Phillylacrosse.com is pleased to honor the accomplishments of the top players from 2018 re-posting its annual All-Phillylacrosse.com series
By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/6/18, Re-Posted 11/13/18
Strath Haven coach Jef Hewlings said of all the strengths in Jeff Conner’s game that stand out, none match his work ethic.
“He’s a relentless worker,” said Hewlings of the 2018 midfielder. “Typically, he was the first guy on the field and the last guy to leave.
“You hear that cliche about a lot of great players. I remember walking onto the practice field the day before our state semifinal game; I always get there pretty early because I am always planning. And there he is shooting a bucket of balls on the cage. He is the best player and he is always out there trying to get better.
“He realized that hard work yields results. He decided 4 years ago he wanted to do that.”
The results were indeed staggering. Conner was a two-time US Lacrosse All-American who collected an amazing 96 goals and 60 assists this year when he led the Panthers to the PIAA Class AA championship game. Conner also was an Under Armour All-American and recently was named the National Player of the Year by Lacrosse Magazine.
For his accomplishments, Conner has been named the Phillylacrosse.com Co-Player of the Year, sharing it with Haverford School attackman T.J. Malone.
“I thought when he came into the program he would be a difference maker,” said Hewlings. “Skill-wise, he was a big, athletic kid. And he got better and better. How did he score 150 points with two kids on him? I don’t know – he was a marked man and he did what he had to do.
“His ability to dodge and re-dodge when the defense adjusts – that’s what really separates him. I was never worried about where the shot was going to go. Jeff always knew where the goalie was. For kids like him, the game slows down. He’s so far ahead of what’s happening around him. He always looked like he was totally under control, and his ability to feed from the midfield position is unmatched.”
Hewlings continued, pointing to Conner’s intangibles.
“But what makes him so special is his unselfishness,” said Hewlings. “He had 60 assists. And as a leader, along with senior (defenseman) Ryan Morris, they were two of the best leaders I have had at Strath Haven. They led by example. Some days they’d carry the water on the field. That’s something the freshmen are usually doing. That wasn’t their ‘M.O.’
“Because they did that we had a lot of good senior leaders and the players followed their example.”
Conner’s biggest joy was helping his team reach the state finals. Strath Haven (19-6) rallied from a six-goal deficit in the fourth period of the third-place District 1 consolation game to defeat rival Radnor, 9-8, and earn the final state berth.
Then, in states, Strath Haven downed another Central League rival, Springfield-Delco, 12-9, to earn a trip to the PIAA semifinals. After edging Mars Area, 12-11, in overtime, the Panthers knew they faced a major challenge in Bishop Shanahan in the state finals.
Strath Haven raced to an early 4-0 lead and led 5-4 at halftime, but Shanahan’s talent and depth overwhelmed the Panthers and a zone neutralized Conner in a 13-5 loss.
It took a long time for Conner to leave the field at West Chester East following the defeat and it was difficult for him to speak about the loss then.
But today, Conner has only positives when thinking about the 2018 Strath Haven Panthers.
“I think the main reason we were successful was because everyone bought into their roles and did what they needed to do to get W’s,” he said. “We had a very good team. Even if were down six goals – like in the Radnor game – it was not that big of a deal. We just stuck to the game plan.
“The last couple years we have come really, really close (to making a state final). This group was special. We pushed it to the next level. Coming up one game short doesn’t tell the tale of our season.
“I wouldn’t trade these four years for anything. We created a lot of memories, and friendships and brotherhood.”