Connor DeSimone was just a baby when he got his first glimpse of what a championship trophy feels like. His dad Joe DeSimone, who is also the founder of Lacrosse Unlimited, owned the Major League Lacrosse team the Long Island Lizards and DeSimone attended every game.
In the early 2000s, the Lizards won three championships and division titles; DeSimone was front row for all of them. In an interview with The News-Letter, DeSimone remembered the family photos of him sitting next to the championship trophy that was taller than he was.
Since he first picked up a lacrosse stick in kindergarten, DeSimone always had the talent and capability to excel. It’s in his blood: All of his siblings have gone on to play collegiate lacrosse. In his senior year of high school, he scored 60 goals and added 54 assists and earned U.S.A. Today, U.S. Lacrosse and Under Armour All-American honors. In 2017, Connor DeSimone became the second consecutive Hopkins men's lacrosse player to be named the MVP of the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Game.
In an interview with The News-Letter, DeSimone, now a fifth-year graduate student, recalled what made Hopkins stand out from the rest.
“Seeing how my values aligned with the University’s was special to me. Going to a school where they valued lacrosse and school as much as me and my family did is what influenced my decision to come to Hopkins,” he said.
His freshman season, DeSimone was exceptional. He was ranked as the number-five freshman and the number-two freshman midfielder in the nation by Inside Lacrosse.
DeSimone credits his early success to team continuity.
“The team was great that year. From the upperclassmen to the newcomers, everyone was very welcoming. It really helped accelerate the process of knowing who I am, knowing my game, and having some responsibility on my back,” he said.
DeSimone recaptured that championship feeling he had as a child in 2018 when Hopkins defeated Maryland in the Big Ten Championship. According to him, the feeling brought him back to his days watching his father’s Long Island Lizards as a child.
“Winning that first championship was an awesome experience. As a freshman I was completely star-struck thinking to myself, ‘Am I supposed to be here?’“
However, as every athlete and fan knows, the path to winning a championship is never easy. That euphoric title feeling would escape DeSimone and the other Blue Jays his sophomore season when they lost to the Pennsylvania State University in overtime of the Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship.
“It was a tough feeling. You put in all that work over the summer and fall just to fall short in the end. I felt terrible for the seniors knowing they wouldn’t get an opportunity to come back. It was heartbreaking,” he said.
COVID-19 forced DeSimone to miss out on his junior campaign. The team had to sit and reflect on the devastating title loss for another year.
Over the offseason, DeSimone made a flawless transition from midfielder to attackman. In 2021, he led the team in goals (25), assists (20) and points (45), all while being a Second Team All-Big Ten selection.
DeSimone credits assistant coach John Grant with his immediate success at the attackman spot. Grant is one of the most accomplished players in college, professional and international lacrosse history and DeSimone marveled at the chance to be mentored by the all-time great.
“He’s a great coach and one of the best lacrosse players to ever play the game. During that transition time, he took me under his wing and told me how to improve and accelerate. He’s been there every step of the way,” he said.
The championship would elude Hopkins again in 2021, however. This time they lost to the University Maryland, College Park in the Big Ten tournament 12-10.
“Getting back to the championship and losing again was tough for us considering we made such big strides as a team at the end of the season. It hit me how hard it is to be there and win,” he said.
The men’s lacrosse team has unfinished business to take care of this year, and the quest to capture a Big Ten and NCAA title starts with diligent practices. As one of the leaders on this team, DeSimone has been impressed with the level of intensity the team has shown so far.
“There was a significant change in intensity from last spring. Our practices are intense; everyone is trying to make each other better,” he said.
That intensity was put on full display last Saturday in the home opener against Jacksonville University. DeSimone recorded a hat trick and an assist in an 11-8 win for the Blue Jays.
“It’s great to be back. It was a long preseason, so to be able to get a win in our first regular season game was a good feeling,” he said.
DeSimone wants his team to experience the joy he felt winning the Big Ten Championship his freshman season. Though the team has the Big Ten and NCAA championship on their mind, he noted that they are still taking it one day at a time.
“Everyone knows the goal. When you come to Hopkins you want to win Big Ten and national championships, but we are focused on getting through each and every week with the goal of getting better,” he said. “We are taking it day by day.”