Heading into this season, with 23 seniors on his roster, New Canaan head coach Chip Buzzeo knew that that experience would be essential for any game of large magnitude—a game such as the Class M State Championship.
And on Saturday at Jack Casagrande Field in Norwalk, behind senior co-captain Justin Meichner’s four straight goals to start off the game and strong defense led by seniors Sterling O’Hara, Chris Keeffe, Liam Harris and co-captain Logan Hart, the New Canaan Rams claimed the Class M State Championship with a 10-5 victory over the Daniel Hand Tigers.
“It means a lot to our program,” Buzzeo told NewCanaanite.com. “We have a 41-year history and to win a state championship always means a lot. For this team, it’s a great way to end. You always want to win your last game and I’m very proud of the way they played today.”
New Canaan got on the board early as while fans were still filing in, Justin Meichner notched his first tally of the day just 42 seconds in, to grab a quick 1-0 lead.
About 3 minutes later,New Canaan goaltender Drew Morris picked up the ball from the ground in front of his net and sent it downfield, hitting teammate Kyle Smith in stride. Smith then found Clayton Burt on the run to his right, who then sent a pass across the slot to Meichner, who put it past Daniel Hand goaltender John Dowler to go up 2-0.
Just over a minute later, Meichner notched the first quarter hat-trick, as from 10 yards out he zipped one by Dowler top right to put the Rams up 3-0, which would hold through the rest of the quarter.
About 2:15 in to the second, after Hart forced a Tiger turnover, it was Meichner again, his fourth goal of the game, taking a feed from David Strupp and rocketing it into the net for an early four-goal lead.
“It’s always important to get some type of lead,” Buzzeo said. “In the game of lacrosse there’s so many runs, so in a championship game, if you can get the first couple goals, it kind of settles everybody down. It’s better to be up in the beginning of a championship game than down. But you gotta hand it to Justin. He was on.”
Daniel Hand put their first tally on the board just 22 seconds later on a nice, over-the-shoulder shot from Bryan McManus to cut the deficit to 4-1.
However, New Canaan would answer right back as 45 seconds later Clayton Burt took a feed from Ryan O’Connell 15 yards out and put it home, low, past Dowler for the 5-1 edge.
The next six minutes was filled with some offensive time for both teams, but New Canaan stayed in control thanks to some aggressive defense that led to two forced turnovers, from Sterling O’Hara and Liam Harris, respectively.
Off of Harris’ forced turnover, the ball ended up in Meichner’s hands behind the net. However it was his turn to be the distributor as he found a streaking Peter Swindell, who put the feed into the net for a 6-1 New Canaan lead.
McManus notched another goal in the final minute of the first half to make it 6-2 New Canaan, which was the score at halftime.
After more shutdown defense from both squads for the first three minutes of the third quarter, New Canaan sustained their presence in the offensive zone for close to two minutes. The possession culminated in a spectacular goal from Ryan O’Connell who faked a pass to catch his defender off-guard, then eluded him on his way to the net where he bounced a shot past Dowler and in to stretch the lead back to five, 7-2.
New Canaan kept Hand off the board for another five minutes, but after Morris saved a shot from Reid Sweitzer yet couldn’t control it, Sweitzer got the ball back and put it past Morris to pull Hand within four.
Less than a minute later, George McGuirk netted one for Hand to make the score 7-4 Rams, and give the Tigers some momentum with 1:21 left to play in the quarter.
New Canaan co-captain Teddy Dumbauld won the ensuing face-off and the Rams went into the offensive zone poised to add to their lead. Michael Kraus did just that when he found the back of the net off an O’Connell feed to put New Canaan up 8-4 and halt the momentum change.
“Whenever you’re in a championship game, game management is so important,” Buzzeo told NewCanaanite.com. “But we told our attack, ‘Let’s not wind it down for the last shot; if you got something go for it.’ And it was good, because I felt that with them [Daniel Hand] scoring a goal with just over a minute left in the third, if we didn’t score one then they might have some momentum – so we just took a chance and it’s not something that we usually do. But I’m glad those guys stuck that shot. That was really a huge goal for us.”
New Canaan took that 8-4 lead into the final quarter of play and added to it immediately as just 32 seconds in, Swindell put another one past Dowler to make it 9-4, which was then followed 35 seconds later by a goal from Kyle Smith to make it 10-4 and put the taste of victory within reach.
Lucas Mendicino netted a goal for Hand to make it 10-5, but that was all the Tigers would muster.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Rams charged toward their goal and celebrated a well deserved state title.
And the emotions of the achievement were felt by all. “I love all these guys,” Meichner told NewCanaanite.com. “We’re family. I’m happy, and I’m just speechless right now.”