PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- It was never mentioned. Not once all season. Until early last evening.
"State champs, national champs. That's what I told them," Ward Melville coach Mike Hoppey said. "I think we earned it today."
With a 16-4 win over West Genesee, the Patriots won the state Class A championship and completed a 22-0 season. The win, with representatives from Inside Lacrosse in the press box, cements them as the nation's No. 1-ranked team, the second year in a row that honor has gone to a Long Island school. Garden City was No. 1 last year.
Ward Melville ascended to that spot two weeks ago, to which attack Brendan Hegarty joked, "It took a while for us to get there."
Hegarty acknowledged a little chip-on-the-shoulder mentality. "People have questioned us all year, and this game was a statement for how good we really are," he said after climbing into the stands to hug friends and family. "We showed that we could beat anyone."
Jack Bruckner called the No. 1 ranking "icing on the cake. We haven't won the state championship in a very long time [since 2000]. And now we're national champions. If someone told me in the beginning of the year that a walk-on team was going to be the No. 1 team in the nation, I would've said, 'No way. That can't happen.' "
Bruckner was referring to Hoppey's policy for 2013 of not making any cuts.
Hoppey said he didn't talk about a mythical national championship until the postgame hugfest on the field.
"I never talked about the past; this was all about these guys. We didn't talk about the state championship or being No. 1 in the country," said Hoppey, who confirmed to his players after the game that he is retiring. "It was just about the next game. They responded very well to that. We came in today having played 21 good games all year and I thought maybe the 22nd would be our best. And it was by far the best game I've ever been associated with."
Good enough to be No. 1 everywhere.