So distinct are the phases of the high school lacrosse campaign that the PIAA Tournament feels like a third season, particularly for District 1 teams.
The grueling marathon for league titles is followed by a pair of playoff sprints — the qualifying race that is districts for the championship heat in states. The lack of overlap in crowns indicates how distinct the skillsets for each challenge can be.
Consider, for example, that the last two boys state champions, Springfield and Radnor, won neither their district nor league titles.
The season’s longevity also creates spaces for grudge matches. In Saturday’s seven PIAA quarterfinals involving Delco teams, three are rematches from the regular or postseason. One is a third meeting of the season.
In terms of animosity, the rubber match between Strath Haven and West Chester Henderson boys takes center stage. The teams meet for round three at W.C. East at 1 p.m.
Haven won the opener, 10-7, way back on March 25, but the Warriors exacted revenge with a 9-6 triumph in the District 1 Class 2A quarterfinals two weeks ago.
While Haven (15-7) showed ruthless focus in a 15-9 thumping of Palmyra in the first round, there was no getting around the excitement of having Henderson (18-3) looming in the distance.
“Most definitely,” junior midfielder Jeff Conner said Tuesday. “We want to go back and get them back and get the W, and then proceed to a state title.”
Saturday could be decided at the faceoff X. Haven’s Hunter Mazur dominated Palmyra to the tune of 18-for-21 on draws, but the Army commit was bested by Henderson’s Luke Wierman (Fairfield) last time. The sophomore Wierman is a gamechanger who has played a massive role in Henderson’s states run.
Henderson-Haven is the first of three games at East, and the most intense could be on the girls side, when Central League rivals square off at 3 p.m.
District 1 Class 3A champion Conestoga (21-2) is in search of the elusive trifecta of titles. To get there, it needs to get through five-time PIAA champ Garnet Valley (17-7) for a second time, a difficult proposition.
Conestoga beat Garnet, 13-11, in the regular season, but the Jags have a penchant for peaking in the postseason.
“I was very pleased with our game when we played them the first time, even though it ended in a loss,” Garnet Valley head coach Jenny Purvis said. “You have in the back of your mind that pain of losing and you know as coach and as an athlete, these girls don’t want that pain again. They want to come out on top, and they know what it feels like to lose this game, and they also know what it feels like when they win against a team like this.”
Both teams won their openers comfortably, though Garnet’s victory required shaking a sluggish start against Parkland.
The winner gets the survivor of the tripleheader nightcap, Owen J. Roberts and Archbishop Carroll at 5. Carroll (21-1) was tested by Strath Haven, 11-8, in the states opener. OJR (21-3) beat Haven by six goals in the District 1 tournament.
The Wildcats had a comparatively pain-free introduction to states, romping past Easton, 20-8.
The third dose of familiarity could foster the best game of the day when Garnet Valley renews acquaintance with Avon Grove in the boys Class 3A tourney (Methacton, 3 p.m.).
Avon Grove (20-2) won the regular-season meeting, 7-4, April 13. That, however, was the last game the Jags played without Matt Moore, the three-time All-Delco who has transformed their attack. The Jags (18-5) are 14-2 since Moore’s return. Expect a high-scoring affair: Both teams average 11.7 goals per game.
Springfield gets another doubleheader, this time with a drive. The girls take on Manheim Township in Class 3A at Governor Mifflin High School at 4 p.m., with the boys following against Allentown Central Catholic in the 2A tournament at 6.
Manheim (19-3) has a long history of representing District 3; the Blue Streaks upended Pine Richland, 16-9, in the first round. Getting to a state semifinal would be a significant coup. Springfield (18-4) eased by Exeter, 15-5, in Tuesday’s opener. It did so without leading scorer Olivia Little, who left the game with a leg injury. The task against Manheim would be significantly more daunting sans Little, who’s been slowed by nagging injuries in the latter half of the season.
On the boys side, District 11 champ Allentown Central Catholic (22-1) enters with a gaudy record and a smattering of high-major talent, including Syracuse-bound sophomore FOGO Luke Talago and senior attackman Joseph Wolf, who’s headed to Cornell. The Vikings rolled over Lower Dauphin, 15-2, Tuesday. Their only loss is to Parkland, a 3A states qualifier. It’s no slight to say that the defending PIAA champion Cougars (19-3) are the toughest opponent they’ve run up against this year.
The winner of that game and Henderson-Haven would have easier semifinal matchups to book passage to the boys Class 2A final.
The final affair pits District 1 Class 2A champ Radnor (16-7) against Villa Maria in a top half of the bracket saturated with District 1 teams. The winner at Harriton at 3 p.m. advances to an all-D1 state semi against either Bishop Shanahan or Gwynedd Mercy, both of whom Radnor vanquished in districts. Villa totes an 18-4 record, having stomped Saucon Valley, 20-4, in the first round.
As familiarity between opponents abounds, there’s added intrigue to a pressure-packed weekend.
“There’s a benefit to having already played a team and seeing your weaknesses, specifically against that team,” Purvis said. “We were able to watch their video and show it to the girls and see the things that worked for us and some of miscommunications that we can tighten up and give them a better chance to win.”
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