NCAA lacrosse quarters returning to Hofstra means homecoming for many players

NCAA lacrosse quarters returning to Hofstra means homecoming for many players
Manhasset product and former Chaminade star Charles Balsamo and his Duke men's lacrosse team fell to Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals at Hofstra Saturday. Photo credit: James Maguire/Skybox Images

Technically, the NCAA college lacrosse season doesn’t end for another week.
But for Cal Girard, a former Manhasset star, some home cooking came early thanks to a wonderful confluence of the schedule.

Neither the Duke nor Notre Dame men’s lacrosse teams were playing a “home” game Saturday when their teams competed in NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

But for Girard and 9 other players from both squads, it absolutely felt like one. With so many athletes from both teams having grown up in Manhasset and played there or for Mineola’s Chaminade High School, the amount of friends and family in the stands, and familiarity with the field, made it seem like home.

Girard, a freshman at Duke who won two state championships on Hofstra’s turf, getting to come back there was a small slice of heaven.

“It’s super exciting to get to go back, I can’t wait,” Girard said a few days before the game. “To grow up so close to Hofstra, and go to so many games there, and win the state titles there, it’s amazing to be able to play there again.”

The Saturday quarterfinals were a split decision for the locals. The octet of Chaminade players competing for No.1 seed Notre Dame enjoyed their homecoming immensely as the Fighting Irish advanced to the national semifinals with a 16-11 win over Georgetown.
But No. 2 seed Duke saw a fourth-quarter lead slip away and fell to No. 7 Maryland, 14-11.

Duke’s team boasts two local players, with faceoff specialist Girard and sophomore Charles Balsamo, an attack.

As expected, Girard hasn’t gotten a ton of playing time this season since Duke boasts one of the best faceoff men in the country in Jake Naso, but he’s learned and managed to win 44 percent of his draws.

Balsamo has scored six goals and tallied eight assists in 18 games entering Saturday, and in the quarterfinal loss scored one goal and had an assist.

Three days before the game, Balsamo spoke excitedly about coming back to Hofstra, after an all-American career at Chaminade.

“I was talking to my teammates at breakfast today and I told them that a quarterfinal at Hofstra is like the mecca of college lacrosse,” he said. “At least it is to the Long Island guys. “To get to see so many classic games there as a kid, and then play on that field for (Chaminade), it’s such a thrill to get to come back here.”

How deep are the ties between Chaminade and Notre Dame? Besides the fact that eight ex-Flyers are on the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame’s graduation was scheduled for Saturday, May 18.

With the lacrosse team obviously in New York and unavailable to attend, Chaminade on Friday hosted a separate grad ceremony for the 25 Irish players who were missing their school commencement.

The synergy is very strong.

“It’s a lot of similarities between the schools and (Chaminade Coach Jack) Moran and how well he prepares us for college and life,” Notre Dame sophomore Christian Alacqua said. “The chance to play for these two great programs has been amazing.”

Duke has plenty of good NCAA Tournament history at Hofstra; five years ago Saturday, in a game remembered very vividly by Balsamo, Girard and (less happily, Notre Dame’s Alacqua) the Blue Devils got an overtime goal from Jon Robinson to beat the Fighting Irish, 14-13 in this same round.

This year Duke and Notre Dame, who met in last year’s title game, could have met again in the championship.

But despite all the familiarity between the Chaminade players on Duke and Notre Dame, Balsamo was very adamant that there would be no catching up with buddies at Hofstra.

“No, no, absolutely not,” Balsamo said. “Maybe in the offseason, but right now we are sticking with our Duke blood. No talking to those other guys.”

Ex-Chaminade goalie Alex Zepf, who played two minutes Saturday in relief of ex-Chaminade goalie Liam Entenmann, said the support he and his mates feel on Long Island goes a long way.

“We know how great the community of lacrosse fans and Chaminade fans are here, so getting to play at Hofstra is going to feel like a home game,” Zepf said. “We want to win the championship again and getting to play at Hofstra to try to get there is really special.”

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