Cardinal Gibbons senior Brendan Tully and his teammates won't soon forget May 19, 2006.
That was the day they attended the funeral of former teammate and 2005 graduate Justin Fisher just hours before losing a title game that was dedicated to their friend and mentor, who was killed in a police shooting.
"I've kept every newspaper clipping from last season, and the couple of pictures, images and all the words really jump off the page at me and put me right back there," said Tully, the Crusaders' goaltender. "Attending the funeral, and all -- that whole morning, that was just a blur -- right up until that afternoon at about 3 o'clock when the whistle blew for the game."
Tully recalled losing the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference title game despite a valiant, emotionally charged effort against Chapelgate Christian of Howard County.
Gibbons attackmen Josh Skene and Ryan Kearney combined for seven goals in a contest that was tied five times, but Tully was unable to stop the game-winning goal with 44 seconds left in overtime.
The loss came against a team the Crusaders had beaten twice, and it ended a school-record 14-1 season for a squad that was seeking the program's first lacrosse championship since 1972.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," Tully said. "The memories from that day will be with me forever."
Nearly a year later, fundraising has led to a weight room that is being built in honor of Fisher, said Jamie Carver, who was named The Sun's Coach of the Year for Baltimore City for leading the Crusaders through an unbeaten regular season.
"These players want to carry on Justin Fisher's legacy," Carver said. "They're coming off their best season in school history, and the team's goal, since the loss last year, has been to get back to the championship."
Before being drawn closer together by last year's experiences, many of the seniors already were a tight-knit group before arriving at Gibbons.
Kearney, Joe Ames and Tully "have been pals since our days in diapers," said Ames, who grew up with those two as lacrosse teammates in Catonsville's recreational leagues. Kearney and Ames will remain teammates next year at Division III Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., as will Skene and midfielder Joe Valderas at CCBC-Essex.
This season was a topic of discussion between Ames and Valderas last fall on a fishing trip along the Patapsco River.
"I remember the weather was good, and Joe caught a trout -- but we spent most of the time talking about the upcoming season," Ames said. "We all looked up to Justin, who was like an older cousin to me. We talked about how much this senior year was going to mean to us. We've got more of a fire in our bellies to win it all."
Kearney and Ames were named to The Sun's All-Baltimore City second team at the end of last season. Skene and Tully were named to the All-MIAA C Conference team. Their collective efforts have led to a record of 9-3, including 9-1 against C Conference rivals and a split of games with Chapelgate.
Through 12 games, Kearney (20 goals, 12 assists) and Skene (21, eight) were the Crusaders' top scorers, with Valderas having won 74 percent of his faceoffs.
Much of the team's focus comes from Carver, 34, who, as a former player, was accustomed to winning long before guiding the Crusaders to last year's turnaround after they went 6-5 and 5-6 the previous two seasons.
Carver starred as Calvert Hall's top-scoring attackman before graduating in 1990 and then as a midfielder at Essex in 1991 and '92, helping the school earn a national title in '91.
"The players are dedicated," said Carver, a 1997 graduate of the University of Maryland. "They want to honor Justin's memory by playing as Justin would have -- with intensity and pride."
Tully's pride is hereditary.
Not only did Tully take aim at reinvigorating the Crusaders program by coming to Gibbons instead of attending a program more noted for its lacrosse, he did so to continue a family tradition. Tully's father, Jim, and his uncle, Bill, played at Gibbons before graduating in 1970 and 1971, respectively.
"It was a bit of a gamble coming here, I guess, trying to rebuild a program where lacrosse wasn't as big as it is at other schools. But I feel like I did the right thing. My father and my uncle, we talk lacrosse at every family party, and they've both become more involved in the school since I've come here," said Tully, who plans to play lacrosse next season at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
"I don't want to experience losing the title game again, but even if we lose, we'll still support each other probably for the rest of our lives as a result of everything that we've been through," Tully said. "And when we look back on the time we spent together at Gibbons, it's going to definitely feel good to know that when we left the lacrosse program, it was headed in the right direction."