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Boston College lacrosse national championship was an exorcism after nine years of BC pain

2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On April 7, 2012, Johnny Gaudreau scored “The Goal” to cap off a men’s hockey national championship for Boston College.

Ever since that moment, every year when the calendar turned to the spring, and to championship season in college sports, it had been pain on repeat for Boston College fans - especially the kind of BC fan drawn to a website like this, the one who gets emotionally invested in all 31 of BC’s teams, and takes it all far too much to heart. Pain on repeat, at least once a year - every year. Until today.

In every single academic year from 2012-13 to 2019-20, Boston College had at least one (and sometimes multiple!) sports teams advance to their respective Final Four, only to lose - in so many varied, painstaking ways.

It started off innocently enough; in 2013, a women’s hockey loss to a powerhouse Minnesota team in the Frozen Four, which had already become a ho-hum seemingly annual occurrence.

In 2014, men’s hockey got beat in the Frozen Four, but you couldn’t get too upset about it - they fell to a Union team that was a steamroller that year, and they had had a wonderful season, capped off by Johnny Gaudreau winning the Hobey Baker award. The memory of national titles was still fresh; the loss was no big deal.

Things started to get more frustrating in 2015. Women’s hockey, still searching for its elusive first national title, had a chance to advance to the final for the first time in its history when they were lined up to face Harvard in the Frozen Four - a team BC had repeatedly spanked back in Massachusetts. The Eagles went 0-fer on an early-game five minute power play, Harvard jumped to the lead, and BC’s season ended painfully again.

Then 2016 brought perhaps the most painful loss of all. This seemed to be The Year for BC women’s hockey, with Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa leading the way and pushing the Eagles to an undefeated season. After three straight years of conference title heartbreak, they broke through against BU, thumping them, winning the Hockey East title, and going into the tournament with their undefeated season intact.

Then… the national final. Oof. Not only to lose to Minnesota, lose out on a title, and lose out on an undefeated season, but to have it also happen in New England, in BC’s backyard, and at UNH, a historic house of horrors for longtime fans of the program. It was a rough day. And it felt like BC’s best chance at hardware, at least in a non-men’s-hockey sport, may have passed it by - maybe for a long time. BC has had other good hockey teams since 2016, but never one that felt quite as close to being a national title winner.

The next year is when a new team entered the championship season fray - lacrosse.

Led by multisport hero Kenzie Kent and a young Sam Apuzzo, BC lacrosse went on a pleasantly surprising, out-of-nowhere run in the 2017 NCAA tournament to make the Final Four in Foxboro. After a thrilling semifinal win, it was perennial power Maryland that snuffed BC out in the final - again, one of those ones you couldn’t be too mad about; little had been expected from the team, they were young, and it had been a fantastic season.

The script flipped in 2018. BC was still a bit of an underdog when they advanced to the Final Four again, but they mustered up one of the most exciting wins in BC athletics history by dueling Maryland down to the wire and scoring a narrow victory to advance to the championship game again.

This time, the opponent awaiting them wasn’t a powerhouse - not lacrosse’s Maryland or women’s hockey’s Minnesota, but James Madison.

Surely this was BC’s year… until it wasn’t. A new flavor of heartbreak for BC fans - losing as the heavy favorite. It felt like making a great drive and a great chip only to flub the putt.

But in some ways 2018 was always considered a bit of a building year for lacrosse, as 2019 was the year BC rolled out the three-headed monster of Kenzie Kent, Sam Apuzzo, and Dempsey Arsenault. And all season long they lived up to the hype, demolishing opponents left and right and blitzing the ACC to the tune of an undefeated regular season record and a regular season title.

UNC - another perennial power - delivered the first body blow of the spring, beating BC on Alumni Stadium turf to deny the Eagles an ACC title. Then, BC got revenge in the Final Four - outlasting UNC in an overtime epic, to advance to another final.

You know what happened next. Maryland, again. In Baltimore. BC falls one game short. Again.

This gets a bit lost to history as the 2019-20 sports season almost feels like it didn’t happen, but Field Hockey then sort of played the role of 2017 lacrosse in the fall of 2019, making an unexpected deep run, but again falling short of both an ACC title and a national title, losing in the Final Four - to North Carolina, of course.

Then the end of the 2020 season brought its own kind of heartbreak. Men’s hockey seemed poised for a deep run, slicing through the Hockey East regular season and looking like a big favorite to win a Hockey East title, and set to return to the NCAA tournament after a three season drought. Women’s basketball had its best season in a decade and seemed likely to be going Dancing too. Then COVID put an end to all of that, and the men’s hockey team lost several key pieces in the offseason.

What ended up being the biggest game of the 2020 hockey season, in retrospect, was its own kick in the teeth - a heartbreaking, OT loss to BU in the Beanpot semifinal, after BC carried a lead late into the third period.

Eight seasons, and over a dozen opportunities to get your hopes up and have them crushed. It started to feel like Groundhog Day after a while. I know that as a fan, the 2018 lacrosse loss felt worse than 2019 - by 2019 it was hard not to feel a bit numb.

Plenty of other BC sports pain was mixed into those eight seasons, too, outside of championship season - the winless ACC year in basketball and football; losing a bowl game on a missed extra point; near-miss upset opportunities in football. The nightmarish 2018-19 men’s hockey season, which managed to be both bad (the worst record in decades) and heartbreaking (a shocking run to the Hockey East final that came up one goal short, in a narrow loss to Northeastern… the second time in three years BC men’s hockey lost in painstaking fashion in the Hockey East final. Ryan Fitzgerald’s potential game-tying shot rang off the pipe in the final seconds against UMass-Lowell in 2017).

And so that brought us to 2021. Women’s hockey and men’s hockey both got knocked out in their first tournament game.

Lacrosse was the last hope, but with so much firepower gone from the 2019 team, a title felt out of reach. BC came into the year considered a potential tournament team, but not necessarily a title contender.

An early season blowout loss to UNC reinforced the idea that this was a rebuilding year - that they might make a tournament run this season, but hardware would have to wait. But over the course of the year, BC blossomed into a contender. Top 10. Top 5. Blowout wins over Notre Dame. Could they finally do it?

Every fan has their own way of handling these things and for me it was just to insist on not getting my hopes up. Even as BC heated up over the course of the season and climbed the rankings, I tried not to get my hopes up. Even as BC hammered Notre Dame to advance to the Final Four, I kept my excitement in check.

It wasn’t really until BC managed to go up by four clear goals on North Carolina in the semifinal that I allowed myself to believe.

Then Sunday’s final happened… in Baltimore County, in Maryland, against an ACC foe. It almost felt too much like being set up for a repeat - more pain, against an ACC opponent; a loss to wash out the glory of an incredible semifinal.

Instead, BC came out and played an outstanding game. Just about everything went right. BC jumped out to an early lead, instead of chasing the game. Many of the 50-50 calls went BC’s way. After a close first half, BC went on a rampage to start the second half and demoralized the Orange.

As the minutes ticked down - 20, 15, 10 - I was worried the other shoe would drop. But it never did. Rachel Hall stood tall when Syracuse had chances. Charlotte North cashed in on her opportunities. BC saw it out.

The final whistle felt like an exorcism. Nine years of crushing losses, and three straight for lax - washed away, just miles from where the 2019 final took place.

I know that in the grand scheme of sports droughts, nine years isn’t much; plenty of fanbases have gone much longer without tasting glory.

But give us a break here: BC packed a lot of heartbreak into those nine years.

In general, I would always prefer a deeper run and having my heart broken to a bad and noncompetitive season; I try to view fandom as being about the journey and not the destination… after all, we can’t control what happens, so having lots of exciting games to enjoy and look forward to is about all we can ask for.

But after a while it does become about the destination, when you keep coming so close to the destination and falling short. And so if you were there alongside us, physically or emotionally, watching BC fall just shy over and over again, and seeing maroon-and-gold clad athletes slumping off the field or ice in shock and sadness to end their season - you’re more than entitled to your joy today.

Of course, today belongs above all to the players and the coaches of the BC lacrosse team, and next to the program alumni who helped build the team to where it is today (hi to Friend of BCI Kathryn Riley!), and to the family members of the players. But it belongs to all the alumni and supporters too - especially all of the fans who always believe in and always love BC - even when it hurts.

Boston College’s student-athletes are bringing a national championship trophy home to the Heights. It hasn’t happened often in our history - so cherish it, enjoy the moment, and remember the day. You never know when you’ll see another.