By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/8/12
One team was expected to make it to Hershey. The other is this year’s Cinderella story.
Tomorrow at HersheyPark Stadium, Strath Haven will try to complete an improbable journey when it faces Garnet Valley (11 a.m. start) in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) girls’ lacrosse championship game.
Phillylacrosse.com will be at Hershey for a live in-game blog on a game that few expected as the matchup for the state championship.
Garnet Valley (23-3) is the defending state champion and lost only one senior from a team that defeated Downingtown East in last year’s final. The Jaguars won the Central League with an undefeated mark – an amazing accomplishment considering how well the Central League teams fared in the District 1 and state tourneys.
The sleeper team that emerged from the mighty Central League was Strath Haven, which is 17-9 after starting 1-5. The Panthers, who reached the PIAA finals in 2009 before bowing to Radnor, have advanced this far in the post-season with no clear stars (no one made first team all-Central League), a solid defense and an unsung goalie, Hallie Yancey.
Strath Haven second-year coach Rachel Busza called her team her “dream team” and “an inspiration” rather than a surprise. She remains confident the Panthers can win despite falling twice to the Jags already by scores of 12-6 (regular season) and 16-6 (District 1 playoffs).
“The first time we played them we didn’t show up and the second time I don’t think our girls were emotionally invested,” said Busza, whose Panthers were the sixth seed and won two state playoff games (over Archbishop Carroll and Conestoga) by one goal. “But we are peaking at the right time.
“The girls feel they have gotten this far, why stop? I know (Garnet Valley) coach (Kate) Henwood is saying to her team that it’s ‘Three strikes you’re out.’ I am telling my girls that ‘The third time is the charm.’”
Busza knows that last year Garnet Valley was defeated by Downingtown East by 10 goals in the District 1 title game and then came back in the state finals to win, 17-14. This year, her team fell to Garnet Valley by 10 goals in districts.
“We have a big picture of what our defense can do,” said Busza. “We are totally confident in what we can do.”
Henwood’s Jaguars are loaded with stars. Three players – seniors Hallie Barnes, Allyson Heavens and AnnaElise Morello – were named US Lacrosse All-Americans and the Jags have a roster loaded with seniors that have won a state title and players headed to Division I schools.
But Henwood knows all about how expectations can add pressures.
“We are treating this game like we’re playing Strath Haven for the first time,” she said. “We have made it clear to our kids that Strath Haven is a threat and will really bring. We know they are a different team than the one we saw last time.
“They have a lot of speed at the midfield and they do a nice job winning 50-50s. We have to stop their fast break. They are aggressive and risk-taking on defense and we have to stay composed. They are very athletic.”