FAIRFIELD — Dan Brannigan has a leg up on the competition, even before the new high school lacrosse season gets underway.

One of three new boys varsity coaches in the area, Brannigan got a bit of a dress rehearsal last season at Lawrence. The former Oak Hill head coach inherited the team from Bill McKenzie midway through last spring and coached the building Bulldogs to three consecutive wins to close out the campaign after an 0-9 start.

“I think that was incredibly important,” said Brannigan, who is also an assistant at Thomas College. “It gave us a lot of momentum going into this year. We lost a couple of (key) guys from last year, but we returned a lot of guys, too. I think we got them to realize last year that it didn’t take a lot to turn things around.”

Members of the Messalonskee boys lacrosse team practice last week at Thomas College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Brannigan joins Kyle Dennett at Maranacook/Winthrop and Jacob Whitaker at Cony as new faces in charge of lacrosse programs this spring. While Dennett and Whitaker inherit established programs, Brannigan has a Lawrence squad that’s still — several years after its inception — in an infancy stage. The Bulldogs have never qualified for the playoffs.

Brannigan started as a volunteer assistant coach last season at McKenzie’s invitation.

“Coach McKenzie is a great guy, but he would be the first to tell you that he’s not a lacrosse guy, that he never played or coached lacrosse before,” Brannigan said. “He was there for the kids. I ran practice for a couple of days, and he said, ‘If you want to run the program, I’ll just hand it off to you.'”

Maranacook/Winthrop’s coaching position was similarly handed off to Dennett.

Dennett spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach to Zach Stewart, who was the Hawks’ coach for six seasons. He was the assistant coach at Kents Hill for two years before that, and in the meantime he’s been heavily involved with the Kennebec Cannons youth lacrosse program — where he coached several of his current players at the youth and middle school levels.

“It’s been a learning curve, for sure,” Dennett said. “But it’s been amazing. A lot of kids already understand what my philosophies are as a coach, and they know what my expectations are. Going from seventh and eighth grade, I’ve coached pretty much every kid that comes through that program.”

Where Stewart was an offensively-minded coach, Dennett said he prefers emphasizing defensive play. He’s hoping that the recent form Maranacook/Winthrop found itself in, with deep playoff runs, can continue.

“I’m not sure how this year is going to play out,” Dennett said. “We have a strong group of kids. They’re excited to have a new coach. I think they’re seeing something good coming.”

After nine seasons at Cony, Chad Foye moved on to an administrative position at Messalonskee. That opened the door for Whitaker, who was Foye’s assistant coach last spring and an assistant coach with the school’s varsity hockey team for two years, too.

Members of the Messalonskee boys lacrosse team practice last week at Thomas College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Whitaker said it struck him early in the preseason that things had changed.

“It’s kind of a different world,” Whitaker said. “You realize that all the decisions are on your shoulders. Before, I could look at Chad and say, ‘What do you think we should do here?’ Working with Chad was a huge help for me.”

The Rams will try and be a more play-oriented team instead of a freewheeling one content to utilize the creativity of its most talented attacking players. Whitaker has emphasized teamwork during a preseason that — thanks to Thursday’s scheduled season opener at Brunswick being postponed by poor field conditions — will extend until April 27.

“We’re trying to not only get the team going, but also to get the players motivated to come together as a team,” said Whitaker, who along with his coaches participates in all conditioning and strength-training drills with his players. “It’s good for us to let them see that we’re all on the same page together. They’re responding to that.”

Even through their programs are all at different stages, Brannigan, Dennett and Whitaker are all in the business of building. Brannigan knows that role all too well, having been at Oak Hill from 2011-2015 before a career change forced him to step down with the Raiders.

While Lawrence is slightly more established than Oak Hill was eight years ago, there is still work to be done to get the Bulldogs into the title mix in Class B.

“It’s not like this is my first time rebuilding, or building, a program,” Brannigan said. “Let’s start from the ground up. Let’s understand the basics. One of the things we do have is athletes. It’s just that they didn’t have any lacrosse structure of basic IQ. That’s where we’re starting.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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