Harford Community College men's lacrosse wins NJCAA national title, beating Nassau Community College, 13-8

·4 min read

May 14—Midway through the third quarter of Sunday's National Junior College Athletic Association national championship, officials had to ask a member of the crowd to not celebrate goals by host Harford Community College with air horns.

But there was enough noise coming from the Owls' sideline, as their rowdy enthusiasm permeated the stadium after every caused turnover, every Alex Epple save and every goal.

The biggest eruption came when the clock hit zeros and the top-seeded Owls rushed to celebrate with the crowd after beating two-time defending national champion Nassau Community College out of New York, 13-8.

"This is what we look forward to, we train for," said Epple, who finished with seven saves. "Coach [Aaron Verardi] came out and beginning of the season instilled a mindset in us that [if] you want to be a champion, you have to act like a champion on and off the field every day. Our boys really took that to heart, and we came out on top in the end."

The sounds of celebration lingered in the background as Verardi, the eighth-year Harford coach, took a moment to sum up his emotions after leading the program to its first national championship.

"It's all come full circle," he said. "I think back to when I started coaching here, and this was almost like a dream back then. We've had so many guys that bought in and so many guys believing in us in the program here.

"This team is unreal. They're undefeated and never had any doubt. I never doubted this team all year long and it built up to this point. Just an amazing group."

The game was tight for 35 minutes. Though Harford (12-0) led most of it, they couldn't build much separation from the Lions (13-2). Harford led, 5-3, at halftime, and the teams exchanged goals early in the third quarter. But over a roughly eight-minute stretch, Harford broke the game open with four straight goals, turning a two-goal lead into a comfortable six.

"We kind of came out with a game plan of just playing fast and really trying to push the pace of the game," Verardi said. "Nassau is a very good, disciplined team that will tend to slow it down. We wanted to force the game to be played at our pace. I think eventually we started noticing a couple things defensively on their end that we could take advantage of, and our guys did a great job and executed."

Dylan Tomarchio scored three of his game-high five goals in the third quarter.

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"I was just doing my thing, just playing like another game," he said. "We saw the zone and we knew how to attack it. We saw a zone yesterday [in a semifinal against CCBC-Essex] and we were doing really well. Coach said it's 0-0 at halftime, just like any other game."

Meanwhile, Epple was a wall. Nassau struggled to get clean looks at the goal, and several passes sailed away from teammates and out of bounds. When they did get solid opportunities, Epple was there more times than not to shut the door.

"I started off a little slow in the first half, but I think it was more about settling in that we were playing on the big stage," he said. "Once I was settled in and locked in, everything took care of itself."

Harford lifted the championship trophy and became the best team in the country by putting an emphasis on a team-first mentality.

"I think everyone definitely had a part in it today," Cayden Collins said. "Nassau is a great team and I was super proud of our guys at the faceoff 'X.' Our defense is always stout and then our offense kind of got in a groove there just running our stuff."

Harford spread out its 13 goals among six players. Tomarchio led with five, and Collins and Trevor Sousa each scored twice with two assists.

"Top to bottom, this whole roster is loaded with talent," Collins said. "Our chemistry over the years has definitely grown, but everyone is super unselfish. We just like to see the team succeed. Our saying is, 'We-ball not me-ball,' and that's what showed today."