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 recently we spoke with Jake Mrva, senior forward for the St. John’s Shrewsbury Pioneers. Like many of the multi-sport athletes we’ve featured in the past, Jake also plays lacrosse, but he is heading to college to play golf, which is a sport we have yet to feature as part of this series. We spoke to Jake recently and asked him about his playoff experiences in golf and hockey, his process of committing to Bentley and what it means to earn a spot on the varsity team.
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?
Playing hockey this year is definitely something I haven’t taken for granted. The entire team and I have realized that every game we play could be our last. Playing varsity hockey for Saint John’s is something I have wanted to do since I was in 6th grade. Coming in as a freshman, making the freshman team, I knew that it would be hard to make it to the top of the program. To be on the varsity team having fun with my friends and coaches is something special that was definitely not guaranteed.
Hockey isn’t the only sport you play for St. John’s: tell us more about what positions you play and what you’ve accomplished on the golf team and playing lacrosse.
For hockey, most of my life I have played defense. Coming in as a freshman being a smaller kid I decided to switch to forward. I now play right wing. For lacrosse, I have played midfield for my entire life, but again, coming in as a freshman being a smaller kid making the JV team I decided to switch to an attack man. During my sophomore year on varsity, our team won the District Championship and lost in the State semifinals. Last year during the pandemic when our season got cancelled, we had a great team with a lot of potential. It’s sad to see such a great opportunity disappear in front of you. Losing the senior class that we lost hurt as they were a very solid and fun group of guys. In golf, I played in JV my freshman and sophomore year before focusing on golf and making the varsity team my junior year. That year we won the District Championship and came in 5th in the State tournament.
Can you pinpoint moments on each field of competition: golf, lacrosse and hockey that stand out to you over your four years as your fondest memories?
One of my fondest memories on the golf course was when we won the District Championship by almost 30 strokes. Our captain, Liam Noonan shot a 3 under par, 69, and everyone on our team broke 80. To see the smile on our Coach’s face, also Liam Noonan’s father was something I will remember for a long time. On that day we all realized that our hard work paid off and we had achieved the first of two goals. In lacrosse, one of my fondest memories was during my sophomore year when we won the District Championship. Beating our lacrosse rival Longmeadow in the District Championship was something that our team hadn’t done in a long time. As a sophomore I didn’t truly understand what it meant for the seniors and juniors to beat them, but after seeing the emotion from the upperclassmen, I understood just how special this moment was. In hockey one of my most memorable moments was being able to play in Tsongas Arena in the State semifinals. Last year as a junior I didn’t have a huge role on the team, so when the playoffs came around I knew that I wouldn’t see much ice, but it didn’t matter to me. Seeing the team succeed around me was something special that I was proud to have been given the chance to participate in.
Last season on the hockey team the Pioneers came within one win of the D1 North title: what do you remember about that run that made last year’s team so special?
Starting last year on the JV team as a junior, I definitely had a chip on my shoulder and something to prove to the coaches, so when I got called up for the second half of the season and the postseason, I was excited to see what the team could do first hand. With the amount of talent we had on the team last year a deep playoff run was bound to happen. Though we struggled during the regular season, the team was able to recuperate for the playoffs and make a run in the playoffs. In the playoffs, the team had to play every game like it was our last, meaning that every game was a battle. It was truly special to see seniors on the team that I had looked up to for 3 years find success in the postseason.
This year the Pioneers are playing an all-Catholic Conference schedule. Can you speak to the level of competition and how tough it has been facing these teams night in and night out?
Going into this year, losing around 10 seniors we knew that with a young and inexperienced team that there were no free games and every game would be a battle. Playing in one of the most competitive conferences in the State was intimidating at first but after winning our first game in a come from behind win, we were given a glimpse of how good our team could actually be. Though we had a lot of success in the early portion of the season, we were humbled with a couple of losses. This just goes to show that if you don’t show up prepared and ready to bring your best game then you can easily get down a couple goals and begin fighting from behind.
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 say that I am definitely a pass-first player. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Something I’ve been working on all season is getting more pucks to the net and trying to create chances for myself and my linemates. My strength in hockey, lacrosse and golf is definitely my hands. When I was younger I practiced stickhandling a lot around my house and in my driveway because I knew that if I could keep control of the puck the rest would come.
For those who are unaware about high school golf: can you share how the team competes (number of players, point systems, etc.) and how the team has done over your past four years?
In high school, golf teams usually consist of around 10-12 players. In matches, only 10 players play and only 6 scores are counted. There are usually 4-5 players that play every match and 5-6 players that sub out. For States and Districts the top 6 players from every team compete with each other. For my freshman and sophomore year on JV our team was really good, as we had a very deep golf program. In my junior year, we had a very good but very young team. We finished with a solid record in the regular season and geared up for Districts and States. We won our Districts by around 30 strokes and were convinced we were winning States. Unfortunately our team struggled that day and came in 5th with a talented Lincoln-Sudbury team taking the first place trophy. My junior year, after only losing 2 seniors we geared up for another run at the State Championship. With COVID-19, we were limited to just playing in the Catholic Conference. Knowing that the Catholic Conference was packed with some of the best teams in the State we didn’t treat it any differently than a State Championship. After our preliminary 10 matches we were ready for the Catholic Conference Championship hosted by my home course of Worcester Country Club. Unfortunately we weren’t able to put together 5 solid scores and fell to Xaverian by a mere 2 strokes.
How did you arrive at the decision to focus on golf as your primary sport in college? Will you try to continue playing other sports as well, even at a club level?
Growing up, my family has always been big into golf. My grandfather was a professional in upstate New York and my other grandfather was a great player himself. When I was younger I didn’t really have the focus to play golf so I played sports with a lot of moving around. As I matured I realized how much fun I could have with golf and around junior year I decided that I wanted to play golf in college. I would love to play club hockey at Bentley but I don’t know if my coach would let me, and with Bentley being D1 hockey, I don’t know if I would make it given how good the team is.
We have yet to speak to a golf recruit as part of this Senior Series. Can you share with us what your recruiting experience was like?
For the first 2 years of high school I was really in love with lacrosse and thought I wanted to play lacrosse in college. Once I got to my junior year I realized that golf was the sport I wanted to play in college. I think I realized just in time because recruiting would have been impossible had I started any later. Recruiting was pretty hard though. With a lot of my friends starting freshman and sophomore year, I was pretty far behind. Once spring of my junior year came around I started to email some coaches. The problem was a lot of coaches had kids that were coming back to use their extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA. I emailed about 20 schools and 20 coaches until I found Coach Herron at Bentley University. I was really happy to have finally committed in November of my senior year. My parents really helped me through all of it and helped me realize what I really wanted for both school and golf.
Finally, we understand you will be heading to Bentley next year to play golf. How did you decide on Bentley being the right school for you?
As a kid I had always heard of Bentley and knew that it was a great business school but I didn’t really want to stay that close to home. Once I started to get to know the school and my coach better I realized that Bentley was a good fit for me. Knowing that I would be getting a good business degree from Bentley and playing golf at a very athletically competitive school was what really sold me on Bentley. I am definitely very excited to attend in the fall.