This guy just scored 4 goals and led his team, the University of Virginia Cavillers to a National Championship in front of 37,944 spectators. Impressive to say the least.
Winning championships isn’t uncommon for this Whitby native. Tack on a few Mintos to the NCAA Championship and this guy has a serious reputation of winning the biggest games. A.J. is currently playing for the NewJersey Pride in the MLL and will soon unleash his arsenal in the NLL this winter.
If you know lacrosse then you know that A.J. Shannon will find his name on another championship trophy soon. It was a treat to sit with a guy that weeks before just tore it up and stole the show in front of the largest lacrosse crowd ever assembled!
RB – It seems you win at just about every level of ball; high school, JR, college, etc…. Some guys play just because they love the sport, win-or-lose, but how much does winning drive you?
AJ-It’s pretty important. I guess that drive comes from coach (Jim) Bishop, who instilled that kind of work ethic in us when we (Whitby Warriors JR A) were younger. The thought of winning a national championship at any level makes for such an amazing moment, it’s something you think about for the rest of your life.
The work you put into it might take up a big chunk of your social life, but winning it all makes up for that. We (Virginia) looked at this year by saying there would be no drinking and stuff like that and just took it right out of our plans.
We did what we had to do. You only get so many shots at winning something like a Minto or a National Championship. It’s just something you always look back on and having that ring on your hand will always remind you of it.
There was no Syracuse, no Princeton, it was Virginia in ’03. Did you ever imagine something like this happening to you when you came to UVA to play lacrosse?
It’s kinda neat, being a kid from Canada and winning a National title. Everybody thinks of boxla when it comes to Canada, but we can play field too. We came close in years before, actually we shoulda won it a few years back but messed it up.
This year we just looked at it as, “whatever it takes.” Whatever we gotta do, we were gonna make sure we did it. We didn’t leave any stones unturned. We had an amazing senior class and all the seniors knew that we were gonna have to be good leaders. We worked our butts off everyday.
We were so close in the past, so we thought that if we cut aside little things and really worked as a team we would come out victorious. It’ so tough to win because the tournament is single game elimination. One stupid mistake and you’re done. To finish off Hopkins the way we did, in front of 38,000 people, is a dream come true.
How many people do you think really gave you guys a shot at beating Hopkins in the final? It seemed as if Blue Jays is what most people were thinking.
They beat us the time before, 8-7, in what was probably the worst game I’ve ever seen us play. Then we lost to Maryland the next week. We all knew after that Maryland game that we played just the worst possible lacrosse ever.
We knew we were talented, maybe even more talented that any other team. That’s when we knew we had to play more as a team as opposed to single guys trying to do too much. I think going into that game, a lot of people thought Hopkins was gonna beat us, more for the fact that they were on a real roll.
Going in there we had a good game plan and we just executed it really well. I knew our defense was gonna hold them to under 10 goals, I knew we could score more than that.
At what point during the game did you say to yourself, “We’re gonna win this thing”?
I had a really good idea we were gonna win it when Tillman (Johnson) made this huge save in the first quarter. Tillman just stuffed Kyle Barrie on an open shot and at that point, I think we were only up like 2-0, I was just like, “This game is ours.”
It was the Tillman Johnson Show the rest of the way. When your keeper starts doing stuff like that to start the game it just gives the rest of the team so much confidence. He stole the game for us. It sounds weird but after that save I really did think we had it.
How big an impact do you think Canadian kids are having in the college game in recent years? Guys like Brodie Merrill and the Wrays, what kind of impact do these kids have on the US colligate game?
I think we’re gonna start seeing a lot more Canadian kids start making it to programs in the States. Guys like Jeff Zywicki at UMass and Sean Greenhalgh at Cornell are proof of that.
I don’t think it’s so much lacrosse ability but more about athleticism that US coaches may have doubts about. American kids are better athletes and runners, which seems to be Canadian’s great flaw. Then there’s guys like Brodie Merrill, who I think is the best long stick Canada has right now, who is doing a heck of a job at Georgetown right now.
Another thing you gotta look at is grades. It’s tough at high school to hit the books all the time, but that’s what helps you get into some of the top-flight schools. These are tough schools to go to academically. It’s not just all lacrosse all the time.
I think John Grant JR and Gavin Prout really made people step up and take notice. US schools are scouting Canadian boxla games a lot, which is something I’d never seen before, now there’s a whole pile of coaches up there looking around.
I was leafing through a copy of SI a few weeks ago and noticed the story about you guys winning it all. You scored 4 goals in that game against the Blue Jays, almost half of your team’s 9 markers, and the article didn’t once mention your name.
They mentioned Christmas and Johnson, two amazing ballers, but christ, you scored 4 freakin’ goals in a fairly low scoring final. Do you think yourself and even other Canadian kids are getting the recognition they deserve in the US?