Chase Buckwalter said he gets goosebumps when he reflects on Westminster’s boys lacrosse team’s back-to-back state championship victories.
The Owls defeated Northern-Calvert twice to capture the 2018 and 2019 Class 3A state championships, but it took plenty of grit and hard work for Buckwalter and his teammates to reach the big game.
Westminster lost Its first game of the 2018 season to Mount St. Joseph on a cold, rainy day in Baltimore. Buckwalter said that loss sparked the team as a whole, and they didn’t lose another game that spring.
“During the season, during county games, our coach would tell us to tone it down, play our game, work fundamentals, work plays, learn how to work better as a team,” Buckwalter said. “When it came to playoff time, we were a different type of team. I’ve never seen a team go from like 80 percent during the season to just 110 percent all the time during playoffs like we did.”
Buckwalter and Co. defeated Blake and Carroll County Athletic League foe Manchester Valley in the 3A West region playoffs before meeting Linganore May 16, 2018 under the lights at Western Regional Park in a battle for the regional title. The Lancers had shared similar success in Frederick County that spring, and the Owls knew what they were up against.
It was a back-and-forth battle between a pair of equally talented teams and the contest needed overtime to determine a winner. There were 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in overtime when Buckwalter, then a junior, delivered a pass to teammate Conner Covey, a sophomore, who fired the game-winning goal past Lancers goalie Clayton Yingling to secure the 10-9 victory.
Buckwalter remembered one of Linganore’s players taking a shot on Owls goalie Logan Covey in the crease, but he shot it too high over the goal. The ball was back in the Owls’ hands, and Buckwalter said his team wasn’t letting it go.
“I remember coming down the field off the clear, and me and Etch [Christian Etchison] were playing a little give-and-go to pass one man on the clear,” said Buckwalter, who scored a goal and notched three assists in the win that sent Westminster to the state tournament. “I remember someone screaming ‘Behind you, behind you!’ because they had a late sub, so I threw my stick over to my right side and passed a Canadian righty to Conner.
“All I saw was Conner shoot and score, and I threw everything up in the air.”
Westminster was in full control early in the game, as it notched five straight goals to take a 5-1 lead before the Lancers regrouped and answered with a pair of strikes. Buckwalter said the face-offs were not falling in the Owls’ favor that night, and it started to hurt them. Max Nave replaced Brandon Kim in the circle in the second half to switch things up.
The Lancers used a three-goal run in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 8. Etchison assisted on teammate Alec Kozlowski’s goal with 2:34 left in regulation to give the Owls a one-goal edge, but the Lancers responded once again with 39.4 seconds on the clock to force overtime.
“They were really, really athletic,” Buckwalter said. “[Linganore] is like a breeding ground for athletic kids. Going into the game I knew I was going to have to play with better lacrosse IQ and use my size and my quickness to my advantage. We had Alec Kozlowski, Patrick Stewart, Bubba [Love], all those kids I’ve been playing lacrosse with since I could walk.
“It was really just coming down to the basics and fundamentals of how to beat an athletic team.”
Owls coach Steve DeFeo said he thought ‘here we go,’ when Linganore won the opening face-off in overtime. He remembered the team’s state semifinal loss to Churchill one year prior and wanted to ensure his players didn’t have to feel a similar pain again.
“Christian [Etchison] went down and made a spectacular defensive play with the guy was shooting the ball,” DeFeo said. “He hustled his buns off down there to make that play and make a good check. Without that, they might have scored and the game would have been over. … It’s defensive stuff like that … I take a lot of pride in our guys and their defensive effort, too.”
Buckwalter and former Owls teammates Warren Evans, Justin Hulse and Bubba Love, the 2019 Times Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year, continued their lacrosse careers at Frostburg State University together. The Bobcats started the season 5-0 before the remainder of the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Buckwalter hasn’t experienced a loss in a lacrosse game since that Mount St. Joseph game two years ago. The Owls went undefeated in 2019 en route to capturing that second straight state title.
“We all knew coming in that it was us versus Linganore in order to get to the state championship, it was either us or them winning it,” Buckwalter said. “We would rather it but us, so I just remember us going into practice every day with this winning attitude because that’s all we know.