About a month before Gonzaga played Paul VI on Monday night for the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship, the Eagles were grappling with a regular season loss to the Panthers.
At practice after that defeat, Gonzaga’s first in the conference during the regular season since 2009, an assistant coach floated an idea for a new motto: Get there, then rest.
The Eagles hadn’t come out strong in the loss, so Coach Casey O’Neill saw the mantra as an opportunity to remind his players the value of effort needed to return to their longtime place atop the conference.
O’Neill smiled as he remembered that moment after No. 1 Gonzaga downed Paul VI, 10-7, to win the WCAC title. With the letters “GTTR” printed on the back of his shirt, he said the Eagles were finally free to relax and enjoy their eighth WCAC championship in the last nine years.
“I’m just so elated to be able to rest,” O’Neill said, “because we put a lot of work in.”
Since Paul VI (16-4, 7-2 WCAC) beat them, 8-5, to start conference play on April 10, the Eagles have rattled off 10 straight wins.
Midway through the stretch, everyone affiliated with Gonzaga (17-3, 9-1), from coaches to players to managers, received a “GTTR” shirt. And soon after, the Eagles downed St. John’s, which ended Gonzaga’s run of seven straight league titles last season, and DeMatha in consecutive outings to clinch the top seed in this week’s conference tournament.
“We just kept harping on it: Get there, then rest,” senior Jack Myers said. “Every time you get lazy, every time you think you can just coast through things, you’ve got to realize that . . . when the season’s over, that’s when you can stop. That’s what we did.”
Senior Kyle Borda highlighted the final installment of the push.
The Fairfield commit tallied four goals and one assist to lead all players with five points. Borda felt the Panthers squared in on some of his other teammates, such as Kurt Bruun (two goals), Jack Keating (one goal, one assist) and Myers (two assists), so he capitalized on the open looks.
“They just kind of kept their eyes off me,” Borda said, “which was good, and I was able to score.”
Borda tallied three of his points in Gonzaga’s 6-0 run to open the game, but Paul VI didn’t allow the Eagles to cruise after that.
The Panthers, led in scoring by senior Greyson Ergenbright’s two goals, went on a 4-0 run from late in the second quarter to midway through the third to pull within two. Senior goalkeeper Luke Caracciolo had 12 saves to anchor their defense.
But Borda scored twice more after that spurt to help thwart the Panthers’ comeback attempt. He said the team’s motto was on his mind.
“It just meant keep going, make that extra step and never give up,” Borda said. “It just kind of showed our season and what it was about.”