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Co-Coach of the Year: La Salle’s Leahy won 5th state crown without the superstar players

Friday, 27th December 2019

Categories, Boy's/Men's, High School celebrates the holiday season by re-posting its All-Phillylacrosse Players and Coaches of the Year and Teams for 2019

By Chris Goldberg, Posted 8/26/19, Re-Posted 12/27/19

Bill Leahy had won four previous state championships at La Salle, but his 2019 title – his last – was special for many reasons.

“This team really was better than the sum of its parts,” Leahy said. “That’s the true definition of a team.

“People want you to win when you have guys like (former La Salle Players of the Year and state champions) Tucker Durkin and Matt Rambo. They think you should win with those guys. We had good guys this year, but we were better as a team and that’s why it was so special.”

The Explorers won the PIAA Class AAA championship in 2019 with a 7-5 victory over Conestoga on June 8 at West Chester East. At La Salle, where championships are sometimes expected, this one was less predicted than any other.

La Salle Co-Coach of the Year Bill Leahy (wearing visor), is flanked by assistants (from left) Tony Resch (Associate Head Coach), Brian Harrington, Kevin Dougherty,
Andy Hayes and Mike Sabatino, following the PIAA championship win

The Explorers had lost many of their key players from the two previous teams, both of which had high hopes of winning a state crown. The 2018 squad fell to Manheim Township in the state final.

This year’s team, void of many big-name stars, started a modest 4-3 and was defeated by Conestoga – a perennial state power – by an 11-6 score late in the season. But La Salle won its final nine games, including a dramatic 11-10 double overtime win over Garnet Valley in the state semifinals when the Explorers made up a 6-goal deficit in the final period.

For his accomplishments, Leahy has been named a Co-Coach of the Year for Boys’ teams (with Academy of the New Church’s Jack Forster, a La Salle alum).

Just weeks after the state title, Leahy announced he was retiring as La Salle coach – the only mentor the school has had. His overall record is a glittering 512-115. His teams won three PIAA championships (2009, 2013, 2019) and two Keystone Cup championships (2004, 2008). La Salle reached a state final in 9 of the past 17 years and won 23 Catholic League championship under Leahy, who started the program from scratch in 1992.

Leahy admitted he was unsure what this Explorers team could attain at the start of the season.

“We (the coaches) told the guys in the beginning of the season that we would discuss what we thought they could accomplish once we got to May,” he said. “Maybe it meant being Catholic League champs and no more. But by May, we told them we could do more than that – who would have thought?”

Who did? The players did.

After the title, senior attackman Shane Osborne answered the question of whether the players listened to the non-believers: “I am just so proud of the guys – it was cool to see it all come together.

“It’s funny you say that lot of people didn’t believe in us winning this thing. I kept telling guys to believe in themselves and believe in each other. Coach Leahy knows what he’s doing. He is a man who knows how the future is going to pan out. I think it’s his passion; he is the most passionate coach I ever met and he brings the energy every day. I am really proud for him.”

“Not being the favorite actually helped us out a lot this year,” added senior attackman Zac Coar, who had the game-winner against Conestoga. “We came in a lot more hungry and came in anxious.”

Leahy said the Explorers displayed their discipline and smarts in many key moments when things seemed ready to fall apart. One was when they came back from a 10-4 deficit in the final period vs. Garnet Valley in the semifinals. Another was when Conestoga rallied from a 5-2 deficit to tie it at 5-5 in the title game before La Salle took over in the final minutes.

“We played a disciplined first quarter and led, 3-0, and then the wheels came off the bus against Garnet Valley,” said Leahy, who wished to thank his assistants, Associate head coach Tony Resch as well as Brian Harrington, Kevin Dougherty, Andy Hayes and Mike Sabatino. “But the tide changed and they had a non-releasable penalty in the final quarter and we won some faceoffs and we started to believe.

“Same thing in the title game against Conestoga. We got up 3-1 and 5-2 and then they tied it. But we got back to our disciplined, smart style and after winning some faceoffs, we got the key goals.”

Leahy understands how pressures and expectations can weigh down on coaches and players. Knowing that, it was gratifying to close his career at La Salle coaching a team that was so close-knit.

“It’s hard to win a state championship,” he said. “You can have the best and most talented team and you still need some luck. We had good kids that worked hard, and we had good coaches.

“We had a lot of young guys that didn’t play last year. We needed months to move the pieces around and readjust and tweak. By the time we got to the state finals, we had come an awful long way.”



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