Embracing the Past While Forging its Own Identity, Boston College Ready to Win a Title


There was still so much season left to play when the 2020 season was canceled. Team chemistry could have blossomed, and winning streaks could have started.

But when we last saw the Boston College women’s lacrosse team before the COVID-19 shutdown, the Eagles did not look like a team prepared to make a fourth straight appearance in the NCAA championship game.

In the first year without the celebrated “Big Three” of Sam Apuzzo, Dempsey Arsenault and Kenzie Kent — and, realistically, there were a handful of other program-changing players that graduated in 2019, too — Boston College naturally looked like a different team.

Charlotte North had just transferred in from Duke. Rachel Hall transferred in from Oregon. New players were stepping into roles they had been groomed for but had yet to experience for themselves.

It started off about as rocky as it could. Boston College fell to UMass 15-11 on a chilly Saturday afternoon in February. It was, as Cara Urbank put it, a rude awakening. Coming off three straight championship game appearances from 2017-19, Boston College now faced a new reality — it needed to put the pieces back together.

“The only choice we really had was to rise together and find our identity through the struggles we’d faced,” said defender Jillian Reilly, a graduate student who has started every game since that UMass loss.

The struggles continued through 2020, though marked improvement was made by early March. The offense dropped 20 goals on Hofstra in what would be the final game before the cancellation. BC finished 4-3.

Boston College is still riding the momentum. While many schools worked through chemistry issues early this spring after dipping into the most active transfer portal in lacrosse history, the Eagles held firm. Head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein had made her big additions the previous season in North and Hall. All the Eagles had to do was implement key freshman contributors like Belle Smith into the mix.

And while constant reminders of the “Big Three” echo at Boston College with Apuzzo on the sideline as a graduate assistant, Walker-Weinstein is adamant that this team has forged its own path and identity.

“It is a new team, but that group — led by those three — certainly paved the way,” she said. “If anything, our girls are still playing for them so that we can bring home a championship for them.”

Watch Boston College now, and you’ll see one of the most exciting products in lacrosse that forces you to reminisce of the days when Apuzzo, Arsenualt and Kent used to dice through defenses and glide across the field in transition. But this BC team does it in its own way.

North is a human highlight reel out of Texas. Urbank is a bulldog who plays with a chip on her shoulder the size of Long Island, where she played four years at Sacred Heart Academy. Hall is a showstopper in the cage after experiencing some growing pains in 2020.

“Preseason day one, there was just a different energy that people brought,” Reilly said. “It just displayed how much work people put in during that longer break [because of COVID-19]. We were locked in.”

All Boston College has done this season is run roughshod over nearly every defense its faced — one of the exceptions being North Carolina, which it plays in Friday’s NCAA semifinal. North, who has scored 94 times this season, was held to three goals in a 21-9 loss to the Tar Heels on March 6.

At the time, the Eagles were ill-equipped to deal with a down day from North. As chemistry has improved and roles have been carved out, Urbank’s now confident that a rare off day from the Tewaaraton Award finalist won’t significantly impact their chances of winning.

“Confidence is huge, and I think a big thing why everyone’s playing with so much confidence this year is because of each other,” said Urbank, who’s fourth on the team with 37 goals. “People are playing with just so much fight and heart this year.”

“Fight” and “heart” are buzzwords around Walker-Weinstein’s program. Consider it Exhibit A of how deeply entrenched the culture is inside each player. That’s why, even though thoughts of replicating the “Big Three” are a thing of the past, those three players — and every player who was part of those teams from 2017-19 — is still top of mind.

Urbank was adamant about how deeply disappointing each of those championship games was. While some teams might pride themselves on appearing in three straight title games — an incredible feat for a team like Boston College that was just entering the hierarchy of women’s lacrosse — Urbank and her teammates aren’t content.

“The past three or four years, we’ve never accomplished what our goal was, and that’s to win a national championship,” Urbank said. “We’re playing with a chip on our shoulder right now. No matter who our opponent is, we’re there to win.”

What’s motivating BC this season is to silence the doubters who thought the Eagles’ window had closed. It’s very much still open.

Another intrinsic value Walker-Weinstein instills in her players is to win for those who couldn’t. Reilly thinks about that every day.

“Year after year, we’ve seen our seniors just be completely heartbroken,” Reilly said. “We had the upper hand that we were able to come back for another chance. For us, having seen such heartbreak from our tremendous leaders in the past, we’re in those shoes now.

“We just want to be able to rewrite the story this time around.”

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