By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 5/7/16
There was no masking the disappointment for the St. Joseph’s University men’s lacrosse team.
The top-seeded Hawks, for the second year in a row, fell in the Northeast Conference championship game at home, bowing to third-seeded Hobart, 11-7, before a spirited crowd of 2,083.
St. Joe’s (12-4) had beaten Hobart (10-6), 13-5, in the regular season. But, led by junior goalie Jackson Brown (21 saves), the tourney MVP, the Statesmen led from start to finish to earn the league’s automatic NCAA berth.
“They were just better than us today,” said St. Joe’s senior midfielder Kevin Forster (La Salle, Duke’s L.C.), who was an All-Tourney pick. “That’s pretty much what it comes down to. As a team, we definitely accomplished a lot, but we didn’t reach our overall goal. They were just better.”
When St. Joe’s coach Taylor Wray came to Philly in 2012, the Hawks were a struggling program coming off am 0-12 2011 season. The Hawks have hosted the NEC tourney three straight years as the top seed, but Wray found no consolation today.
“We want to win a conference championship and go to NCAA tournament,” said Wray. “The fact we are here and had the opportunity and didn’t get it done is just disappointing. That’s the end of the story – there is no silver lining for me in this one.
“I told them, ‘There is nothing I can say to make you feel any better,'” said Wray about his post-game speech to his players. “We will stick together as a team, but there is not much more you can say after a loss like that.”
Forster, junior goalkeeper T.J. Jones, and sophomore midfielder Hayes McGinley were named to the All-Championship team for their performances in the tournament.
Hobart’s road to the title was remarkable considering it fell to the Hawks, 13-5, in the regular season. The Statesmen also were blitzed by Bryant, 15-2, in the regular season. In Thursday’s semis Hobart topped Bryant, 7-6, in overtime.
In each game, Brown was a rock.
“It’s special,” said Brown. “Obviously, we didn’t play well against these teams in the regular season. We went back to work. You’ve got to hunker down in the playoffs and play your best lacrosse. It’s win or go home and we stepped up to the challenge.”
Bryan Hancock had three goals and Sean Donnelly had two goals and two assists for Hobart, which bolted to a quick 3-0 lead and held a 5-1 lead early in the second quarter. The Hawks got as close as 6-5 early in the second half on a goal by Chris Blewitt (two goals), but Hobart’s Cooper Stefaniak (two goals) made it 7-5 and St. Joe’s never got within one goal again.
Hobart won the battle of the groundballs (23-13) and face-offs (13 of 21) and outshots the Hawks, 41-30.
“They had a heck of a weekend, avenging two losses from the regular season,” said Wray. “They got it done. We really could not get any momentum going.”
Brown credited his defense for the MVP honor.
“They made me look good,” he said. “They gave me shots I want to see. I call them warm-up shots. They were easy for me to see.”
Also for the Hawks, goalie T.J. Jones posted 13 saves and Ray Vandegrift (Penn Charter, Duke’s L.C.) and Kyle Cain had a goal and an assist each.
Forster – who transferred to Hawk Hill after two years at Maryland – said that at some point he will look back on his two years at St. Joe’s with great memories. His teams went 23-10, but fell short of their goals.
“Right now it’s kind of tough to think about that,” he said of the many wins. “I’m sure down road I look back and see all the good things we have done to make the program better.”
Today’s game marked the final collegiate games for seniors Forster, Rich Gabelman, Bryan Garrahan (Archmere Academy), Joe McErlean (Bishop Shanahan), Cameron Riley, Pat Swanick (St. Joseph’s Prep, and John Winchell, a class that put together 39 wins over their four years on Hawk Hill, a program-best.
“The character of those guys,” responded Wray on what will be remembered from this senior class. “They have bought in from the very beginning, and they have been the leaders of our team all season. It’s a small group with seven guys. They’re incredibly hardworking guys and men of great character, and we will be sad to see them go.”