The Calvert Hall boys and McDonogh girls each won their conference lacrosse titles, but they came at it from different directions.
Bryan Kelly's Calvert Hall team was trying to be the first team to win the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title three years in a row. The Cardinals got the job done.
McDonogh had a different focus this season. The Eagles saw their 198-game winning streak that stretched throughout nine seasons end with a loss to Notre Dame Prep in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference title game last spring. McDonough brought in former superstar Taylor Cummings, who was a dominant player for the Eagles and at the University of Maryland, to be its new head coach. McDonogh was starting over again, but the Eagles still achieved their goal.
Calvert Hall finished 17-1 overall and closed the season on a 15-game winning streak. The Cardinals also pulled off the tough feat of going undefeated in the MIAA A Conference during regular-season play.
But winning the crown for a third straight season was not something Kelly talked about and the team used as a major goal -- far from it, in fact.
"I've never talked about winning championships," Kelly said. "I've just focused on the process and do what we do. I talked about the three-peat once, and that was just before the playoffs."
Actually, the Cardinals' theme for 2019 was simply the word "gratitude." Kelly wanted his team to be grateful and to play the game they loved with joy.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Calvert Hall
They didn't create a lot of joy for opposing teams. Junior Daniel Kelly (42 goals, 30 assists) helped spark the team's offense and has committed to North Carolina. Seniors Jack Sawyer (40, 28, Maryland) and Grant Mitchell (32, 21, Ohio State) and junior Cole Herbert (16, 39, North Carolina) also played big roles.
"No one cared who scored; they were just great teammates, very unselfish," Bryan Kelly said. "I think we were a very complete team. The ultimate thing is we were really a team."
The Cardinals showed that with their performance in the championship game, a 15-7 victory against St. Mary's. There were 14 assists on Calvert Hall's 15 goals.
As for next year, Kelly said he doesn't feel pressure to win a fourth straight title. He took over the program in 1996 and has won five championships and is grateful for what his teams have accomplished, especially during the last three years.
"I didn't feel pressure to win three; I don't think that way," Kelly said. "I understand what this league is -- you just let the chips fall where they may. [This team] worked really hard. They really love one another and care for one another and take care of one another."
Cummings faced a bit of a different task at McDonogh. The Eagles had been the best team in the country for several seasons, carrying that long winning streak, and then it ended in a tough championship game loss.
So, when Cummings took over, the Eagles were primed to start a new chapter.
"They had been through a lot over the past year," Cummings said. "They finally knew what it felt like to be on the losing [side]. This year provided the girls with a fresh start. It was a nice, clean slate."
Cummings, who played on two national title teams at Maryland, said the Eagles weren't trying to start a new streak. However, the clean slate let McDonogh come together as a team as the season went on and finish 21-0, capping it off with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory against St. Paul's in the IAAM A Conference title game.
St. Paul's held a 4-2 lead late in the second half before McDonogh seniors Blair Pearre and Emma Schettig scored in the final 4:14 of regulation. That forced overtime, and the Eagles took the title on a goal by junior Izzy Marsh with 14.8 seconds remaining in the second sudden-death overtime period.
Cummings said she loved the way her team stayed settled during the final minutes.
"The girls were prepared for every situation going into the championship," Cummings said. "When we were down, 4-2, with [a little more than] four minutes left, there was no panic."
The coach said she and her staff wanted this team to write its own story.
The Eagles were tested more this season than in past years, and they finished with four one-goal victories (including the title game) plus a two-goal win.
Cummings said going through all those close games helped her players.
"Their bond as a team grew tighter and tighter," Cummings said. "We had a lot of close games. We were doing our best to create an environment where they could learn and grow and make mistakes. That takes some time to develop. I think as the season went on ... that developed."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of McDonogh
She said the Eagles got lots of help from several good players. Pearre, Schettig, senior Sam Thacker, senior Julia Dorsey and junior Kayla Abernathy each contributed to the team's success in different ways.
Cummings, 25, has played for outstanding coaches like Chris Robinson, Scott Robinson and Cathy Reese. She tried to implement some of what she learned from them during her first year guiding the Eagles. In the end, she was proud of the way her team came together.
"Where we started was not where we ended, and that was the goal," Cummings said. "I think we improved incredibly, very drastically. This year, some of the concepts from the year before that were new and daunting [were] easy to handle for the girls. We had a ton of senior leadership that ... really led the way."
And it helped McDonogh become champions once more.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Calvert Hall and McDonogh
Issue 255: June/July 2019