At the back of his team’s handshake line, St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes’s Witt Crawford hugged his assistant coach and repeated the same joyous truth over and over.
“It’s coming back, Coach,” the senior attacker said. “The banner is coming back.”
The Saints had just earned an 11-10 win over Paul VI in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division I championship, capturing the program’s first VISAA title since 2019 and renewing a tradition of state supremacy.
Crawford was just a freshman watching from the sideline when that Saints team earned that most recent title. It was the seventh in school history, a record of sustained success every new class of players was afraid to spoil. In the years since, St. Stephen’s had been held back by a batch of new contenders and a pandemic, making Saturday the last chance for Crawford and his classmates to do their part.
“It means so much,” Crawford said. “The last couple of years have killed us. So to be a big part of this and bring this trophy back means the world to us.”
At the tail end of a tense, back-and-forth game, senior Will McCulloch gave his team a one-goal lead with 3:30 remaining and the Saints let their defense do the rest. Paul VI’s final shot flew just wide of the goal with four seconds remaining. McCulloch led his team with four goals, while Crawford provided a hat trick.
“We played team ball. Defense helping the offense and vice versa,” McCulloch said. “That’s something we’ve been working on the whole year.”
That year-long growth is best exemplified by the first meeting between these two teams. Like Saturday’s championship, that March game was tied at seven heading into the fourth quarter. But the Panthers (18-6) earned a 14-7 win that day thanks to a late offensive blitz. On Saturday, the Saints (18-5) stood their ground and earned a title.
“These seniors always wanted to hang this banner,” Saints Coach Tim Dodds said. “This season has presented plenty of ups and downs, but they banded together at exactly the right time. This was the best game of team lacrosse we played all season.”
Paul VI girls fall in final
In the VISAA girls’ final, Paul VI lost to Charlottesville’s St. Anne’s Belfield, 11-6.
The Panthers (18-5) played an early-morning game at Glover Park in Glen Allen to avoid the heat and struggled to wake up and get going against the Saints. They trailed 8-4 at halftime.
Paul VI earned its spot in the title game by upsetting top-seeded St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes in Thursday’s semifinal. The Panthers were seeking the first state title in program history.