CONCORD >> From the head-turning music to the hooting and hollering as they pass the iconic Shack bordering the athletic field, the Garnet Valley girls’ lacrosse team sure knows how to make an entrance.
Four PIAA championship banners decorating the fence complete the intimidating atmosphere. Think Fear Factor.
The way the top-seeded Jaguars disposed of Abington, 13-7, in the second round of the District 1 Class 3A playoffs Thursday, you cannot help but wonder if those championship pennants are going to get company.
The Jaguars (16-2) dominated in every phase before giving way to the substitutes, who surrendered most of the goals to a scrappy group from Abington (12-7).
Riley Delaney scored three goals, Regan Nealon tallied three goals and one assist and Kamryn McNeal contributed two goals and two assists to power the Jaguars, who host Owen J. Roberts Saturday.
Jaguars coach Jenny Purvis smiled when reminded that there was a gap in the championship string, the last lacrosse title coming in 2015. After all, she’s guided the Jaguars to the final four the past two years, losing to eventual state champ Archbishop Carroll last year. And one of her assistants, Mark Clark, was the coach of Garnet Valley’s 2016 PIAA championship volleyball team, which by the way, is the most recent pennant on the fence next to The Shack.
“Every March, actually every September I should say, is when we kind of set our goals, and the girls get really excited for the season,” Purvis said. “The state championship is always our goal. But we start small and think Central League championship and then district championship and then state championship. We try not to get too ahead in terms of what we’re looking for. It’s kind of a one-game-at-a-time mentality. And I’m glad we took care of today. And we’ll move forward to Saturday.”
The Jaguars took over from the opening draw control, one of nine won by Madi McKee, who contributed two goals. The Ghosts hustled but were no match for their opponent’s precision passing and disciplined defense.
The Jaguars led, 10-0, at the intermission. And it would have been worse had they not hit posts or had Aileen Hughes not stood so tall in goal for the Ghosts.
“We’re very cohesive when we play together,” McNeal said. “We’re always looking for that extra pass. I think we have a very good team mentality.”
McNeal is a sparkplug for the Jaguars. She scored to give them a 2-0 lead while crashing to the ground, courtesy of a collision. A few moments later she made the extra pass to McKee, who backhanded the ball into the back of the net for a 4-0 bulge.
And it was the defense inspired by senior Abby Kalish, who caused three turnovers, and goalie Sam Hamalak, who notched seven saves, that seemed to kickstart the attack.
“I think our defensive unit especially did a really great job especially in that first half of holding them to zero goals and really containing their threats on attack,” Purvis said. “I was really impressed with what we did there.”
The Ghosts played to the final horn, as they scored with 2.8 seconds remaining. Senior Natalie McNamara, who led the squad with four goals, was proud of the way they finished.
“We didn’t come out as strong as we would have liked but we collected ourselves, got ourselves together and really came out as strong as we could in the second half,” McNamara said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get the win, but you could see in the second half how much heart we gave and the love we all had. We have each other’s backs, we’re always there for each other and we’ll work the whole game as hard as we can, 100 percent.”
All of those qualities apply to the Jaguars, as well. The entrance routine for home games is anything but staged. It’s a bunch of athletes who enjoy working together.
“Most of us, it’s our favorite sport,” McNeal said. “And we are just pumped to come out and take care of business and win the game. We come down from our locker room, we have music blaring, as loud as it can go. And we’re all yelling and screaming and singing songs.”
McNeal and the Jaguars don’t expect the road to get any easier. But their philosophy is a game-changer.
“At this point, seeds don’t really matter,” McNeal said. “It’s whoever comes and plays the best in that game. That was our mentality tonight, just putting aside seeding — who’s the higher seed and the lower seed — and just giving it our all.”
The way the Jaguars play, don’t be surprised if they’re all yelling and screaming before the season is over. No matter what happens, Purvis never will forget this collection of players.
“They’re special, they really are,” Purvis said. “They love the game, they love each other and they love being out here. They don’t want the season to end. They don’t want it to be finished. We’ve seen a lot of really good teams that are local here, that have had some tough losses today and yesterday. We’re grateful to be here and they’re grateful to still be playing.”
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