By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/11/10
You could call it a sense of déjà vu or just plain fate as one looks at the teams gearing for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) boys’ lacrosse championship game Saturday at HersheyPark Stadium.
For one thing, the same two teams that met last year at Hershey for the crown – La Salle and Conestoga – will meet again in the 2 p.m. contest (live telecast on PA Cable Network, real-time updates at Phillylacrosse.com). Again, one of the teams is loaded with All-Americans, has a senior-laden team and was expected to get to this point from the first day of practice.
Meanwhile, the other team was a little green and a bit of an unknown before the season. Few expected it to reach the state finals.
The difference is that the roles are reversed. Last year most followers expected La Salle – loaded with returning All-Americans such as Niko Amato, Peter Schwartz, Tucker Durkin and Tyler Knarr – to be state champion. The Explorers did lose to the Pioneers in the season’s first game, but emerged with the first PIAA crown by virtue of a 7-3 victory.
This year the Pioneers were faced with high expectations after returning many key parts of that state runner-up team. La Salle graduated nearly every starter, but is now one step away from a third straight state crown (they won the final Keystone Cup in 2008).
“Everybody wrote us off, nobody thought we had a chance,” said La Salle coach Bill Leahy, whose team is 21-2 and ranked No. 2 in the PA Media Rankings among PIAA teams. “Now, we’re probably a huge underdog and again they’ll say we have no chance. Just lay it out on paper; they are better at every position, aren’t they?”
Leahy has enjoyed this year for many reasons, perhaps most because he did not have to deal with the pressures he had last year when La Salle was under a king-sized microscope. But when he says his team has no chance, he’s probably trying to get an edge by putting even more pressure on the District 1 champion Pioneers (23-2).
In fact, the Explorers have had a pretty good season themselves. After bowing to powerful Haverford School, 9-6, to open the season, they’ve won 21 of 22 games, losing only to then-No. 1 Springfield-Delco, 11-5, on May 1. Last Saturday La Salle avenged that loss by toppling the Cougars, 8-5, in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Then on Tuesday, the Explorers dominated Seneca Valley, 15-3, in the semifinals. Earlier this year, La Salle had noteworthy wins over Georgetown Prep (10-8), Episcopal Academy (5-4), Emmaus (8-4), and St. Joseph’s Prep twice, the second one being in the Catholic League championship game.
The Explorers also have shown the ability to come from behind. They did that against backyard rival Abington in the first round of states, rallying from a three-goal deficit in the second half.
“The kids have made a great effort; they’ve had a heck of a path,” said Leahy. “They haven’t made it easy. We had to beat the Prep again, then Abington and Springfield. At some point people have to give these kids credit.”
La Salle has been led by offensively junior attackman Kevin Forster (commitetd to Maryland), senior midfielder Patrick Resch (Dartmouth), junior midfielder Jack Bogorowski (committed to Johns Hopkins) and senior attackmen Christian Cardinal, Dan Losier and Nick Cruice.
Senior Anthony Cognetti (St. Joseph’s) has been strong at the face-off X and an unsung defense led by seniors Shane Pierce (Mount St. Mary’s), Tim Durkin (Mount St. Mary’s) and Ryan Saraceni (Scranton), junior Mark DiFrangia, sophomore Casey Eidenshink (LSM) and senior Luke Vrancken (LSM) has been steady in front of junior goalie John Lawlor. Senior Stephen Kelly, junior Joe Brown and freshman Sean Coleman also have been keys at midfield.
Conestoga also has been on a roll since a loss to Springfield-Delco. After bowing to the Cougars, 4-3, in overtime on April 20, Conestoga has won 15 straight games and been challenged only once, by Radnor in a 6-5 win.
Conestoga defeated Springfield-Delco, 8-4, to repeat as District 1 champion and then dominated Hatboro-Horsham (17-2) and Emmaus (15-5) before starting slowly against Manheim Township in the PIAA semifinals.
The Pioneers were actually trailing, 3-2, late in the first half until tallying two goals in the final 12 seconds of the period and then reeling off eight more unanswered goals.
“We’re thrilled to be back in the state championship game.,” said Conestoga coach Brian Samson. “I am proud and excited to play La Salle; we haven’t played them all year and we know they’re a good team and well-coached. The kids have worked extremely hard and I’m porud they’ve gotten themselves back there.
“I think we have some matchup advantages, but it comes down to how hard you play. I think winning the effort battles is going to be key for us and that will be the key to the game.”
Conestoga is led by four All-Americans, senior midfielder Ryan Lord (Maryland), senior defenseman Casey Ikeda (Maryland), senior face-off specialist Ryan Buttenbaum (Lehigh) and junior long stick midfielder Brian Dailey (Duke). The attack also features seniors Matt Smith (Lehigh) and Jeff Chu (Michigan) and sophomores Tyler Brooke, Bradlee Lord and Connor Frisina up front as well as seniors Jason Klunder (Drexel), Peter Bowers (Tufts) and Austin Rogusky (Loyola) and juniors Tanner Scott (Duke) and Kevin Rudd and sophomore Billy Flatley at midfield.
The defense also features senior Austin Campbell (Denison) and junior Benn Karr (Ohio State). Peter Zonino (Hobart) has been a rock in the goal.