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BASKING RIDGE -- There is no gentle way to say it. On Monday afternoon, a historic season for the Rumson-Fair Haven boys lacrosse team came to an abrupt and disappointing end.

The Bulldogs fell behind early and outside of a three-goal second quarter were never able to recover as Mountain Lakes played a near-perfect game and handed Rumson a lopsided 21-5 defeat in the 2022 Tournament of Champions final at Ridge High School.

The final Tournament of Champions game, at least for the foreseeable future, began with the talented and tradition-rich Lakers opening up a 5-0 lead after the first quarter. Rumson regrouped in the second quarter and trimmed its deficit to 6-3 with under two minutes left in the first half.

Now, it was a game. Until it wasn't.

Mountain Lakes, led by th dominant face-off duo of brothers Justin and Jordan Hernando, closed the first half with three goals in a span of 16 seconds to open a 9-3 halftime lead. The Lakers then scored the first six goals of the third quarter and it was that nine-goal run that put the game away and denied Rumson the TOC title.

It was a bitter end to the most successful season in Shore Conference lacrosse history. Rumson defeated Summit to win the Group 2 title and became the second Shore Conference team to win a group title, joining the 2015 Rumson squad. The Bulldogs were seeded No. 1 for the TOC, received a first-round bye, and then defeated Bridgewater-Raritan in the semifinals to become the first Shore team to reach the TOC championship game. The TOC final was expected to be an even contest but Mountain Lakes played its best game of the season against a Rumson unit that was unable to match the Lakers' execution.

"They were just better than us today," said an emotional Rumson head coach Marc Moreau. "Great year, great career, the sun is going to come up tomorrow and we'll be able to look back and be proud of what they accomplished."

"(Rumson) is a great team," said legendary Mountain Lakes head coach Tim Flynn, who has a state-record 715 wins in 43 seasons. "We've been saying to our kids all year, "how good can we be?", because we've seen glimpses of it. Against this team, a great program with a great coaching staff and great athletes all over the field, we knew we needed that kind of effort and the kids provided it."

Senior midfielder Chaz Kotsen scored a game-high five goals, including a first-quarter hat trick, while senior attackman Reid Tietjen delivered two goals and four assists for a game-high six points. Senior attackman Bradford Goodbar tallied three goals and two assists, senior midfielder Cade Schuckman had two goals and one assist, and senior John Lane scored twice. Senior FOGO Justin Hernando won 9 of 11 face-offs and also scored a goal directly off a clean win and sophomore FOGO Jordan Hernando won 17-of-18 face-offs and provided a goal and an assist.

Junior attackman Quinn Stankovits scored twice, senior attackman Phil Passalaqua had a goal and an assist, and senior attackman Christian Bockelmann and junior defenseman Beau Kemler had one goal each for Rumson.

The game was scoreless through the first half of the opening quarter until Schuckman started the scoring at 6:36. Kotsen scored less than a minute later and again at the 3:32 mark for a 3-0 Mountain Lakes lead. Off the ensuing face-off, Jordan Hernando sprinted to the crease and scored to make it two goals in six seconds and put the Lakers up 4-0. Jimmy Elliot then deposited a feed from Reid Tietjen with 1:32 on the clock to complete a dominant quarter for Mountain Lakes.

All season, Rumson showed an ability to respond to adversity and get better as the game progressed, and it looked like that trend was going to continue during the second quarter. Passalaqua scored at 5:37 and Stankovits scored from long distance at 3:35 to cut RFH's deficit to 5-2. Mountain Lakes answered almost immediately - a theme throughout the game - when Kotsen struck for a goal at 2:36 to open a 6-2 lead. Rumson had possession with just over two minutes left in the half and called a timeout to talk it over. At this point, a goal to cut it to 6-3 felt like it could begin to turn the tide of the game. The Bulldogs got exactly that when Bockelmann found the top corner off a pass from Passalaqua to pull RFH to within 6-3 with 1:43 left in the first half. But that was as close as Rumson would get.

A transition goal by Ben Buzby with 58.2 seconds left in the first half was the beginning of a nine-goal barrage that turned a close game into a blowout. Jordan Hernando won the following face-off clean and dished to Tietjen for a goal just five seconds later. Another face-off win led to Goodbar scoring off a deft pass from Tietjen with 42.9 seconds on the clock. Three goals in 16 seconds and Mountain Lakes was off and running.

Rumson was flagged for a penalty with no time remaining in the first half so the Lakers began the third quarter with an extra-man opportunity. Rumson killed off the penalty but Lakes scored one second after the teams were back at even strength on a goal by Kotsen. The Lakers continued to play make-it-take-it with goals by Lane, Goodbar, Tietjen, Giacomo Bevacqua, and Justin Hernando before Stankovits finally broke the run with a goal at 2:30. But by that time, Lakes had opened up 15-3 lead and set the mercy-rule running clock in motion.

"We had that step-on-their throats mentality," Kotsen said. "We didn't want to give them any chance. We know how good they are, how high-powered they are, and the kinds of runs they can go on. I'm so proud of the defense for not letting them do that and of the offense for consistently putting the numbers up."

For Mountain Lakes, this is its fourth TOC title, adding to the championships won in 2007, 2008, and 2019.

"It means so much to this town," Kotsen said. "We worked not only all year but all the years. In second grade we picked up a stick and that's the Mountain Lakes culture. It's just such a great feeling knowing that trophy is going to be home forever. This game is about as good as you can ask for from a team. I'm just so proud of all the coaches, all the players."

It will take a while to wash away the sour taste of the final game of the season for Rumson, but the prior 26 games for the Bulldogs were special. Rumson did what no Shore Conference team has done and continues to be the standard-bearer for the boys lacrosse programs in Monmouth and Ocean counties. The idea of a Shore team going through Summit, Bridgewater-Raritan, and Mountain Lakes to win a TOC title seemed crazy on the surface, but the Bulldogs built toward this moment with years of great effort and execution from the youth level right on up to high school. Building tradition and culture is no easy task, but Rumson lacrosse has done it since its inception in the early 2000s. The pride of putting on the jersey is noteworthy for Rumson, just as it is for Mountain Lakes, a program that has been around since the late 1970s and is one of the state's blue bloods.

"It's so surreal," Kotsen said."We talked about it, these orange jerseys have so much grit in them. This past week we were watching games of all the guys who did it before us. You see those guys playing 30, 40 years ago in your jersey and it means so much. It's such a rich culture and you feel like you're playing for more than just your team or yourself, you're playing for the whole community."

Maybe the Tournament of Champions returns one day in boys lacrosse, but for now, it is over. The NJSIAA made the decision to scrap the TOC in all sports for reasons including lopsided games and the same teams winning most years. But that has not been the case in boys lacrosse, which has always played down to one champion. Many boys lacrosse programs do not agree with the decision and Mountain Lakes is chief among them.

"It's very, very, very special," Flynn said of winning the final TOC. 'This belongs to every kid who's ever put on the uniform at Mountain Lakes, every parent; great families. But I also have to say it's a travesty that this is ending. It's the same teams all the time? Rumson, first time in. Nobody can beat the private schools? Today you had two public schools and, oh, by the way, they're the two smallest public schools. They're taking this away from the kids, and not just Mountain Lakes kids. They're taking this away from all the kids in the state of New Jersey who carry a lacrosse stick."

 

Box Score

Mountain Lakes 21, Rumson-Fair Haven 5

Mountain Lakes (22-1)      5 4 7 5 -- 21

Rumson-Fair Haven (22-5) 0 3 1 1 --  5

GOALS -- RFH: Quinn Stankovits 2, Christian Bockelmann, Phil Passalaqua, Beau Kemler; ML: Chaz Kotsen 5, Bradford Goodbar 3, Reid Tietjen 2, Cade Schuckman 2, John Lane 2, Jimmy Elliot, Kevin Gillespie, Ben Buzby, Owen Pirolo, Jordan Hernando, Justin Hernando, Giacomo Bevacqua.

ASSISTS -- RFH: Phil Passalaqua; ML: Reid Tietjen 4, Bradford Goodbar 2, Jake Troisi, Jordan Hernando, Giacomo Bevacqua, Cade Schuckman.

SAVES -- RFH: Will Setteducate 3, Alex Baret 2; ML: Jimmy Holda 4, Matt Sentowski 4.

 

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