For the last seven years, there had only been one question in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference’s boys lacrosse scene — which team will lose to Gonzaga in the title game?
On Monday night, St. John’s wasn’t going to be the answer. Instead, the Cadets used a stingy defense to finally dethrone the Eagles and capture their first WCAC lacrosse title. The 7-5 win also snapped Gonzaga’s 89-game undefeated streak against league foes, dating back roughly as long as its seven-year title reign.
Coming into the game, both Gonzaga coach Casey O’Neill and St. John’s coach Wes Speaks acknowledged that controlling the tempo of the game and possession of the ball would determine the champion.
In front of jampacked stands Monday at the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field, the Cadets took the air out of the ball and dictated the pace of the game from start to finish, grounding the Eagles’ high-flying offense.
“We played [Paul VI] very close on Thursday, and we brought that momentum into today,” said senior defender Colin Hinton. “We played physically and controlled and really worked the attack men and the middies.”
When Gonzaga did have the ball, the Cadets’ defense was suffocating, rarely allowing the Eagles a clean look at the goal. When they did have a shot, Cadets senior goalie John Kiracofe made save after save while denying 10 shots.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group in front of me,” Kiracofe said. “They were letting shots go that I could save.”
The Cadets set the tone for the evening with their dominant first quarter, winning five face-offs thanks to Zach Wentz at the x-position.
“It all started with our face-offs — Zach Wentz has done an incredible job this season,” said senior long stick Eric Lane.
The extra possessions helped fuel a 5-3 halftime advantage, with three of those Cadets goals coming from sophomore attacker Alan Long.
“Gonzaga was switching really early and allowing us to get some quick offense,” said Coach Speaks.
After the break, Gonzaga had more opportunities, going on a 7-0 shots-on-goal run. But between Hinton and the defenders and Kiracofe between the pipes, the Cadets limited the damage to cling to a 5-4 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Late in the game, Gonzaga, ever the defiant reigning champion, made one final push when junior attacker Jack Myers scored to tie the game at five with five minutes to go.
The goal appeared to momentarily rattle the Cadets, who were sloppy with the ball on the next possession and turned it over, giving Gonzaga one more chance. But Kiracofe made another save and junior midfield Will Farrell delivered the game-winning goal and another insurance score in the final seconds.
For St. John’s, the road to its first WCAC boys lacrosse championship was an unusual trek. The school dismissed coach Bobby Horsey after the 2016 season, hiring Joe Trigiani to fill the spot. But the school chose to make another change by bringing in Speaks in November.
During that constant turnover, the team looked to assistant coach Patrick Haley, who helped steer the team during the uncertainty.
“It was difficult at the beginning of the season,” said senior midfielder Brendan Whitty. “Coach Haley stayed with us in the off-season and really helped us.”
In addition to Haley’s consistency, coach Speaks credited his seniors — many of whom made big plays in the title game, like Kiracofe and Hinton — for helping navigate the team to a definitive championship victory.
“My job was the easiest job in the world because I have a great senior class,” the coach said. “They push each other and their teammates to be better.”