By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/2/18
Eric Jackson told his Avon Grove players many times during the season that they could accomplish great things in 2017.
“I think we had some excellent players, but I kept telling the guys, ‘You could be individually very good or together you could be great,'” said Jackson.
On June 10, Jackson’s words were fully evident as his Red Devils erased past disappointments to defeat Conestoga, 5-4, dramatically, in double overtime in the PIAA Class AAA finals at West Chester East for their first state championship in school history.
The win capped a 23-2 season for Avon Grove, which had lost in the state finals in 2014 and had title aspirations in 2016 before falling short.
Jackson, the only coach in his school history, has been named the Phillylacrosse.com Boys’ Team Coach of the Year. He is only the second to receive the honor a second time (Haverford School’s John Nostrant is the other); and few could argue what he has accomplished in building a relatively young program (which began at the club level in 2001) from Southern Chester County to such prominence so quickly.
“First of all, he loves all his players and he knows them well,” said midfielder Scooter Whiteside, a 2018 headed to Monmouth University. “He knows when to push and when to let them go do their thing. Every game we felt prepared. He puts the time in scouting and putting us in a comfortable position.”
In 2017, Avon Grove won the Ches-Mont League title, but fell to Conestoga, 14-12, in the District 1 title game. The team rebounded in state play with wins over Cumberland Valley, 14-4, Garnet Valley, 10-5, and Central Bucks East, 7-5.
The finale against Conestoga was a classic battle that included great defense and goaltending. The Devils appeared ready to win in regulation, but Conestoga’s Henry Berg made a memorable individual play to tie the game with 1 second left in regulation.
When the game went into OT, Avon Grove regrouped.
“I thought a big part of it was the great leadership we had,” said Jackson. “They played together very well. They were, I think, smart players on the field, and they were tough.
“But they really just played well together. They definitely bought into that. The captains had a chip on their shoulders after last year and they didn’t want to end the season with a loss.”
“Conestoga has a great team and we knew we would have to battle with them,” said Whiteside. “After that goal (by Berg), we knew we had to just play our game and not get caught up in the crowd.
“We finally pushed through and ran the play the coaches told us to run.”
Like many, Whiteside started playing lacrosse in the Avon Grove Wildcats program that Jackson developed less than 20 years ago.
“I started playing with the Wildcats and coach Jackson is involved in the program and goes out of his way to hold camps,” said Whiteside. “His high school players go out and help the younger players. It builds a strong community. That creates a bond; we love to play for him and it leads to success.”
Jackson said the Avon Grove community has supported his efforts.
“We started in 2001 as a club team and then varsity in 2002 and in 2003 we joined the EPSLA,” said Jackson. “I think it comes down to the community buying in and parents helping out the youth leagues. They understand, and getting everybody on board with the same philosophy, from youth into high school, and working within the same framework is important.
“I think just getting alumni back and having those guys set the culture for the future by coming back and helping with younger players is important. The varsity knows the expectations and they understand the work ethic involved.”