When the final whistle blew at Towson University’s Unitas Stadium and Boston College had beaten ACC rival Syracuse 16-10 to secure the program’s first-ever national title, former Franklin stars Annie Walsh and Erin Walsh were among the Eagles storming the field to celebrate and lift the championship trophy.
Amid all of the postgame revelry, the sisters, who have played on the same teams for years, were able to share a moment together and reflect on the experience of being champions.
“We just turned and looked at each other and were like we did it,” said Annie, a sophomore midfielder. “We were just standing on the field hugging. It was crazy. Erin was bawling her eyes out.”
While the national title was the culmination of the women’s lacrosse program’s growth from becoming a varsity sport in 1992 to its first trip to the NCAA tournament two decades later to the pinnacle of the sport this spring, it also added a trophy to the Walsh family’s already impressive legacy in Chestnut Hill (going back to parents Jack and Lisa meeting as undergrads at BC).
Caitlin Walsh followed up her time at Rivers by reaching three Frozen Fours with the BC women’s hockey team and Christina, who played one year at Franklin before going on to St. Mark’s, was a defender for the Eagles as they went to three straight national title games.
“I remember after we won, we stormed the field, we gathered around the goalie and then we were just walking back to the coaches and I turned around and saw my mom and my dad and it just at that moment hit me…I was just speechless,” Annie explained. “It makes it so much more meaningful when you can play with your best friends and for your family.”
It was also a special moment for their former coach, Kristin Igoe Guarino. The Franklin coach was a star on the first NCAA tournament team at BC, was named to the All-ACC team four times, and was a Tewaaraton Award nominee in 2012. She got to not only watch her alma mater win an elusive title but cheer on two of her former players as well.
“Looking back, I now realize that my class and the teams I was a part of, were just the first small steps to building a national powerhouse,” she said. “With the 2021 team winning the national championship, it is like the icing on the cake, and it makes my journey as a BC player have meaning. I am so thankful to have played a small role in something great.
“I was also so happy for Annie and Erin to have that experience and represent Franklin. Seeing them smile and celebrate made me feel very proud as a coach!”
Annie added, “I remember watching her when I was younger and when I heard that she was going to be the Franklin coach I was so excited. Us winning this national championship wasn’t just for our team, it was for everyone that came before us.”
Although Erin saw limited playing time as a freshman, getting into three games this season, Annie saw her playing time increase as a sophomore, playing in 21 games and starting four times. She finished with 15 goals and two assists, including a hat trick against UMass, and recorded a ground ball in the final.
The season also took on a different perspective because of how 2020 was abruptly cancelled due to the pandemic. Annie said, “I think that totally changed everyone’s perspective on why we play and we really appreciate everyone so much more. It definitely made us want to be there for each other and our team really embodies a family.”
Three straight trips to the national title game without bringing home the hardware can be a difficult mental hurdle, but Annie felt those experiences built the foundation for this year’s triumph.
“It shows how resilient our team is and our coach is,” she said. “Yeah there’s a lot of pressure but our coaches knew how to handle it because they’d been there before. I think it worked out for us in the end because we were prepared for the weekend. Yeah, we lost three years in a row, but that also prepared us for winning it all.”
That resiliency was put to the test in the semifinal against North Carolina, the tournament’s top seed, the ACC champs, the undefeated defending national champs, which beat BC in their only meeting and was riding a 27-game win streak. The Eagles rallied from an early deficit to take an 8-5 lead at halftime and extended the lead to 11-6 with 15 minutes to play. UNC stormed back, holding BC scoreless for the remainder of the game but eventually falling one goal short.
“I know it’s scary playing a one-seed, undefeated, but we were all just confident,” Annie said of the challenge of playing UNC. Confidence was sky high after beating the Tar Heels, but BC managed to stay grounded because of its history in the final and because it was going against a team that had already beaten the Eagles twice, including in the ACC tournament semifinal.
“After that game[against North Carolina] our coach was like, ‘You’ve come too far. You have one more stop.’ I think in the back of our minds we were like, ‘We can actually do this.’ We just believed in ourselves a little bit more.”
It had been five days since the title game, but it was clear that the result was still just sinking in. Annie laughed, “I think as soon as we go home and it will finally just be like, ‘Oh my God, we won the whole thing.’ It’s crazy.”
She added, “I think all of us, it’s something we’ve been chasing our entire lives even since we were little girls and it’s just so surreal. Our team motto is ‘Dream Big’ and it’s just crazy that we chased our dreams and they came true.”