It took them three tries, but the Redmen (15-0) lacrosse team finally made it back to the promised land with a 15-11 win over the Western Mustangs (12-2) in the CUFLA Baggataway Cup on Sunday. McGill last won the title in 2012, when many of the veterans on this year’s squad were unseasoned rookies, but fell to Guelph in the Finals in consecutive seasons.
After going a perfect 15-0 in the regular season, the Redmen’s complete domination in the playoffs felt almost inevitable. While McGill’s 38-game regular season winning streak is also a testament to the 2013 and 2014 teams, this year’s group set themselves apart with a sense of destiny and braggodocio that will be remembered for a long time. Over the regular season, they outscored their opponents 157-66, never allowing more than 10 points in a single game.
The Redmen never wavered in Sunday’s win, leading the Mustangs from wire to wire. Senior midfielder Anders Bjella led the team with seven goals, and junior attackman Spencer Bromley added four goals and an assist to raise his playoff point total to 11.
“[Bjella] was extremely driven the entire season to win the Championship,” Head Coach Tim Murdoch said. “He was just on fire, really. He was explosive, unstoppable, whatever words you want to use. [Seven goals] is a lot of goals not just in a lacrosse game, and to do that in a Championship [game] is impressive.”
For Murdoch, the win was more cathartic than exciting, especially with his son, freshman attackman Maxime, on the team for his first season.
“I could describe it […] as a book with four chapters,” Murdoch said. “Chapter one was the 2012 victory where the majority of the seniors on this team today were freshmen. Then we had a couple of losses in the middle, so this final chapter is kind of a storybook ending [….] You go undefeated and you put the game out of reach in halftime [….] I’ve coached 220 lacrosse games and […] that first half is the best lacrosse McGill has ever played.”
Despite the apparent ease with which McGill cruised through the playoffs, winning a CUFLA Championship on the heels of an undefeated season is exceedingly rare. Beyond talent and experience, it’s a feat that requires dozens of unheralded but crucial personnel working in concert behind the scenes. In addition to giving credit to the three volunteer assistant coaches (Simon Hudson, Nick Soubry, Scott Bailey), Murdoch made sure to highlight the work of the team’s scouting director, Sean Steinwald.
“He’s a former All-American player […] and the scouting reports that he put together for us—the only word I can think of is brilliant,” Murdoch said. “He sacrificed hours to put together [information] that was essential to the team’s success.”
While the win cemented McGill’s status as one of the nation’s premier lacrosse programs, the outlook for next season is not all rosy for the Redmen. Twelve seniors are expected to be lost to graduation, including all four co-captains—Bjella, Connor Goodwin, Paul Rakoczy, and Rufus Frost. Players like Bromley, All-CUFLA goaltender William Waesche, and junior midfielder Emile Sassone-Lawless will be expected to step into a veteran’s role to mentor the younger players.
According to Murdoch, many of this year’s rookies have already demonstrated a level of experience beyond their years, and will derive a well-earned sense of confidence going into next season as defending champions. He pointed to freshman midfielder Alex Beckes, who played in Sunday’s game with a broken finger and still managed to win 70 per cent of his faceoffs.
“Rather than rebuilding we’re reloading,” Murdoch said. “We’ve got some strong young players that we’ll retain. We’re recruiting strong students primarily, and secondarily strong lacrosse players [….] We’re confident we’ll have a very talented but much younger team.”