Three years ago, the Regis College Men’s Lacrosse team, then in just their third year as a varsity program, struggled to a 4-11 record, which actually marked a program high for victories. It was not much, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for the Pride.
More important for the program that season was that it marked the arrival of freshman attack Peter Leighton. The former Wilmington High star made an immediate impact on the Pride, leading the team in goals (21) and points (30) during his freshman campaign and neither he nor the rest of the program have looked back since.
The Pride struggled to another 4-11 mark last season when Leighton was second on the team with 45 points including 24 goals while still recovering from injuries suffered during a horrific motorcycle accident in September 2012, but the signs of improvement for the team were there.
The Pride have taken another step forward this season, with a 9-6 record entering Tuesday’s regular season finale and were very much alive for a possible ECAC Tournament berth, a possibility that would have seemed unthinkable just a year ago.
“It’s been a great experience this season,” Leighton said. “It’s definitely been one of our better years. We have rebuilt a lot and we have developed a lot of great chemistry between on offense as well as one defense and we are doing well in both areas.”
Not surprisingly Leighton has been a huge part of the Pride’s success this season, as he is second on the team in scoring with a career high 34 goals to go along with 22 assists for a total of 56 points.
Leighton has had five games this season with four goals and had his best game of the season this past week in a 14-12 loss to UMass Boston when he had four goals and three assists for a season high seven points, earning him NECC Player of the Week honors.
He has had five games with five points and one other with six, so big games are nothing new to him. Leighton credits his linemates, Nico Rodrigo and Matt Vogan for him taking another step forward this season.
“I think that has been the biggest difference this year,” Leighton said. “Again, we have had great chemistry. We have been playing together since the fall, and since the season has started we have gotten better and better at being able to find each other and know where we are supposed to be to set up plays.”
Regis coach Josh Blumenthal, in his third year at the helm of the Pride, has seen the rebuild of his team first hand and knows that Leighton has been a huge part of it. Blumenthal was there for the start of Leighton’s career and saw a star in the making right from the start.
“He has been through a lot here at Regis. When he came in three years ago we were very short on talent, so he had a heavy load right off the bat,” Blumenthal said. “He had to figure things out quicker than most freshmen. It was great to see as a freshman the way he just took command.”
Although he was a star right from the start Blumenthal has seen Leighton get even better this season.
“The biggest thing I have seen with Peter is that he is lot more confident,” Blumenthal said. “As a freshman he was a pure goal scorer, and there is a give and take with that because other teams start to double and triple team you. This year he has been able to beat teams when they do that by getting assists.”
The mere fact that Leighton is playing at all is somewhat of a miracle. In that September 2012 motorcycle accident in Weston, in which he was a passenger, Leighton’s teammate can close friend, Regis College senior Michael Kaplan was tragically killed, while Leighton suffered a concussion and two broken ribs.
Through rehabilitation and hard work Leighton was ready for the start of last season in January 2013 and went on to have an outstanding year. Nevertheless, the injury took a physical toll on Leighton.
“I had to go through rehab just to get the motion back in my wrists and to get the bend back in them,” Leighton said. “Then the mental part of it was tough too. Any time you break anything you are a little tentative to get hit at first. But the more I got hit there, I realized I was not going to break it again.”
On top of the mental aspect of getting over his injury, Leighton also had to get over the mental aspect of being in the accident and losing a close friend.
“It was tough to go back to lacrosse, because he was one of my closest friends and one of the first people I met at Regis. He was a role model and a captain,” Leighton said. “It was tough at first to get back on the field, but after some time of just focusing on that and being angry I was able to get back to work and being with my teammates helped.”
According to Blumenthal, having Leighton back also helped out his teammates.
“We have a really close knit group. I have been with other teams and have never seen one as close as this,” Blumenthal said. “His friends were there to help him. He has been a great leader for us since he was a freshman, so when he came back they were glad to be there for him and glad to have him back.”
Leighton says that one of the best parts of his college experience so far has been that camaraderie with his teammates. He felt a similar closeness with his high school teammates at Wilmington High when he played under coach Mike Fay, but it was taken to another level in college.
“High school was a great experience with my teammates, but at college since we are living together and playing together and going to class together it is a little different,” Leighton said. “There is even a more close knit feel, and my teammates have been great to me.”
Even more important than his teammates has been the support he has received at home from his family, particularly his parents, Pam and Mike Leighton, who have guided him not only through his school and athletic career, but also in his recovery from his injuries in the accident.
“They have been nothing but supportive of me, especially my mother. She is the one who helped me when I was at home going through rehab and I couldn’t even open doors, or tie my shoes or eat,” Leighton said. “And my dad has always been there for me as well. He is always there to cheer me on at all my games and he still does it now that I am in college.”