By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 6/10/11
It was clearly expected that Conestoga would be making a return trip to Hershey to play for another boys’ lacrosse state championship.
But the novelty of reaching the state finals – even now for a third straight year – has not worn off for the Pioneers.
“We are very excited to get back,” said Conestoga coach Brian Samson. “We know we have a good opportunity facing us. We will play hard and play well and hopefully we’ll bring the state title back.”
The Pioneers are 24-1 heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. title game against District 12 champion St. Joseph’s Prep (19-4) at HersheyPark Stadium. They are ranked No. 2 in the state behind Haverford School and also No. 2 in the nation behind the Fords by both MaxPreps and LaxPower. They are ranked No. 3 by ESPN RISE and were No. 7 in the final regular-season Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse Power Rankings.
Conestoga defeated La Salle, 10-6, in last year’s PIAA championship game after bowing to the Explorers, 7-3, in the first PIAA title game in 2009. The Pioneers had never played for a state crown until 2009, but now have become a program with a national pedigree and expectations that follow.
Samson said the team began to peak after falling to Haverford School, 11-6, at the Katie Samson Festival.
“Our guys came together and focused after that loss,” he said. “That woke them up a little bit. We can definitely see them working harder in practice and working with something to prove.”
Conestoga has won 12 straight games that loss to Haverford School on April 30 and has been more impressive as the post-season has progressed. The Pioneers reached the state finals with easy wins over Cumberland Valley (15-3), Hempfield (16-2) Central Bucks East (14-4).
But the Hawks – ranked No. 33 by ESPN RISE – present a formidable challenge.
Back on March 26, the teams met to open the season and the game went back and forth until the final minutes when Conestoga pulled away for a 12-9 victory.
“St. Joe’s is a good team that plays everybody tight,” said Samson. “It should be a great game.
“We are hoping to push the tempo and if we can play fast, I think we should win the game by getting into transition. We’re hoping to win the battle at midfield. But if it gets into a half-court game, I imagine it will be pretty close.”