Generously listed at 5-foot-9, Gonzaga senior Jimmy Kuzma has been among the smallest players on his lacrosse team each year since he first picked up a stick. Still, the midfielder has been among Gonzaga Coach Casey O’Neill’s favorites for his gritty, blue-collar play since earning a promotion to the varsity squad as an even more undersized freshman.
Dressed for his fourth Washington Catholic Athletic Conference final on Monday night, Kuzma shirked his reputation as the team’s unsung hero to come through with the offense that sparked top-ranked Gonzaga to a 13-11 win over No. 2 Paul VI. His goal with 7 minutes 2 seconds remaining put the Eagles ahead for good on the way to their fourth straight conference tournament title.
With the hard-fought win, Gonzaga’s 20 seniors finished their career unbeaten in WCAC play, and the team capped its second straight season without a loss against local competition.
“I’m not the biggest threat we have out there on offense, but I know I can do it,” said Kuzma, who broke a 10-all tie with his second goal of the game. “They left me open, and I just buried it like I’ve been doing all my life.”
Gonzaga (19-2) needed late offense to survive Paul VI’s second-half surge at the University of Maryland’s Ludwig Field. Playing in their first ever WCAC final, the Panthers erased a four-goal deficit in the second half.
Three straight scores to close the third quarter — two of them man-up — gave Paul VI (18-3) momentum, and senior Chris Camarca’s goal in front off a pass from senior Connor Murphy with 7:32 left knotted the score for the first time since the game’s fourth minute.
After senior Tyler Golian won the ensuing faceoff for Gonzaga, Kuzma took a pass from senior Max Planning and ripped an overhand shot into the net going to his right to score 30 seconds later, his 16th goal of the year.
“He’s always been under the radar for us, but I love how tough he is” O’Neill said. “That’s four years of making that play right there.”
From there, seniors Alex Corboy (game-high four goals) and Joe Fitzpatrick also added goals to give the Eagles breathing room. Paul VI trimmed it back within one at 12-11 but never got another look to tie.
In defeat, the Panthers scored more goals against Gonzaga than any other team this season except national No. 1 Boys’ Latin, which drubbed the Eagles 13-4 back in March.
“If you just come out here and you get blown out, maybe you don’t feel so bad,” Paul VI Coach Bob Waters said. “But the fact that they feel so horrible right now because they were so close, I think that’s a good feeling for these guys.”
When the final horn sounded, Gonzaga senior defenseman Matt Borda, one of four seniors who made the varsity team at the start of his freshman season, tossed the ball aside and raced to tackle goalie Timmy Farrell. The rest of the Eagles soon met him to join the celebration, the last act for a decorated group.
“That’s always great,” said Planning, who will continue his career at Denver. “It never gets old.”