Shrewsbury's Bonitz riding high as a lacrosse world champion
The COVID-19 pandemic presented plenty of obstacles for everyone. For Jackson Bonitz, it prevented him from playing the sport he loves at the highest level.
The Shrewsbury native had been recommended by his high school head coach to try out for the USA Lacrosse under-19 national team. After all, Bonitz was captain of his McDonogh High School team in Owings Mills, Md., and was ranked No. 8 overall and second among defensive players on the Inside Lacrosse Power 100 incoming recruits in 2020. He had earned the chance.
“I didn’t think that highly of myself, but I was honored,” Bonitz said. “I didn’t know how it would end up.”
Bonitz's parents and brothers all attended Susquehannock High School, where his father Toby coached football and both his brothers played the sport. But Jackson's lacrosse talent had earned him offers from elite private-school programs in Maryland, and several of his friends had already left home on similar paths. Bonitz joined an elite McDonogh program, and by his senior year, he was a captain on both the football and lacrosse teams.
There were 105 players at the national team tryout. It took three sessions before it dwindled to the final 24 and Bonitz made the cut. But then the pandemic hit, pausing athletic activities across the country and worldwide.
“We weren’t sure we would get to play,” Bonitz said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I was super grateful to be picked. We thought it would be canceled completely.”
That didn’t completely discourage Bonitz, though. He knew eventually, if the opportunity came, he had to be prepared. He played in men's leagues when he couldn't join his soon-to-be teammates at the Naval Academy. He practiced the sport whenever he could.
“My girlfriend and my mom would ask what I was doing or say I was playing too much. But I knew I wanted to be ready,” said Bonitz. “You don’t get another chance for something like this. I needed to be at my best. People told me to rest and I said no.”
Fortunately, his chance came when he become a member of the 2022 USA Lacrosse U-21 Team that played in the 2022 World Lacrosse Championship in Limerick, Ireland, from Aug. 10-20. It was decided that the U-19 roster would remain intact and compete two years later.
The 5-foot-10 defenseman and his teammates didn’t waste the opportunity. They had been waiting two years just to play. Two years just to have a chance at fulfilling a lifelong dream.
A record 23 teams competed in the tournament, and the United States captured the U-21 gold medal with a 12-10 win over Canada in the final. Bonitz said the experience was not only fulfilling personally, but a testament to how close the players had come with each other.
“Surreal feeling. Great weather. The field made it feel like playing at home," Bonitz said of his time in Ireland. "We lived in a village five minutes away from the stadium. We got extremely close. Great group of guys."
Even though he fought a few obstacles to hang gold around his neck, Bonitz said the physical reward of winning didn't compare to the unforgettable journey he and his teammates went on.
“It felt like just a piece of metal. It’s the experiences that matter. I will never forget what we accomplished,” Bonitz said. “I learned from the best coaches, best players. Learned more about the team experience. Cool cultural experience.”
Bonitz's success in the sport has continued at Navy, where he has been an Inside Lacrosse Honorable Mention All-American and USA Lacrosse Magazine Third Team All-American. The 21-year-old was also a 2022 First Team All-Patriot League selection. And he has learned the discipline and responsibility he said he sought when choosing a college.
“I wanted to be around disciplined people,” he said. “I wanted to learn the value of serving the country.”
But with service time required after graduation, Bonitz knows his lacrosse playing days are coming toward an end.
“I think about it sometimes. I’m most likely done in two years,” he said. “But there will be other challenges. There will be other things I have to get done.”
No matter what the rest of Bonitz's career has in store, he will always have the experience with the national team to remember fondly. He made friends in a special experience that few people get the chance to participate in. And he will forever have the photos, stories and gold medal from his two weeks in Ireland.