John McCain sensed a teammate needed more than water during a water break at a New Trier lacrosse camp session last summer.
So the New Trier senior middie — a Winnetkan and a former linebacker/fullback in football — hung out with the teammate along a sideline, tossing a ball with him and talking with him.
“John,” Trevians coach Tom Herrala recalls, “wanted the kid to feel more a part of the group.”
Several months later, during a spring road trip to Michigan, McCain roomed with a freshman. The captain and third-year varsity member sensed the rookie was feeling a bit uneasy around older players who had played on a state championship squad two years ago and on the state runner-up team last spring.
So McCain asked him questions in their room — about everyday things, about what he likes to do for fun, about lacrosse.
The freshman spoke.
The senior listened.
They laughed, got to know each other better.
“I wanted to brighten him up,” McCain says of the thirsty teammate. “And in Michigan, I wanted to settle the other teammate down and help him feel comfortable. I’m into the team, our team. I want everybody to enjoy being around each other. It’s more fun when all of the players on a team are into being a part of a team.
“Teams that are close,” he adds, “are usually the successful teams.”
Team New Trier — tight, talented and too deep — topped host Lake Forest High School 15-8 on April 12. McCain and Trevians senior attackman Nelson Gaechter each had a hat trick, and junior attack Blake Handwerker and sophomore attack Henry Freedman poured in two goals apiece, as Herrala’s crew improved to 5-2.
The winning goalkeeper was Cooper Yaccino, one of five freshmen on varsity. Four of NT’s top six middies are sophomores. Yaccino and NT’s defense limited the Scouts (1-2) to two goals from the 10:05 mark of the third quarter until the end of the game.
McCain — a starting defensive middie for that state title team in ’15, before becoming a valuable two-way middie last spring — often initiates NT’s offensive scheme with a dodge here and a dodge there, while assessing what a defense is attempting to do. He then looks to dish the ball to an attackman and sprint to an open spot.
Against Lake Forest last week, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound McCain scored in a variety of ways: jump shot, ball-clanking-off-the-post shot, top-shelf shot.
“John is a rugged player, and I mean that in a good way,” says Gaechter, a quad-captain (with McCain, senior attack Collin Kroll and senior defenseman Michael Sitzer). “I like John’s energy in practices and in games. Really devoted to the game, and he’s a true leader, captain material.”
NT’s loss to Loyola Academy in last year’s state championship games stung McCain. As he walked off the damp stadium field at Montini Catholic in Lombard, following the 10-7 setback, McCain knew one thing for sure.
“That I never want to feel that way again,” he recalls.
McCain threw himself into lacrosse training in the offseason, attending every weightlifting session (four times a week) and every speed-training session (twice a week, beginning at 6:20 a.m.).
He then opted not to go out for football as a senior in the fall.
“After my junior lacrosse season, that’s when I fell in love with the sport of lacrosse and really wanted to get better at it,” says McCain, who hopes to continue his lax career in college. “It’s such a great sport, a mix of a lot of sports. It’s physical, very physical; I’m into physical sports. It’s fast-paced, especially in transition, and it requires its players to execute skills at a high level.
“I enjoy the challenges. You have to have strength, stamina, a fast and accurate shot and the ability to change direction quickly.”
McCain first played lacrosse in the fifth-grade, but it was at a time in his life when he also suited up for football, hockey, basketball and baseball games. There was no fear of McCain burning out in any of the sports.
“I told my dad [Dan] how glad I was to be able to play all of the sports I did when I was younger,” says McCain, whose sister, Claire (New Trier, Class of 2013), is a senior middie and communications major at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
And now it’s John McCain, lacrosse player.
Perhaps the most thankful man for that is Herrala.
“The hardest worker on the team,” the coach says. “A grinder. John came late to the game [as a serious lacrosse player], so he was a bit behind in stick skills. But he has always been able to make up for that — more than make up for that — with his grit, his strong work ethic and his athleticism.
“Great kid, too,” Herrala adds.
Notable: New Trier’s five wins, through April 12, include a pair of victories against Missouri teams — Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS) on April 8 and DeSmet Jesuit on April 9. Both teams are now 8-3.