‘Resilient’ Brother Rice Warriors win their 15th state lacrosse championship

HOWELL — Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice’s road to the Division 2 state lacrosse championship game got off to a bumpy start last Saturday.

The bus to transport the squad to Howell to challenge Hartland didn’t show up.

“We thought it would be a good idea for the team to ride together for their last game of the year,” said Barbara Locy, whose son Matt is on the team. “10:30 and no bus. So we did what we’ve done all year long. Parents took the players to the game.

“The kids learned to be resilient. They’re tough,” she added.

A shining example of the Warriors’ resiliency came late in the second quarter.

Trailing 5-3 after sprinting out to a 2-0 lead, in a matter of 28 seconds, a trio of sophomores regained the lead for Brother Rice, 6-5. In 21 seconds before halftime, Ben Eck and John Schlackman tied the score and, in the opening seven seconds of the third quarter, Sam Klein connected to put the Warriors in front.

Not only in front. In command. Rice erupted for six goals in a row for an 11-5 lead heading into the final 12 minutes of play en route to a 14-9 victory and its 15th state title.

“That was huge,” Brother Rice head coach Ajay Chawla said. “We took back the momentum.”

Nearly two months ago on a chilly April early evening after whipping archrival Novi Detroit Catholic Central, Chawla proclaimed, “We’re going to pick up where we left off” two years ago before COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 schedule.

On the same occasion, he said, “None of these (17) seniors when they were sophomores two years ago played on the varsity. It’s a new team. There will be a big learning curve for them to learn my system.” 

The Warriors went on to win the school’s 22nd Catholic League championship and carve a 20-2 record (the two losses to Ohio teams). They won their games by an average of 11 goals. Brother Rice had defeated Hartland, 17-8, in early April. The losses to Rice were the only blotches on Hartland’s 22-2 record.

In the aftermath of this occasion on a hot and humid afternoon at Parker Middle School, Chawla said, “They’ve never lacked heart or hustle, and energy this year. What we lacked a little bit at times this year was a little execution, and we just weren’t executing.”

He emphasized: “When you have assistant coaches like we do (Mark Hamilton, Paul Cosgrove and Nick Garripa), you’re blessed. Those guys worked hard, they were prepared every game, they got these guys out to practice. We as coaches had to instill that culture they knew about from maybe their brothers, but they hadn’t played in it.

“All the credit goes to my assistant coaches. That’s where the accolades go.”

Senior attacker Luke Dudley sparked the offense with four goals and two assists. Senior Robert Reaume, Schlackman and Eck had two goals each; senior Zach Rivers, junior Paulie Fortino, Sam Klein and sophomore Hunter Polonkey chipped in a goal apiece.

Brother Rice employs a unique goalie system. Nate Randall guards the net in the first half, Tommy Kunz the second half. Chawla said, “We’re extremely blessed to have those guys. They’re the best in the state, even the Midwest, and we have both of them. They’re best friends who have played together since the fifth grade.”

The seniors combined for a dozen saves. Their partnership ends this fall. Kunz will be going to Canisius College in Buffalo and Randall to Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.

The lacrosse trophy will be the third Brother Rice will put on display this scholastic year along with Division 2 hockey in the winter and Division 2 golf earlier Saturday. The baseball team plays Macomb Dakota Thursday (June 17) in a Division 1 semifinal.

“It’s tradition,” principal Ed Okuniewski said. “A lot of heart. One of the things I love about being at Brother Rice is the expectation that we will win a state championship and nothing less. You have a tradition like that, and believe in it, it’s pretty incredible.”

In the last 15 seasons, since 2005, Brother Rice has a 319-44 record comprised of 234-5 against schools from Michigan and 85-39 versus teams from outside of the state.

Coach Chawla has a seven-year record of 134-23 following Rob Ambrose’s record of 185-19 from 2005-2013. 

10 CHSL teams still in hunt for state title

Bloomfield Hills Marian, which won Division 2 girls soccer in 2017-18-19, and Dearborn Divine Child face one another in a semi-final match Tuesday (June 15). The winner will square off against either Byron Center or Spring Lake Friday for the state title.

Royal Oak Shrine, the 2019 champion, meets Bad Axe on Wednesday in a Division 4 girls soccer semi-final. The winner will face either North Muskegon or Grandville Calvin Christian Saturday in the finale.

In softball, three CHSL teams have quarter-final contests Tuesday: Farmington Hills vs. Macomb Dakota in Division 1, Riverview Gabriel Richard vs. Clinton in Division 3, and Allen Park Cabrini vs. Unionville Sebewaing in Division 4. The semi-final and final games will be held Friday and Saturday.

In baseball, there will be a CHSL team in each of the four division semi-final games Friday. The finals will be staged Saturday.  

In Division 1, Brother Rice plays Grand Blanc on Thursday for the right to play either Midland Dow or Portage Central for the state title.

In Division 2, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s will face New Boston Huron. The winner will come up against Stevensville Lakeshore in the final.

In Division 3, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett bumps into Buchanan. The winner will play either Traverse City St. Francis or Richmond on Saturday.

In Division 4, Marine City Cardinal Mooney will have to get by Maple City Glen Lake in order to play either Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic or Marlette for the state crown.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].