As part of this new season of MIAA hockey, the pandemic has led to a very different reality for most high school athletes, especially the seniors. Obviously the rules and regulations are new, but for the 2021 senior class this is their last ride of high school competition. Some may not have another chance to play competitive hockey while others will be able to move on to play juniors, prep or even collegiately. There are lots of great storylines this season that we want to shed some light on and this week we chatted with the skilled multi-sport athlete Will Shull of Marblehead. Well known for his exploits on the ice, he is also a gifted lacrosse player, now committed to play for Wesleyan. If that wasn’t enough, he is an impressive student as well, which you can likely glean from the eloquent responses below, some of the most heartfelt and detailed that we’ve seen in this series to date. See what Will had to say about his experience in playing for Marblehead as a two-sport captain and why he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Let’s start with the obvious: what does it mean to you to get to play your senior year of hockey, even in the midst of this pandemic? How have things changed in your preparation for the season?
Compared to the major events and guidelines that are unfolding daily, the Marblehead Boys Hockey team plays a very small, inconsequential role in the larger scheme of things. With that being said, though, our school, Principal, Athletic Director, and league have worked overtime to ensure that we have a season and to make the most out of the difficult situation we are in. I am beyond grateful to those who have helped make our season possible and have allowed all winter athletes, not just hockey, to compete in the sports we respectively love. A big thank you is owed to those responsible for helping this year be a success, we are extremely fortunate. Personally, as a senior, things are very different and emotional. Preparation was tough because up until day one of practice, our season was still in jeopardy of being shut-down, and it still is. Usually, we would hold captains’ practices and other team-led activities but we had to improvise and work on the fly. It transitioned me into a mindset of make every last second on the ice count, a mindset I did not fully appreciate until now.
Hockey is not your only sport at Marblehead, you also play lacrosse and are a team captain there as well: what position do you play and how do you transition from hockey season to lacrosse season
I am a center in hockey and a midfielder in lacrosse, two positions that are actually very similar despite their respective sports’ differences. So from a technical standpoint, the responsibilities I have transfer well between hockey and lacrosse. From a mental and physical standpoint though, the transition is not so easy. Hockey is fast-paced and constantly moving whereas in lacrosse a greater emphasis is placed on patience and ball control. Because of this, it usually takes a week or two to shift over to a lacrosse mindset. Physically, hockey conditions me very well for lacrosse, but I am using different muscles for skating versus running. The first two weeks of lacrosse are always painful and sore as I get my running legs back underneath me.
What are some of the highlights of your lacrosse career at Marblehead? Are there specific games, matchups or moments that stand out as you look back?
One moment will forever stand out to me and that is our triple-overtime (3OT) win against Hamden Hall my sophomore year. It might be the single greatest sporting game I have been a part of. We took a road trip down to CT to play them but had no idea what to expect based on their very strong strength of schedule and the individual talent they had on their team. We embraced the idea of being the underdog and came out flying. Both goalies played out of their minds and continued to force OT after OT until eventually, in the third sudden-death overtime, I beat my man in a one-on-one matchup from the ally and scored coming across the crease. A small-world story is that the goalie from that Hamden Hall team is also committed to Wesleyan for our class of 2025!
People watching student-athletes in the MIAA often forget about the student part of the equation. From what we’ve read you are holding down a very impressive 4.25 GPA. What areas of study would you say are your strong suits? Also, how tough is it to balance playing multiple sports AND maintaining that GPA?
Something that sports taught me a long time ago was that regardless of what I am doing, I should do it to the best of my ability. I have taken this mindset and used it in practices, the workplace, and most importantly school for as long as I can remember. I think that is one of the reasons why I have had such success in the classroom and why I would say I have earned a 4.3 GPA. Personally, I enjoy most of the classes I take, especially American History, American Government, and Environmental Science. Math and English are areas that come easier to me, but they are definitely not something I necessarily enjoy doing. Balancing between athletics and academics is something that has actually come quite naturally to me as well. As a young kid, before I could do anything after school, I had to have my schoolwork done. Obviously, there were some exceptions, but for the most part, this taught me to prioritize my academics over athletics, despite my yearnings to play street hockey or pass a lacrosse ball in preparation for practice. This work ethic has helped me succeed when taking rigorous classes and while playing more important sports.
We ask this of every multi-sport HS athlete: how does playing multiple sports help you to succeed in hockey? What skills translate the best to the ice?
Above all other technical things, playing multiple sports has given me the ability to think in a more creative and aware manner, both on the field and the ice. For example, playing defense in lacrosse is all about keeping your man in front of you, similar to hockey. But, in lacrosse, it’s also a lot about recognizing when to slide to an opposing player or support, awareness that I have brought to my hockey game. It has made me a much better player around the net in our defensive zone because it has helped me become more aware of when to jump and help in the corner or switch smoothly with the defensemen, for example. Footwork is also a skill that translates well from hockey to lacrosse. Having quick feet in lacrosse makes you a more explosive, shifty player that is harder to guard. Having fast feet has helped me in my hockey game too because it gives me an edge up on opposing players when coming into the offensive zone or when playing below the dots in a tight area.
Being named team captain for lacrosse and hockey is a big deal: what does that recognition mean to you personally?
Personally, I have always thought I lead by example. I work as hard as possible on and off the ice or field and to be recognized for that is gratifying but also humbling. It means a lot that my hard work and dedication are recognized and appreciated by both my coaches and my teammates.
Last year you stepped in to play defense in the D1 North state tournament game against Wilmington. What was that conversation like with your head coach? When was the last time you played on the back end?
To be quite honest, there was not much of a conversation. We were down three guys, two of which we learned about that day. All three were horribly sick (at the time we thought it was just the flu, but looking back I am convinced it was COVID-19) and all three were defensemen. I had played D in youth and have always been a strong defensive player, more so than other guys on the team so when I learned we only had two D men going into that game it was almost like a mutual nod between me and Coach Wells. I knew I was capable and playing a sound game on defense and I knew I could handle that pressure induced by such a sudden change better than other players on the team. I was certainly out of my element, but I found ways to play the game I had been playing that year and make the most out of such an unfortunate situation.
For someone who has never seen you play hockey: how would you describe your game? Is there anything you are actively trying to work on?
I would describe my game as fundamental. Yes, I am flashy at times or try to make a move/pass that is fancy, but when it comes down to it, I focus on doing all of the little things correctly. One thing that I am actively trying to improve in my hockey game, though, is my speed. I have always been a fast skater but I know I can be faster. With that being said I have been working hard in the offseason to strengthen my legs and improve my explosivity.
Given your athleticism we would imagine you had plenty of opportunities to play hockey (and lacrosse) elsewhere: what does representing Marblehead mean to you and how important was it to stay all four years?
I would not trade the experiences I have had at Marblehead for anything. I had opportunities to go play at multiple prep schools but whenever the discussion would come up, I would always circle back to the notion that if I pushed myself by taking hard courses at MHS, I will get just as good of an education at Marblehead versus any private school. These are my people here at MHS and the friendships, bonds, lessons, and memories I have made will stick with me well into the future. To represent our little town of Marblehead truly means a lot and is a source of great pride for me. Once I realized I could get a good education and also be a major influence on both the lacrosse and hockey teams, I really did not have anything to decide between anymore.
Finally, we understand that you recently committed to play lacrosse at Wesleyan for legendary coach John Raba. How did that recruitment process start in the midst of this pandemic? What about Wesleyan made it feel like the right fit for you?
I was fortunate enough to be noticed by the Wesleyan coaching staff, specifically assistant Coach Pecora, in late October of 2019. He saw me play in a showcase and we were able to set up a visit to the school prior to the nation-wide shut down due to COVID-19. The rest is history from there! I knew Wesleyan was the right fit for me after having visited campus and meeting with Coach Raba. It all just kind of clicked. It felt like the lacrosse team was one big family, and I wanted to be a part of that. I am very thankful to Coach Raba for providing me with this opportunity.