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'Another level of passion': MIAA A Conference lacrosse teams prepare for start of league play

'Another level of passion': MIAA A Conference lacrosse teams prepare for start of league play
Coach Andy Hilgartner has led McDonogh to a 6-0 start this season. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Noah Klein had already settled into his first season as the starting goalie for the Gilman lacrosse team last year and then came across a day that had him feeling like it was all new again.

People tried to tell him what the special day would bring and how to handle it. But still, the mix of excitement and nerves and anticipation took over.

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“I was shaking, but coach [Brooks Matthews] told me before the game to not get in my own head, stay calm and get after it,” said Klein, now a senior.

Friday, players, coaches and even some supporters of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference will join Klein with the same challenge. It’s the first day of league play with an appetizing five-game schedule to kick off two months of some of the best high school lacrosse in the country. The headliner will take place at Calvert Hall, where the defending league champion and No. 1 Cardinals (5-1) host No. 3 Boys’ Latin (4-3) at 7 p.m.

“Opening day in the league is always special. There is a different kind of intensity when you start the MIAA — sort of how the NBA and NHL switch gears going into playoffs,” McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said. “Everyone gets thoroughly scouted and there is just another level of passion with each game. Throw in school rivalries and playing against coaches and players that you have known for years and, in many cases, are good friends with, and you have the make up of incredible games.”

On Monday, the No. 2 Eagles knocked off Indiana power Culver Academy to close their nonconference schedule with a 6-0 mark. Despite the thrilling 12-11 win – the fourth against a nationally ranked opponent – the celebration didn’t last long with the heavy lifting ahead. Watching from the stands were players from No. 6 St. Paul’s (3-1), which the Eagles will host Friday at 4:30 p.m.

“It’s great to play such a hard out of conference, but really the goal is to get a win on Friday,” said McDonogh senior Matt Hilgartner after Monday’s win. “Everything we’ve done to this point is to prepare us for Friday and the MIAA season. So while it’s great to beat all these top 25 schools, we don’t really care about that. What’s important is Friday and moving forward.”

Elsewhere Friday, No. 4 Gilman (4-2 hosts No. 8 Severn (1-3) and John Carroll (3-1) travels to No. 7 Loyola Blakefield (3-2) for 4:15 p.m. starts. Later, No. 11 Archbishop Spalding (4-2) makes the short trek to Annapolis to take on No. 5 St. Mary’s (3-2) under the lights at 7. Mount Saint Joseph (1-5) has a bye and will open league play next Friday at Spalding. The 11 teams play each other once in the regular season, mostly on Tuesdays and Fridays with a few Saturday games in the mix.

“Not only are we starting off the MIAA season, but we are going against an in-town rival where both teams know and respect each other,” Spalding coach Brian Phipps said. “This Friday marks the start of conference play where you know you are going up against some of the best players in the country. I think moments like these are why student athletes want to play in the MIAA.”

St. Paul’s coach Trey Whitty agrees.

“Game day is really about the boys,” he said. “We hope they appreciate it in the moment, but the reality is they are trying to win a game and the big perspective is not always there. As they grow up, they will realize how special Tuesdays and Fridays are in Baltimore. The opening game kicks off the best time of year in our town.”

Set to step down at season’s end after 15 years at his alma mater, Matthews will again try to keep his Greyhounds focused. He said, despite the added emotion of opening day, his team only gets one crack at each league opponent during the regular season and each game has equal importance.

With a gifted and experienced defense leading the way, the Greyhounds appear equipped for a considerable push this season. Having won two league championships, Matthews has seen how the special teams separate themselves from others.

“It shows up on the game field, and it also shows up in the locker room, on the practice field and in the hallways at school. That’s where you really get a sense of, sort of, if this is a group that can be a close team with good chemistry that wants to play together, but also will hold each other accountable,” he said.

Teams will begin to find out Friday.

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