Cool, calm, collected.
Those are just some of the traits of the 2021 edition of the Greens Farms Academy boys lacrosse team.
Traveling a path filled with the speed bumps of adversity, the Dragons finally got to their ultimate destination on Saturday afternoon: Standing below a scoreboard that summed up the biggest win in the program’s history.
GFA 7, King 4.
With that victory, the Dragons won their first FAA championship in at least 20 years, capping off an undefeated league campaign in the process.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” said GFA head coach John Mathews. “Whether it’s a state championship or a league championship, it feels the same. They deserve everything they got.”
Will Magrone and Josh Kitt scored two goals each to lead the Dragons, who finished the season 8-1 with their eighth straight win.
Kyle Haas added a goal and two assists while Seby Bodian and Henry Mcdonald added single goals. Goalie Jack Grills made 9 saves for the Dragons.
“It feels amazing,” Grills said. “I played basketball and lacrosse here at GFA and we had a chance at an FAA championship my junior year in basketball and came up short. I’ve always wanted to win one and now we’ve got it.”
Grills exemplifies the team-approach the GFA lacrosse team took in building to this moment. His freshman year, he moved from attack to goalie after another GFA player got hurt. He stuck with the position and continued to improve throughout his career, coming up with some of his biggest saves against the King Vikings.
“They said they wanted to keep me in and I was more than happy to do so. I did it for the team,” Grills said. “If you told me three years ago I’d be hopping in net and winning an FAA championship, I never would have imagined it.”
Mcdonald said his teammate's improvement in net over the past three-plus years has been incredible to watch.
“He hopped in net and hasn’t looked back since. It's great that he was happy with that decision and stayed there and worked on it and had an amazing game like he did today. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Mcdonald said.
Mathews wasn’t the coach when Grills stepped in front of the net, but he immediately saw a player he trusted to play the position.
“I believed in him,” the coach said. “He’s that type of individual. Goalie is a tough position to play. You have to have confidence and fight through adversity, but he just got better and better all the way through his senior year. The kids rallied around him.”
And each other. GFA was leading 6-2 at the half, when King scored two quick goals early in the third quarter. The Vikings wouldn’t score again, however.
“We stayed composed,” said Magrone, one of the team’s seniors. “That’s the biggest thing in this game — staying composed and staying calm. We executed. I know this means a lot for the seniors. It was a team win. We played unselfish team lacrosse. Our camaraderie was great.”
Throughout the season, Mathews has emphasized that the program was built upon the backs of the alumni who paved the way for today's players and he reiterated that fact after the win, as well.
“They deserved everything they got,” Mathews said. “But, we’ve had a lot of alumni who have set the foundation for kids in the future and hopefully the wins set the future for a lot of guys behind them.”
Mcdonald's career began alongside his brother Miles, and he's appreciative of how much the program has adapted with the many changes that came about in the years that followed.
“It means a lot, four years being out there, getting to play with my brother, losing last season to the pandemic, and to be able to end on note like this, especially with [Athletic Director Tauni Butterfield] leaving, to have that taste in my mouth for rest of my life when I think of GFA athletics, it means everything,” Mcdonald said. “I can walk away, chin up, knowing I did something that wasn’t easy and we get to remember that forever.”
Injuries to multiple players over the course of the season — both Kitt and Mcdonald missed time due to injuries — meant the Dragons never played at 100 percent.
In the end, though, it didn’t matter.
“It’s been a hard road, but the fact everybody was able to stay cool meant a lot,” Mcdonald said.
“We had the next-man-up mentality and found ways to win games,” Mathews said. “Sometimes it was ugly, but it comes down to composure and fighting through things. We can’t worry about injuries. We have to worry about next-man-up.”
Then GFA could just focus on what was next.
“I have high expectations myself, but we always talk about one game at a time,” Mathews said of the journey to the league title. “You have plans to do well but we want to focus on the next ground ball, the next face-off, the next quarter, the next game.”
When all was said and done and the 2021 GFA boys lacrosse team's journey was complete, the Dragons found themselves together under a scoreboard that delivered the joyous truth: GFA 7, King 4—the Dragons had won the FAA championship.