The winners have been selected! Fifteen of your neighbors in the community will be honored with a Beacon Award on Nov. 17 at WoodWinds. Join the celebration.
Sports Person of the Week
Johnson Stands Tall in Front of the Warriors’ Net
Axel Johnson is proving a solid leader as a senior captain goalie for the Valley Regional boys’ lacrosse team. Axel has been a steadying voice in the backfield for a Warriors’ team that finished the regular season with a 10-4 record. (Photo courtesy of Axel Johnson)
Axel Johnson has been a key part of the Valley Regional boys’ lacrosse squad this season. Axel holds the senior captain position and is also a staunch defender in front of the net as the Warriors’ goalie.
Axel has enjoyed his team’s play throughout the spring campaign. The COVID-19 pandemic caused all sorts of complications, and Valley didn’t fill its head coach or assistant coaching positions until shortly before the start of the season. Still, the Warriors finished the regular season with a 10-4 record, and Axel feels that his team has a good shot to do some damage in the playoffs.
“Honestly, this season in general has been pretty impressive. We found out who our coach was two days before the season started,” Axel says. “We had no captains or coach, but they’ve all done a great job—Coach Jake Azzinaro, Coach Ricky Persico, and Coach Ed Burleson. I’m just proud to see that we pulled it together.”
Axel thinks that a big component of Valley’s success this year comes down to the ability of the Warriors’ offense to score in bunches. Axel believes that the Warriors are a dangerous matchup for anyone who faces them come playoff time. Valley’s defense is no slouch, either.
“We’re a team that’s built to go on runs. Duncan Rider and Cormac Kline can put together four goals in under a minute,” says Axel, who lives in Chester. “It’s great for the playoffs knowing we have that in our back pocket. Our defense with Weston Belisle and Reece Whitney are all really good, too.
“We just have to take it one at a time, and who knows where we can go?” he says.
Axel has a big role to play with the Warriors as a senior captain, and it’s even more impressive that he earned that position since he doesn’t attend Valley Regional High School. Axel goes to Marine Science Magnet in Groton and only gets to see his fellow Warriors at practices and games. Axel likes the fact that when he gets together with his teammates, lacrosse is the only thing on any of their minds.
“It’s great. I went to middle school with some of my teammates,” Axel says. “Ninety percent of the kids on the team, I can’t tell you anything about the classes they take, but I can tell you how hard they work and how good of people they are just from knowing them in lacrosse.”
Middle school is where Axel got his start playing lacrosse. Axel has almost always played in the net, although he does have experience on other parts of the field.
“I started playing in 8th grade. The youth team didn’t have a goalie, and I liked playing goalie in floor hockey in gym class. I had a great youth coach for the Ticks lacrosse team in Kevin Kline. I haven’t looked back since, and I have just been putting in the work every day,” Axel says. “In my freshman year preseason, there were three goalies on the roster. In the scrimmages I was an attackman, but nothing beats playing goalie. There’s just nothing like it in lacrosse.”
Axel has skill to spare in front of the net, but he feels that his best attribute is his fearlessness. That trait allows him to make so many stops.
“First, I’m not afraid of the ball. That’s huge. It goes against human nature to step in front of a 100-mile-per-hour lacrosse ball,” says Axel. “It’s also really important to get the basics down. Coach Jake helped me with clearing the ball, commanding the ball. He’s a former goalie, too. He’s helped me become a good goalie, whatever my future in lacrosse looks like.”
The COVID-19 pandemic put a major damper on Axel’s year with the cancellation of the 2020 season, yet he made the most of it. When Axel learned that there was going to be a season this year, he was overjoyed.
“I did a lot of disc golfing, and I worked a lot on lacrosse. We were thinking the season could be reinstated at any point until they canceled it last May. I wanted to be ready to go just in case. I did a lot of footwork drills. My brother Nate Johnson also plays lacrosse, luckily. I watched a lot of film, too,” says Axel. “I would have nothing to do without lacrosse. It’s great to get out there and be with the boys. Everyone works hard, and it’s just great to see everyone working together for a common goal.”
Axel will be attending Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana and, while he would like to continue his lacrosse career, the school doesn’t have a team. Axel would love to help get a program up going at the school, but he also wants to focus on his studies.
“I would love to keep playing lacrosse, but I don’t know how much of an opportunity I will have. Indiana isn’t a lacrosse state the way that Connecticut is. There’s a club team, but the program doesn’t appear to have played a game since 2017. I would love to get the team up and running again,” Axel says. “The plan is to double major in mechanical and electrical engineering, which will probably be pretty intensive. I’d like to get into motor sports like Formula One racing. The Hulman family used to own the Indianapolis 500 until 2019. They have a building dedicated to motor sports at the school. It’s a great opportunity. It’s the exactly the kind of school I want to go to.”
For now, Axel is ready for the playoffs and hopes that Valley can create a few more lasting memories before the end of the season. Axel feels like the past couple of years have taught him a lot, and he’s looking to end his Warriors’ run with a title.
“I think I learned that you have to take initiative. If you don’t have a perfect situation, you have to figure it out. There are things you can’t control and things you can. You just have to figure out how to work on the things that you can control and do what you can,” says Axel. “As for the postseason, let’s just work our hardest and work one game at a time.”