Cardinal Gibbons’ boys’ lacrosse teams have always been good, but after an undefeated regular season with wins against top teams from five states, this year’s group has a chance to go down as arguably the best in school history – an argument that can only be made if it captures its second state championship.
On Monday, the Crusaders added the Big Eight 3A Conference tournament championship to its resumé with a 15-2 win against visiting Chapel Hill.
Cardinal Gibbons (18-0) will have a first-round bye in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs Wednesday. The Crusaders are ranked first in the state, No. 31 nationally, and will have home-field advantage until the inaugural 1A/2A/3A state title game, which they will be the favorites to win.
But they’ll savor the ride.
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“We don’t take any games lightly,” attacker Robbie Lavelle said. “We’re going to try to take that state championship this year, but we’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
“We just won a conference championship. That’s a big deal. That’s never going to be a given in any conference, in any sport,” first-year coach Alex Buckley said.
Marist recruit Gannon Morrison, who is over the 100-point mark for the second straight year, started the scoring against the Tigers with an assist to Robbie Lavelle just 23 seconds into the game.
Cardinal Gibbons jumped to a 4-0 lead but Chapel Hill (10-6) cut it to 5-2 at the end of the first quarter on goals from Hartford Zirkle and Max Bozymski (assist by Paul Miller).
After three goals in the second period and two in the third, the Crusaders opened the fourth with five goals in six minutes.
Lavelle had a game-high seven goals. Morrison added four (with four assists), Hunter Van Horn (one assist) had three and Danny Geiger (two assists) added one.
“Coach (Davey Emala) and coach Buckley have put in a great system for us. It really works well for our personnel,” Morrison said. “We’ve got shooters like Robbie, Kevin Barry, Nick Forbes, Mark Schachte, Hunter Van Horn, Danny Geiger – all these guys that can put the ball in the back of the net whenever they get the ball.”
“It gets pretty easy. You just move on ball, run the system and there’s going to be a good shot at the end of it.”
The Crusaders dominated the ground-ball category, which helped almost every face-off go their way.
“I was telling our kids on the wings, even if our guy won it, they had three guys on him. Our guys need to be helping out on that. They were hawking the ball more than us,” said Chapel Hill coach Brent Voelkel.
“The guys that never get any credit are our (defensive) middies – Chad Snyder, Dylan Page, Adrian Gorman, Will Brown, James Sriramen – and Stephen Albright at the faceoff. These guys do the toughest job – that dirty-work stuff,” Buckley said. “We train ground-balls like maniacs because it is that important. You see how big of a difference it can make in a game.”
The Big Eight Conference, whose NCHSAA name is Conference 6, elected to have its seven lacrosse-playing schools meet a minimum of once during the regular season to free each school’s nonconference schedule.
Schachte had two assists for Cardinal Gibbons and while Jack Shelton added one.
With the way the bracket is laid out with predetermined bracket slots based on conference finish, it’s likely that Cardinal Gibbons and Chapel Hill will play again in the third round of the playoffs on May 16.