Nation Ford Falcons Boys Lacrosse Wins State Championship
In the Bible, God says to his people ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ But on April 29th in the SC 5A boys lacrosse state championship game, revenge belonged, at least in part, to Ben Walczak.
To understand that claim we have to go back to the last year’s state championship game. That game featured the same Nation Ford Falcons and Wando Warriors. In that game, the Falcons came in as the undefeated Upper State champs in only their second state championship appearance. Meanwhile, Wando was making its 11th appearance in the state title game. That includes the 2017 game against the Cinderella Nation Ford team of that year.
The first half of last year’s game was a tough, back-and-forth half of lacrosse. The Warriors led at the half 11-9. But a play early in the second quarter played a big part in the final outcome. NaFo’s All-State defensive LSM Ben Walzcak was knocked out by a big hit and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Ben was ultimately okay, and even made it home in time to go to his Junior prom later that night. But the defense felt his absence in the second half. The Falcons were unable to withstand the Wando offensive onslaught, went scoreless and fell 21-9 to the Warriors.
Coach Cory Turner vowed at the time that his Falcons would be back. So expectations were high as the 2023 pre-season started in early February. But setbacks came their way early; Senior Ashton Tauzin was lost for the season to injury and another Senior was lost to ineligibility problems (and maybe other issues that I know nothing about). After a successful 13-3 regular season, another region title and three more playoff wins, the Falcons were again set to face Wando in the 5A state championship game in Irmo.
But this year, quiet determination replaced last year’s nervous energy. As someone who spends a lot of time on the sidelines around teams getting ready for games, I can sometimes sense when a team is ready, when they’re distracted, when they lose focus, or when they’re feeling intimidated. On THIS day, this team was ready. They were determined. They were confident. And they couldn’t wait to get started.
Nobody demonstrated this more than Senior Ben Walczak. As he went through the warm-up routine, he was calm and focused. At one point he stopped to scan the crowd, maybe looking for his parents, maybe to see the large and vocal contingent of Falcon fans, maybe just to take it all in. I snapped some photos because I was struck by the look on his face that I could see through the cage of his helmet. It seemed to be saying ‘Not this year, Wando. This is our year. This is MY year!’
And once the game started it was evident the Falcons came to win. After jumping out to 2-0 lead, then a 3-1 lead, the Falcons stayed in the lead most of the first half. Falling behind briefly at 5-4 and 6-5, NaFo led 8-6 at the half and never trailed again. Each time Wando would get close, the Falcons would respond, most often with a goal from Sophomore Josh Ameo. Time and again he would gather a ground ball at midfield or beyond and take the ball straight up the field, through a gauntlet of defenders pounding at him, to the goal and zip it past the goalie for a score. Scoring seven of the team’s 13 goals, he seemed at times to be unstoppable. Senior Luke Letterhos got the hat trick with 3 goals, Senior Ryan Kell added 2 sores and Senior Owen Ameo scored once.
On the defensive end, the Falcon defenders kept the powerful Wando offensive machine under control. One play during the 3rd quarter was powerful evidence that the Falcons’ defense, especially Ben Walzcak, was up to the challenge.
We’re GONNA WIN!
With the score close and Wando fighting to get even, there was a scramble for a ground ball. Falcon defenders surrounded a Wando player as they all fought for the loose ball. Someone scooped the ball straight up into the air, high above the group. As the Wando player reached high to snag the ball in his netting, Walzcak began moving his way. With the ball in the Wando player’s possession, Ben hit him hard with the cross-check and steamrolled him to the ground, jarring the ball loose. It was a great defensive play that demonstrated Ben’s resolve to avenge last year’s loss and help the Falcons bring home the first state championship in program history.
When I saw the photos on the back of my camera, I felt like Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks’ character in ‘League of Their Own’)’, when he exclaimed ‘We’re GONNA WIN!!’ (Nevermind that the Peaches lost…the Falcons WON!). After the final seconds ticked off the clock and the team rushed the field to celebrate. Ben Walczak looked for one person; Coach Cory. Coach Turner has been coaching Ben since he started playing on youth club teams 10 years ago. This win was the culmination of all their work together. So nothing was more important to Ben than sharing that moment with his long-time coach.
photo shared by Mimi Walczak
So Ben got his revenge, as did the entire team. The Nation Ford Falcons earned a state championship trophy and more respect for Fort Mill area lacrosse. And Coach Turner has set the bar high for the Falcons program in only his 3rd year at the helm. For this former lacrosse dad, it was an exciting and satisfying moment to witness. Thank you to the Nation Ford athletics community for allowing me to be a part of it all again this school year.
Check out more action photos from this game and other Nation Ford Falcons teams here