“This was a team effort.”

It’s a phrase that’s often heard when a team wins a championship at any level. But for the Boys’ Latin and St. Paul’s School for Girls lacrosse teams, both coaches spoke passionately about that really being why each school scored their first conference championship in a while.

For Boys’ Latin, head coach Brian Farrell said everyone on the Lakers played a part in winning their first MIAA A Conference title since 2014 and fifth since the conference started. Farrell, who played on the 2006 championship team, said this year just had to be a team effort based on all of the hurdles the Lakers needed to overcome.

“Every week, there was something new,” he said. “Something happened every week. We had to adapt. We had to be ready each week. That’s where you need your leadership the most. I give credit to the [21-player] senior class. Everyone played a role, and they all provided leadership, and they had such great chemistry. They had a personality; it [was] contagious within the team.”

Farrell believed that this was a team effort so much that at the end of the season, no one was given the team’s Most Valuable Player award. The reason was simple — Farrell said the coaches really felt that everyone pitched in.

Boys’ Latin finished the season with a 10-4 record and came into the conference playoffs as the No. 5 seed. The Lakers needed to do plenty of work in the postseason, bouncing back from a four-goal hole in the last quarter to knock off Loyola Blakefield in the quarterfinals before stunning undefeated McDonogh in the semifinals.

The semifinal saw Boys’ Latin fall behind by three in the first half a few times before rallying and holding on for a 13-12 victory. Then in the finals, the Lakers came back from a two-goal deficit early in the second half and topped Archbishop Spalding, 9-8, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to win the elusive title.

“We had player-driven leadership and guys that were fully invested in driving our standards,” Farrell said. “I was very pleased with the overall performance.”

The semifinal victory against McDonogh was especially big because the Eagles were trying to win the conference championship and close out a perfect season. McDonogh had handled Boys’ Latin, 15-8, earlier in the season, but Farrell understood why the first game got away from the Lakers.

“I felt like we didn’t have the in-game experience [during the first game],” Farrell said. “We had some more experience under our belt [in the playoffs].”

Farrell said they had a season filled with myriad issues, including injuries. He gave trainer Shelly Pruett credit for keeping the team moving forward through the spring. He also credited the team’s four captains for playing different roles to help the Lakers improve as the season moved on and then play so well in the postseason.

Senior attackman Dom Pietramala was the team’s top scorer and is headed to North Carolina next year. Senior attackman Garrett Glatz (Navy) became a big part of the offense, doing whatever Farrell and his staff needed. Ben Smith (Penn) was in his fourth year starting on attack and kept coming through in the clutch — especially in the finals, when he posted three goals and two assists.

Senior defenseman AJ Hernandez (Navy) tore his ACL very early in the season but stayed with the team and did anything needed to help lead the group. Senior defenseman Eddie Loyd (Williams College) stepped up as a leader and often covered the opponent’s top player.

For St. Paul’s School for Girls head coach Mary Gagnon and her team, it was a similar journey. The Gators, loaded with seniors like Boys’ Latin, rolled to a 15-1 record and the team’s first championship in 15 years. St. Paul’s topped McDonogh, 17-8, in the IAAM A Conference title game.

Gagnon said the seniors came together during the several seasons they played alongside one another.

And it paid off.

“We had 17 seniors on the team, and we have a deep team,” Gagnon said. “They’re not all starters but they all have a special role on the team. They all kind of matured [together]. We’re all about team. They grew up and matured … over the four-year period. It’s something that you can’t really learn in a year.”

Gagnon said the team constantly noticed a lacrosse championship banner at the school. The last year the Gators had won an IAAM A Conference title was 2006, and St. Paul’s wanted to add to that.

It’s a goal that stuck with and drove the team all season long.

“That was a big goal of this year,” Gagnon said. “We were determined, and we wanted to add 2021 to that banner. We’ve gotten better and better.”

Gagnon gave much credit to assistant coach Melissa Diepold. The coach said she and Diepold worked together on all aspects of the game and formed a strong bond.

St. Paul’s had beaten McDonogh, 16-9, in a regular-season contest earlier in the year that drew a lot of attention. The Eagles were ranked No. 1 in the Nike/US Lacrosse National Girls Top 25 at the time. St. Paul’s had lost, 5-4, to McDonogh in double overtime of the 2019 finals.

After struggling early in this year’s title game, St. Paul’s took command in the second half and rolled to the victory against McDonogh. Senior attacker Caitlin McElwee (James Madison) scored four goals in the title game, while senior midfielders Christina Gagnon (USC) and Josie Hahn (Florida) and junior midfielder Kendall Steer (Georgetown) each scored three.

St. Paul’s ended the season ranked No. 1 in the nation in the Nike/US Lacrosse National Girls Top 25 poll. Christina Gagnon, the coach’s daughter, finished the season with a team-high 60 points (a team-best 24 assists along with 36 goals). McElwee led the team with 48 goals. Junior midfielder Madison Beale (Duke) helped on defense and draws.

Mary Gagnon said senior goalkeeper Leah Warehime (Georgetown) was a big help throughout the season, as was senior defender Paris Colgain (Johns Hopkins). Midfielder Esprit Cha, another one of the team’s seniors, is going to High Point.

In the end, Gagnon kept coming back to how much the team philosophy helped. Players on the sidelines constantly cheered for those on the field, and they came together as a group throughout the season, something that delighted the coach.

“There’s no sideline like my sideline,” Gagnon said. “That’s why we’re No. 1. Everybody has a piece to the pie. It takes all those pieces to win a championship. We hope to keep it going.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Boys’ Latin and SPSG

Issue 269: June/July 2021

Originally published June 16, 2021

Jeff Seidel

See all posts by Jeff Seidel. Follow Jeff Seidel on Twitter at @JeffSeid62