Malvern >> Villa Maria Academy, coming off an emotional 14-8 win against Radnor in the PIAA 2A lacrosse state semifinals Tuesday, has just one team remaining between them and their first-ever PIAA state championship – Kennard Dale, the fourth-place finisher in District 3.
Kennard Dale (21-4), returning to the PIAA 2A state finals for the second year in a row, will face District 1 champion Villa Maria (24-2) Saturday at 10 a.m. at West Chester East’s Harold Zimmerman Stadium.
Last year, Kennard Dale lost to Radnor, 20-8, in the state championship final. To get to the state final this year, the Rams defeated District 3 champion Hershey 13-9 in the PIAA 2A state quarterfinal and beat District 3 runner-up Susquehannock 11-9 in the state semifinal Tuesday.
The Rams are led by junior Megan Halczuk, whose skill on the draw control was a key factor in K-D’s victory against Susquehannock. Halczuk had been temporarily sidelined with an ankle injury suffered in the District 3 semifinals, but had a strong game against Susquehannock Tuesday.
“Megan Halczuk is a very talented player and to be successful we must limit her touches on the ball,” said Villa Maria head coach Allie Sweeney. “If she is able to control the ball then we might be in trouble.
Another key player for Kennard Dale is midfielder Chloe Fornoff.
“She’s a very talented midfielder that helps on the draw and has speed in the open field,” said Sweeney. “We will have to be able to limit both [Halczuk and Fornoff] and slow their team in transition.
“Our team needs to stay hungry for another win and be focused to finish this season off with the last goal on our list, the biggest one of them all – a state championship. Coming up with draws and staying aggressive on all 50/50 balls will be important.”
Villa Maria has some talented performers on the draw, led by Abby Walheim (141 draw controls), whom Sweeny said “has been outstanding on the draw,” and Erin Finley (74 draws).
The Hurricanes have been effective in the groundball game, too, averaging 11 per contest.
Defensively, the Hurricanes average six caused turnovers per game, with the Walheim sisters (Abby and Lizzie) combining for 52 CTO’s to date.
And at the back of the defense, Widener University-bound senior goalie Maddie Medve has been averaging seven saves per contest (that number has been increasing as the season wears on).
“Our defense has been a rock, a very consistent part of our team all season,” said Sweeney. “They play so great together and really have since Day 1.”
Villa Maria’s offense has been rounding into top form the past few weeks.
“Our offense has been good, but only has become great late into the season,” said Sweeney. “I have been pleased with their patience in recent games. They look for each other and play so unselfishly. The attack has learned how to be a unit, just as the defense is, and has really learned how to enhance their teammates strengths. We talk about making each other ‘look good’ by setting your teammate up for success.”
For the season, Villa Maria has been averaging more than 13 goals per game, led by a plethora of scorers – Hannah Young (58 goals, 31 assists), freshman Margie Carden (49 goals, 30 assists), Erin Finley (46 goals, 29 assists), Sarah Delaney (44 goals, 20 assists), Abby Walheim (28 goals, 30 assists), Bridget Finley (36 goals, 22 assists) and Lizzie Walheim (25 goals, 22 assists).
While Villa Maria’s defense held the potent Radnor attack to just three second-half goals in the state semifinal, the Hurricanes are still looking to improve on that performance.
“I was pleased with our team defense [Tuesday]; however, we need to make adjustments sooner to make sure we can limit goal scorers,” said Sweeney. “[Radnor’s] Ellie Mueller scored six goals on us, that is way too many to let one attacker score.
“Our attack controlled the tempo of the [state semifinal] the best they could; doing this on Saturday is going to be key. We balanced fast break goals with more settled sets nicely.
“To continue to be successful this season we will need to play as a unit. Everyone must go hard to everything. Limiting our mistakes and capitalizing on the opponent’s mistakes will be crucial.”
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