By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, posted 8/7/13
Fortunately for the Harriton lacrosse program, George Dick just happened to have a daughter who wanted to play lacrosse as a youth.
That was back in 1999 when Dick’s daughter, Ally, began playing in Lower Merion youth leagues. It was Dick’s first exposure to girls’ lacrosse after serving as a boys’ assistant in Illinois and starring as a player at Haverford College.
Few would have suspected then that Dick would transform a dormant program at Harriton into a state champion and a national power.
But in only six years, after taking a team that went 3-12 in a small-school league in 2007, Dick’s Rams won an amazing triple crown in 2013 – the Central League title (with three other teams), the school’s first District 1 title since 1976 and its first PIAA crown, secured with an 8-7 overtime win over Radnor at HersheyPark Stadium.
The accomplishments have earned Dick the 2013 Phillylacrosse.com Girls’ team Coach of the Year.
“In 2007 Harriton was looking for a coach and the parents of the kids I was coaching said, ‘Can you do this?’” he recalled. “I figured it was a 1-year, temporary thing.
“There weren’t a lot of people knocking down the door to coach at Harriton.”
So how did he do it? Dick said it was simple: get the girls to play year round.
“When we started only two girls we replaying club lacrosse,” he said. “I think biggest thing was getting kids to stay in the program and parents to buy into what we were doing.
“My first year we had a very large freshmen class. I knew all the kids and I told the parents this is what we need to do to win: We can’t just have them show up on March 3.
“Now, almost every kid plays club. That’s not just a Harriton explosion; that’s everywhere. But our kids embraced it.”
In 2008, Harriton tied for the Del-Val League title in its final year before moving to the vaunted Central League – not a move for the weak of heart. But the Rams (12-7 overall) went 5-6 in their first year of league play, losing three games by a goal.
In 2010, Harriton again went 5-6 in the league, but it won its first District 1 playoff game (over league foe Ridley) and set the stage for 2011 when it went 20-4 and shared the league title with three other teams.
In 2012 the Rams went 20-5 and reached the state tourney for the second straight year. In 2013, the expectations were high.
“We had eight players starting as freshmen in 2008 and we took our lumps against the Central league teams,” said Dick. “We lost to Radnor, 24-2, and to Strath Haven, 22-3. We played a Central league schedule that year to get ready for the move. We got hammered a few times, but our first year in the league we made districts and our biggest win was a 14-13 win over Haverford.”
Dick knew a little about starting from scratch. He did not play lacrosse at Father Judge, but got introduced to the sport at Haverford and legendary coach Dana Swan and actually was named to the school’s 25th Anniversary team as a defenseman.
To jumpstart his high school program at Harriton, Dick launched Quaker City in 2009, knowing the girls needed a club program. That single move was one of his smartest and the club has produced many top players in and out of Harriton High – most notably this year’s Co-Player of the Year, Sabrina Tabasso.
“The bottom line is the first group of freshmen at Harriton really wanted to work at being a good team,” Dick said. “That team helped us become a league champion and a state contender.”
Dick said before the 2013 season that he had a very talented team, but a young team (two senior starters) and one short on depth. The story goes that his standout goalie, Syracuse-bound Melina Avery, suffered a concussion in the first practice and had to miss several games to start the year.
And, of course, Tabasso, the team’s do-it-all midfielder, broke her foot in the District 1 title win over Springfield-Delco and missed the state tourney.
“Going into year we knew we had a pretty good team, but you never know when don’t have much depth,” said Dick. “Sure enough in the first practice, Melina gets a concussion and I had to play an attack player in goal!
“Our expectations were high and I felt if things fell right, winning a state championship was possible. You need a little luck, but you need resiliency. It’s a long haul.”
Somehow, the Rams muddled on with Tabasso and reached the state finals where they met Radnor, a league rival they had thumped, 15-6, in the District 1 semis.
But the Red Raiders had a brilliant game plan at Hershey and seized a 5-1 lead, befuddling Harriton’s attack which clearly missed Tabasso. But the Rams chipped away at the lead and had the lead until Radnor rallied to send it into overtime.
But all along, senior Caleigh Foust was scoring the big goals, especially with Tabasso out of the lineup. She won the draw to open the OT period and took it herself from behind the goal and scored the game-winner.
“This year we saw the evolution of a kid like Sabrina Tabasso being a beast of a good player,” said Dick. “Caleigh wanted to win the state title more than anyone and she practiced so hard and became the leader after Sabrina got hurt.
“We had the Henderson twins (Jane and Maura) become go-to players. And players like Hilary Lemonick play several positions and Katie Melvin score the big goals.
“We had so many young girls step up and lay big roles because they had to. Many were freshmen or players that had not had to play in key situations before. It was a great season.”