Before Tuesday, seven CHSAA Class AA boys lacrosse state championships had been played.
Kellenberg never had appeared in one.
In their first chance at a title, the Firebirds capitalized. They defeated St. Joseph’s Collegiate of Buffalo, 12-5, Tuesday at Mitchel Field.
Dylan Willis had three goals and two assists. Brendan Kelly had three goals and one assist, and Joe Grimm had two goals and two assists.
“Today we made history,” said Willis, a junior. “Being here next year, it’s never going to feel like this again, being the first ones. It’s a really good feeling knowing we’re the first ones.”
The Firebirds (12-5) believed this year could be special after they returned several key pieces from the team that lost to Fordham Prep in the CHSAA AA Intersectional Championship. They got a taste of late-season playoff lacrosse, and they knew the unsatisfying experience would only make them better.
“From the beginning of the year, we had one goal,” Kelly said, “and that was to avenge the loss to Fordham in the (intersectional) championship.”
Kellenberg came out with a quick goal, scored by Kelly 1:14 into the game. But sloppy play enabled St. Joseph’s to tie the score on Jack Lalley’s man-up goal and kept the Firebirds stuck at 1 through nine minutes.
Coach Mike Schwalje called timeout and his players responded with three goals in the final three minutes of the first quarter. Sam Contino’s goal, off an assist from Danny Wilson, broke the tie with three minutes left. Contino’s defender committed an unnecessary roughness penalty after the shot, and Jack Leghart scored 26 seconds later off a feed from Kelly.
Perhaps the biggest swing occurred early in the second quarter when a Kellenberg penalty gave St. Joseph’s a man-up opportunity. A shot by St. Joseph’s Casey Kelly hit the crossbar, and the Firebirds came downfield and got an unassisted goal by Willis despite the disadvantage.
That gave Kellenberg a 5-1 lead with 9:17 left in the half. St. Joseph’s never came closer than four, largely thanks to strong play by PJ Argiros (14-for-16 on face-offs) and Jared Possidel (11 saves).
“Last three games (Possidel) played great,” Schwalje said. “We were happy with him. Throughout the season he struggled, but he really pulled it together at the most important time and was able to peak at the most important time.”
And the team peaked, too.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” Kelly said. “I’ll never forget it.”