By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/10/12
HERSHEY – Strath Haven senior co-captain Laura Rowan was equally heartbroken and proud after Saturday’s Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) championship game at HersheyPark Stadium.
Her Panthers – considered heavy underdogs by most – had seen Garnet Valley rally from an 8-3 deficit and claim a 10-9 overtime decision for its second straight PIAA crown.
But Rowan said nothing could spoil the positive feelings for a team that surprised many in reaching the finals and proved it deserved to be there.
“It’s sad to lose, especially in overtime,” Rowan said. “But I am not upset about how everyone played.
“Our attack was on and our defense was on. You can’t be upset when the whole entire team is on and plays amazing. “
Strath Haven’s story is the perfect Cinderella sports tale.
The Panthers started the year 1-5, but improved as the year progressed and earned the No. 7 seed for the District 1 tourney as the fifth-place team in the powerful Central League.
They won 12 of 14 games and then got blitzed, 16-6, by Garnet Valley in the district quarterfinals. But they regrouped and earned the sixth seed from District 1 for the PIAA tourney.
Then, in states, the Panthers earned one-goal victories over Catholic League champion Archbishop Carroll and District 1 runner-up Conestoga – a red-hot team that had just dealt Great Valley its only losses of the year.
That put Strath Haven, with a 17-9 record, into the PIAA title game – against a Garnet Valley team that also whipped the Panthers, 12-6, in the regular season.
But on this day at Hershey, the Panthers used a 7-0 run to seize an 8-3 lead in the second half. Following a game-plan from second-year coach Rachel Busza, Strath Haven stifled the dangerous Garnet Valley transition game, played patiently on attack and received standout goaltending by junior Hallie Yancey (10 saves).
Defensively, the Panthers put a net around Garnet Valley’s attack, preventing the Jags from getting many chances form the behind the net where they often create havoc.
Garnet Valley, though, showed why it is a state champion. The Jaguars exploded after their coach, Kate Henwood, was tossed from the game for arguing calls.
And after failing to score once for nearly 27 minutes, the Jaguars ran wild and scored four goals in 5:02 minutes to draw within 8-7.
Strath Haven responded as Kristen Hansen (two goals) made it 9-7 just 13 seconds later. The Panthers won a draw control and began to hold the ball before finally giving it up with 1:01 to play.
Garnet Valley got goals from Haley Warden and Allyson Heavens to tie it and then Hallie Barnes scored the game-winner 23 seconds into sudden death overtime.
“It’s sad to end the season this way,” said Rowan. “But the last time we played them we lost by 10.
“Our plan was to settle it on attack. We didn’t want to force anything. On defense, we knew their strengths. It was the third time we played them and we knew who their go-to girls were.
“We wanted to slow them down at midfield and shut them down on defense.”
Busza understood that few believed the Panthers could beat the Jags – but she believed it, and her players believed it.
“These girls have by far passed every expectation,” she said. “Hallie Yancey was a JV goalie last year! She was huge!
“My kids are all about gallant efforts. Considering the big picture – I have no first teamers (in the Central League) and no All-Americans and we were killed twice by them. And we came here and played like that. That’s our banner (pointing to a huge banner) ‘Believe’ – that should be an inspiration to every lacrosse program.
“If you play together you are going to get what you saw today; and who knows? Next year it will be us getting the goal in overtime. It was a shame somebody had to lose today.
“I am going to miss my seniors. It’s not every day you get seniors like that. This game could have gone either way. Unfortunately we were the runner-up.
“Everybody thought we were going to get blown away. But today the heart of these kids is what made the difference. I am so proud of them.”