This is part of a continuing series counting down the top Philly lacrosse stories of 2009
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/22/10
You had the feeling that when Conestoga opened its season with a stunning 6-3 defeat of defending state champion and nationally-ranked La Salle, it was going to be a special season.
Indeed, it was.
In 2009, the Pioneers, a junior-laden team, went 24-2, went undefeated in winning the Central League crown, claimed the first District 1 championship and went all the way to the state finals where they fell to the same La Salle team, 7-3.
Despite the loss to the Explorers, considered one of the nation’s top teams in each of the past two years, Conestoga enjoyed a true joyride.
It all began on March 21 when the Pioneers stifled La Salle, which entered play ranked No. 2 in the country in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse Power Rankings.
From there, the roll continued. Conestoga claimed its biggest Central League victory on April 22, a 12-9 triumph over Springfield-Delco. That game was suspented the day before by lightning in the second half.
The day after that win, Conestoga was ranked No. 6 in the UA/IL rankings. But the Pioneers were dealt their first loss a few days later, in overtime, by St. Joseph’s Prep, in a thriller at the Katie Samson Festival.
Conestoga then won nine in a row, including a 7-4 conquest of Downingtown East in the District 1 finals at Villanova. That sent the Pioneers into the first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) tournament as a legitimate contender for the crown.
The Pioneers opened PIAA play with a 13-7 victory over Garnet Valley and then staved off pesky Emmaus, 9-4, in the quarterfinals. The next game was against Springfield-Delco, a team Conestoga again handled by a 9-4 score. Looming was La Salle in the state finals at HersheyPark Stadum in a much-anticipated rematch.
Conestoga started strong against the Explorers, filled with Division I signees and All-Americans headed to Top 10 programs. The Pioneers had leads of 2-0 and 3-2, but La Salle tallied two late goals to seize a 4-3 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Explorers dominated and held the potent Conestoga attack off the board.
Still, Conestoga finished 12th in the final LaxPower National Coaches/Computer Ratings, 15th in the Lacrosse Magazine rankings and 19th in the final UA/IL Power Rankings.
“It became clear to us after that La Salle game that we had something special,” said Conestoga coach Brian Samson. “That was a great game for us to get some confidence.
“This was a team that just really played well together and really played hard in every game. They played unselfish, and as a team.”
“We had a well-balanced team this year,” said Samson. “If one guy didn’t hurt you, the next one did. On any given day, anyone could lead the offense and these are not the type of kids that need to score two goals a game to feel good about themselves – which is great. They really take pride in the team accomplishments.”
In the state final, Conestoga brought a large crowd. Samson said the school rallied around the team all season. “It was really cool for our school,” he said. “We were psyched to get there. The faculty and the rest of the school rallied around us and it was a great experience.”