by: Damien Begley   3/7/2013

Read Part I Here

Part two of the season’s top five games continues with…

3. Bullis School vs. The Hill Academy, March 23rd

In two weeks Bullis will play the Hill Academy at home.  The reasons why this is one of the biggest games of the season would mystify those fans unfamiliar with Hill Academy, as well as the state of lacrosse today.

The best place to start is to say the Hill Academy hails from Ontario, Canada.  Yes. They are Canadian, and this BIG. But why, you ask?

Well…this is where an assumption is made: if you’re reading this article you already know, and there is not a need for getting technical.

That is –you already know Canadians play lacrosse in hockey arenas (Box Lacrosse, without the ice, of course); and this really helps them hone their craft because it forces them to do difficult things, like shooting on a goal virtually half the size of the American game; and you know it fosters a style of play that translates well to our field game. 

You probably know as well that in 2010 some proud Canuck pointed out that 10 of the top 30 scorers in Division I lacrosse were Canadian, even though less than 5 percent of Division I lacrosse players were Canadian. 

So if you didn’t know before, you know now, but it still leaves one question: Why the Hill Academy?   

Perhaps the following two paragraphs on their website say it all: 

The Hill Pride Lacrosse program follows that of top university programs by implementing 4 hours per week of on-field training, a lacrosse specific strength and conditioning program, and participation in high-caliber game play.

Head Coach Brodie Merrill is one of the most decorated lacrosse players in the world. Brodie has revolutionized how people treat the defensive player in both box and field, with his run and gun transitional style.

Hill Academy obviously thinks very highly of itself –but perhaps too highly. A coach’s estimation of his team’s abilities can often be found from looking at the schedule the coach has put together for a particular year.

Last year the Hill Academy put together an ambitious schedule, playing 13 very competitive opponents and demonstrated they were not misguided in doing so.  The Canadians went into virtually every American lacrosse hot-bed, and came out with 10-3 record, including a visit to IAC country, besting our Landon Bears by the score of 7-6. 

It should be noted, this Landon team was a team still searching for an identity in its third game, against a Hill Academy that was playing its sixth game, which included a 12-6 drubbing by Calvert Hall. So they aren’t invincible; indeed, they are far from it, which makes their schedule this year a bit mind numbing in its audacity.

Last year Hill Academy played 13 tough games, ending the season with a 10 – 3 record; this year they take the field 21 times.  And the Canadians have chosen to begin their national campaign in our backyard playing –get this—10 games in 15 days and ending this gauntlet at Bullis School. 

Their scheduling Bullis on this day was either scheduling mistake on the part or a function of having been snookered by the Bullis Coach. Because Bullis, and this season’s team in particular, is the last team the Canadians would want to tangle with after such an exhausting campaign. 

After all, by the time the Hill Academy reaches Bullis School a number of things will be a certainty.  The Bullis School will have played enough games to get their stuff together; the Hill Academy will, by then, be thoroughly scouted and will have lost an element of surprise and standing on weary legs, which is not a good thing when playing Bullis.

Bullis is uniquely qualified to win this game.  In recent years, under the leadership of their Coach Bobby Policino, Bullis has performed at level few thought possible.  They have competed against teams whose rosters dwarf their team.  And yet, they have been able to beat these teams, pulling off some the biggest upsets in the IAC in years.

Their success has hinged largely on their confidence earned through living up to the standards of a coaching staff that refuses to accept excuses for losses when sometimes they could be easily found. 

It has created a team that is accustomed to beating teams they should be intimidated by and this will serve them well against the Canadians.  But more importantly, they have a defense that has the ability to push the Hill Academy in ways they perhaps, have never seen.

This is why it is on the TOP FIVE; it will be a clash between styles and strengths. The Canadians are known for their offense prowess; but they will find in Bullis’s physicality and intensity the likes they have perhaps never seen. Put simply, Bullis this year has the pieces for what could become one of the best defenses in the nation; and under the direction of Policino they will be prepared.

In the middle of the field, the Hill Academy will be met by an LSM that is one of  Johns Hopkins most prized recruits of the year; and at close defense, Bullis has a defense with the athleticism and know-how necessary to disrupt the patterns, dodges and plays unique to their style of play.

In essence, you might say it will be a battle of wills, and we all should hope Bullis prevails; after all, it will be our area and Maryland’s last chance to say good-bye.  It would just be nice to send them off the right way.

2. Landon vs. St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, April 26th

Since the inception DCSportsFan eight years ago, these are just some of the teams St. Stephen’s has beaten: Georgetown Prep, St. Albans, Bullis, Episcopal, Mount St. Joe’s, Boys Latin, McDonogh, Collegiate, and Woodberry Forest, just to name a few.  In short, the Saints have beaten every team in the IAC, some pretty impressive foes from the vaunted MIAA, and been the bane of some very promising Prep teams.  But there is one team they have not beaten….Landon.

In fact, the Saints have never beaten Landon, which begs the question, unmercifully---why?  After all, the Saints have demonstrated the capacity to beat quality opponents, and every other team in the IAC, so why not Landon? 

Is it a freak occurrence?  Is it an insane anomaly without rhyme or reason? The casual fan accepts these strange anomalies as a competitive reality.  It is what it is, they say.  Some teams just have a way of beating other teams, and this is true. But beating teams regularly is one thing, beating another team every single time is another thing altogether.  There has to be a reason, or some reasons, for Landon’s dominance.  And, after a careful examination of the DCsportsFan database, a compelling hypothesis reveals itself based on timing and geography. 

Over the past seven years, Landon and St. Stephen’s played their last regular season conference game against each other four times.  Or better put, both teams have played Bullis, Georgetown Prep, St. Albans and Episcopal prior to facing off.  As a result, both teams have the opportunity to size each other up, scout, and prepare—so what’s the point?  This should mean it is even-steven, right?

The data suggests otherwise.  In IAC lacrosse, coaches prepare their teams on an unprecedented level and scouting is taken to a level of sophistication.  It should be noted, Landon’s success is largely a function of their fine tradition, but in this match-up in particular Landon has possessed a hidden edge. This edge is geography.  

From Landon, Bullis, Georgetown Prep and St. Albans are all a stone’s throw away. The proximity of Landon’s opponents makes scouting St. Stephen’s convenient for a Landon coach. Indeed, Landon’s coaches and players can prepare for the Saints without leaving the neighborhood, as in: “Let’s get into the car and watch St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes play our arch-enemies.”  The same cannot be said for the team from Northern Virginia, especially when you have a practice to run and rush-hour traffic to battle.

DCSportsFan has covered IAC lacrosse for seven seasons; Landon has enjoyed this advantage of having The Saints as their last conference opponent four times, which strongly supports the case that the geographical edge has played a role in Landon’s dominance.  But what of the other three seasons.  What happened during the seasons when they didn’t compete in their last conference game?  In short, it was different.

For the seasons of ‘08 and ’09, the schedule was flipped.  The two teams began their regular seasons against one another.  In 2008, unfortunately, St. Stephen’s didn’t help us very much. The 2008 season was for them an absolute disaster, a mathematical outlier. 

The Saints posted an 8 – 12 record, their worst season in memory, and were pole-axed by Landon in their first game, losing 9 – 1.  However, interestingly enough, these are the two seasons when the teams faced off twice, and in 2008 the familiarity argument was supported when margin of victory for Landon in the second game was cut in half, which brings us to 2009.

On April 3, 2009, the two teams again faced off in their first conference game.  And in this game, on paper, the Saints played their best game EVER against the Bears.  They not only matched their all-time high of six goals against Landon (a mark they had achieved to date only once), but also lost by the smallest margin ever, 7-6.

In the second game, they also reached a high-water mark, holding Landon to their lowest score to date of four goals and lost by two; and then, just then just when Landon seemed in their grasp, the game’s timing flipped again.  Although they made further progress over the next two seasons, the games ended with Landon ahead.

This is why the game this year is so compelling.  This season is another season when Landon doesn’t have a geographic edge and the Saints have a talented team, a balanced team, and share only one common opponent prior to facing off, Georgetown Prep.  THE TIME IS RIPE FOR ST. STEPHENS/ST.AGNES TO CLOSE THE DEAL.

1. Georgetown Prep vs. Gonzaga, April 5th

This game has the potential for being one of the most exciting games of the season.  Last year it was the most exciting game.  The two teams were even matched, the game was played at a very high level between rival schools representing rival conferences and decided by one goal with Gonzaga winning by the score of 4 – 3; and the game this year in all likelihood will be very similar to last year’s game.  

Normally this would be enough to make it a “Big Game” but this simple synopsis falls well short of adequately illustrating why it is so big.  The truth is the clash between these schools on the lacrosse field is more than about a score.  In short, it is a game with a story, a story with more subplots than can be counted, but to go into them now would be a distraction, so we will stick to the score. 

Simply put, last year Gonzaga beat Georgetown Prep for the first time, and after last year’s game this wasn’t the headline but it should have been:  GONZAGA BEATS PREP….FINALLY!  It was a seminal moment because while the score has been close over the past two years (we will get to this later), the preceding five years were an absolute disaster for Gonzaga.   

While Gonzaga had admirable records throughout this time, anyone would be astonished by how unsuccessful they were against Georgetown Prep.  It will pain those in the Gonzaga camp to review these losses, but it is the only way to place the magnitude of their achievement last year in the proper context: in 2006 Prep beat Gonzaga by 11 goals, in 2007 Gonzaga lost by 8 goals, in 2008 by a WHOPPING 14 goals, and in 2009 and 2010---12 goals.  

Indeed, after the game in 2010, some fans couldn’t help but ask this question: is this really necessary? After all, the games weren’t really games; they were more like clinics.  And watching them could be downright painful. 

It was like watching an older brother pummel a younger brother in the backyard, and you kept waiting for mom to come around the corner, see what was happening and yell: “Hey! Cut it out!” before sending them to their rooms. 

But this never happened and the younger brother kept fighting –kept coming back for more until two years ago a change took place. Gonzaga, the younger brother in the analogy, grew up.  But it’s how Gonzaga grew up, which makes this year’s match up so intriguing. 

Traditionally, one of the reasons Prep has been so dominant is that they possess a bit of a farm system for their teams.  Their players have been groomed from a number of lower schools, grammar schools where they are taught and developed to be great lacrosse players. In the past, these youngsters grew up and assumed Georgetown Prep’s colors of Blue and Gray, but recently a fair number of them became Gonzaga Purple. 

Obviously, there is a great deal more to it than this, but it’s definitely contributing factor to Gonzaga’s recent success; and this is really what gives this game “its juice”, to use the parlance of betters.  The game will be played between young men who have known each other personally since they were young boys.  It will be played between friends, and longtime rivals, who know not only their opponents best moves, but also their families.  And those families will be in the stands, standing amongst each other; in other words---it’s personal, and when a game is personal…IT’S BIG.