This was supposed to be the year Gonzaga slipped, the year the rest of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference caught up, the year someone other than the Eagles claimed the WCAC championship for the first time since 2009.
No one would’ve blamed Gonzaga if it had been: with 20 seniors gone and one returning starter, rebuilding was inevitable.
But in Monday’s WCAC Championship game, legacy withstood turnover and a sticky summer thunderstorm as four straight titles became five without a moment of doubt in a 16-6 Eagles win over St. John’s at the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field.
“It’s a great experience because it’s finally our team,” said defender Michael Borda, the one returning player to start for last year’s WCAC champs. “The 20 seniors graduated last year leaving it in the juniors’ and seniors’ hands, and we just picked up the slack. We’re a completely different team than when we got here last August.”
New faces, same result, but in even more impressive style. Gonzaga (16-5) barreled over the Cadets (7-14) in the first quarter, scoring within the first minute and finishing with seven goals — including three in one 31-second stretch — to melt any hopes the Cadets had of pulling back-to-back upsets after knocking off No. 4 DeMatha to make the title game.
By the end of the first half, Gonzaga led by seven. After the third quarter, they led by 13. At no point — not even during the 30-minute third quarter lightning delay — did their stranglehold on another championship appear to be in jeopardy.
Senior Mark Anstead scored five goals to lead the barrage, while sophomore Nick McEvoy almost single-handedly eliminated the Cadets’ upset hopes by winning 22 of 27 faceoffs in a performance Borda and others named as the game’s most crucial.
“He was a man tonight,” Eagles Coach Casey O’Neill said. “Somewhere about three weeks ago, it hit us: We had to stick with him. We’ve been riding his wave ever since.”
Midseason adjustments like that made the difference for the Eagles, who started the season 4-4, losing more games in a month than in the past two seasons combined. But through what O’Neill called one of the “most fun coaching jobs” he’s ever had, the Eagles rallied.Since a shocking 17-2 loss to Boys’ Latin in late March, one that gave weight to the “down year” theory, Gonzaga lost just one game in two months, that to No. 1 Georgetown Prep.
“It means everything to keep the streak going,” said junior attacker Timmy Monahan, who emerged as the Eagles’ leading scorer this season and scored three goals Monday. “It’s Gonzaga lacrosse. It’s legacy. So we have to keep doing it and get six next year.”