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Q&A: Gonzaga College High School Head Coach Casey O'Neill

May 20, 2015

Brendan O'Neill Sr. started the Gonzaga College High School lacrosse program in 1985, but his son, Casey, went on to turn the team into a national powerhouse.  

Casey O'Neill, a 1996 Gonzaga graduate, is now the Purple Eagles' assistant athletic director and head varsity lacrosse coach. 

During his time as a student, O'Neill played basketball, football and lacrosse. O'Neill missed his senior lacrosse season after tearing his ACL while playing football, but was still elected the captain of the lacrosse team. 

O'Neill quickly returned from his knee injury and played midfield at Lehigh. In 2000, he graduated from Lehigh with a degree in journalism and returned to Gonzaga as an assistant lacrosse coach the following year. 

After working as an assistant coach for seven years, O'Neill took over as head coach in 2008. Two years later, he led the program to its first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title since 1998. Since taking over, O'Neill has produced six straight conference titles and six teams with national rankings. His most recent title came May 11, when the Purple Eagles defeated Paul VI (Va.), 12-5.   

The Gonzaga head coach boasts a 136-34 career record and has been named WCAC Coach of the Year three times. In 2010, he was named Coach of the Year by the WCAC, The Washington Post, Washington D.C. All-District and US Lacrosse All-American Potomac Chapter. 

In addition to the on-field success, O'Neill provides philanthropic opportunities to lacrosse players at Gonzaga. 

During the last eight years, Gonzaga has sent more than 2,000 care packages to military units in Afghanistan. The Purple Eagles also partner with Children's National Medical Center, and in the last four years, they have raised $160,000. O'Neill takes his senior players on a tour of the children's hospital and invites all of his players to participate in a Brave and Shave Banquet at the end of each year. 

PressBox: What was the most memorable part of this year's season, and what made this team special? 

Casey O'Neill: The most memorable part outside of the championship was winning a couple of early season games over some great schools, like Boys' Latin, Hill Academy and Culver. Those really stuck out as big team wins. 

The makeup of this team was really difficult. We are city school with 970 boys from 160 different zip codes. We are in the middle of D.C., right in the shadows of [the] U.S. Capitol. We only have one field for all of our 17 varsity sports, and we didn't have that field, because it was under construction the entire year. 

We practiced at 10 different locations and played in five different college stadiums. We did not know where we were going each day, and we did not have that consistent place to go. We weren't able to watch as much film or lift as much as we usually do, because we were always traveling. But being able to get through that is what stuck out most. 

PB: Your team has won the WCAC title the last six years. Do you go into each season thinking you have to continue the streak?

CO: The streak is something you don't want to think about. Instead, you want to think about the task at hand. The ultimate goal is to win our league championship and work as hard as we possibly can to achieve that. 

The streak is not necessarily what we are looking at, but instead focusing forward on the task at hand and sticking to our core principals, which we created eight years ago -- never give up, family and God and accountability. The kids in these great programs are all the same, but the amount of effort and work we put into is what makes us successful. 

PB: You have won the WCAC Coach of the Year award three times. What do you attribute that success to?

CO: The assistant coaches -- it takes a village, not just one particular thing. I've set the core principals in the coaches, and everyone just runs with it. 

It's everyone from the freshman, JV coaches to varsity assistant coaches, but [I] would give up any coach of the year award for a player to get an honor or for the kids to get an opportunity to go play in college. 

PB: What do you like most about coaching for Gonzaga College?

CO: I went here, which I think is really cool. But my father started the program in 1985, and my brother was on that inaugural team. It was just a club team then, but they helped get it started. 

I also love the diversity of our students and where they come from. I love the energy here in the city, I love the schedule we play and I love the moments with kids. If you look at our roster, we have kids from Annapolis, Edgewater, Vienna, Fairfax and Southern Maryland. I just love the diversity of our roster. The family atmosphere that we've created is something really special. 

PB: Going into each season, the team is almost always ranked nationally in the top 25. Is that something you focus on?

CO: I think the national rankings are quite an honor. It's something we don't take for granted. You have to earn those things. Consistency speaks major volumes for our program to win six straight titles. To be a top 20 or 15 team the last six years, there are very few and far between programs who have stayed there, so we take pride in that. 

Ultimately, in this area, you want to be on top nationally, but also be on top locally, and I think that matters to the kids more. We want to be on top of [the] WCAC, but we also want to see that league be the best it can possibly be.  

PB: You have a coaching staff of nine. What's the reason behind that?

CO: It's what the kids deserve. If we are going to continue to build this and stay consistent, the kids and the families deserve coaches that are high quality and believe in the school and the program. 

Most of them have been here a long time. They've stuck with it. In high school, you have more assistants than at the college level, but we need it, because everybody has everyday lives. So when one guy can't be there, it helps. Lacrosse is a sport of different positions, so having a defensive coordinator, faceoff coach, offensive coordinator and goalie coach is very helpful. 

PB: When you're not coaching lacrosse, what can your team find you doing? 

CO: They can find me playing games with my 6-year-old daughter, lugging my 8-month-old daughter around and hanging out with my 14-year-old son. I love to play basketball and spend time with my wife. I also love fishing, camping and doing stuff with my family. I'm a family guy, but I like to have fun. I'm not boring. 

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