After nearly two decades of obscurity, the Episcopal Maroon flung their sticks and helmets into the air, rushing the field joyously. They were state champions again, for the first time since 1992.
Before they could celebrate, the Maroon had to outrun, outshoot and outdo a tough and patient St. Christopher’s squad in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament final. Held on Episcopal’s home field, the season finale looked anything but a done deal until the final few minutes.
The Maroon struck first. Senior Chip Grossman weaved through an aggressive and physical Saints defense for a well-guided shot on net. Fellow senior William Cauthen would score minutes later, putting the 21-5 Maroon up by two.
Episcopal would have several more opportunities to extend their lead, but St. Christophers defense stiffened and their offense bounced back. The two teams would head to the locker room at halftime with the Maroon leading 5-3.
For more than six minutes in the second half the Saints and Maroon would streak up and down the field, trading scoring opportunities without any success. After an exhausting game of back-and-forth, Episcopals Connor Gallegos scored with laser precision, giving the Maroon a three-point lead.
It was the turning point, said coach Scott Conklin.
If [the Saints] get a goal its 5-4, a one point game. That first goal after the half is big, he said. We were finally able to punch one in.
Senior Conor Foley would make it 7-3 minutes later and the Saints, after pressing their attack throughout the afternoon, suddenly began to sputter. They would not score until late in the fourth quarter as hopes at a Saints championship had all but faded.
It was a great game, we really battled out there to the very end, Gallegos said. St. Chris has such a high-explosive offense, our defense played great and it went our way.
Though Gallegos, the teams leading scorer throughout the season, would come away with two goals matching Grossman in offensive production perhaps no member of the squad shined as brightly as goalie Matt Lopiano.
The junior made 10 saves, blocking the Saints offense as effectively as an iron curtain. His effort earned him the games most valuable player award.
Matt was great today, especially when the game was close early on, Conklin said. He was special.
The overpowering 9-4 win capped off an explosive season for the Maroon, long overshadowed on the lacrosse field by their backyard rivals St. Stephens and St. Agnes. Episcopal had beaten the local Saints twice, both in overtime thrillers, for a chance at beating the likewise named Richmond squad for the right to hoist the VISAA championship title plaque.
There was no moment during the regular season where the Maroon looked like definite championship contenders though their come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win against SSSAS must have come close according to Conklin. He knew before the 2011 campaign began the boarding school was fielding a talented squad.
They earned this, he said. I knew we had the players to do it, but it was still tough They never stopped competing or gave up hope.