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Haverford to make long-awaited states debut against familiar foe

Not much had to be said in the Haverford boys lacrosse preseason. On the heels of the long-dormant program’s 2016 success, when the seniors collected this spring, the goal was pretty clear.

“It definitely was a goal that we talked about,” senior midfielder Nick DiIorio said. “But we all just knew it was exactly where we wanted to be. We were thinking about it every single game and practice, knowing that we were working toward trying to make a run to states.”

After several years of building, the Fords have reached their promised land. And while Tuesday’s first-round test for the sixth-place team from District 1 — Central League rival and district champ Conestoga (Methacton, 7 p.m.) — is steep, it’s exactly where the program wants to be.

In retrospect, last year’s district seeding did the Fords no favors, undercutting their chance at a states berth. Despite drawing home-field advantage with the No. 7 seed, they were ousted in the second round of the District 1 playoffs by Springfield, which weathered a slow start to the season (hence the No. 10 seed) and progressed to capture the PIAA title.

With a different matchup, the Fords easily could’ve earned a quarterfinal spot and entrance to playbacks for states. But it wasn’t to be.

This year’s expansion to two classes – and from five District 1 berths to nine – no doubt aided the Fords (15-7) in their first states nod. But plenty of other programs that glimpsed opportunity in the new PIAA format will be watching states from home. The Fords have backed up their promises on the field.

“From the beginning of the season, we had our hearts and our sights set on states,” said senior faceoff man Luke McCallion. “All the seniors came together and said, this is our last shot as a team and as brothers. We take it one game at a time and didn’t get ahead of ourselves, but it was always there as a goal.”

Even more impressive is the how of their journey. The Fords’ ascent in 2016 was guided by Bobby McClure, a senior attackman who entered the rarefied 100-point fraternity to clinch the program’s first All-Delco selection since the lacrosse team was inaugurated as a standalone squad in 1998.

Sans McClure, the Fords have exceeded last year’s mileposts. McCallion, the faceoff specialist who has accumulated 74 points, is a big reason why, as is attackman Jack Daly, who has taken up McClure’s vacated playmaker mantle with 85 points.

Add in snipers like DiIorio (40 goals), Cole Lukasiewicz (30) and John Scheivert (28) plus a sturdy defense and solid goaltending, and you have a squad that richly deserves its states bounty.

Conestoga (19-3) enters states with bona fide title credentials, splitting the Central League crown with Garnet Valley and outlasting Avon Grove, 14-12, for the District 1 championship. That’s the same score by which the Pioneers topped Haverford at Teamer Field April 20, an encounter in which the Fords actually outscored ’Stoga in the second half.

For all the effort fueling Haverford’s states trip, the Fords aren’t concerned about familiarity with their opponent. They’ll approach the game with the vigor and confidence that has propelled them this far.

“I don’t really worry much about who we’re playing,” McCallion said. “We just take what comes as it is no matter what. We’re going to be playing our game, and we should be fine.”

Also in the Class 3A tournament:

12-2 St. Joseph’s Prep vs. 1-3 Garnet Valley, Plymouth Whitemarsh, 7

The Jaguars (17-5) are in their first PIAA tournament since 2013. That year, they fell to Catholic League opposition, La Salle, in the first round, the initial victim in the Explorers’ steamrolling to a state title.

St. Joe’s Prep (12-9) isn’t exactly of that vintage, a beneficiary of the expansion that permits an extra District 12 team into the fray. The Hawks were the clear second fiddle to states favorite La Salle this year. Among common opponents, St. Joe’s fell to District 1 runner-up Avon Grove, 12-4 in late April; Garnet Valley hung within three goals of the Red Devils. The winner of this game is likely to get a rematch with Avon Grove in the quarterfinals.

The Jaguars have undergone changes as the season has progressed. Three-time All-Delco Matt Moore is back and integrated into the squad, but the loss of Denny Nealon to a knee injury dampens the firepower. Most teams will live and die with how they approach muting the UVA-bound Moore, and his influence will be integral to a deep postseason run.

In Class 2A:

1-1 Springfield vs. 3-5 Trinity, Penncrest, 7:15

The reigning PIAA champs must navigate the thin statewide talent of Class 2A, starting with the fifth-place team from District 3. The Shamrocks (15-6) fell to Eastern York but battled through two playback games to seal their states spot.

Springfield (18-3) will be the most daunting team they’ve faced this year. Kyle Long is seven points from 300 in his career; the junior All-Delco bound for (national champion) University of Maryland has 87 assists and 111 points this season.

3-1 Palmyra vs. 1-3 Strath Haven, Exeter Twp., 8

The Panthers (14-7) are in a challenging but beneficial spot if they can rise to the task, shunted to the western side of the bracket. They get the District 3 champion, 22-1 Palmyra, with the winner likely will meet West Chester Henderson in the quarters. But with the western survivors in the bottom couplet of games awaiting in the semis, the team that emerges from that early crucible could have a comparatively easy run to the final.

First up, though, is Palmyra. The big matchup is clear – University of Delaware-bound sophomore defender Tate Wasson against Haven’s 119-point midfielder Jeffrey Conner, who recently committed to the University of Virginia. The winner of that collision will go a long way in determining the game.

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