By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/31/16
Springfield-Delco coach Tom Lemieux, in an interview shortly before the season told a reporter it would be foolish to rank his young Cougars in a preseason poll, but to “watch us by the end of the year.”
Those words rang true in 2016.
After a difficult 1-5 start, Lemieux’s Cougars went 19-2 and claimed their first PIAA championship with a thrilling 4-3 victory over La Salle on June 10 at West Chester East. Despite having just three seniors in the lineup, Springfield-Delco used a suffocating defense and strong goaltending to win three of its last five games by one goal and claim the school’s first state title since 1992 (then called the Avery Blake Trophy).
“I felt we had a very, very young team with only a couple returning guys,” said Lemieux. “I knew we had good players, but many were young and untested with no game experience.
“Once the guys got game experience, I felt we could be good. We had growing pains early on.”
The Cougars were the defending District 1 champions and a state semifinalist in 2015. But they started the 2016 season with a split of their non-league games and three losses to open the Central League season, to Strath Haven (eventual co-champion), Conestoga (eventual co-champion) and Penncrest (2014-15 champion).
“I love early losses because they build character, and the kids responded,” Lemieux said. “The Central League is a great league and we learned to close games as the season progressed.”
One of Springfield-Delco’s seniors, All-League LSM Zac Methlie said Lemieux held the team together after the rough start, which included a 15-3 loss to Spring-Ford.
“After the first couple losses we were all down on ourselves,” Methlie said. “But Coach Lemieux had confidence in us and did a great job of boosting our confidence. He did a great job of moving people around and put people in the right spots. All of a sudden we started clicking and went on a run.”
Traditionally, Springfield-Delco is strong defensively. This year Lemieux had a strong defense, led by Methlie, senior Pat Smyth and junior goalie James Spence. Lemieux credited defensive coordinator Ryan Adolph and Austin Kaut for the team’s defensive success.
“I think a big shoutout goes to Ryan Adolph; he dues an unbelievable job year in year out,” said Lemieux. “We are lucky to have him and Austin Kaut coaching the defense.
“James (Spence) was unbelievable in goal. The guys matured. Early on we were without Pat Smyth (due to injury), but Pat Clemens and freshman Nick Matty and our defensive middies Matt Ries, Mike Vent and Anthony Davario all helped make the defense great.”
Lemieux also gave credit to assistant coaches Jordan Demcher, Jason Orlando, and Mike Gurenlian as well as the Springfield Cougars youth program.
When did Lemieux believe the Cougars could challenge for a state title?
“When we beat Garnet Valley pretty handily at home (on April 19),” he said. “I think that opened our eyes a little bit and let us know we could beat the top teams. Once we got our confidence, we went into every game believing we could win.”
The Cougars fell to Upper Dublin, 9-2, in the District 1 semifinals, but rebounded to down Strath Haven, 5-4, to claim third place. In states, the Cougars downed Delaware Valley, 10-5, and then defeated District 1 finalist Avon Grove, 7-6, on a late goal by Kyle Long. In the semis they toppled Strath Haven again, 8-5, before a huge crowd at Penncrest to gain the PIAA title game berth.
Against La Salle and in front of an even larger throng, the Cougars jumped to a 3-0 first-period lead. La Salle later tied it, 3-3, in the third period, but Mike Gerzabek scored the go-ahead goal and Spence and Co. were brilliant in the second half.
“We didn’t do anything different in the state finals,” Lemieux said. “We tried to keep everything as normal as possible. We had our regular film session and just treated it like another game. Our kids were battle tested. It was such a fun group to be around. They worked their tails off and at 1-5 no one else could have thought this would happen, but our group was ready to buy in.
“It was the most memorable season I ever had, by far.”
Concluded Methlie: “Coach gave motivational speeches every game. He knows how to light a fire and get everyone going, especially someone like myself. How knows how to bring out the best in everyone.”