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A Star Is Born

The lacrosse opening day game that I remember most was on March 2, 2002. Hopkins hosted defending Champion and #1 ranked Princeton. I was along for the ride with Scott Garceau and Keith Mills on WMAR, the ABC affiliate in Baltimore, back when 2Sports televised a game of the week.

Princeton was knee deep in their dynasty having won six titles in the decade. Hopkins was starting to surge under second year coach Dave Pietramala.

The Jays got two goals from freshman midfielder Kyle Harrison and out-scored top-ranked Princeton, 6-1 over a 26-minute span midway through the game as the Blue Jays shocked the Tigers, 8-5 at Homewood Field.

The game resonates because of Kyle. Rare is it to see a freshman midfielder take over a high-level contest. It was easy to spot his potential as a dodger, as a defender and the ability to face-off – all the traits that made him a unicorn in the college game. Kyle was inducted into the lacrosse HOF this year.

“I was terrified,” said Kyle. “I had no intention of ever facing off in college, and my skinny ass was walking out to the field for the first face my hometown against a national champs with all their All-Americans.”

Harrison, the multi sport star from Friends School, a mile up Charles Street, stole the show in front of 4,631. He scored unassisted less than two minutes into his career with a left-to-right split-dodge and bouncer from mid-range.

Every first goal has a story.

“That first goal, it’s my most memorable of my college career in my head,” explains Kyle. “The same wide Allen Iverson cross-over split-dodge I’d been doing at Friends School for the last five years, actually worked against a division 1 player, and then, the same 3/4 bounce shot that I shot in high school went in. I rarely celebrated goals at that point in my career but I remember screaming and jumping up and down. Literally 90 seconds into my college career I had won my first face-off (won 11 of 15) and scored my first goal.”

Notable is that #18 took the ensuing draw, lost it, and logged the possession as a short stick defensive midfielder. Even for that era, the versatility was unique.

“That’s when it hit me,” Kyle said. “That I could play the same way in college that I did in high school.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the contest was a coming out party for Hopkins senior goalie Nick Murtha, a career backup making his first start.

Nick Murtha

“Nick sat on the bench for 4 years, earns the starting job, and on a field filled with All-Americans on both teams, he was by far the best player on the field that day and started his GOY campaign,” said Kyle. Murtha made 11 stops.

Kyle scored the games final goal with :34 seconds to play, running circles around a Tiger defense that was pressing out trying to steal the ball. Usually freshmen aren’t in the game at crunch time. The goal was insurance with an exclamation point.

Kevin Boland

“We call a time out. I assumed Adam Doneger is going to get the ball, or Kevin Boland, literally, the list before I came up had to be five deep. Coach Petro says ‘Harry, you got the ball, run down the side and take it behind the goal.’ We’d definitely talked in practice about not shooting when up in 4th quarter late, and that having the ball is more valuable than scoring. But, in that moment, none of that was in my head. I was 18 years old, terrified, just knew I had to outrun Joe Rosenbaum and so the second that whistle blew I took off! GONE. I surprised myself that I got to the spot on the field – so, I turned the corner and scored. I remember Adam screaming at me after the goal not to do that again, but it was a big goal.”

The oldest team sport on the planet, in that moment boiled down to an individual discussion.

“Seeing the look in his eyes when he was called to run out the clock at the end of the game is a sight I will forever remember,” said Doneger.

Adam Doneger

And that’s why that singular moment and that game sticks in my memory.

“So in my first game, I won my first face off, scored the first goal of the game and the last goal of the game,”said Kyle. “It was a dream come true. All of it.”

Harrison made game defining moments seem as natural as a catch in the backyard with dad Miles.

“Kyle had it all but he didn’t realize his full talents,” said Doneger. “We put him to the test early in his career and he delivered. From that moment on, we recognized this kid was a gamer.”

Bobby Benson, now head coach at Providence played crease attack for JHU and scored once that afternoon on a man-down Gilman clear, cherry picking behind the defense whose sticks got lifted. Typical for Benson, who always scored the ‘smart guy’ goals and still provides the wise guy comments.

“The game was slow, defensive and otherwise boring,” said Benson.

Bobby Benson

I can’t argue with Bobby. I don’t go into the vault often, preferring to focus on what’s ahead. Re-watching portions of that game, I’m thankful for the shot clock. Hopkins won 12 of 17 Face-offs and controlled the ground balls 43-24. The Jays were efficient with the ball, generally sharp for week one.

Ryan Boyle, now a Hall of Famer, was Princeton’s ace on a star studded lineup that included BJ Prager, Sean Hartofolis, Owen Daly, Brad DuMont, Damien Davis, Ricky Schultz, Drew Casino and goalie Julian Gould. In typical week one fashion, sometimes the level of preparedness isn’t equitable. The Ivy abbreviated preseason is disadvantageous.

“They were dialed in – all facets of the game – and you could see the influence of Coach Petro in year #2,” said Boyle. “Obviously Kyle was a huge part of that but they were just sounder across the board … starting practice earlier certainly helped them in that regard but it just seemed different that year (and moving forward) once Petro knew how to manage the early gauntlet of the season.”

Billy Dwan was the JHU defensive coordinator for Pietramala. “We were young with a very promising freshman class,” said Dwan. “In four years that group never lost a home game. Facing Princeton and Coach Tierney in the opener was jumping right into the fire.”

The JHU freshman class showed ability, poise and promise that Saturday, a collection that included Harrison, Kyle Barrie, Peter LeSeur, Lou Braun, Tom Garvey, Greg Raymond, Benson Irwin, Joe Malo and defender Chris Watson. It’s a class that would ultimately hoist gold as seniors (2005), snapping an 18-year drought on Charles Street.

Bill Tierney was Princeton’s head coach. He would retire in 2023 with seven NCAA titles. For Princeton, a highly competitive road opener against a ranked rival was an annual barometer game, an ideal starting point. The man understood where the finish line was better than anybody. He saw the value in making his team uncomfortable, of not being afraid to lose, and of being patient for progress. Tierney was ultra consistent and always grateful for the journey.

Hopkins posted a 12-2 record in 2002, advancing to the national semifinals where they lost to that same Tiger team 11-9. Princeton coma slid into the Hopkins double invert, the difference-making Tierney adjustment in the playoff rematch. Princeton then fell to Syracuse 13-12 in the 2002 NCAA title game.

I can smell the sausages on the grill and hear the JHU pep band. March 2, 2002 was a cloudy Saturday at Homewood, a game I’ll never forget because we got a first look at greatness, and felt the excitement and renewal that comes with a new season.

Scott Garceau, Keith Mills, QK on the mic. Harry Kakel was the executive producer, Keith Nelson produced and Rick White directed a group of cameramen who set the industry standard. Stacy Walsh was the key salesperson who gathered sponsors and made it a worthwhile business endeavor. 2Sports college lacrosse coverage amplified the game and was a spring board for expanded cable coverage in the 2000’s and 2010’s.

Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN Networks and can be followed on X @QKessenich