Calvert Hall’s 2019 lax juggernaut draws favorable comparisons to unbeaten 1997 Boys’ Latin powerhouse and other great local teams from the past
by Mac Kennedy and Nelson Coffin
Nearly two months after No. 1 Calvert Hall wrapped up an unprecedented third straight MIAA A Conference lacrosse championship by subduing St. Mary’s, 15-7, in the title game, it’s time to put the Cardinals’ spectacular 17-1 campaign into perspective.
Was it, as some observers believe, the most dominating season in recent prep boys lax history in the Baltimore metropolitan area — or merely the product of a very good team holding sway over mediocre competition?
And there is no real objective way to prove that the rest of the upper-tier teams in the A Conference were less than stellar other than by looking at how they fared against reputable non-league foes.
Take McDonogh, for instance.
If the Eagles, who fell to Calvert Hall, 15-11, in the regular season after rallying from an eight-goal deficit in the fourth quarter, are an example of a team from a conference having an off year, it’s difficult to fathom how they were able pull off a 12-11 overtime win over Culver Academy — which shares the top spot in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse Final Top 25 High School Power Rankings with the Cardinals.
Moreover, McDonogh — ranked sixth in the final VSN Boys Lacrosse Top 20 after falling to Boys’ Latin in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs — also beat Washington (D.C.) Interstate Athletic Conference champ Bullis Prep, 9-7, and Philadelphia Inter-Ac runner-up Haveford, 13-8, which were placed fourth and 16th, respectively, in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse rankings.
Yet when the Eagles started facing A Conference rivals, they struggled mightily against that competition, bowing in succession to St. Paul’s, Loyola Blakefield, the Cardinals and Boys’ Latin before they finally stopped the bleeding.
Calvert Hall had no such problems, opening conference play with a 12-5 triumph over BL and running the table from there.
The closest any MIAA squad could come to the Cardinals were the Eagles and St. Mary’s during the regular season, both of which lost by four goals to them.
In the playoffs, though, Calvert Hall found another gear, blasting archival Loyola, 18-4, in a semifinal before building a 14-2 advantage and then cruising past St. Mary’s in the championship game.
Longtime former St. Paul’s coach Rick Brocato said that he’s “not buying what other folks are spewing about the league being down” in 2019.
“That’s just false,” Brocato said. “Calvert Hall was loaded at all levels on the field, especially in the middle of the field. Their defense grew throughout the season and was dominant at the end. They excelled in face-offs, ground-balls, and riding, continually finding more ways to manufacture goals. Overall, they just seemed to play at a different pace and harder than the rest of the league.”
Still, comparing the 2019 Cardinals to great teams of the past 50 years is tricky business, partially because they did not run the table.
While measuring players and teams from one era to another is nothing more than an educated guess, there are several objective means to calculate a team’s prowess in any given year.
One good way is by using scoring differential, that is, goals scored vs. goals yielded, as a reliable performance gauge.
By that standard, Calvert Hall has few peers, considering that the Cardinals produced a wickedly wide scoring margin in six games before the rugged A Conference slate unfolded.
In those early battles, including a 10-9 overtime loss to Hill Academy and a 14-9 triumph over Philly Inter-Ac champ Malvern Prep, coach Bryan Kelly’s squad outscored opponents, 72-34, or by more than 11 goals per game.
The Cardinals were unable to maintain that torrid pace in the A Conference, although they came close.
In 10 regular-season games and a pair of playoff contests, CHC overwhelmed rivals by a whopping 185-65, which averages to a 10-goals-per-game disparity despite subbing most of its starters by the middle of the third quarter or so.
Despite those gaudy numbers, Calvert Hall faces very stiff competition when it comes to standing toe-to-toe with the other storied teams from what former Boys’ Latin coaching legend Bob Shriver called the “modern era” of lacrosse when plastic sticks replaced wooden ones.
Only six teams, Shriver said, have gone unbeaten in that span, including the 1972 Calvert Hall champs, St. Paul’s in 1992, St. Mary’s in 1996 and BL in 1997, 2006 and 2014.
Out of that elite group, the one most often extolled for its excellence are the ’97 Lakers, who also ran roughshod over A Conference foes.
Those Lakers built a similar margin (14.2-to-4.5 per game) between themselves and their opponents while posting a 17-0 mark in capturing a third title under Shriver.
In conference play, BL had only one scare — in a 9-8 verdict over Calvert Hall in the league opener.
However, the Lakers also battered the Cardinals, 13-4, in a second game during the season and handled them, 11-6, in a playoff semifinal.
Looking at those stats, both the ’97 Lakers and ’19 Cardinals proved to be equally dominant.
However, Shriver is quick to point out that comparing teams from different eras is very difficult.
“Today’s game is so different and faster than in 1997,” he said, noting that horns sounded on virtually every whistle in 97 vs hardly any in 19. “Back then, with the horn and various forms of time-consuming substituting, coaches could slow the game down when they needed to do so……It was more of a coaching chess game back then.”
Brocato said that he had to take Calvert Hall’s loss into into consideration when assessing the Cardinals’ legacy compared to those other great teams.
“At the end of the day, that is a significant criteria, and I would agree it should be,” he said.
And when speaking of great teams, the ’97 Lakers also stand out because of the prowess they showed in college, including having three First Team Division I All-Americans (John Glatzel, Tom Glatzel and Ryan Mollett) and two members of the 2002 U.S. World Team championship team (Mollett and John Glatzel), both of whom also won the Schmeisser Award as the top defensemen in Division I).
In addition, Holt Hopkins, a fifth attackman at BL behind Greg Patchak (Duke), Ian Shure (Virginia) and John Glatzel (Syrauce) and David Ulrich (Notre Dame), was a First Team D-III All American at Middlebury.
The midfield featured Aaron Vercollone (Virginia), Todd Ulrich (Notre Dame) and Mollett, who also played on the man-down unit before switching strictly to defense at Princeton. James Watson-Galbraith (UMBC) was the face-off specialist for the Lakers.
John Glatzel, David Rose (Maryland) and Tom Nee (Syracuse) started on a defense that Shriver said shut out every opponent for at least a 12-minute stretch with Brian Berger (Denver) between the pipes.
Whether Calvert Hall will ever be able to match that cavalcade of stars is yet to be seen — and therefore is an unfair comparison, at least for now.
But the potential for stars of Calvert Hall’s juggernaut to make their mark in the collegiate game remains strong, considering how well they played at the prep level.
They include C. Markland Kelly Award winner Cole Herbert (North Carolina) and fellow midfielders Grant Mitchell, VSN Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year, and his twin Connor Mitchell (both Ohio State), attackmen Jack Sawyer (Maryland), Truitt Sunderland and Daniel Kelly (North Carolina), LSM Sean Barwick and close defenseman Parker Byrd (North Carolina), Jake Snyder (Ohio State), Kainoa Sasaki and Ryan Kilcoyne (St. Joseph) and goalie Jackson Marshall (Maryland).
Likewise, the face-off tandem of Chris Cottone (Loyola University Maryland) and Tyler Dunn (Johns Hopkins) have high ceilings at the next level.
Regardless of how those Cardinals eventually fare in college, though, the bottom line is that, if nothing else, the 2019 A Conference champs will always have to be included in the conversation of the greatest champions ever produced in the area.
Brocato, though, liked what he saw from this year’s CHC squad the most.
“I gotta go with Calvert Hall ’19,” he said, giving the Cards a slight edge over BL ’97 and the unbeaten St. Mary’s ’96 outfit that featured attackmen Dan Marohl (C. Markland Kelly winner, UMBC), Jamison Mullan (Virginia) and Josh White (Princeton), defensemen Zach Burke (UMBC) and Jon Cline (First Team D-III All America at Salisbury), midfielders Marcus and Brian LaChapelle (both Maryland) and goalie Jon Horrigan (Towson). “I do not think I’ve ever seen a team dominate the league like this year’s Cardinals.”
This year’s VSN Defensive Player of the Year, St. Mary’s talented long-stick middle Brian Burlace, said that Calvert Hall’s midfield was “unguardable” this season.
“If you only put one pole on them, it’a a problem,” the Yale commit added. “And they just work so well together with their attack. Plus, they’re so deep. We were dead (tired) and they were still bringing in more guys. They just stepped on your neck and kept pushing down.”
Naturally, Shriver went with his best squad, even though his son, David, played for the ’06 Lakers.
“Personally, I think we were better at both ends and they were better in the middle,” he said. “The thing is, BK and I would both agree that we would go to war against anyone with our respective teams.”
Kelly said that he is “honored and humbled” to be compared to a great team like the ’97 Lakers.
“But I think our kids deserve that,” he continued. “I have never been a part of anything that was so dominant as this year’s team, and it’s something that I never expected before the season. It was a special season with a group that really bought in and developed during the season. I feel like we are the best team in the country.”