NORWALK — Before we start in with all the talk about who the New Canaan boys lacrosse team did not play, or, more importantly, could not play, let the Rams enjoy the Class M state championship they won Saturday morning with a relatively easy though more difficult than expected 10-5 victory over Daniel Hand.
They have waited 12 years since the last title, played everyone the CIAC scheduled them to play and earned the long awaited reward.
For this senior class that had lost in two previous final trips, it was a fitting farewell.
“Those were obviously tough games,” attack Justin Meichner said. “We wanted to come out on top as seniors.”
Meichner was a key figure in the outcome, scoring the game’s first four goals to ensure that the 5th-seeded Tigers, prohibitive underdogs, didn’t get a boost of early confidence.
“It’s always important to get some type of lead,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “In a championship game getting the first couple goals settles everyone down. You have to hand it to Justin. He was on in the first quarter.”
Meichner said his outburst came in the normal course of play.
“We were just going with the flow, just going all out,” Meichner said. “My teammates were just allowing me to get in open space and I was able to put the ball in the net.”
Peter Swindell scored twice and Ryan O’Connell had a goal and three assists for the Rams, who were seeded second in the tournament and finished the season 18-3.
Hand went early to a zone defense and the Rams adjusted accordingly, playing more methodically in setting up their attack.
“It meant we had to move the ball to create space,” Meichner said. “Find the openings. Swindell stepped up and Kyle (Smith) stepped up.”
The lone bit of suspense came late in the third quarter, when Hand scored goals 51 seconds apart to get within 7-4. There was suddenly life on the Tigers’ bench.
That was sucked out just over a half minute later, when Peter Kraus scored on a high shot with 48 seconds remaining to make the score 8-4. Swindell and Smith — both on assists from O’Connell — added goals 35 seconds apart to open the fourth quarter.
“You try to make a good possession but you don’t to wind down for the last shot,” Buzzeo said. “We took a chance and I’m glad we did. That was a huge goal for us.”
All that was left was to marvel at the defensive effort by the Rams, who were without their best player on the unit, Frank Cognetta, who injured his hamstring in the semifinals.
The defenders blocked passing and shooting lanes, and when Hand did get off a shot, Drew Morris came up with one of his seven saves, several from close range.
“It feels good,” Smith said. “It feels amazing. We hope to have the same feeling next year.”
Ah, next year. That will soon be a topic of conversation that Meichner alluded to by saying that lacrosse should go the way of hockey and have a top division for all teams and produce a true state champion.
The Rams were good enough to win Class M. They were also good enough to win Class L if they got the chance to play against Greenwich and this year’s finalists, Darien and Ridgefield, which met later in the day.
“I really love those teams, Ridgefield and Darien,” Meichner said. “I love those kids on the teams, respect them all. I wish we could get another shot at them.”
That is a subject — an important one — for another day. Right now, the Rams should be celebrating their accomplishment.
“There are five FCIAC teams in state championships,” Buzzeo noted. “I will worry about the selections next year.