Video highlights courtesy of Noah Collette.
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Jackie Weller didn’t feel the need to put out a cliché answer about how everything came together just right and that his St. John’s (D.C.) didn’t see this coming.
It wasn’t just that the Cadets drubbed their biggest rival and perennial Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power and NLF No. 5 Gonzaga, 17-6. It was precisely how St. John’s, the No. 2 team in North America in the most recent NLF high school rankings did it. Up four at the half, the Cadets erupted for an eight-goal third quarter, and when it came to putting the proverbial foot on the gas, there wasn’t a speed limit in sight.
It wasn’t a surprise to Weller, and he didn’t want to pretend like it was. The MadLax DC Dogs faceoff specialist and Michigan commit knew this going to happen.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” said the NLF’s No. 34 prospect in the 2023 class. “One hundred percent. We were all fired up. We were just very confident in ourselves, confident in our sticks, possessing the ball, defense, offense, clearing, riding. It’s all the aspects we’ve been practicing for so long and so hard. It’s tough to have any doubt in my mind.”
What makes St. John’s so dangerous and so good is what they put on display against the Purple Eagles. There’s no weakness throughout the lineup. The vaunted attack line of Mac Haley (Navy), Gavin Kelly (Drexel) and five-star sophomore Ryan Duenkel combined for 11 goals and four assists, and they were so tenacious in the riding game that it felt like Gonzaga deserved special recognition for merely crossing the midline on the clear.
You want midfield scoring? Luke Rhoa (Crabs / Syracuse) and Noah Hall (UMBC) each tallied twice, while John Draley and Kevin Whitty (Mount St. Mary’s) each pocketed a pair of points. You got the ball back? Now all you have to do is get past a stacked defense that starts with arguably the best defensive midfielder in the country in Vincent Trujillo (Syracuse) and ends with an elite goalie in NLF No. 11 ’23 Caleb Fyock (Crabs / Ohio State), who made eight saves in three quarters and only ceded three goals.
If you’re an opposing coach, there’s isn’t a position group that you can identify as a weakness. That’s a problem for you, but a major reason why St. John’s has a legitimate claim to being the best team in the country.
“The communication starts from our goalie,” defenseman Riley Figueiras, a third Syracuse commit on the Cadets, said. “He never shuts up – on or off the field – he’s always loud. We’re trying to play positionless defense. We’re worried about some guys but not overly worried to the point where the rest of the offense goes off. Coaching, playing the pick game, sliding to our guys, it’s simple. It’s all the basics.”
“Getting the opposing teams’ best dodges, their best effort, for Jackie, they’re trying to beat him because they know he’s the best, it’s awesome,” Figueiras continued.
St. John’s took a 6-2 lead into halftime, a differential that should have been significantly greater if not for the ridiculous play of Gonzaga junior goalie Declan Monahan. The MadLax product and Penn commit was absolutely ridiculous, making a bunch of highlight-reel saves en route to a 14-stop day, but he could only keep the Cadets at bay for so long. When the teams took the field for the second half, it felt like it was only a matter of time before the game spiraled out of control. It didn’t take long for that to happen.
Less than five minutes in, the game was effectively over. Haley had scored two more goals – he finished with six, including four on his off-hand – and Rhoa cranked home a pair of eerily similar stepdown man-up goals 56 seconds apart.
Gonzaga Lacking Second-Half Energy
“Third quarter, we came out pretty soft and we had no energy,” Monahan said. “I could tell from the first goal that our morale kind of felt defeated. They won faceoff after faceoff, they were getting possession after possession, and we just didn’t respond. I know we’re going to use this as a learning experience and not let it happen again.”
Weller finished 17-for-22 at the faceoff stripe, a death blow to Gonzaga’s chances, particularly since the Eagles were playing without James Matan for the first time. The senior North Carolina signee had been having an incredible campaign before he broke his collarbone in the game before St. John’s. The Cadets are not the type of team that you want to have to adjust your offensive personnel for, and they were able to feast. Sophomore Johnny Gardiner, though, continued his outstanding season with a pair of goals and an assist.
“Their double teams just came hard and it was really tough to read them or get away from them with Checo and Figueiras coming at you,” Gardiner said. “It was really tough on that and obviously, Big Tasty (Fyock) is a hard shot to score on.”
The odds are good that the two teams will square off again in the playoffs. In round one, though, there was no debate as to who the top team was.
Gonzaga – St. John’s Standouts
Richard Checo ’22, LSM, St. John’s / Lehigh
Tabbed as one of the four-stars most likely to challenge for a fifth before the season started, Checo has been a man on a mission all season long. He continued his outstanding play with an excellent day at the office. The future Mountain Hawk didn’t make as many highlight-reel plays as he usually does, but he was just as effective in playing a somewhat quieter game. His slides were terrific, he arrived with bad intentions every time and Gonzaga had to account for him every time it had the ball. One play that popped was when he read a cross-crease pass and got his stick out to pick it off.
Riley Figueiras ’22, defense, St. John’s / Syracuse – NLF No. 51 ’22
Figueiras should start bringing his homework and a snack with him on the field. He still hasn’t given up a goal in coverage this year, and going after him is a waste of everybody’s time. He could have played without a stick and still gotten the job done because he was so darn good at matching feet, denying space and understanding what offensive players wanted to do. Figueiras had a couple of excellent sequences, one of which was an early caused turnover and ground ball, and he had another pretty play where he knocked a ground ball in traffic to Fyock to gain possession. Syracuse was smart to pursue him even when he was committed to Rutgers, and the Orange now get one of the best defensemen in the country.
Johnny Gardiner ’24, attack, Gonzaga
The lefty will be called upon to run the show for the Purple Eagles now that James Matan’s done for the year. Against teams that don’t look like a Division I team, that should be just fine. He’s a slippery lefty with a hard shot and led Gonzaga with two goals and an assist. His first tally came when he put home the garbage on a rebound, then he blasted an EMO rip past Fyock to show off his shooting stroke.
“It’s a big adjustment (without Matan),” Gardiner said. “A lot of our plays ran through me and him, so we had to switch up the offense a little bit. We didn’t get into it as quick in the first half and it really showed.”
What might have been the most impressive about Gardiner, though, was his relentless devotion to the ride. He had a pair of caused turnovers off of it – including a strip of Figueiras – because he’s so committed to getting the ball back.
Mac Haley ’22, attack, St. John’s / Navy
If you score four goals in any game, it’s been a pretty good day. When you score four with your off-hand and finish with six overall? That’s not right.
The lefty got the scoring started on a low-to-low rip, but then the Navy commit got to work on keeping Gonzaga guessing. He scored on a bunch of different angles and made the Purple Eagles pay for overcommitting to his left hand. In the third quarter, he swept across the top and scored righty. Later, he dusted his man at X and dunked one home. Simply put, Gonzaga had no answers for him.
“My right hand, I haven’t done much with it for most of the season,” Haley said. “They were kind of giving me my right, so I was just able to take advantage of my right is something I’ve been able to work on. This was the perfect outcome: we won by a lot, the offense played great. I had six because our offense moves the ball pretty well. On one of them, Duenkel has an easy shot on the crease and he makes one more and it’s a wide-open net. There’s just too much talent on our team to just focus on one thing.”
Declan Monahan ’23, goalie, Gonzaga / MadLax DC Dogs / Penn
If it weren’t for Monahan, St. John’s might have put up 25 goals on Gonzaga. The future Quaker was outstanding throughout before yielding the crease to freshman understudy Kevin Kane. Monahan was particularly good on low shots, including a gem of a stop on the crease on Ryan Duenkel. His best sequence, though, came when he stopped the sophomore standout on a high-to-high in tight and then robbed Noah Hall on the rebound. He finished with 14 saves, but it felt like more. Monahan kept the Purple Eagles in it for the first half until the Cadets’ second-half avalanche of goals.
Jackie Weller ’23, faceoff midfield, St. John’s / MadLax DC Dogs / Michigan – NLF No. 34 ’22
The lefty faceoff middie and future Wolverine was electric at the stripe, winning 17 of 22 faceoffs. That number included an 8-for-10 run in the opening half. What makes Weller so special and why he should be able to get on the field rather quickly at Michigan is that he’s so good at counters. It’s great to have elite hand speed, and Weller certainly isn’t a slouch in that department. It’s another thing to know that you’re not going to just win every clamp with fast hands. Weller quickly diagnoses what his opponent’s looking to do and has an answer for everything in his deep bag of tricks. He had a couple of wins where he lost the clamp, then simply countered to knock the ball loose. Weller is explosive and quick enough to chase down those loose balls.
St. John’s 17, Gonzaga 6
Gonzaga 0 2 1 3 — 6
St. John’s 2 4 8 3 — 17
Johnny Gardiner ’24 2 goals, 1 assist
Charlie Wise ’22 1 goal, 1 assist
Charlie Taylor ’23 1 goal
Cody Hobson ’24 1 goal
Ryan Splaine ’22 (Rutgers) 1 goal
Ian MacGlynn ’22 1 assist
Brendan Lane ’22 (Holy Cross) 4-for-17 faceoffs
Jack Schrier ’22 2-for-5 faceoffs
Matt Rienzo ’23 (MadLax / Georgetown) 0-for-1 faceoff
Nick Sweeney ’24 1-for-3 faceoffs
Declan Monahan ’23 (MadLax / Penn) 14 saves, 14 goals allowed
Kevin Kane ’25 1 save, 3 goals allowed
St. John’s (9-0)
Mac Haley ’22 (Navy) 6 goals
Gavin Kelly ’22 (Drexel) 4 goals, 2 assists
Luke Rhoa ’22 (NLF No. 60 ’22 / Crabs / Syracuse) 2 goals
Noah Hall ’23 (UMBC) 2 goals
Ryan Duenkel ’24 (’24 five-star) 1 goal, 2 assists
John Draley ’24 1 goal, 1 assist
Landen Hyatt ’22 (Dickinson) 1 goal
Kevin Whitty ’22 (Mount St. Mary’s) 2 assists
Chase Cavalier ’22 (Mount St. Mary’s) 1 assist
Jackie Weller ’23 (NLF No. 34 ’23 / MadLax / Michigan) 17-for-22 faceoffs
Blake Boyd ’22 (Air Force) 1-for-2 faceoffs
Michael Morin ’22 1-for-2 faceoffs
Caleb Fyock ’23 (NLF No. 11 ’23 / Crabs / Ohio State) 8 saves, 3 goals allowed
AJ Sachwitz ’24 1 save, 3 goals allowed