This year's Major League Lacrosse (MLL) season looked a bit different than in the past.
Due to the ongoing restrictions and safety protocols surrounding the coronavirus, the league conducted a vastly shortened regular season with a title game just over a week after competition began. Nevertheless, a champion was crowned in what was the league's 20th anniversary — and a familiar face guided the winning squad to victory.
Sean Quirk, who was the head men's lacrosse coach at Endicott College from 1998-2015, led the Boston Cannons past the Denver Outlaws, 13-10, last Sunday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. to seize the crown.
It was the perfect ending to a whirlwind season for the Cannons and the MLL, one that Quirk says still provided plenty of euphoria and sense of accomplishment.
"It really did feel great," said Quirk, who went 243-95 with the Gulls, capturing eight Commonwealth Coast Conference championships and four CCC Coach of the Year awards in his 18 seasons. He currently serves as Associate Director of Athletics at Endicott and resides in nearby Nahant.
"In a traditional season we play 10 weeks and then the playoffs, but I think in 2020 the experience was just as meaningful for our players," Quirk added. "The games were all on ESPN, so that was a great opportunity for us and the game of lacrosse as a whole. It was just great to come out on top."
The Cannons began their 5-game regular season by defeating the New York Lizards (16-14) in their opener. They then split their next four games before landing in the championship bout against Denver — all this occurring after a positive COVID-19 test prompted two of the league's six teams (Chesapeake Bayhawks and Connecticut Hammerheads) to forfeit, wiping out the league's scheduled semifinals.
Having just beaten the Outlaws 10-8 two days prior, Quirk's squad had plenty of confidence heading into the postseason finale.
"I thought our guys really competed well together, especially after playing seven games in 10 days. We just recovered well from games; the guys really took care of their bodies and competed at such a high level," said Quirk. "There was zero mental mistakes in that championship game."
The championship contest offered consistent entertainment, albeit in front of zero fans, with Boston shooting out to a 5-4 lead after just 15 minutes. Justin Pugal beat the halftime buzzer with a 2-point shot to give the Cannons an 8-6 lead at the break — one they wouldn't relinquish until the final whistle.
John Uppgren finished with five goals and an assist in the trophy-clinching victory, while Mark Cockerton added three scores and a helper to boot.
Five Cannons elected not to play in the final game due to the risk of coronavirus.
The game, and the season itself, may have had a different vibe than usual. But it was high-level lacrosse nonetheless, and Quirk and his Cannons will still go down as league champions in the record books.