Matt Borda quickly lost sight of the ball as it shot out of his lacrosse stick and into the night air late in last spring’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship game. The Gonzaga defender only knew to celebrate the improbable goal that all but clinched the title when the ball reappeared, rippling the net at the opposite end of the field 80 yards away.
In fact, Borda never got to watch the play in full until it appeared as the top highlight during the 6 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” the next day.
“Once it hits ESPN, you know it’s going to be pretty big,” Borda said. “When I saw that, I knew things were going to blow up from there.”
With one well-placed heave at the end of Gonzaga’s 10-8 win over Good Counsel last May 8, Borda — then a sophomore — became the area’s most recognizable high school lacrosse player. The highlight went on to be honored as best play in fan voting on “SportsCenter” for eight consecutive days, and as of Thursday afternoon, the YouTube video of Borda’s famous shot — posted under the heading “Miracle Shot Amazing Lacrosse Goal (80 Yards)” — had been viewed 2,118,524 times.
While the whirlwind fame of being a viral video star provided an unforgettable experience, the quiet 18-year-old Kensington resident would prefer for his team to get the attention this time around. The top-ranked Eagles, who play at No. 3 Landonon Friday, will begin their quest for a third straight WCAC tournament title next week.
“When you’re dealing with ‘SportsCenter’ and the different media outlets, it can be really tough, but I think he handled himself well,” Gonzaga Coach Casey O’Neill said. “All in all, it was good for the school and good for the sport, and I think it was fun for everybody.”
O’Neill called it “a perfect storm” of factors that produced the quirky play: The Eagles were a man down and desperate to extinguish the final seconds of a tight game. The situation called for Borda to throw it long, preferably high and toward the corner, but he saw teammate Alex Corboy cutting open across the field.
The young defender overshot his target but with the Good Counsel goalie pressed out to help, the ball found the open net. Borda’s father, Jim, likened it to a golf hole-in-one.
“I was just happy we won, really,” Borda said.
Solomon Taylor of Bethesda-based Prominent Productions films all of Gonzaga’s games. He captured the play from atop the press box at the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field, and stayed up late enhancing the video with a dot of light to track the ball in flight before posting it on YouTube. As the clip rapidly spread online, Taylor received calls and e-mail messages the next morning from many major news outlets, including ESPN, asking for permission to use it.
Borda had only assumed a regular starting position after several other players went down with injuries, and he’d never been interviewed before. In the days that followed, Borda’s media tour included talks with ESPN.com and most of the local network television stations. (One news crew asked him to try to re-create the play on Gonzaga’s home field. With the cameras rolling, he hit the shot on his 10th try.)
While Borda acknowledged being a bit overwhelmed at first, he got more comfortable being in front of the camera with each appearance. It helped that many of the television personalities asked similar questions (“What was it like at school the next day?”), so he had a response already thought out.
“I just told him to enjoy it,” Jim Borda said. “Something like that comes along once in a lifetime and probably not even that.”
Borda is capitalizing on the goal in one way — it’s become the opening shot for his recruiting highlight tape. Borda, who carries a near perfect grade-point average in the classroom, committed to play lacrosse for Fairfield in December.
The spotlight has mostly faded, although the buzz briefly restarted again in the final days of December after it was named SportsCenter’s No. 5 play of the year.
But Borda, who is part of a defense that has given up less than five goals per game this spring, said the experience has made him more conscious of being a role model to avoid any negative attention. And throughout the season fans have occasionally reminded him they haven’t forgotten about the play.
“Whenever I get the ball now people in the crowd will tell me to shoot it,” Borda said, cracking a smile.