After waiting two years due to COVID-19 restrictions, South Carolina men's club lacrosse defended its 2019 national championship on May 14, 2022.
In the national championship, the Gamecocks faced Georgia Tech who dealt the team a loss earlier in the year.
The Gamecocks got off to a strong start and led 8-3 at the half, largely thanks to senior attackman Sam Weis who had a hat-trick in the first 6 minutes of the game. The team defended a late surge and secured the championship 11-9 with a game-winning goal from junior attackman Ryan Vermeulen.
Weis was named the MCLA Tournament MVP and First Team All-American, All-Conference and SELC Offensive Player of the Year.
"It was the most rewarding feeling ever — winning that game and getting the MVP and going out on the highest possible point I could," Weis said. "It was a perfect ending."
Weis's 62 goals finished him in the top four collegiately between NCAA divisions one, two and MCLA club levels.
In the fall of 2021, the Gamecocks changed staff when former assistant coach Peter Candela took over as head coach. The team had an almost entirely new group to start the year with only seven players from the 2019 championship roster.
Candela graduated from USC and played for the Gamecocks after a two-year stint at Limestone College. He follows the most accomplished coach in program history, James Harkey.
Harkey took over in 2014 and went 73-18 in six seasons as head coach at South Carolina. He was named the 2019 Flip Naumberg MCLA Coach of the Year.
Harkey said the turnaround was all internal.
"I tried to help give a blueprint, but at the end of the day, what makes a team successful is ownership by the players," Harkey said.
USC began their 2022 season 3-3 with losses to Boston College, Liberty and Georgia Tech. The team looked to captains Weis and senior defenseman Chris Greenberg to help get back on track.
"We're talented, and we play free-flowing lacrosse and not too structured. So we had to solve a few structure problems," Weis said. "Everything's gonna work itself out."
Candela stressed the importance of the losses in the long run and noted how his team responded to the adversity.
"Sometimes it's good to have those losses early on, so guys can start realizing, 'Hey, we need to do some things a little bit differently and work a little bit harder here and there,'" Candela said.
The team went on to win their next seven games by a combined score of 117-49. The run was capped with a big win at Clemson in a back and forth affair. The game drew a crowd of around 3,000 people to Riggs Field to witness the Battle for the Palmetto State.
"That was one of the best-orchestrated club lacrosse games of all time. With the fans and the venue and the amount of hype that was leading up to that game, it was just incredible," Weis said.
The game came down to the wire until Vermeulen, whom teammates call the "slim reaper," buried the game-winning goal in overtime.
The Gamecocks then advanced through the SELC conference tournament, avenging losses to Georgia Tech and Liberty along the way, and continued momentum through championship weekend.
For Weis and Greenberg, going out on top was the storybook ending that was two years in the making.
"This year obviously meant a lot more to me than the second one after two years of adversity, and then also as being a leader on the team being captain. It's very special," Greenberg said.