With five minutes to go in last year’s Elite Eight game, now-junior lacrosse attacker Dylan Watson whipped a goal past the opposing Virginia keeper. Even still, Watson’s head hung low. His teammates jogged over to offer half-hearted pats on the back, barely looking up from the upstate New York turf as they did. The Hoyas were still down 11, with far too little time to stage a comeback. By the time the clock hit triple zeroes, the outpouring of emotion consistently portrayed in NCAA Tournament losses hardly showed. Georgetown had known their season was over for the last half hour. Disappointment and frustration quickly turned to resolve. The Hoyas set their hearts on returning to the biggest stage in lacrosse during the 2022 season, vowing for a different result.
“If we’re fortunate enough to be in postseason play again this year, that will definitely be at the forefront of our minds knowing how badly we lost that game,” senior Declan McDermott, who was selected for the Big East All-Tournament Team last year, said. “We’re kind of just going game by game and week by week right now, but that’s definitely in the back of our heads right now. We won’t forget that game for sure.”
With the entirety of what was the best defense in the country last season returning, things are looking good for the Hoyas again. The Blue and Gray opened their 2022 campaign with a 16-8 thrashing of No. 19 Johns Hopkins at home on Feb. 13. “We had no fans in the stands last year, so it’s awesome to have them back in,” Zach Geddes, an All-American Honorable Mention last season, said. “This past weekend against Hopkins, there was a great crowd there and it was just awesome to have that energy.”
The Hoyas’ schedule this year is assembled with five non-conference games against teams ranked in the preseason top 20, something McDermott thinks will benefit the team come Big East and post-season play. “It’s nice to know that we can get some big games under our belt and hopefully get the jitters out for the postseason,” McDermott said.
With the pieces head coach Kevin Warne has prepared, a return trip to the Elite Eight or further feels likely, a feat that would have been unheard of five years ago.
After 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances between 1997 and 2007, the Georgetown Hoyas men’s lacrosse team underwent a decade-long tournament drought. Following years without a return to lacrosse’s biggest stage, Hoya fans started to ask if the fastest growing sport in America had left the Jesuit institution behind.
After a fifth straight missed NCAA Tournament, Lacrosse Hall of Fame coach Dave Urick (223-99 career) retired in 2012. Urick is a Georgetown legend. Prior to his 1989 arrival, the Hoyas had never seen a winning season in Division I lacrosse; in his 23 years, they had 21. His eventual stepping down felt like a death blow for an already declining program.
Much of the program’s success rode on who would replace its former icon. Later in 2012, the Hoyas hired Maryland Defensive Coordinator Kevin Warne in a widely praised move. Warne, however, hardly hit the ground running. In his first five years of leadership, the Hoyas lost more games than they won four times, twice as many losing seasons as they had in Urick’s tenure. The administration, to their credit, stuck with Warne and pumped money into the program in hopes of salvaging the magic that made Georgetown lacrosse a power in the past.
It seemed to work. In 2018, the Hoyas upset then-No. 3 Denver in the Big East Championship Game, securing their first NCAA Tournament berth in over a decade. In 2019, they repeated as Big East champs, and in 2020, the Blue and Gray started 6-0 and stood ranked in the top ten nationally before COVID-19 caused the season’s cancellation. Despite their progress, though, the team had yet to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. That is, until last year.
The Hoyas opened the 2021 season determined to make up for lost time after the pandemic cut their previous campaign short. The season began with a 16-1 lashing at No. 16 Villanova, and Georgetown never looked back. The defense that made Warne such a name at Maryland finally came together. The Hoyas went 13-3, led by now-graduate goalie Owen McElroy (.584 SV%, 8.38 GA/Avg), who won the Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award for the most outstanding keeper in the country. Led by their defense, the Hoyas won a third straight Big East tournament, accomplishing the feat for the first time in the history of the conference. Georgetown would go on to dominate rival Syracuse 18-8 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national champions Virginia in the Elite Eight.
Lacrosse, for those that have never watched, is often described as a sport that vaguely resembles the love child of soccer, basketball, and hockey. Indigenous people from the Algonquian tribe first created the sport hundreds of years ago, playing a version with as many as 1,000 players a side and fields stretching up to 15 miles long. Modern “lax,” as it is colloquially called, was born roughly 150 years ago and is now played with ten players per team on a playing space slightly larger than that of a football field.
In the 2021 Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, the winning team averaged 14 goals per game. One team, our Hoyas, managed to hit 18 goals in the aforementioned Syracuse game, although the rivalry’s bad blood may be related.
Despite last year’s strong results, the rebirth of Georgetown lacrosse is still beginning, according to Warne and his players. “I think our goal the last few years has been to bring Georgetown lacrosse back to the forefront of the game and for us to be a national contender every year,” senior midfielder Zach Geddes said. “I’m not sure we are quite there yet, but we are starting to turn some heads.”
Attacker Jake Carraway, the most prolific scorer in program history, graduated after last season, but five of the other six Hoyas who scored 20 points in 2021 return. Consistency was a big problem with the offense in 2021: The Hoyas followed up the tournament-high 18 goal performance in the Syracuse game by scoring just three in the second round, the lowest number of goals scored in a game during the tournament.
This year, the offense projects to be much more evenly distributed, rather than run primarily through Carraway. “I think to replace him we are going to need a bunch of guys to step up a little bit,” Geddes added. The Hoyas have the depth to survive a loss that big, and the more widely spread composition of goalscorers will help with that inconsistency.
The name to know on offense is sophomore attacker TJ Haley, one of the best distributors in collegiate lacrosse. Haley led the team with 49 assists last season in a performance that earned him Big East Freshman of the Year. All-American junior midfielder Graham Bundy Jr. (36 goals, 12 assists) is the top returning scorer, but Watson, who racked up 20 goals in 2021 despite missing half the season, may challenge him for that title this year.
That being said, the star unit of this Georgetown team is certainly the defense. “It’s just a very nice luxury to have as a team,” McDermott said. “Just knowing that we have a couple of guys who play on our defensive side that are first-team All-Americans—contenders for some serious postseason accolades—it’s a great luxury to have.”
Warne is known as the defensive mastermind in college lacrosse, and Georgetown earned five of the six defensive spots on the preseason all-Big East team. “[Warne] just does such a great job coaching everything from big things like defensive schemes to the little things like your footwork,” Geddes said.
The improvement in the Hoyas’ defense over the past few seasons has been impossible to ignore. Gone are the days of allowing 19 goals to Yale—the Hoyas haven’t allowed more than 14 goals in a game in two years. The one team that did score 14 on them? The Virginia team which went on to win the National Championship.
McElroy returns for his graduate year, and bolstering his backline will be returning graduate defenseman Gibson “Gibby” Smith IV and incoming graduate defenseman Will Bowen. Bowen transfers in from North Carolina after receiving All-American honors with the top-seeded Tar Heels last season. In the midfield, seniors Alex Mazzone and Geddes return from what was the nation’s best scoring defense, which allowed just eight goals per game in 2021.
Coming into the 2022 season, expectations are higher than they ever have been for Georgetown lacrosse. Coaches named Georgetown the unanimous preseason Big East favorites, and the Hoyas came into the season as the nation’s fourth-ranked team. For the first time in over 20 years, a return trip to the Final Four is finally possible.
Although the team was unable to play with fans, they strengthened their relationships with one another. “The one kind of nice thing that came out of last year is that we were all in the same dorm together, so we got to spend a ton of time together which was awesome,” Geddes said. “We’re trying to keep that up as much as we can this year, but it was super convenient to be all in the same dorm.”
Living and playing together solidified the team’s bond on and off the field. “I think it’s really the fact that a lot of us have now played a few years together and developed some great chemistry,” Geddes added.
For seniors like Geddes, Mazzone, Smith, and McElroy, this will mark their fourth year playing together, and adding an All-American piece like Bowen can only help things going into this season.
“I think our expectations are to try and improve from last year, but in the end, we have to take it one day at a time and try and improve practice by practice, game by game, and hopefully we get to play some extra games after the regular season.”