School history will be made Saturday, the question is, will Greenwich or Staples deliver their respective school its first boys lacrosse state championship?
The Cardinals and Wreckers have come close to capturing the state title in the past, but the championship trophy eluded their grasp. Saturday, second-seeded Greenwich and ninth-seeded Staples each have an opportunity to accomplish their ultimate goal, as they will duel in the CIAC Class L Tournament's 1:30 p.m. final at Brien McMahon High School.
Greenwich (19-3), which last appeared in the Class L finals in 2007, advanced to the championship game with a 7-5 win over rival Ridgefield in Wednesday's semifinals. Staples (15-5), which lost to Fairifeld Prep in last season's title tilt, earned a return trip to the finals by coming from behind to beat Amity, 8-6, in the semifinal round.
In a defensive battle, Greenwich posted a 5-3 victory against Staples on April 22 and has won three of its last four games against the Wreckers. Yet the Wreckers knocked the Cardinals out of the state tournament a year ago, notching a 6-5 triumph in the quarterfinals.
"They ended our season last year, so it's on our guys minds a little bit," GHS coach Scott Bulkley said. "But we're both two different teams from last year. We both had guys last year who graduated and aren't here anymore. I know both teams really want the title bad."
Greenwich knows it must be especially sharp on both ends of the field against a Staples squad that prefers to play a possession game and control the tempo.
"They have a good faceoff guy and ball possession is key to them," Bulkley said. "We anticipate the same type of battle that we had with them the last time. They like to slow it down and they play very good team defense, so we have to come out shooting and capitalize on our opportunities."
Junior attack Decker Curran hurt the Wreckers during the regular season meeting, recording a hat trick for the Cardinals.
"Decker Curran is fast and can shoot on the run very well," Staples coach Paul McNulty said. "All of their offensive players can shoot from anywhere. We know what it's like playing a tough, athletic opponent like Greenwich."
Sparked by senior goalie Cole Gendels, the Wreckers have yielded 10 or more goals only twice this season. Senior longstick midfielder Isaac Paparo, senior Max Fuld, sophomore longstick middie Josh Willis and short stick midfielders Jack Greenwald (senior) and Teddy Coogan (junior) have anchored the Wreckers' defense.
"We have to play well defensively, but we also need to keep the ball away from them and maintain possession at our end of the field," McNulty said.
Five or even several years ago, winning a game or two in the state tournament would have been a nice achievement for the Wreckers. However, the bar is set higher for Staples these days.
"We are done with moral victories, we are beyond that," McNulty said. "Last year, we made it all the way to the finals, so we know what's it's like to play in big games like this."
Curran, seniors Luke Finneran and Jamie Paradise and sophomore Bobby Goggin have helped power the Cards at attack. Read Full Article
"Jamie and Luke have been awesome and they have taken Bobby under their wing," Bulkley said. "To see a young, talented player like Bobby gel with those guys has been special."
Senior midfielders Ryan Flippin and Sam Saleeby have set up numerous goals for the Cardinal this season, while sophomore Will Perry (two goals in the semifinals against Ridgefield) has emerged as an offensive threat in the absence of senior Kyle Foote. Foote one of the top midfielders in the state who will attend Loyola College (Md) next year, has been sidelined the entire tournament with an Achilles' tendon injury.
Bulkley has been pleased with the play of junior Alex Oropall and sophomore Dan Colligan, both of whom have made key defensive plays in recent games.
"Oropall and Colligan have stepped up and embraced their roles," Bulkley said. "Alec was an offensive and defensive middie last year, but this year he's played more of a defensive role. They both have a high lacrosse IQ."
Staples boasts a balanced scoring attack paced by seniors Will Johnson and Patrick Lesch and sophomores Mike Reale and Connor Chamberlain.
"We have received scoring from a lot of players throughout the season, which has really helped us," McNulty said. "Each game, we've had players step up."
The Cardinals have also been stingy in the goals allowed department, letting up double digits in scoring in just three games. Junior Tommy Rogan has been rock-solid in goal behind a defensive group led by seniors Jack Harrington and Jack Nail.
"They are very talented defensively," McNulty said. "Their close defense with Harrington and Nail -- they are the top two defensive guys around. We have to be very efficient on offense."
Both coaches have witnessed their respective squads mature throughout the season.
"It's been an excellent season for us because of the young men on our team, not just because of our record," McNulty said. "In the huddle toward the end of the game against Amity, they were the ones encouraging each other, displaying good leadership. They were determined not to lose that game."
A key matchup to keep an eye on will occur at the faceoff X between Staples' Eric Zurmuehle and Greenwich's Mike Sullivan. Zurmuehle won 13 of 16 faceoffs against Amity in Wednesday's semifinals.
"Winning the ground ball war and doing a better job on faceoffs will be key factors for us," Bulkley said. "Giving up a couple of quick goals is a concern. We have to make them earn it -- no quick goals."
No. 2 Greenwich (19-3) vs. No. 9 Staples (15-5)
When?: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Where?: Brien McMahon High School
The road to the finals: Staples -- the Wreckers beat eighth-seeded Hall, 14-4, in the first round, top-seeded Simsbury, 10-3, in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Amity, 8-6, in the semifinals. Greenwich -- the Cardinals posted a 12-4 win over No. 18 Ludlowe in the opening round, before notching a 9-8 victory against No. 10 Fairfield Prep in the quarterfinals. The Cardinals eliminated third-seeded Ridgefield in the semifinals, 7-5.
State finals history: Staples lost to Fairfield Prep in last seasons' state title game -- their first appearance in the finals. Greenwich was defeated by Fairfield Prep in the 2007 Class L final and fell to Darien in the 1997 state championship game.
Series history: Greenwich holds a 6-4 edge in the series. The teams are 1-1 against each other in postseason play.