By: Steven Wizniuk
Legends are made in May.
From 1995 to 2004, the Powell brothers made their mark on lacrosse history every Memorial Day Weekend with amazing plays and championships. In 2022, Powell Lacrosse was proud to sponsor 23 Powell Athletes that took the field in D1, D2, and D3 college lacrosse. It was incredible to have 3 of them, Logan McNaney (Maryland), Luke McAnaney (Tampa), and Luke Pilcher (RIT), all end their seasons as national champions and make their own marks as legends of May.
I had the chance to talk to each of them about their championship experiences and what it took to end the game with a celebration dogpile.
For Logan McNaney and Luke Pilcher, they were both at championship weekend in 2021 where Luke won with RIT in the D3 Championship and Logan lost to Virginia in the D1 Championship. This would be their second time at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. This was Luke McAnaney and Tampa’s first ever trip to the D2 National Championship.
What does it take to win a National Championship?
Every young lacrosse player dreams of playing in front of the huge crowds on Memorial Day Weekend and winning the National Championship. Playing in the big stadium and in front of the big crowds makes this the biggest weekend of lacrosse every year.
“There’s a buzz around the stadium when you get there,” said Maryland Goalie Logan McNaney who grew up in Corning, NY. “Growing up you play through the scenarios of scoring the game winning goal for the National Championship. Turns out I’m playing goalie in those games instead. This year when we walked on the field we kind of took it all in remembering what happened last year and how we fell short. Everyone on the team knew what we had to do so it wouldn’t happen again.”
RIT Attackman Luke Pilcher was on the sideline for the title game the year before. “I didn’t get to be on the field for the championship so this year was definitely different,” he said. Pilcher was the Tiger’s leading goal scorer with 65 heading into the game. He is part of the Canadian pipeline of talented box players who have played at RIT and was ready for his chance to make a difference in the championship. “Now I’ve found my role on the team and I’m grateful for it. Actually being in the starting lineup for the championship game and taking in the atmosphere you have to zone it out more.”
For Tampa Attackman Luke McAnaney and his teammates, their first trip to the title game started out rough. “We thought going to the Division 2 National Championship was going to be all golden when we got there, but our flight got delayed and we had to fly into Newark then drive to Hartford. They also forgot all of our long sticks on the wrong plane.”
A Syracuse, NY native, Luke used to make the trip with his family to watch as teams like Syracuse, Le Moyne, and Cortland used to dominate every year. Now he was the one on the field. “We practiced Friday night under the lights and that was the first time everybody started realizing how much fun it was going to be. We got to watch the D1 Semifinals and see the crowd. We were trying to enjoy it, but not let it get away from us because obviously you want to win the National Championship.”
Pregame rituals and superstitions can be a big deal especially once teams reach the National Championship game. The players don’t want to do anything that could mess up the mojo that got them here.
Logan keeps it pretty simple compared to other goalies who have elaborate stretches and drills. “My only superstition is that I wear the same shorts the night before games. They’re old Hofstra lacrosse shorts that I wore the night before one of the first games I started and we won so I’ve just stuck with it.”
There are no superstitions in Luke McAnaney’s family. “I’m not very superstitious and I switch things up all the time. My dad always told me not to be because he said he used to have a lucky bandana that he wore and he lost a big game so he threw it out. He told me to never be superstitious, you can’t rely on that. We do a pregame prayer in the locker room together as a team right before we go out and that’s when we all lock in.”
Luke Pilcher has his game preparation down to a tee. “I tape my sticks at the hotel and then I listen to the same playlist before the game, which is a lot of Tragically Hip. I like to be the first guy taped up by the trainers and then I like to walk out on the field to start visualizing the game. After that I’ll find a quiet stop on a trainer’s table and close my eyes for 5-10 minutes to visualize again and keep myself calm or at least as calm as I can be.”
For Logan and the Terps, knowing there was only one game left made a huge difference. “It felt like guys were a little more nervous and tense before the Semifinal game. Once you get over that hump you can loosen up and go out on Memorial Day and play your hearts out.”
On Sunday May 29, RIT played Union first in the Division 3 Championship. Then Tampa would face Mercy in the Division 2 National Championship. The next day on Memorial Day, Maryland played Cornell for the Division 1 Championship.
The crowds for the D2 and D3 games were over 14,000 people and the D1 game drew over 22,000. The entire lacrosse world has their eyes fixed on these games. What teams will shine under the spotlight? The players have to take in the moment and then quickly get back to reality and play lacrosse.
“It was definitely the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of, ” Luke McAnaney said. “It was crazy looking up into the stands and seeing people on the second level and realizing that they paid for a ticket to sit up there and watch Division 2 lacrosse.”
“Before the first whistle you’re feeling some nerves, ” Luke Pilcher remembers. “Our attack group of Spencer Bell, Quinn Commandant, and myself come together and we smile and say let’s have fun and do our thing. From there I take a deep breath and once the whistle goes I zone in.”
Logan was on this same field a year before and knows what it takes to get ready. “You try to have the same mentality for every game, but you are nervous before those games on that big stage. Once you get out there, do the lap around the field, and start warming up that nervousness goes away.”
Once the first whistle blows and the game starts, they can’t get too rattled and have to play their game.
“I thought I was comfortable, but once the first whistle blew I had butterflies,” Luke McAnaney said. “I get heavy legs after the first few possessions because I try to go too hard and I’m dead. After that I really try to get comfortable because I realize I have to relax. It was a surreal experience. It’s not a normal game at all.”
In the D3 game, Union came out firing and caught the Tigers by surprise in the first half. “I was a little nervous going down 7-4 at halftime,” Pilcher said, “but I believe in this group and I knew that we could do it. We have a saying of ‘Reset’ after every possession and after every goal. Coming into the locker room Coach Coon said we’ve been here before, we’ve been on this field before, and we know we can win. From that moment everyone stood up straight and said yeah we can do this it’s just going to take a little bit of a grind.”
The D2 game started out great for Tampa as they went up 7-1 in the 2nd Quarter, but Mercy would make it 8-4 at halftime. “Mercy was a good team and I think we definitely could have played a lot better. Coach Clarke has been there so many times when he coached at Limestone so he made us feel so much more comfortable. He said guys are going to make mistakes and in the championship everybody wishes they could play the perfect game, but it’s all about the hustle stats like the ground balls, limiting your turnovers, taking smart shots, and those little things in between the lines that make the biggest difference in the National Championship game.”
Maryland came into the D1 Title game undefeated and had not played many close games during the season. The Cornell Big Red would push them to the brink.
“Once they got a couple goals you’re nervous, but it was more frustration than nervousness,” Logan said. “We couldn’t clear the ball that well in the 4th Quarter, our offense was turning it over, and the Cornell fans were going wild. We knew they were a tough team and they were going to play to the final whistle. Everyone trusts each other and we knew we just had to stick it out to the end.”
All three of them would play important roles in their teams’ success as they each stepped up in the game deciding moments.
Luke McAnaney was a clutch goal scorer for Tampa all season long and he would find the back of the net twice despite some early struggles. “I had the first 2 shots of the game and missed. Then when I scored my first goal I looked up into the crowd and had to soak in the moment. I couldn’t let it slip away. I saw all of my buddies from home and everyone supporting us going crazy.”
As RIT started the 3rd Quarter down 7-4, Pilcher quickly helped them get on a run with an assist and then a quick stick goal. “It was a moment I’ll never forget. We have a bunch of alumni from Canada, including my brother Dan MacRae, who couldn’t make it to the game last year, but they were there this time. After I scored I was looking for them and I saw them way up in the press box and I pointed at them. My brother said he was in tears.”
No player had more pressure on them all weekend than Logan as Maryland’s undefeated season hung in the balance. He rose to the occasion and made some incredible saves as Cornell threw everything they had at him. He snuffed out any chance of them taking an early lead as the Terps went up 7-1 at halftime, but Cornell would put the pressure on in the 4th Quarter as they got a couple by him and tried to mount a comeback. After Cornell made it 9-6 with 7:27 to go in the 4th, Logan made 3 clutch saves to keep the Terps ahead. Cornell would score one more time to make it 9-7 with 36 seconds left, but Maryland would win the faceoff and control until the last whistle.
“I always think I have those big games in me like those last two games against Princeton and Cornell,” Logan said. “All that hard work I’ve done throughout the year taking extra shots after practice from Logan Wisnauskas and Anthony Demaio. It was cool being able to pull that off when it mattered the most.”
In performance that will go down as one of the best ever from a goalie on Memorial Day Weekend, Logan made 19 saves against Princeton in the Semifinal and 17 saves against Cornell in the Championship. He was named the 2022 NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
With the final seconds ticking off the clock and the teams scrambling to run the clock out or stop the other teams’ last minute chances, the emotions start to flow as the realization sets in that they are about to be National Champions.
Luke McAnaney remembers “looking up at the clock and there was 5 seconds left. Our LSM Matt Beddow threw the ball probably 100 yards in the air and I watched it waiting for it to come down.”
The clock hits zero and all that’s left to do is celebrate. They are National Champions!
“It hit me right at the final buzzer like holy crap we did it. The run to get your goalie and join all the guys celebrating is just the best run ever,” Luke Pilcher said.
“It was so cool seeing all of the helmets, gloves, and sticks go up in the air,” Logan said. “You just try to take it all in. It’s a really special moment with all of the time and effort we put into the program. Seeing the joy on the faces of your teammates, the coaches, and the sideline staff.”
“Once the final whistle blew I couldn’t stop smiling,” Luke McAnaney said. “Then I saw my teammates running out and it all hit me. I didn’t even know what to do. I threw my helmet in the air and I didn’t even get in the dogpile because I was just running around trying to find someone to hug. There was just an infectious smile on everybody’s face.”
The chaos of a championship is always so amazing to watch as the teams huddle around the trophy jumping up and down and then posing for their championship picture that will be etched in history. They cut down their piece of the nets and then can enjoy the moment with everybody who helped get them there.
“We had about 15 minutes to celebrate on the field, grab the trophy, see our parents, and then we actually cut down the net in the locker room, which was great because we were all together,” said Pilcher. “We had a big tailgate after and everybody was still there and it was great to see all the families, especially the Canadian ones who couldn’t make it last year because of Covid.”
“I went up into the crowd and hugged my family and my dad was bawling because it’s been such a long 4 years to get to that point,” Luke McAnaney said.
“I had so many messages after the game from family, friends, and alumni,” Logan said. “I got to talk to Scott Van Pelt after the game and he was saying ‘that’s what we do baby we’re Terps’”
What will they remember the most about these championship teams?
“The thing that I’ll remember about this team is the leadership,” Logan said. “We had a good group of guys come back this year. We knew that we were on track to be in the conversation of the best team of all time, but we just stayed true to ourselves.”
“I’m going to remember how bought in everybody was this year, how ready for change that we were, and how bad everybody on the team wanted to win,” Luke McAnaney said. “I wasn’t planning on coming back, but that game and that weekend made me realize how much it would be worth it to play another year. We have a group of 5th year seniors who want to keep this going and it could easily change if we don’t keep the culture going how it is right now.”
“The biggest moment this season was taking that loss to RPI,” Pilcher said. “It’s crazy to say, but for my class that was our first loss at RIT and hit me hard. Long term it was a great moment for us as a team. Everybody hates losing, but knowing how that loss felt it made us work harder at practice not wanting that to happen again.”
When we launched our college Powell Athlete program last Fall we wanted to select players that we knew would have great seasons, but we never could have expected to have 3 of them win championships in each division! Seeing Powell Lacrosse sticks being used in the National Championship game was a big step for the company and we look forward to seeing more players using Powell gear all over the college lacrosse landscape in the future.
Looking ahead to the 2023 season, all 3 will be returning and have a chance to win another championship. Will they write another chapter of lacrosse history?
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