. “It was tough going through a couple of months of rehabilitation during the pandemic.”
Since Vernon and Bourdeau both play contact sports, the pandemic has been a challenging experience. Bourdeau hoped to play football last fall, but the CIAC cancelled the 2020 season as well as an alternative season that had been set up for March and April of this year.
“On our team, I don’t think there was a person who didn’t want a chance to play at least one game,” said Bourdeau, who did get to participate in non-contact workouts last fall. “The practices were weird with the restrictions, but it was good to be on the field with the guys.”
As a wrestler, Vernon experienced a similar situation. Due to the pandemic, all that was allowed this winter were small cohort conditioning with no contact.
Vernon didn’t expect to have matches this year, but was happy to be around his teammates and coaches.
“We’ve worked hard to rebuild the team after numbers got really low a couple of years ago,” he said.
For a while, lacrosse was looking iffy. It was listed as a high-risk sport for transmitting COVID-19 until the National Federation of State High School Associations announced on Feb. 2 it would no longer classify sports according to risk.
As an alternative, NFHS shifted to factors, such as community spread, that state associations can review in deciding whether to play sports or not.
The CIAC has since approved a full spring season, complete with state tournaments. Practice got under way this past Saturday. The opening games are April 10.
After going 6-10 in 2019, CHS looked to return to the post-season last year, but the spring season was canceled because of the pandemic.
“We are chomping at the bit to get going this year,” said Bourdeau.
The Rams are returning 12 seniors, including a handful who will go on to play at college: Nick DiDomizio and Jack Lovelace (Hartford), Brian Bouwman (Merrimack), P.J. Cass (Swarthmore) and Aidan Gaudet (Connecticut College).
“It means a lot to have so many guys going on to play at the next level,” said Vernon. “We’ve been together for a long time.”
After backing up 2020 graduate Brendan Grove for two years, Vernon wants to earn the starting goalie position this year. Grove is now playing at Wingate University in North Carolina.
“Brendan and I are good friends. We competed in practice, but also supported each other,” reflected Grove. “I’m certainly going to have to work for playing time this year. I’m looking forward to having healthy competition with the other goalies.”