The “recruiting class” for the still defending Division II state champion Chagrin Falls boys lacrosse team is looking mighty fine for the Tigers.
A trio of rising freshmen that includes goalie Joey McCamon, defenseman Grant Alberts and attackman John Catney polished off an undefeated summer season with their Cleveland Knights club team by winning the Ohio Lacrosse Tournament title on July 26 in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The tournament, which featured elite teams from several neighboring states, was moved out of Ohio because of restrictions from COVID-19.
The Cleveland Knights, which primarily dresses players from Chagrin Falls, Hudson and Strongsville, played five games in two days with a championship victory against Upper Arlington, 8-7.
“It was a great experience just going out there with all of my teammates and then getting that win against Upper Arlington,” Alberts said. “One of my teammates got a game-winning goal with about 30 seconds left, and that was just a great moment for the team.”
The Knights took command of a 3-0 lead in that game, before Upper Arlington battled back with a 6-6 equalizer in the second half. After trading goals, UA had the opportunity to take the lead with less than a minute to play.
McCamon came up with a save to regain possession, and then the Knights went on a fast-break that led to Grayson Polak, of Hudson, netting the eventual game-winner.
“I stayed confident so I wouldn’t let my team down,” McCamon said. “I didn’t want to get nervous, because, if I got nervous, I don’t think I would have saved any more shots. We never were down, but it got really close at the end.
“Within the last minute, I had a save, and I got slashed in the back. And then within the last 15 or 30 seconds, our attackman, Grayson Polak, had an amazing shot from about 15 yards and won us the game.”
The Cleveland Knights just formed their club team this year, with many players coming from Ohio Resolute Lacrosse. The Knights’ class of 2024 team is coached by Brian Catney, of Chagrin Falls, Aaron Polak, of Hudson, and Vince Adams, of Strongsville.
“Most of us already had some chemistry from playing before for the other team called Resolute, and then we brought that together with the new players on our team and we just played a good season from there,” John Catney said. “It’s always fun for me. It’s a fun thing to do, to get out with your friends and just play some lacrosse.”
After missing their middle school spring season, which was canceled because of health concerns associated with COVID-19, the Knights started practicing in late June and played tournaments throughout July.
Alberts said it was tough to miss out on a spring lacrosse season, because he and his Chagrin Falls buddies were hoping to win a middle school state championship.
“It was great just to get back out and play this summer,” he said. “All of these players, most of them I’ve played with before on different club teams, and just getting an opportunity to play for summer teams is always great. And it’s a pretty laid-back environment. So, it’s all around just a great club to be a part of.”
During the first day of the Ohio Lacrosse Tournament, the Knights came away with a pair of decisive victories, including 16-0 and 9-3 drubbings.
But competition heated up the next day, specifically against the Mingos Lacrosse Club from Kentucky. The Knights came out the 5-3 victors.
“I think what stood out is we weren’t selfish at all,” Catney said. “We kept passing and getting good goal opportunities, and I think that’s what led us to win. And that was one of the games that helped us get to the championship.”
McCamon, who splits time between the pipes with fellow goalie JJ Wright, of Hudson, credited Wright with a pair of brilliant saves in the first half of that game against the Mingos for giving the Knights the edge they need in a grind-it-out affair.
While McCamon started playing lacrosse in first grade, he said he didn’t become a goalie until sixth grade.
“I saw the opening for a position that I think I could have played well, so I took that chance and played goalie throughout all of sixth grade and then through seventh grade, and I’m still playing it,” he said.
Next spring, McCamon said he looks forward to working with Chagrin Falls 2016 graduate Jackson Markley, who was the Tigers’ starting goalie during their 2015 state-championship season, when they defeated Mariemont, 5-4, in double overtime for the title.
Markley, who had 636 saves and stopped 60 percent of the shots he faced during his four-year varsity career, agreed last month to join the Tigers’ coaching staff for the 2021 campaign.
Chagrin Falls also added well-known coaching veteran Audi Glass to its staff for this past season, which was canceled.
Like McCamon, Alberts and Catney said they can’t wait to play for the three-time state champion Chagrin Falls high school team, which is head coached by Paul Corto.
“I’m really excited about the coaching staff there, because we’ve had a few open fields through this summer and the coaching staff has been great,” Alberts said. “They’ve been really helpful to the new kids coming in. And the upperclassmen as well have also been really helpful in teaching the kids how it really works around there.”
As a rising freshman, Alberts has some big steps to follow in the history of the program, specifically with 2020 graduate Clark Reboul setting the bar with 84 career takeaways and 197 groundballs in three seasons.
But Alberts appears up to the task after shutting down one of Upper Arlington’s best two shooters for the entirety of that 8-7 championship game.
“I think it really started in the beginning with coaching, because I was always taught proper breaking to the attackmen and finding the ball and keeping between my man and the goal,” Alberts said of his defensive know-how. “And I always thought that defense was just a little bit more fun than going on offense and trying to score goals. It was just more fun to me to prevent the other team from scoring.”
And as a rising freshman attackman, Catney will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on a program that doesn’t shy away from giving freshmen the green light on offense, most recently with Fritz Clark in 2019, Ben Kniskern in 2017 and, perhaps most notably, with Mark McGinley in 2015.
McGinley has the bar set at 168 career goals and 103 assists during his four-year varsity career with the Tigers.
“I’m good at dodging and getting to the goal and being able to score,” Catney said. “I’m also good at passing and being able to get passes to my teammates so they can score. But I’m just excited about being a part of the team, because it’ll be a fun experience knowing that they’re a championship program and they expect a lot of their players.”