If you’re a lacrosse fan, and we’re sure you are, this weekend is what you live for. For most of us, there’s no need to circle it on the calendar. The NCAA DI Final Four and National Championship are at the same times, every year, with only the location shifting around the East Coast every two years. Finding yourself on the field over Memorial Day Weekend is a dream that every young boy dreams of when dodging trash cans, hitting the wall with countless reps, and through every motion of their youth career.
Before there was the professional game, this weekend was the peak. Winning the NCAA National Championship was, and still is, every lacrosse player’s goal. To some, making it to Saturday’s Final Four games is the pinnacle of the lacrosse world. To others, it’s another day at the office, unfinished business. The four teams for this weekend pencilled their names into the programs last weekend. The group features two former NCAA Champions, Maryland (‘73 & ‘75) and Denver (‘15), one team to only appear in the final, Towson (‘91), and a squad that just cracked the quarterfinals for the first time, Ohio State. If you would have asked a handful of fans at the beginning of the season about the four teams standing at the end of the year, you would likely have heard multiple people throw the Terps and Pios into the ring. The Buckeyes and Tigers on the other hand? Unless you were on campus in Towson or Columbus, there weren’t a lot of rumblings about either squad.
Yet, that’s what makes the game so beautiful. Any team can knock off any other school, on any given weekend. Before last weekend, most would have expected Duke and Syracuse to have a place in the semis. Ohio State and Towson had other plans and they executed them as a team. That’s what the weekend is really about, being a team, trusting the process, and believing you deserve to be there. Take the advice from two Powell athletes that have been in the stadium over Memorial Day Weekend, on the field and in the stands. For Chris Bocklet (UVA ‘11) and Dan Hardy (Cuse ‘08 & ‘09), making it to the grand finale was a dream that started long before they got to campus.
How well do you even remember your Memorial Day Weekend experiences? Was it a blur or your best memories?
“To a point, the 2006 Final Four and 2008 Championship were a bit of a blur. We didn’t make it past Saturday when I was a freshman. In ‘06 the whole experience felt like something very new. When you’re younger, it’s hard to understand the entire experience and what it means to the game. We missed out in ‘07 and so ‘08 was a refresher. It felt like almost an eternity away from ‘06 and it took adjustment to get back into the moment. 2009 was different. We were comfortable and knew that we belonged on that field. The first two trips felt like I didn’t have a second to take it all in, but by ‘09 the feeling set in on how important it is to the sport, the cool factor of being here, and how you’re seen and treated in the community moving forward.” – Dan Hardy
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always been ready for Memorial Day. Everyone in lacrosse travelling to the area with tons of family and friends. [My family] all grew up going to the game and it’s unreal just to be there. When you see your family (brother Matt) out there, it’s a completely different feeling. Seeing [Matt] winning a Championship (Hopkins ‘07) was so exciting. Matt ran right for the wall and jumped up in stands to see us. Patting him on the back for his accomplishment and cheering with him was something that had a major impact on me. Just a few years later, it was me one that field and my whole family was there to see it. Seeing my brother play, and play well, made me believe in myself. If he could do it, I could do it too. Watching your brother that is towered over by half his competition tear it up is a big motivator for a sophomore in high school.
Only one team can win, the majority come up short. My freshman year, we lost to #1 Cornell early and got beat up. Sophomore year we got Duke, still my favorite game with the worst ending. It had to be the most action-packed, loudest stands I’ve ever heard. We made a comeback with seconds left, but still fell short. It was pure disappointment and a terrible feeling. So much effort for the ultimate goal to come up short.
Junior year was amazing experience, things were just working. Colin “Fresh Legs” Briggs was out in the semifinal, but back on the field for the Championship. I remember how fast he seemed and flying by guys. Briggs actually had games of his life with 5 goals to help up take the title. Having the boost from Briggs is something you won’t forget because of the 110 degree, cleat-melting weather. We were putting ice water on turf and standing on it to save our feet.” – Chris Bocklet
Win the semis, you get little time to prepare. What happens between Saturday and Monday?
“After winning the semifinals, it’s all about what you’ve done in the season by that point. There’s only so
much you can do in a few hours. You know your role, follow it. The National Championship is all about players making plays. Coaches step aside and trust guys to just play the game the way they do it. To most, that final 23 seconds had to look like mayhem in 2009, but it all happened for a reason. It’s all because we all knew each other and where guys were going to be. Those final seconds, from Joel White checking the ball away, Stephen Keogh picking it up and knowing right where to move it, to the wild finish. No one can coach things like that, it’s how we prepared that created that moment.” – Dan Hardy
“It’s quick. After the game you go out of the stadium eat dinner and tailgate a little with the friends and family. Since we won the early game, we had more time watch game tapes of the next teams. Coaches are prepared and ready to go into film right away. Scouting reports were already on the table for either team, and we were able to get to know them more while watching them live. On Sunday, we had a little walkthrough but it’s all about recovery. After the intensity of Saturday, we had to get the legs rejuvenated and get the body prepared to go out again. It’s an exciting time and you get pumped to play again in two days.” – Chris Bocklet
What was the physical feeling like in the locker room on game day?
“To me, it felt right. It felt like we were we should be. Heading into the Final Four, everyone seems to be more nervous and focusing hard on making sure we go out and play the right way. You have to be in control. I was convinced we were supposed to be here and we expected to win it. In 2009, we were 100% sure we were going to win. Confidence is everything. At that point in the season, the nerves and everything goes aside and you trust what you’re doing as a team.”- Dan Hardy
“It’s funny, sometimes in lacrosse you feel really good about something, and while sometimes you’re wrong, that year we felt really good about the matchup. While getting ready for a big game like this, guys still have to follow their routines. Everyone does their own thing to prepare, but at the end of the day, it’s another game. We made sure to treat it exactly how it was done for every other game. Yeah, this was the biggest game ever for us, but it has to be normal. [Coach] Dom delivered a powerful message through his speech and we could all tell this was a big one. We were trying to smile and laugh, trying to stay normal, but we knew that this is it.” – Chris Bocklet
What advice would you give to the four teams showing up this weekend?
“Don’t settle. The Final Four is not the pinnacle. It’s fun and games to say you made it, but you’re there
to win the games. You worked too hard not to. Walk around and take it all in. Then forget about that for now and stick to the game plan. Expect to win. All you can do is tell yourself ‘you are supposed to be there and you made it this far, let’s not settle on the Final Four.’” – Dan Hardy
“You’re there for a reason. You have the talent and the bond. The only thing that will get you this far is the chemistry and clearly you’ve done it. Play unselfishly and don’t change anything. I believe that the least talented team of my four years at UVA wa the one that won it all. Other teams had more All-Americans, more stars, but in 2011 we came together and we gained momentum. From there, things started to click and we got it done. If you have the right chemistry and momentum anything can happen.” – Chris Bocklet
What is one memory you’ll never forget?
“Tying the game against Cornell during my year. I was on the field when we turned it over and just got to the box, ready to go back in. turned it over. I looked over at my teammate, another middie, Pat Perritt. Pat looked at me and said ‘this is it, we’re not going to lose this game!’ In my mind I knew we weren’t going out this season, and as seniors, as losers. His words defined the moment and we backed it up. I couldn’t forget how those words changed things.” – Dan Hardy
“ It was definitely the most I had felt my nerves in the National Anthem. I always get goosebumps in the Anthem, but I knew we had to win. Standing there is just the greatest lacrosse feeling I’ve ever had. But it’s funny. We had a guy named Nate on our roster that came from Brown and never really played. When you’re on the field, you never really know what coaches and players are doing and saying on the sideline. But all season long, Nate kept motivating me. He would come by and say something in my ear like ‘you’re going to score the next goal! Keep hustling! Let’s go!’ Having that always kept me positive and refocused. When it came to Final Four weekend, I followed the same routine of every game I’ve ever played. I always stop and find my family, no matter where I’m playing. I had to scan through forty-something thousand fans on Championship Day to find them. After I make a mistake, I look to my family and my dad gives me fist, insinuating that I’ll get them next time. It felt better to look up there after a goal to get the approval. Even in the massive stadium with thousands of fans, it was the same thing I had done since high school, look to my family for encouragement and support. Seeing them there for me that weekend was unforgettable.
Another special moment about the game was my matchup. We met Maryland in the big game and it turned out that Ryder Bohlander guarded me. Ryder and I grew up playing all sports together since the 5th grade. We competed together for years and all of a sudden we’re matched up and guarding each other in the Championship. I was thinking, is this real or what? We gave each other a first bump in beginning then went straight to business. Ryder was in my face all game and it was such a pure battle.” – Chris Bocklet