Lacrosse, Spring, Column

Program Building, Not National Championship Losses, Should Be Lasting Memory of BC’s Seniors

On Sunday, deep in the midst of one of the saddest scenes you’ll ever see in sports—players and coaches, emotional after coming up just short of a title—Boston College lacrosse head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein delivered a stirring reminder.

“Boston College wasn’t a lacrosse school four years ago. And now it is,” Walker-Weinstein said in her postgame press conference, after the Eagles lost in the National Championship for the third straight season—and for the second time in three years to Maryland. “And now, because of them, lots of little girls want to come play at BC, and a lot of the top players in the world want to come play at BC. So because of what they built, the legacy will live on.”

The “they” was in reference to Sam Apuzzo, Kenzie Kent, and Dempsey Arsenault—the three Eagles stars dejectedly sitting next to Walker-Weinstein—but also Elizabeth Miller, Hannah Hyatt, Christina Walsh, Brooke Troy, Lauren Daly, and Taylor Walker, the other six members of BC’s historic senior class—the one that rewrote the entire program’s story. And sitting there, even after a heartbreaking defeat, it was difficult not to reflect on the legacy that those nine players will leave, and ultimately come to one simple conclusion: Falling in the National Championship three times should not, and hopefully will not, tarnish this group’s legacy even a little bit.

Sports are, by nature, results-based, and that simple fact leads to narratives. And it is so easy to get caught up in those narratives and not see the bigger picture. I’m not trying to be sanctimonious here and say that the narratives are always wrong, but as an example, zoom out a little bit and what does this Eagles team look like on paper. They look like a team without a national championship in three appearances, and without an ACC Championship in two. For a casual observer, it might look like BC simply couldn’t produce on the big stage.

Re-examine that with some context, though, and the picture begins to shift quite a bit. I mentioned this in my postgame piece (shameless plug, sorry), but the reality is that the women’s college lacrosse landscape is top heavy. Since the year 2000, just six schools have won the National Championship, and 14 of those 20 titles belong to Big Ten powerhouses Northwestern and Maryland. Northwestern once won seven championships in eight years, a stretch of dominance that even the Terrapins can’t better. Still, Maryland has been to the Final Four 11 straight seasons and has yet to lose in the Big Ten regular season (it joined the conference in 2015)—not to mention that it’s lost a total of just four games in as many years. Then there’s UNC, the Eagles’ 2019 Final Four opponent, which has won the last four ACC Championships and been to four of the last five Final Fours.

The point is, that women’s college lacrosse is not a sport familiar with parity. The big stay big, and the small wonder how they can ever catch up. From 2010 to 2016 only four different schools even played in a National Championship. The Tar Heels (two titles), Maryland (three titles), Northwestern (two titles), and Syracuse (no titles).

What happened in 2017? The Eagles came along. It seems almost hard to remember, now, but BC wasn’t even seeded in the NCAA Tournament that season. It finished the regular season just 12-6 and lost to UNC in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. There were no expectations of a National Championship run. But, instead, the Eagles played Cinderella, rattling off four straight wins before coming up empty against the Terrapins, who, as noted above, are essentially the crème de la crème of women’s college lacrosse programs. That season, the postgame press conference wasn’t nearly as somber. After all, no one had expected them to be there, competing with the country’s elite.

In fact, the difference in moods between 2017 and 2019 is perhaps the best illustration of the legacy, and change in culture, that this year’s senior class leaves behind. Two years ago, BC was just happy to crash the biggest stage in its sport. Now, it expects to win.

Think about how improbable and remarkable that is. In two short seasons, the Eagles transformed themselves from just another college lacrosse program, one with little imprint, to a team that holds itself to the very highest of standards, and expects to compete with and beat the very best teams in the country. And this quick fire turnaround was done in a sport that has historically been decidedly top-heavy.

That is what this group of seniors—who were the driving force behind this turnaround—should be remembered for, and what I hope they’re remembered for. The consistent excellence on the field they provided at every position drove this renaissance.

Kent, Arsenault, and Apuzzo—who leave with a total of 560 goals and 321 assists between them and, according to Walker-Weinstein, are three of the best college players to ever play the game—are BC’s three most recognizable faces because of the absurd offensive numbers they’ve put up. Apuzzo, the most prolific goal scorer of the three, was also the first non-Maryland or Northwestern player to win the Tewaaraton Award in 12 years. But players like Hyatt, a preseason third-team All-American who made a name for herself as a face-guarding specialist, or Miller, who excelled on the clear, winning draws, and creating turnovers, made impacts far beyond the box score that shouldn’t be forgotten anytime soon.

And it would be unjust to leave out Walsh, Troy, and Daly, the other three members of a phenomenal defensive core that held Maryland, the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, to just 12 goals in its last game together, or Walker, who scored the game-winning goal of the Eagles’ memorable comeback against the Orange in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and leaves with 61 career goals from her midfield role. Back to front, every member of the class helped BC manufacture its remarkable reinvention.  

So yes, they leave without a national championship, which would have been the ultimate validation of what they helped build, but it shouldn’t matter. They assisted in the creation of a program that hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2017, won two ACC regular season titles, and holds a remarkable 71-20 record over the last four years. It’s a program that so deeply believes in its own culture of teamwork and togetherness that you’d be hard pressed to find a single Eagle willing to take even a shred of credit for BC’s success. Seriously, try interviewing Apuzzo, the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner, about a spectacular play she made and she’ll deflect the credit back to her teammates. Same with Kent, or Arsenault, or any of them. For a school that even Walker-Weinstein admitted was “not a lacrosse school” until recently, that kind of success is just as remarkable as lifting that elusive trophy.Of course, with the nine seniors leaving the natural question remains: Will the Eagles be able to sustain this kind of winning, this kind of culture? The remarkable regular season winning streak will undoubtedly come to an end at some point, but if Walker-Weinstein is right, the culture won’t. Maybe that—the creation of something lasting—instead of a national championship, can serve as a consolation and even validation, for what the Class of 2019 built. For now, thanks to them, BC has the ability to continue to dream big.

Featured Image by Ashton Carroll / For The Heights

May 27, 2019