The weekend of November 8, McGill University had the opportunity to host the 35th annual Baggataway Cup. The Baggataway (or “Bag”) Cup pits three of the most elite Men’s Field Lacrosse teams from both theCanadianUniversityFieldLacrosse Association (CUFLA) Eastern and Western conferences against eachotherinasingle-gameelimination style playoff. The Cup represents the pinnacle of achievement in Canadian university field lacrosse.
The tournament is structured such that the first-place team from each conference is given a bid into the semi-finals. Neither McGill (10-0) in the Eastern conference, nor Brock (10-0) in the Western conference were required to play in Friday’s quarterfinals, which concluded with Trent University taking a 11-5 win over Guelph and the University of Western Ontario beating Nippising University 12-5, setting up Trent to play Brock, and Western to play McGill in the semi-finals.
After McGill’s devastating loss to Western in the 2018 semi-finals, it was clear that some serious changes needed to be made. Assistant coach Nicolas Soubry told the Daily, “The players asked for more and we gave them a lot more. We watched more film, we ran more, we worked out, we did more team events, the list goes on.” These changes were not only led by the coaching staff, but also by a strong leadership group who worked as hard as possible to realize the vision head coach Tim Murdoch had for a championship team in the 2019 season. What truly became a rallying cry for the men of McGill Lacrosse was the notion of “five more.” “Five more” means not wasting mental energy on the past or the distant future, but instead living in the moment and doing everything possible to own the next five minutes. The “five more” mindset was evident during the 2019 semi- final against Western, as well as in the season as a whole. As 2019 marked the 17th and final season for Murdoch as head coach, it was one filled with emotion. Murdoch built the McGill lacrosse program from the ground up – from a club-level team to a varsity program that can now compete with division I NCAA teams.
The semi-final kicked off at 1 p.m. in Molson Stadium. Despite the brisk temperature, the stadium was electric, with just under 500 fans attending the long-awaited rematch between McGill and Western. The game began with McGill’s Colton Campbell scoring an unassisted goal, followed by another scored by Kerian McKay. With incredible defensive performances from standout players, captain Tanner Baldin at long stick midfielder and Connor Plante at short stick defensive midfielder, Western struggled to have any productive offensive possessions in the first half. Captain and graduating senior Liam Macdonald had an exceptional second quarter potting two goals, assisted by Murdoch and McKay respectively. However, the momentum began to shift when Cody Ward of Western finally managed to get a shot past McGill goaltender Michael Gallo. Despite this, Gallo had an outstanding performance for which he was awarded player of the game. The score was 4-1 for McGill at halftime. Ward’s goal was the first of six unanswered points for Western. Even throughout Western’s productivity on the scoreboard in the second half, the McGill men stayed composed, with the defense continuing to put up a hearty resistance to Western’s advance. McGill did not go down easily, with Hunter Zawada scoring a goal with 55 seconds left to bring McGill within one. The coaching staff called a timeout as an attempt to tie the game with their final possession, but it was too late. Western went on to defeat McGill by a score of 6-5, and after beating Trent, won their 4th consecutive Baggataway Cup.
When asked about the game, Soubry admitted that “it’s very hard for me to talk about.” His frustration is due to the general sentiment held by the team that “we were very well prepared, we knew what they were going to throw at us and I think we executed the game plan very well.” However, in lacrosse there is a fine line between being prepared and being so prepared that deviation from the game plan results in complications. “Sometimes too much structure can be restrictive,” and in this case may have inhibited McGill from being “a little riskier on both sides of the ball.” Western “kept it simple, got separation and took a lot of shots” and “we didn’t until it was too late.” Despite an unsatisfactory end to “one of the most successful seasons for McGill lacrosse,” there is a bright future for lacrosse at McGill on and off the field. Soubry hopes to use his NCAA experience to “bring more of an off- season structure” by implementing team-building activities, training such as team lifts, as well as a continued commitment to recruiting players that “fit the team culture we strive towards.”
In his final speech following the loss, Murdoch drew parallels between sport and life, explaining that losing is often just as valuable, in some cases even more so, than winning.
Seeing tears in the eyes of my peers, and realizing that the time we have to be a part of something as special as sport is finite, truly puts into perspective just how lucky I am to be a part of it all. McGill men’s lacrosse will continue its relentless pursuit of academic and athletic excellence.