By: MARC NARDUCCI
BALTIMORE, MD – The face-off is the true grunt work in lacrosse. Get down, battle for the ball, one-on-one, strength vs. strength. A battle of wills for sure.
Recent Episcopal Academy graduate Andrew McMeekin long ago perfected the art of facing off. He became so accomplished at his craft that it earned him All-American honors.
McMeekin was able to perform his specialty one final time, before a larger than usual audience and he didn’t disappoint.
Playing for the South team in Saturday’s Under-Armour Senior All-American Lacrosse game at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Field, McKeekin displayed the skills that were readily apparent during his stellar career at Episcopal Academy.
His South team came on the short end of a 22-16 loss to the North before a crowd of 4,144, but McMeekin was beaming afterwards and for good reason.
He was honored to play against the best of his class, but here’s the kicker – against All-Americans, and he played every bit like one of them.
McMeekin, who will continue his education and lacrosse career at Princeton, alternated every two draws with South teammate Max Eldridge of Georgetown Prep, who will attend Virginia.
With 38 total goals, there were plenty of draws for both. McMeekin won 14 of 26 (53.8 percent). That was the highest percentage of the four face-off participants in the game.
McMeekin also had a game-high 12 ground balls. Nobody else in the game had more than five.
And his big highlight on the game broadcast by ESPNU, was earning an assist after winning the draw, running downfield and quickly finding James Matan, a North Carolina commit from Gonzaga High in Washington, D.C.
Matan fired in one of his three goals in a play that took all of three seconds.
That is an All-American highlight that McMeekin won’t ever forget
What is interesting is that McMeekin is not only looking to win face-offs, a tough enough feat, but also to attack on offense. This type of aggressive mentality no doubt helped lead to his All-American selection.
“I am definitely an offensive player once I get the ball on my stick,” McMeekin explained afterwards.
He loves going for the goal. That’s why he was able to unleash two shots in the game.
So even though his team lost the game, McMeekin showed why he earned his selection.
“This game was awesome,” he said. “I have been watching this game for so many years before in the stands and it has always been a dream of mine to play. Thankfully playing for one day was awesome, it definitely lived up to all the hype I had in my mind.”
McMeekin was carrying the Inter-Ac banner in this game as the league’s lone entry.
“I loved to represent the Philadelphia guys, especially the Inter-Ac,” he said. “Got to play with a few other Pennsylvania guys, but I loved showing up for the Inter-Ac.”
The other Pennsylvania guys he was alluding to were South teammate Max Busenkell an attack/midfielder from Garnet Valley, who will attend Notre Dame and the North’s Henry Bard, a longstick midfielder/defenseman from Lower Merion who will attend Duke.
What was most gratifying was having his family in the stands, mom Heather, dad Andrew and his sister Paige.
Afterwards the family had a warm embrace with Andrew, capping the end to his high school career.
“It was amazing,” his mother said. “He was just thrilled to be playing with all these great players and just having fun out there.”
His father put his son’s performance succinctly.
“It was a great way to go out,” his father said.
Andrew McMeekin pictured with his mother Heather, father Andrew and sister Paige - PSD Photo by Marc Narducci
The family and McMeekin gave props to Episcopal Academy as well.
“It was a great training ground for playing such a terrific game tonight,” Heather McMeekin said.
That final game will be quite a keepsake in his memory bank.
“This is a great way to end my high school career,” he said. “I can’t wait to embark on the next chapter of lacrosse, but this was a great way to cap out this chapter.”
There were many of successful chapters over the years for McMeekin, so it only made sense that he wrote one final brilliant story.
He will always have the memories, but immediately after his final high school game, McMeekin was definitely focused on the future.
“Looking back at all the fun I had at Episcopal and high school lacrosse, it is sad to go, but I can’t wait to start at Princeton in the fall,” he said.
There are too many new face-offs to win, too many new hurdles to clear on the college level, yet this one final game should provide another dose of confidence, not that he lacked any in the first place.
It’s just that producing an All-American performance in this high profile setting, was a truly fitting finale.
During the weekend there were tournaments for younger players in the Baltimore area with the two Philadelphia divisions. The Command teams consisted of rising sophomores and freshmen (classes of 2025 and 2026) and the Highlight was for rising seniors and juniors (classes of 2023 and 2024).
The older Highlight went 6-1 and won the title in convincing fashion, defeating New Jersey, 16-4 in the final.
“We got out to a fast start, the defense played great and we won a lot of face-offs and had good goalie play,” said Philadelphia coach Tom Lemieux of the championship win.
For Lemieux, it is the third time he has won this title while coaching the Highlight, with earlier titles in 2013 and 2017.
The real key was a 6-5 semifinal win over Long Island. (It must be noted that the score was reported 6-4, but several people from the Philadelphia team insist it was 6-5).
Philadelphia lost its second game of the tournament, 7-6 to that same Long Island team.
In the rematch, Philadelphia received two goals each from Malvern Prep rising senior AJ Nikolic and rising juniors Nathaniel Lucchesi of Radnor and Paul Van Bastelaar of La Salle.
Nikolic, a Cornell commit, tied the score at 5-5 and then scored the game winner with about two minutes left.
“It feels pretty good to win this,” said Nikolic who also helped Malvern Prep win this year’s Inter-Ac championship by scoring the game-winner in the title game. “We lost last year in the semifinal against DC and to get back and finally win it my final year, is great.”
Malvern Prep rising senior defender Roman Buono was among the all-tournament selections.
Conestoga rising senior goalie Patrick Jamison was named the tournament MVP, while Radnor attack Ryan Goldstein and Wissahickon attack Kyle Lehman were the other all-tournament selections.
In most of the games Jamison split time in goal with Springside Chestnut Hill Academy rising senior Hayes Schreiner.
“Patrick Jamison was great but Hayes had a really good weekend also,” said Lemieux, the head coach of Springfield Delco.
Malvern Prep junior AJ Nikolic #13 - PSD Photo by Lennie Malmgren
La Salle College High School rising junior Paul Van Bastelaar #6 - PSD Photo by Tommy Muir
The key to the championship was the depth.
“We were very balanced,” Lemieux said. “Just about everybody contributed. We had a roster of 22 players who embraced their roles.”
Nikolic said the key was everybody adjusting to those roles.
“We had great all-stars at every position,” Nikolic said. “We needed to play together and as we got used to each other we were pretty unstoppable.”
The younger Philadelphia Command was even more dominating with a 6-0 record that ended with a 10-6 championship win over Washington.
What made the win more impressive is that Philadelphia trailed 6-1 at halftime.
“Most of the tournament,” we were more of a second-half team,” said Haverford School rising sophomore defenseman Gavin Cooper, who was an all-tournament selection. “We were down 6-1 at the half against Upstate and the same thing, we held them scoreless in the second half and were able to win by a good margin.”
Cooper was referring to an 11-6 win over Upstate in Philadelphia’s third game of the tournament.
Aharon Bloshuk, a rising sophomore long stick defender from the Academy of New Church, was MVP of the tournament. Joining Cooper on the all-tournament team was faceoff man Griff Meyer of Haverford School and Owen Mears, an attack from Malvern Prep. All of these players are rising sophomores.
“Griff was awesome on faceoffs,” said coach Brian Dougherty, who is also the head coach of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
Haverford School rising sophomore Gavin Cooper - Photo courtesy of Haverford Athletics
On Cooper, Dougherty added, “He was amazing.”
Rising sophomore attack Michael Ortlieb of Malvern Prep was another player who enjoyed a big tournament, according to Dougherty.
The goalies who split halves were rising sophomores Cam Taylor of Salesianum and Colin Decker of The Haverford School.
“Both goalies played great for us,” Dougherty said.
The 10-6 championship was Philadelphia’s closest game. The champs outscored their six opponents, 75-28.