By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/22/22
Phillylacrosse.com congratulates Kevin Merchant (Marple Newtown) and JC Valore (St. Augustine Prep) as its 2022 Boys’ Team Co-Coaches of the Year.
Merchant guided the Tigers to a District 1 2A championship and into the PIAA final where they fell to Mars. Valore’s Hermits won their first New Jersey Non-Public A state title.
Honorable Mention Coaches of the year: John Begier (Radnor), Steve Holmes (Unionville), John McEvoy (Malvern Prep).
Some may have thought it a surprise that Marple Newtown – a team that had never reached the PIAA tournament – would play for a state title in 2022. But not Tigers coach Kevin Merchant.
“We approach every season with the goal in mind to make it to the final game and hoist the state title trophy,” he said. ” We knew we had a really talented, hard working and selfless core of returning players as well as a talented class of freshmen.
“The willingness of our juniors and seniors to move into new roles and positions opened the door to slide some of the talented freshmen into key roles. We saw pretty early on in the off-season the selflessness and commitment to each other and knew the potential for this group to make a run was there. It was just a matter of putting in the work and gelling on the field as a team.”
That hard work paid off. Marple Newtown won its first District 1 2A championship, 10-9, over Central League rival and defending champion Penncrest and qualified for its first PIAA tourney. The highlight at states was a 16-10 quarterfinal win over undefeated and defending PIAA champion Allentown Central Catholic.
Marple Newtown then advanced to the finals by downing Lampeter-Strasburg, 14-7, before bowing to Mars, 9-6, in the championship.
This was only the second season for Marchant on the field; he was hired before the 2020 season that was lost due to COVID. But in this time he instilled a new outlook in a program that had not reached these heights.
“We can attribute our recent success to a few things; a great team culture, phenomenal upper class leadership, great support from our school and AD, and just the will and commitment to be the best version of ourselves every time we step out on the field,” said Merchant, whose team went 12-7 in 2021. “We stress not only to be the best we can be as athletes and lacrosse players but also as men.
“Under the leadership and support I mentioned, this group of players came together not only as a team but as a family and pushed to make their next game the best game all year long.”
Despite falling in the state final, the foundation seems built at Marple Newtown. The Tigers graduate just seven seniors and return many freshmen and sophomores that played key roles.
Although you fell in the state finals, do you feel the foundation is there for many more years of contending for a state crown at the 2A level and contending for Central league honors as well?
“Our graduating class did everything you can ask of a group of players to implement the culture and mentality we have preached to these guys since the first year I came on board,” he said. “I can’t say enough about this group and the guys who came before them.
“I am really excited for the players we have returning as well as the talent we have in the middle school and in our youth programs. I expect to continue to put in the work to become the best lacrosse players and men we can be here at Marple Newtown and hopefully add to what this year’s team was able to accomplish.”
One of the 2022 seniors, goalie Jack Welsh, said Merchant and his staff created a winning atmosphere through hard work and positive energy.
“This is the first Marple Newtown team in history to do this. Coach really set the bar for the future of Marple lacrosse,” he said. “He helped a ton. We’ve been working since last year and that really helped us with team bonding.
“And we see the amount of work they (the coaches) put into it. That really motivates us to play better and reach our potential.”
St. Augustine Prep coach JC Valore knows how difficult it is to conquer the New Jersey Non-Public A division.
“Non-Public A is one of the most competitive playoff brackets in the country,” he said. “To come out on top you need strong performances and clutch plays in a lot of areas.”
St. Augustine has long been a top program under Valore (head coach since 2005) in South Jersey and beyond, but had never won a state title – until 2022.
This year the Hermits claimed their first Non-Pubic crown by winning two thrilling 1-goal games in the Final Four, 9-8 over Seton Hall Prep and 6-5 over Delbarton. St. Augustine finished 16-2 overall.
The Hermits had a great mix of senior standouts and underclassmen that made big plays through the season. In fact, a sophomore, Noah Plenn, had the game-winners in the two big state wins.
“We thrived on upperclassmen leadership and consistency on both sides of the ball,” said Valore. “We had excellent faceoff work from Jackson Tinari, big games from our defensive middies and defensemen and in the cage from Aidan Peters.
“When underclassmen can support your seniors in big games, you know you’re in good shape. Our senior heavy offense remained balanced all year and they had a great deal of trust in our younger guys. This held true in the semis and finals as sophomore Noah Plenn took advantage of his matchups to hit game winners in both games.”
Senior All-American attackman Matt Vanaman said Valore showed extreme confidence in the team’s potential from the start.
“Coach Valore really brought a winning attitude to our team this year,” he said. “He instilled in our heads everyday at practice that we are state championship caliber.
“It was a mentality over system. I believe Coach Valore put us in the right position to win from the jump. The main thing was that Coach trusted our players to just play their game.
“I think what made this team so special is that we were such a tight knit group. Most of us have been playing together since middle school. We really made an effort to be family on and off the field and that was really a key factor. This year was our time to get over the hump and all of us knew that.
Valore knew last fall that the Hermits could have a special season.
“From the opening meeting in September this group, led by a strong and focused senior class, worked tirelessly on building the types of relationships that are found in almost all successful teams,” he said. “The program Brotherhood held strong throughout the inevitable ups and downs of a season and carried us through an extremely challenging playoff run that tested us greatly.
“These guys had fun. Our staff couldn’t be happier with the hard work they put in each and every day, but on top of that, we all had a ton of fun being around each other.
“This team took pride in knowing they made our community extremely proud. They guys earned this for themselves, for a supportive family base, our alums who helped build this program, and for a St. Augustine Prep community that rallied around us every step of the way.