McDonogh conquered the MIAA A Conference in lacrosse for a second straight year and the Eagles also captured the Baltimore area’s top two awards in the sport with senior midfielder AJ Marsh being selected as the 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year and sophomore teammate Brendan Millon earning the 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Boys Lacrosse Offensive Player of the Year.
The 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year award goes to Broadneck’s Jeff McGuire, who led his Bruins to an undefeated season, dethroned Severna Park as Anne Arundel County champion and won the school’s first boys lacrosse state title in 26 years.
Here are the stories of all three award winners.
As imposing and athletic as his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame might indicate, McDonogh senior defenseman AJ Marsh was able to wreak some havoc on rivals in a multitude of ways this season.
The Navy commit has been a key defensive piece for all of his four years with the Eagles’ varsity, with this season being the best of an excellent career that includes back-to-back Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles.
Calvert Hall coach Bryan Kelly, whose Cardinals fell, 14-5, in the championship game last month to Marsh and McDonogh, said that the 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year’s dominance was on full display throughout the 2023 campaign.
“He could do it all,” Kelly said. “From playing long stick midfield or covering the top attackman down low. (And) he was so long and disruptive in the middle of the field. He was also dangerous on the offensive end of the field. I told our guys to treat him like a short stick, because if you didn’t the ball would be in the back of the net. He was truly outstanding all year long.”
Marsh said that he learned how to burnish his skills by playing with former McDonogh defensive standouts, such as Malachi Jones (Virginia), Jonny Cool (Ohio State), Scotty Hilgartner (Brown) and others, picking up pointers from each one while developing his own style.
His across-the-board contribution of 20 caused turnovers and 46 ground balls this spring, while scoring four goals and adding four assists, showed his versatility.
As it is for high-quality defensemen, their best work comes from stopping others from scoring.
Even so, the Eagles’ ‘D’ was humbled in the first half of a 14-13 loss to Loyola Blakefield before recovering sufficiently to make a game of it.
“We learned so much about ourselves in that game,” Marsh said. “We learned that we weren’t invincible like we thought we were. But we had a little kind of an epiphany in the second half” (when the Dons were held to three goals over the final 21 minutes).
“I don’t think we would have had the kind of season we had without that game,” he said.
No. 1 McDonogh would still have some hurdles to overcome, most notably in an 8-7 overtime win over No. 3 Boys’ Latin in the semifinal round of the playoffs before making short work of the Cardinals in the finale.
“The nerves started to creep in a little bit (at the end of the BL game),” Marsh said. “But we did a good job of not letting it be a factor.”
Second-ranked Calvert Hall had a difficult day against Marsh and his mates.
“Our main goals were to put all the pieces together,” he said. “To have that great start (the Eagles jetted to an 8-0 advantage) took away any anxiety we might have had. It was a great feeling.”
McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said that Marsh had a special season.
“In my opinion, AJ Marsh is the best player in our league, if not the country,” Hilgartner said. “He has been absolutely tremendous. He does everything for us and I don’t know how we’re going to replace him. He’s just been incredible.”
Hilgartner’s praise did not stop there.
“He played the opposing team’s best player every game and was dominant in all of his match-ups,” the coach continued. “He was excellent on face-off wings and in transition for us as well.”
Marsh’s impact on his younger teammates shouldn’t be overlooked.
“AJ is a guy with such a big heart,” said McDonogh sophomore attackman Brendan Millon, the 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Boys Lacrosse Offensive Player of the Year. “He led by example and was a gigantic reason why we won.”
Successful teams are often portrayed as fostering a strong family atmosphere, and reigning Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference lacrosse champion McDonogh is no different.
The No. 1 Eagles took that notion to another level this season, with brothers McCabe and Brendan Millon comprising a high-powered attack that also included Notre Dame commit Luke Miller.
Although McCabe, a Virginia commit ranked as the top recruit in the Class of 2023 by Inside Lacrosse, missed much of the season with an injury, the Millions’ bond grew even stronger while Brendan improved exponentially as a player.
The precocious sophomore’s 80-point season (47 goals, 33 assists) was a key in McDonogh’s second consecutive Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship last month, earning the younger Millon the nod as the 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Offensive Player of the Year.
Brendan Millon said that his older brother is his biggest fan, allaying any fears of a prospective sibling rift affecting the team.
“He’s really happy for me,” Brendan said.
More importantly, when McCabe returned to the squad near the end of the season, the 6-foot,-175-pound Brendan was well established on a team that was flourishing.
Having to carry more of a load this season, Brendan was ready for what could have been an overwhelming challenge.
Long off-season workouts with Jay Dyer, the USA men’s lacrosse strength and conditioning coach, helped Millon to prepare for often drawing an opponent’s top long-stick this spring.
He never faltered when contemplating his role as a main target of rival defenders.
“I just had to carry more of the load,” said Millon, who missed all but three games last season with a foot injury. “I couldn’t say, ‘Oh my God, I’m facing a No. 1 guy. I had to block all of that out.”
Able to torch rival defenses in a variety of ways, his relatively newfound dodging ability complemented adroit off-ball and passing skills.
“I like to be a guy who can fill a lot of spots and do whatever it takes,” Millon said. “I feel like I have a unique style and that I have a pretty good (lacrosse) IQ.”
Boys’ Latin coach Brian Farrell noted that Millon’s multi-pronged talent makes him a “very good player, who has a “high IQ and (is) capable with both hands. (He can) play with or without the ball.”
Millon’s actions showed that he was ready to be counted on this season in the biggest games, including a four-goal explosion in an 11-10 victory over Boys’ Latin during the regular season while totaling seven goals in two victories over second-ranked Calvert Hall, the latter of which was a 14-5 championship triumph.
That game against the Cardinals, in which Millon scored five goals and added an assist, was what he said was “cool about our team” this season.
“We wanted to be peaking in May, not in March or April,” he said. “We felt that if we stuck to our game plan, we could crush that team. Everything was perfect.”
Even so, Millon said that he didn’t believe that the Cardinals were beaten until a couple of minutes were left in the finale.
“In this league you can’t take anything for granted,” he said.
What could be taken for granted was Millon’s point production prowess this spring.
While he said that he had the confidence to score when the need arose, there were other considerations.
“I don’t focus on points,” he said. “I focus more on the team.”
McDonogh coach Andy Hilgartner said that Millon plays the game with fervor and smarts.
“He’s an outstanding teammate and has a strong drive towards continual improvement,” he said. “And he enjoys playing the game with his friends.”
To finally slay the dragon — in this case it was two dragons — it takes a ton of wherewithal and a healthy understanding of the challenges ahead.
This spring, the No. 7 Broadneck boys lacrosse team had both fire-breathing monsters to overcome.
First, the objective was to finally wrest the Anne Arundel County championship from the grasp of 11th-ranked Severna Park.
After that, capturing the program’s first state title in 26 years was of paramount importance to the Bruins.
Under Jeff McGuire, the 2023 Baltimore Banner/VSN Boys Lacrosse Coach of the Year, Broadneck accomplished both goals with flying colors.
McGuire had firsthand knowledge of what it was going to take to finally subdue the high-flying Falcons, considering that he is a Severna Park grad and has coached against that august program at his previous stint at North County before replacing the legendary Clay White at Broadneck in 2019.
Not only did the Bruins prevail in the regular-season encounter with McGuire’s alma mater for the second consecutive season, they also dominated the county final, 10-5, to don the program’s first league crown since 2001.
While Broadneck had to overcome terrible weather and the Falcons to win the initial battle, they strode into Glen Burnie’s Whayland Stadium in early May with the county title on the line ready to play some serious lacrosse.
“I’ve never seen them more confident,” McGuire said. “(Senior goalie) Colin Gray had 20 saves — he stood on his head — and was great on face-offs.”
Tyler Hicks and Ryan Della took care of the scoring in the Bruins’ multi-pronged offense, so the No. 1 priority was out of the way.
Even so, McGuire had to shepherd his team past two other very tough opponents in the Class 4A playoffs in order to reach the promised land.
One of them was county rival and No. 14 South River, which made the Bruins sweat before succumbing, 10-8.
Then came Urbana, a rising power from Frederick County, that refused to yield until Della’s overtime goal pushed Broadneck forward toward the state final against Sherwood.
The Warriors from Montgomery County were no match for the Bruins, who pulled away in the second half to win going away, 16-6.
Of all those wins, though, McGuire said that Broadneck steeled itself for tough games ahead by beating a good Washington Catholic Athletic Conference squad, De Matha, 13-10.
McGuire said that the Stags tried to extend their defense and lock-off some key offensive players, offering a different style that the Bruins had to find a way to overcome.
“That was the turning point of the season,” McGuire said about the mid-April skirmish. “We knew we could be dominant if we stayed consistent. Our culture ran through that game.”
McGuire said that he learned a lot about coaching when he was a two-time national champion midfielder while playing for Salisbury University under Jim Berkman — who recently claimed yet another Division III title for the Gulls in late May.
“He ran drills and scrimmages as fast as possible, with a little wrinkle in each drill,” McGuire said.
McGuire’s players, such as single-season goal-scoring record-holder Jackson Shaw, said that McGuire is a players’ coach while Gray said that McGuire was the “backbone of the team” this season.
“He made sure to keep us level-headed and focused, after each big win and not to get ahead of ourselves as we did last year” Gray continued. “He would always strive to make us better and to really look at everyone as an individual and not just as a number.”