The Washington Post

Cadets take down Eagles to cap undefeated season

- BY KYLE MELNICK

After Gonzaga lacrosse midfielder Leif Hagerup scored midway through the third quarter against St. John’s on Monday night, the senior pumped his fists, his teammates chestbumpe­d on the sideline and the school’s packed student section erupted in cheers.

Gonzaga had cut its deficit to one to put St. John’s on its heels — a position the Cadets have rarely found themselves in. But that was the last momentum swing the Eagles would receive in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championsh­ip game.

On the ensuing faceoff, St. John’s junior Jackie Weller gathered the ball and passed to attackman Ryan Duenkel, who scored seven seconds after Gonzaga’s goal. For the remainder of its 15-11 win at Maryland’s Ludwig Field, St. John’s showed why it’s the country’s top-ranked team.

While the Cadets (19- 0) built national prestige this season, Monday’s was the D.C. private school’s first WCAC title since 2017 and just the second in program history.

“It’s the last game to end the perfect season, so it’s really im

portant to us,” attackman Mac Haley said. “We’ll go down as one of the best teams in high school ever.”

On April 1, St. John’s beat Gonzaga (14-6) by 11 goals when both teams appeared near the top of the national rankings. Afterward, St. John’s coaches and

players said that game’s lopsided score didn’t exemplify how evenly matched the rivals were.

That proved true Monday, when the score was tied at 7 at halftime. The Cadets hadn’t played as close of a game since their 11-10 win over the Hill Academy (Ontario) on March 25.

“This is what you signed up for,” defenseman Richard Checo recalled players saying at halftime. “Seven-seven, WCAC championsh­ip: This is why you came to St. John’s.”

St. John’s opened the second half with three consecutiv­e goals, and when Gonzaga went on a run, Duenkel scored one of his six goals to put the Cadets up 11-9 as the sophomore raised his arms toward the bleachers.

In last year’s regular season, St. John’s topped Gonzaga, but the WCAC didn’t conduct a postseason because of the coronaviru­s pandemic. The Cadets still ascended to national relevance, winning the inaugural D.C. lacrosse championsh­ip and losing in the Geico Nationals championsh­ip game.

“We won the D.C. championsh­ip, which was crazy,” defenseman Riley Figueiras said. “But it wasn’t this.”

When St. John’s had won Monday — just its third victory by fewer than five goals — its players threw their sticks and helmets into the air as they formed a dogpile near midfield. Players ran across the field with a red St. John’s flag and sprayed water on one another. Checo screamed “Team photo!” to settle his teammates for a picture with the trophy.

“Going undefeated is big,” Duenkel said. “But we all ultimately want to win the WCAC each year.”

 ?? Julia Nikhinson for THE Washington Post ?? Kevin Whitty and St. John’s built national prestige this season, but this was the D.C. private school’s first WCAC title since 2017.
Julia Nikhinson for THE Washington Post Kevin Whitty and St. John’s built national prestige this season, but this was the D.C. private school’s first WCAC title since 2017.

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