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The NLF Fall Invitational closed out the fall schedule with a bang.
The best event of the fall took center stage at Blandair Regional Park, with more than 100 college coaches making the trip to take in the top talent in the country. NLFRankings.com contributor Geoff Shannon took in a trio of high-level games and reported back on some of the standouts.
With that in mind, here are breakdowns of the Thunder vs. Big 4 HHH, Eclipse vs. Resolute and Laxachusetts vs. West Coast Starz 2023 games. Photos via Matt Chandik.
Thunder 7, Big 4 HHH 6
Thunder ‘23 stood out as one of the big club team success stories from this past summer, earning the No. 2 spot in the NLFRankings.com team rankings. Entering this past weekend’s NLF Fall Invitational, the Atlanta-based boys wanted to prove that run wasn’t a fluke.
They made their point Sunday in a major 2023 bracket contest, beating the 2023 Big 4 HHH team 7-6.
This was a slugfest between two powerhouses. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter, midfielder Aidan Wooley (Westminster, Ga.) buried the game-winning goal on a feed from teammate Greyson Brockman (West Forsyth, Ga.). It was Wooley’s third goal of the game.
“Working the ball around, getting it up top to a shortstick, trying to find our good matchups,” said Wooley, who earned MVP honors at NLF at IMG in January before missing the bulk of the summer with injuries. “We went once and nothing happened, so we pulled back out and went again. We were just ‘c’ cutting inside when they slid off the crease, and I just happened to be inside.”
Down to the Wire
It was a back-and-forth effort from both teams. Thunder held a two-goal lead twice including once late in the second quarter when Greyson scored from 15-yards out to make it 4-2. Big 4 HHH answered on a goal started by attackman Drew Filipovits (Parkland, Pa.) from X and fed to the crease to make it 4-3 at halftime.
Thunder regained a two-goal advantage at the start of the third quarter on a give-and-go attempt, started by Wooley and finished by Robbie Walker (King’s Ridge Christian/Jacksonville) to make it 5-3. Big 4 HHH followed with goals from Jackson Redd (Wilmington Friends, Del.) and Leyton Bracken (La Salle, Pa.) to tie the game.
Both teams traded goals late, with Thunder’s James Canipe (Greater Atlanta Christian, Ga.) scoring off a face dodge down the right alley, and Big 4 HHH’s Josh Gibbs (Germantown Academy, Pa.) scoring on an assist from Charlie Kingsbury (Manheim Township, Pa.) making it 6-6 before Wooley’s game winner.
Special teams played a key role in keeping this game close. Thunder goalies NLF No. 10 ’23 Anderson Moore (Briarwood Christian, Ala. / Georgetown) and Brayden Williams (Mill Creek, Ga.) both made big stops, while faceoff midfielder Myles Quandt (Roswell, Ga. / Towson) hustled after wins. For Big 4 HHH, goalie Noah Dacanay (Penn Charter, Pa.) was explosive and the faceoff unit, championed by great groundball play from LSM and NLF No. 51 Walker Schwartz (Germantown Academy, Pa. / Villanova) held its own.
“It was a great game, great opponent, back and forth a lot of up and down,” Wooley said. “Our defense came up big in the end.”
Thunder finished with a 3-0 record at the Fall Invitational, defeating Team 91 Maryland and Express North. Big 4 HHH also recorded wins over Team 91 Maryland and Express North to finish 2-1.
Eclipse 12, Resolute 4
Like several teams playing Sunday, Eclipse 2023 featured a few new faces along with a core group of guys all trying to compete together for the first time. They struggled in their first game of the day, losing to Leading Edge 6-4, but found their offensive groove in the encore.
Taking advantage of matchups and strong communication, Eclipse beat Resolute 12-4 in the day’s second contest for both programs.
Eclipse attackman Will Coale (Brunswick, Conn.) was the star of the game. Quarterbacking the offense, Coale scored a game-high five goals. Many of Coale’s attempts came on strong iso-dodges from behind the cage, using his quick feet and stutter step moves to create separation from his defensive assignment and score.
“I love to dodge from X,” Coale said. “It’s a spot I’ve grown up dodging from. I just capitalized on the opportunities that opened up for me.”
Eclipse’s Balanced Offense Fuels Rout
The offense came from everywhere for Eclipse. Attackmen Teddy Luthy (Brien McMahon, Conn.) and Ryan Connolly (New Canaan, Conn.) combined for six points, connecting with each on two separate occasions for goals. Midfielder Peter Grandolfo (Fairfield Prep, Conn. / Bucknell) also scored twice, the first on a right alley drive and the second on a pinpoint rip.
Faceoff wins also contributed to Eclipse’s offensive output, with Gavin Ouhrabka (New Hampton, Conn.) dominating ground balls.
Resolute started hot early scoring the game’s first two goals, the once on a rip from midfielder Braydon Spencer (Olentangy Liberty, Ohio) and the second off a nice dodge from midfielder Luke Ray (Milford, Ohio), who committed to Towson shortly after the event. Resolute’s Brady Sesteli (Dublin Jerome, Ohio) also scored a monster lefty shot to the top corner for the team’s only other goal.
Eclipse finished the NLF Fall Invitational with a 9-9 tie against Team 91 STH for a 1-1-1 record.
“After the first game of the day we clicked,” Coales said. “It’s a fairly new team, new boys, and in the second game we kind of found our groove.”
Laxachusetts 7, West Coast Starz 6
Another battle between club powerhouses, both Laxachusetts and West Coast Starz kept the energy up despite fighting fatigue from a long weekend of lacrosse. In the end, Laxachusetts held off WCS to take a 7-6 win.
Down 5-3 at halftime, Laxachusetts goalie and NLF No. 15 ’23 Connor Foley (Thayer, Mass. / Brown) stood on his head with at least four big saves to keep it close. Foley did a particularly excellent job protecting the pipes and making big stops when his team needed them.
“They were definitely working the ball, but our D, we just talked, everyone talked. We were all on the same page,” Foley said.
Nagle’s Offense Powers Laxachusetts
While Foley kept the game close, Laxachusetts’ offense kept crawling back. Attackman Ryan Nagle (Duxbury, Mass.) brought the score to within one, cutting to the cage and scoring on an assist from Beau Chouinard (Thayer, Mass.). Bruno Chapman (St. Ignatius Prep, Calif.) answered with a nice lefty righty dodge and score to make it 6-4.
West Coast Starz wouldn’t score again, with Laxachusetts notching three consecutive goals including the game-winner.
Midfielder Pearse MacDonald (Governor’s, Mass.) scored on a time-and-room rip off an assist from Nagle, and attackman Samuel McDonald (Winchester) finished topside to tie it 6-6. Nagle then buried the ball on an assist from Nico Berger (Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, Mass.) on an EMO opportunity after a late penalty was called against WCS to make it 7-6 and give Laxachusetts the win.
West Coast Starz offense was sharp early, with four different players scoring in the first half led by attackman Harrison Edwards (West Linn, Ore. / Saint Joseph’s) with two goals. Laxachusetts’ Berger also had a strong first half scoring two goals. West Coast Starz defensemen were also particularly active, with Evan Stockton (Denver East, Colo.) forcing key turnovers.
Laxachusetts finished the NLF Fall Invitational 2-1, with wins over WCS and Express. West Coast Starz defeated Express to finish 1-2 at the event.