By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/6/10
Haverford School players could hardly wait for the chance to play Conestoga this year.
“Before the season we had the game circled on the schedule,” said Fords junior goalie Conor Kelly. “It was a huge game because of what happened last season. They pretty much handled
us and we had to redeem ourselves.”
On April 3, before an overflow crowd of an estimated 2,000 at Haverford School, the Fords edged the Pioneers, 8-7, on a last-minute goal by Matt Walters in the 2010 Phillylacrosse.com Boys’ Game of the Year. (See Honorable Mention games)
The game was selected for its impact on the season as well as drama, interest and importance in the rankings. (See Honorable Mention games).
The early-season non-league game was indeed much ballyhooed by the media and lacrosse fans alike. Conestoga came into play as the No. 1 team in the state (PA Media Rankings) and fifth in the country (Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse rankings) while Haverford School was No. 2 in the state.
Both teams were ranked high in the national polls, though Haverford had dropped slightly after falling to two Maryland powers, Loyola-Blakefield and McDonogh, in earlier games; though the Fords (3-2 coming in) had rebounded well with key wins over defending national champion Gilman School (through national polls) and two-time defending PA state champion
Also, the teams had a combined 25 players that had signed or committed to Division I programs and many had played together on club teams.
But this game had even more meaning to the Fords. In 2009 they were thrashed, 10-4, by Conestoga, and had not forgotten the whipping. Also, Haverford School – which became ineligible to play for the state title when the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association began sanctioning the state tourney in 2009 – wanted to show its mettle against the team that was heavily favored to win the state crown.
In front of a large crowd in a pre-Easter, sun-splashed Saturday, they got their chance at redemption.
“Because we’re not in the PIAA, we really wanted to win even more,” Kelly said. “Games against the best competition are always important; now they are even more important because we can’t win a state title.”
Kelly, who had committed to Notre Dame during the fall, said the stakes were high.
“There was an incredible atmosphere,” he said. “The crowd was ridiculous. There were probably a couple thousand people and the student section was great.
“And it was a great game. No team went up by more than a couple the whole time. One team went up and the other team rallied to tie. You could feel the intensity building, especially down the stretch.”
Haverford School led, 6-4, early in the third period, but Conestoga senior face-off specialist Ryan Buttenbaum (Lehigh) won a draw and scored himself to make it 6-5. Senior attackman Matt Smith (Lehigh) then scored two of his game-high four goals for a 7-6 lead.
Haverford School senior attackman Stephen Aitken (Penn State) countered with one of his two goals to tie the score, 7-7, with 8:17 to play off a turnover forced by junior midfielder Brendan McGrath (Princeton).
The game wound down to the final minutes when Kelly made a key steal and helped give his team a valuable possession. Walters (committed to Syracuse) made the Pioneers pay.
“I love to take shots in the last minute, that’s my favorite thing to do,” said Walters, who scored twice. “I think it was a split dodge. I went right to left and rolled back to the right to shoot.
“It was one of the best feelings I have ever had.”
Walters said the importance of the game has possibly grown since April. Conestoga went on to win the PIAA championship and finished ranked No.1 in the state, one spot ahead of Haverford School. The post-season polls were good to Conestoga; the Pioneers were ranked No. 5 by LaxPower and No. 6 by Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse, MaxPreps and Lacrosse Magazine. Haverford School finished No. 5 by Lacrosse Magazine, No. 6 by Laxpower, No. 16 by UA/IL and MaxPreps.
But its standing in the polls was not nearly as important as redemption for Haverford School.
“Last year they handled us pretty well,” Walters said. “We can’t play for states, so when we play a big public school that we know is a very good team, a win proves a lot to other people and ourselves.
“It’s a good thing to look back on. We’re not state champions, but we beat the team that went on to win states.”
In the final seconds, Haverford School junior Goran Murray (Maryland) and sophomore Will McNamara combined for a key defensive play to help preserve the win. Juniors Carl Walrath (Virginia), Hup Hupfeldt (Penn) and Grove Stewart as well as senior Liam O’Connor (Notre Dame) also scored for the Fords.
“It was a huge relief,” said Kelly, who had several key saves among his seven overall. “With Matt scoring in the final 40-some seconds and Goran and Wil Mac making a key defensive play in the last 10 seconds, it was intense.”
Co-Player of the Year Austin Kaut (Springfield-Delco)
Co-Player of the Year Jordan Wolf (Lower Merion)
Tuesday: Midfielders, face-off specialists
Thursday: Coach of the Year, Runner-ups. Honorable Mention