By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/29/08
Call them Philly West.
The San Francisco Dragons – led by eight graduates of Philadelphia-area high schools and three coaches from Philly – finished strong in their 2008 Major League Lacrosse (MLL) season by taking three of their final five games.
Overall, the Dragons, guided by rookie head coach and former Philadelphia Barrage assistant Tom Slate (Springfield-Delco), went 4-8 and finished third in the Western Conference. They capped their season Aug. 9 with a 19-15 triumph over Western Division runner-up Los Angeles, 19-15.
The Dragons’ lineup was almost completely overhauled from the previous year, when the Dragons struggled through a 4-8 season. During the off-season standout Ryan Powell was traded to Denver for draft picks and Slate and Dragons general manager Doug Locker began rebuilding.
By the end of 2008, San Francisco was playing nine rookies and began to mold a team that will go into 2009 with much promise.
“That was the first time we’ve beaten L.A. in franchise history,” said Slate, who was assisted by Joe Romano (Penncrest) and Jack Morrison (Ridley). “It was a great way to end the season.
“We lost a lot of key guys from the year before, and filled out the lineup with nine rookies. We probably played the most rookies in the league week-to-week. The guys are psyched and excited to get back next year.”
The following Philadelphia products played key roles for the Dragons:
Midfielder Bill McGlone (Ridley) – 15 goals, 8 assists in seven games with Dragons following trade with Washington, 25 goals, 9 assists overall, 12 goals in final five games.
Midfielder Greg Gurenlian (Springfield-Delco) – 6 goals, 7 assists, won 193 of 353 face-offs (55 percent), 73 groundballs.
Midfielder Ryan Cranston (Henderson) – 7 goals, 4 assists in eight games as a rookie.
Midfielder Mike Podgajny (Ridley) – 5 goals, 5 assists in nine games as a rookie.
Attacker Xander Ritz (Radnor) – 7 goals, 1 assist in five games after being picked up on waivers.
Defender Steve Holmes (Germantown Academy) – 2 goals, 3 assists, 16 groundballs.
Midfielder Todd Fairlie (Marple Newtown, Widener) – 2 goals, 1 assists, 23 groundballs.
Midfielder Matt Ogelsby (Haverford School) – 13 groundballs in five games.
Slate said it was no accident that he brought in known quantities in veterans McGlone and Ritz as well as rookies Cranston and Podgajny.
“We went looking for the best person available to fill that spot, and whether they were from Philly or New York or Maryland, we were just trying to fill it,” Slate said. “It seems like we are filling them with Philly guys right now. And it seems to be working out.
“When it comes to McGone and Ritz, these are guys I know, and you look to where you know first. I know these guys personally.”
“I think as the season went on, as we got to know each other, we got to know how each other played and we went on from there,” said Cranston, who came to the Dragons after finishing a brilliant career at Lynchburg College where he was a Division III Honorable Mention All-American as a senior. “I played against Bill (McGlone) and Mike (Podgajny) when we played Ridley. They always killed us so it was nice to be out there on the same team.
“In the beginning, you have to learn how to get your game implemented into the style of the MLL. Once I figured out how to do that, it went more smoothly.”
Cranston said the Dragons’ strong finish should carry over into next year.
“I think we’re pumped, instead of a brand new team, we’ll have a lot of the same faces,” he said. “We can build from there.”
Slate, who is the only person to win a state championship as a player (Springfield, 1992) and a coach (Downingtown East, 2007), said the season compared well to his high school accomplishments.
“The travel was a little tough, but it was the best experience I ever had in lacrosse,” he said. “Winning the (high school) championships is obviously a close second.
“But to be able to be a head coach and put that together and lay a foundation for years to come was a great thing.”