Brother Rice Holds Off Familiar Foe to Take Back Division 1 Title

By Drew Ellis
Special for Second Half

June 10, 2023

EAST GRAND RAPIDS – Riding the championship experience the program has built for decades, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice is back on top of Michigan Division 1 lacrosse.

Leading by just a goal with 4:47 to play, the Warriors would capitalize on their offensive opportunities and score three consecutive goals to put the Division 1 Final with Detroit Catholic Central out of reach, eventually prevailing 14-11.

“It came down to our players, and it always does in these big games,” Brother Rice coach Ajay Chawla said. “Our guys won a lot of 50/50 balls. We just had a lot of gutsy performances today. Everybody stepped up today when they needed to. It was a team win, and that is what it takes in these championship games.”

In 2022, Brother Rice (20-2) lost the MHSAA Final for just the second time in history, falling in overtime to Hartland, 11-10.

Led by 14 seniors, the Warriors displayed championship poise during the key phases of Saturday’s Final.

Polonkey works for position against. DCC’s Cal Taulbee.“Those seniors were in the locker room last year and had to listen to the (Hartland) celebration. They never forgot that,” Chawla said. “They started working the next day, and it never stopped. This day is a culmination of all that work. You could see today that they were determined not to lose that game.”

One of the seniors who made a big impact in this win was Hunter Polonkey. The midfielder was dealing with a torn meniscus in his right knee, but gutted it out and racked up three goals and three assists.

“When you are out on the field with your adrenaline rushing, you don’t feel it too much,” Polonkey said of the knee injury. “I am sure I will be feeling it later, but I wasn’t going to let that keep me from this game.”

Polonkey scored the opening goal in the second minute to give Brother Rice the initial lead, but Catholic Central (19-3) would answer with three consecutive goals to establish a 3-1 advantage, which was the largest lead the Shamrocks had in the contest. 

With momentum all on the side of Catholic Central, Polonkey fired off a desperate shot in the closing seconds of the first quarter that managed to find the net. It put the Warriors down only 3-2 after one and sparked a five-goal rally that carried into the second period. 

Polonkey would assist on two goals early in the second period and help the Warriors to a 6-3 advantage.

“Hunter Polonkey, he’s going into surgery next week. He battles out there today and just crushes it,” Chawla said.

Catholic Central would answer the Brother Rice rally with one of its own. Jack Cyrek and Lachlan Moffatt scored before halftime to make it 6-5 at the break. Sean Donahue would then start the second half with a pair of goals to put the Shamrocks up 7-6 in the third, which was their last lead.

Polonkey ended the Catholic Central run with his third goal midway through the third period. Sam Klein and Caiden Ramos followed with goals to put the Warriors back up, 9-7.

“Our guys did a good job of withstanding the runs, and that’s a big deal,” Chawla said. “That’s a real sign of character and leadership from our guys.”

Jack Cyrek (7) looks for an opening with Rice’s Robert MacMichael (28) among those defending.Catholic Central would cut its deficit to a goal three times, but the Warriors had an answer each time.

When Moffatt scored with 4:47 to play to cut the Rice lead to 11-10, the Warriors answered just 20 seconds later on a score from Johnny Kunz. 

Rice goalie Cam Sims then made a key save that opened the door for goals from Christian McNulty and Klein to lock up the title.

“Sims is a great goalie, and he’s been making big saves for us all year,” Chawla said.

Cyrek would get his fourth goal for Catholic Central with 1:20 to play, but the Shamrocks couldn’t generate any more offense after that.

“A lot of people want to be at this game, but only two can. When you get to this point, if you make a mistake, the opponent is going to take advantage of it and make you pay for it,” Detroit Catholic Central coach Dave Wilson said. “We made some mistakes down the stretch and (Brother Rice) made us pay.”

Cyrek finished with four goals and four assists for the Shamrocks, while Donahue scored four times. Catholic Central goalie Charles Graves also had a strong showing, recording 12 saves.

“Charles was seeing the ball pretty well today,” Wilson said of Graves. “Goalies need short memories, so when he gave up one he thought he should have had, it just motivated him more. He made some incredible saves today.”

Klein finished with three goals for the Warriors to go with the three for Polonkey. Sims finished with 10 saves in net.

Brother Rice has won 16 MHSAA Division 1 championships, while reaching all 18 Division 1 Finals.

“It’s a credit to our coaching staff, our parents, our kids and to the whole school,” Chawla said of the success of the lacrosse program. “It takes a lot of work from everyone, but everyone has been committed and that is what it takes to build the championship culture we have at Rice.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Brother Rice including Hunter Polonkey (14) celebrates Saturday. (Middle) Polonkey works for position against. DCC’s Cal Taulbee. (Below) Jack Cyrek (7) looks for an opening with Rice’s Robert MacMichael (28) among those defending. (Photos by Adam Sheehan/Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Future Has Arrived as Port Huron United Continues Impressive Climb

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 8, 2024

Brad McDougal knew when he returned to the Port Huron United lacrosse program in 2019 that in order to grow it to what he thought it could be, he’d have to build for the future.

Bay & ThumbHis plan was simple and time-tested: Start a youth program that would get players within the school system playing together more frequently and against better competition, preparing them to one day be varsity players.

It didn’t take long to see that it could work, and perhaps better and faster than he had hoped.

“We’ve known for a while (this was the year),” McDougal said. “Basically, when I started with that youth team, my ambition was if I can get four or five kids that have been coached, then build around them for the varsity program, that would be great. It turned out to be 15 of them.”

Behind 15 seniors, the majority of whom were part of McDougal’s original youth team, Port Huron United is competing at a level it never has before. United is ranked No. 9 in the Division 1 MPR following a 10-3 start, and won the Macomb Area Conference Red title for the first time in program history.

It’s a history that McDougal is plenty familiar with, having been a high school junior when the program began in 2006. McDougals have been part of the program ever since, whether it was him as a coach fresh out of high school and now, his brother Ben as a player, or his father Brian as a coach at various levels throughout all of it.

“Being around it as long as I have, that has sunk in,” he said. “The amount of teams that are reaching out to us now that never would have before – teams reaching out for film, ‘How were you able to defend this?’ Teams reaching out for scheduling that I think would have just ignored the email a couple years back. It’s definitely not lost on me.”

It’s also not lost on the players, who have heard McDougal talk about the program’s beginnings and have also seen first-hand a quick ascent.

As freshmen, this current group of seniors were a major part of a varsity team that played in the MAC Blue – the MAC’s divisions are based on performance, with Red being the highest – dominating it and earning promotion to the MAC White the following season. Another unbeaten league season put United into the MAC Red in 2023, and while there were some growing pains in going 2-3 against higher-level competition, there were signs of better things to come.

Matt Graham (12) maintains possession against the Cougars. “The second my class joined, we just dominated our leagues,” senior goalie Danny Moore said. “We went from Blue to White to Red in three years. Last year in the Red, we went 2-3, but it wasn’t without close games. I think (the rise) definitely stunned us a little bit. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about the giant leap we took. It’s like a world record long jump.”

Moore said the team started this season “like a cannonball out of the cannon with too much gun powder” as this group of seniors knew it was their last opportunity to play with one another.

United was dominant in its MAC Red season, going 5-0 and out-scoring opponents 61-12, not allowing more than three goals in any single game.

On the season, it has outscored opponents 136-50, led by senior goal-scoring threats Silas Klink, Jacob O’Hare, Nate DeLand, Matt Graham and Tim Monaghan. Moore is stopping more than 80 percent of the shots he’s faced, behind the defense of seniors Jack Bennett and Max Williams, and junior Parker Quinn, among others.

That’s despite a beefed-up nonconference schedule, which McDougal put together to better prepare his team for the upcoming postseason.

“We have a way harder schedule this year,” Klink said. “We haven’t ever made it to the Regional Final in all the program’s history, so that’s a big goal. I think scheduling all these teams, Coach McDougal knew what he was doing to get us battle-tested.”

Boys Lacrosse Regionals open May 16, and Lake Orion – which defeated Port Huron 11-4 in the season opener – is the host of United’s bracket.

Winning a Regional is the next goal for Port Huron, and McDougal repeatedly tells his team he wants a Michigan trophy. They’re ready to do all they can to make that happen, but also aren’t shying away from the possibility of blowing away his expectations once again.

“State champs,” said Bennett, who has committed to play lacrosse at Albion College along with Moore. “We want to go all the way. It would just be like – I don’t even know how to describe it. For the program, it would further push lacrosse at my high school and Port Huron. Twenty years ago, we didn’t even have a lacrosse team, so I think it would really push lacrosse in Port Huron.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Port Huron United’s Silas Klink (1) makes a run at the goal against Macomb Dakota. (Middle) Matt Graham (12) maintains possession against the Cougars. (Photos by Margaret Quinn.)