POTOMAC – Senior midfielder Matt Kelly raised his lacrosse stick into the air and flung the ball toward the net from the middle of the field as the buzzer sounded at Bullis School.
The shot missed its mark, but that’s how Kelly intended it. The shot wasn’t meant to be a game-winner; instead, it was a celebratory gesture. And as soon as the game clock ticked down to zero, Kelly’s teammates followed suit behind their captain. The field was soon littered with lacrosse sticks and yellow helmets, as the Bulldogs piled onto each other gleefully.
It was a celebration befitting a championship team because the defending Interstate Athletic Conference (IAC) champion Bulldogs had just seized their second title in a row on May 10 after beating the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes Saints by a score of 13-9.
Bullis (19-3) had advanced to its fourth championship appearance in four years after slipping past Landon School in an overtime game on May 7. The 15-11 Saints from Alexandria, Virginia, entered the title game riding high after knocking off the No. 1 seeded Georgetown Prep also on May 7.
The Bulldogs had earned a five-point victory during their regular season game against the Saints, but the championship game didn’t come without its challenges. Even though Bullis scored first and never gave up the lead, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes didn’t let the Bulldogs get comfortable, keeping the game within reach. Then, several lightning strikes preceded a torrential downpour, which halted play for over 90 minutes in the fourth quarter.
Before the weather delay, the two teams traded shots as the Saints tried to adhere to Head Coach Tim Dodds’s game plan of shutting down the Bullis offense. Saints faceoff man and University of North Carolina commit Andrew Tyeryar won the first four faceoffs in the game. This forced Bullis Head Coach Jeff Bellistri to make a change early in the first quarter and sent junior Parker Merril out to midfield.
“The faceoff area is somewhere we were really concerned, but our backup faceoff guy hasn’t taken that many faceoffs this year and he did a really nice job neutralizing their faceoff guy,” said Bellistri. “Our normal guy didn’t win the first four, so we made a switch.”
Bullis maintained its lead despite St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes’s first-quarter faceoff success. Kelly and senior midfielder Bryson Shaw led the charge with seven goals between them, while goalie Jack Fracyon kept the Saints at bay with a handful of big saves.
The Bulldogs made it increasingly harder for the Saints to score; time ticked off the shot clock as St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes searched for offensive opportunities. Most of the time, though, those open shots either missed their mark or Fracyon fell to his knees to deflect them.
Bullis led by four at the half, but that was before Saints senior midfielder Mason Edwards unleashed a hat trick in an eight-minute span in the third quarter.
Edwards followed up his silent first half by capitalizing on a man-up situation after a Bullis penalty and getting the last word in the third quarter by scoring again with 58 seconds left.
However, both teams and spectators had to clear the area just a few minutes later. Dodds said that the delay didn’t negatively affect his team.
“We always choose to focus on the factors that are under our control, so our mental state, regardless of what time it is in the game or how long the game takes, we’re just focused on ourselves,” said Dodds. “To me, it didn’t really impact us at all.”
After the rain subsided and the lightning left the area, the remaining fans cheered when both teams took the field again to continue playing. The Bullis fans cheered even louder when Kelly welcomed everyone back from the break with his fourth goal of the night.
The Saints weren’t finished, though. The squad from Virginia scored twice back to back to cut Bullis’s lead down to three points. Both teams increased their aggression levels and yellow penalty flags started to fly onto the field.
A turnover by St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes led to another possession by the Bulldogs and a final opportunity for senior attacker and captain Robert Schain to leave his mark. The Bulldogs mobbed Schain as he sauntered down the field with arms outstretched after adding the cherry on top with one last goal.
“Robert has been here since eighth grade and we’ve won three championships in four years with Robert. I’m really proud of him,” said Bellistri. “I feel proud of our boys for working so hard all year and reaching their goal of winning the IAC championship.”
After the game, each Bullis player donned a hat emblazoned with the words “2019 IAC Champions” and posed with the trophy they had just won. Some Bulldogs even cut off pieces of the net to keep as a memento of their championship victory.
For Kelly, who will be going on to play lacrosse at Michigan, the overwhelming postgame feeling was a relief.
“This is what we worked for all year, and it’s just great to give back to the school and the alumni,” said Kelly. “We kept fighting and we didn’t quit. Even with the penalties, we stayed with it.”
Shaw, who will be playing college football at Ohio State in the fall, said it felt bittersweet winning the IAC championship in the final game of his Bullis career.
“I couldn’t ask at all for a better group of guys; I love everyone on this team. This is one of the closest team’s that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Shaw. “I’m really going to miss it. Just to go out with the IAC Championship is awesome. I’m proud of these guys, it was a lot of fun playing with them.”