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Central League boys’ preview: Loop will be as competitive and balanced as ever

Thursday, 26th March 2009

Categories Boy's/Men's, High School  

By Ben Skalina, Posted 3/26/09

Always known as the toughest public school league in Pennsylvania boys’ lacrosse, the Central League added even more juice for this school year as Garnet Valley and Harriton joined the venerable conference.

With the addition of the Jaguars from Garnet Valley, the league now boasts eight teams that made last year’s Eastern Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association playoffs – and all eight will be seeking bids to the District 1 playoffs in the new reality of PIAA-sanctioned boys’ lacrosse.

The best comparison for Central League lacrosse might be Big East basketball. The league schedule is long and taxing, a physical and mental meat grinder that could very well mean not even the best team comes out unscathed.

Teams to beat

Springfield – The Cougars burst onto the scene last year composed of mostly sophomores, and all but two starters return from last year’s EPSLA quarterfinalists.

Josh Cavanaugh (36 goals, 24 assists in 2008) is a dynamic threat from the midfield, and he often finds attacker Colin Keegan (40 goals in 2008) for easy goals. Junior Jordan Demcher and sophomore Joe Venit return to the attack line with Keegan.

John Cugini, whom coach Mike Friel called a “throwback type of middie,” will complement Cavanaugh at the midfield, along with juniors Bobby Gildea and Larry McLaughlin.

Defensively, the Cougars rely on the abilities of Austin Kaut in goal, and he is beneficiary of senior defender Matt Maccario and juniors Brendan Nave and Joe Addona.

“Austin’s play in goal is critical,” Friel said of Kaut. “Great teams have great goalies, ones you can depend on when the defense breaks down. He is at the point where he will make the saves he is supposed to, and then get a few that are unexpected.”

Future college players: Maccario (Wheeling Jesuit), Cugini (undecided), Nave (Penn State commitment). Additionally, Kaut, Keegan, Cavanaugh, Addona and McLaughlin are all drawing Division 1 interest.

Conestoga – The Pioneers saw Ridley snap their streak of league titles at two in 2008, but are always talented and athletic and 2009 will be no different.

Veteran defenders Mike Bronzino, Phil Cuddeback and Max Schultz, along with junior Casey Ikeda and sophomore Brian Dailey, will provide quality longstick play in front of goalies Pete Zonino and Nick Shea. That defensive group turned in a sterling effort Saturday, as they held the touted La Salle Explorers to just 3 goals in a 6-3 stunner at Teamer Field.

Offensively, Loyola commit Austin Rogusky is set for a big junior season, and attackman Paul Mita brings a shot that few goalies can stop. Coach Brian Samson noted junior midfielder Jason Klunder and junior face-off man Ryan Buttenbaum as potential breakout players for 2009. Ryan Lord and Austin Campbell are also keys at midfield.

Future college players: Bronzino (Cornell), Mita (Villanova), Cuddeback (Bowdoin), Mike Ackerman, attack (US Merchant Marine), Evan Bohner, defense (Fairleigh Dickinson), Rogusky (Loyola commitment), Travis Armiger, midfield (RPI).


Ridley – The defending champion Green Raiders together a typically strong season in 2008, going 19-3 before a resurgent Penn Charter team ended their season in the EPSLA quarters. With heavy graduation losses at both ends of the field, Coach Brian Ellers will have to depend on attack/midfield dynamo Tyler Johnston to initiate things offensively, and he’ll get some help from Kyle Blakemore and Dan Stranix. The Dog Soldiers are generally stingy on defense, and John Harshaw is the main cover man in front of goalie Scott Kellett.

Future college players: Johnston (Georgetown commitment)

Lower Merion – Chet Laubach’s Aces were easily the most surprising lacrosse team in the Philly area in 2008, rebounding from several down seasons to go 6-3 in the Central League and attain a top-10 EPSLA ranking. Jordan Wolf is the go-to guy on offense and ranks with Cavanaugh and Johnston as one of the premier juniors in America, Matt Dilks is a consistent finisher inside and Andrew Mongeluzzi moved down City Line Avenue from Friends’ Central to give the Aces even more scoring punch.

Defensively, Jake Eisenhard was an all-league pick last year and returns to lead a strong defense in front of goalies Cody Hornung and Hank Altschuler.

“He is a four-year starter that has really staked his claim in this program.  I cannot say enough about him as a leader and teammate from a coach’s standpoint,” Laubach said of Eisenhard.

Future college players: Eisenhard (Hobart), Hornung (Hampden-Sydney), Dylan Chou, attack (Washington & Lee), Andrew Fusselbaugh, defense (Franklin & Marshall), Wolf (Duke commitment), Mongeluzzi (Towson commitment)

Radnor – John Begier’s squad brings plenty of talent to the Central League race. Midfielder Zack Donnelly and attackman Matt Cherry will give the Raiders a veteran presence offensively, and face-off standout Cole Yeager is rated among the best in the country at the face-off X. Defensively, Tyler Andersen is a disruptive force at LSM, and Dan Schmader is another talented defender for Begier.

Future college players: Donnelly (Rutgers), Yeager (Yale), Andersen (Notre Dame), Schmader (Holy Cross), Cherry (Dickinson)

Garnet Valley – Maryland lacrosse legend Frank Urso became the Jaguars’ second head coach in program history earlier in the year, and he’ll look to scoring star Eric Warden for production in the Jags’ first year in the Central League. Warden is just a junior, but he broke the 100-goal mark last year as a sophomore. Midfielder Paul Dunn recorded 50 goals last year and is the Jags’ main threat from up top. Junior attackman Mike Montella will complement the dynamic pair after scoring 39 goals in 2008.

Future college players: Warden (Fairfield commitment), Sean Whitehead, defense (Kenyon)

Strath Haven –  David Alyanakian is the headliner offensively, as his powerful left-handed shot earned him second-team all-league last year. Mark Dolphin will team with Alyanakian to provide another dangerous shooter up front for the Panthers. However, coach Dave Waldman cited team defense as his team’s foundation this year. Jimmy Battel was second-team all-league in 2008, and will be aided by Nick Thompson and junior Erik Lenke. Senior Will Torrence is off to a strong start in goal for the Panthers.

Future college players: Thompson (Elizabethtown), Sean McGraw (Elizabethtown), Torrence (Susquehanna), Battel (undecided)

Penncrest – Wayne Matsinger’s Lions are always a tough out for Central League opponents, and expect 2009 to be more of the same. Dan Jones is one of the premier offensive players in the league and will head to start-up Division 1 program Jacksonville. Adam Yee is Lions’ leader at the midfield, and is receiving Division 1 interest for his hard-nosed, versatile style of play. Jones and Yee will get offensive help from Tom Kusturiss, and Brendan McElhenney will be the goalkeeper.

Future college players: Jones (Jacksonville)


Harriton – The Rams are entering their first year in the Central League, but coach Jeff Poake thinks his squad will be compete with the best. To do so, he’ll rely on senior midfielders Robbie Schwab and Will Carabasi, senior attackman Noah Levin and junior attackman Nate Kotarra.

Future college players: Schwab (Amherst), Carabasi (undecided), Levin (undecided)

Upper Darby – The Royals have started strong (2-0) and are led by Kevin Fonio on attack, Andy Mardinly and Jake Syre at midfield, Ryan Morris, Bryan Adams and Eric Lira on defense and Dillon Burke in the cage.

Marple Newtown – The Tigers also are 2-0 in the early-going under David Corrado. Chris Scott and John McKieghan lead the attack while Dan Giordano and Alex Cannariato head the defense and Phil Graziano is key at midfield.

Preseason Contenders Rankings:

  1. Conestoga – On the strength of their upset of PIAA title favorite La Salle, the Pioneers have to be considered the early favorite to win the league.
  2. Springfield-Delco – The Cougars have talent all over the field and looked sharp in the preseason. Expect to see them as a high seed in the District 1 tournament at the end of the year.
  3. Lower Merion – The Aces are going to be very difficult to stop offensively with Wolf feeding Mongeluzzi and Dilks, and they’ll be no slouches on defense either with Eisenhard leading the way.
  4. Radnor – The Raiders are experienced and talented, and Cole Yeager’s face-off play is an x-factor in every game. Begier’s group is capable of beating anyone in the league. The Raiders battled to a 6-2 loss at the hands of Maryland powerhouse Loyola Saturday.
  5. Ridley – Beyond Johnston’s enormous talents, comparatively little is known about the Raiders heading into 2009. While it may take a month or so for Ridley to find its stride, expect them to be playing their best lacrosse when the District 1 tournament rolls around in May. A hot Ridley team in May is an annual tradition in Southeastern PA.
  6. Garnet Valley – The Jags should be able to score with anyone, but can they keep the ball out of the goal?
  7. Penncrest – Coach Matsinger’s bunch are always scrappy and always dangerous, and they play better than their talent every year.  The Lions started 2009 in style with a thrilling 7-6 win over Unionville and an 8-7 OT win over Downingtown West.
  8. Strath Haven – Consistency will be the name of the game for the Panthers. After dropping a surprise 7-3 decision to Henderson last week, they rebounded with a 10-0 shutout of Bayard Rustin Monday.

Mark your calendar

March 31 – Lower Merion @ Springfield: An early test for both teams will give someone a leg up in the league title chase.

April 4 – Springfield v. Ridgewood, NJ: The Cougars will face off against the New Jersey powerhouse at Giants Stadium in a prelude to Inside Lacrosse’s first Big City Classic.

April 9 – Haverford School @ Radnor: The Raiders have come close several times recently against the Fords, and this year might be as good as any to get over the hump.

April 16 – Conestoga @ Lower Merion: A big game that will have serious league championship implications.

April 21 – Springfield @ Conestoga: Will the league title rest on this game?

April 21 – Garnet Valley @ Penncrest: A neighborhood rivalry that can only intensify now that the Jaguars are in the Central League.

April 21 – Ridley @ Strath Haven: The neighborhood football rivalry is intense on the lacrosse field, too. The Raiders have never lost to Haven, and marked up one-goal victories in this game in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008. Could the Panthers break the curse this year?

April 28 – Conestoga @ Radnor: Regardless of where the teams stand, this neighborhood rivalry is always intense.

May 2 – Springfield @ La Salle: The Cougars will take their swing at the defending champ.

May 7 – Ridley @ Springfield: The ultimate Central League rivalry, the Ridley/Springfield game is the traditional end to the regular season for many Delaware County lacrosse fans. Whether or not the Raiders are in contention for the league title, expect that the Cougars will have their hands full with the boys in green.



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