This is my third season at the helm of the Delco Times’ boys lacrosse coverage, and for the last two, it’s more or less been the same seven or eight teams populating these rankings. That’s partially a product of the limited number of schools sponsoring the sport (16 as opposed to 23 in Delco for baseball and boys basketball). It’s also due to clear lines that eventually form between teams in league play. Gaudy nonleague win totals aside, once teams – for instance, Haverford and Marple Newtown last season, or any of the Catholic League squads faced with the duopoly of La Salle and St. Joe’s Prep – began their league slates, the progress hit a brick wall and the divisions in talent became obvious.
This season, that’s not the case … at least not yet. The Central League churns through its third round of 11 Tuesday, and while that’s still an early juncture, patterns are emerging. The combination of youth, some bad luck and maybe just a cyclical renewal brings new faces in and drops stalwarts out this week. So here goes. (Records based on game through April 10.) Also, stat leaders are posted.
1. Haverford School (5-3)
The Fords remain at the summit, and we’ll get a good comparison between them and the team immediately below in the pecking order when Tuesday’s game with Malvern Prep offers a common opponent. John Nostrant’s team has surmounted its early-season tests admirably, but their last game against Gonzaga shows the dangers of when only Dox Aitken is firing offensively, the senior star accounting for five of their eight goals.
2. Garnet Valley (3-2)
In the battle of 2015 co-champs, the Jaguars took the early edge in this year’s battle by topping Penncrest, 16-12, last week. The Jags tallied four-goal wins over the Lions and Radnor back-to-back, a daunting week so early on. The record doesn’t do them justice, but they’re about two minutes from having beaten Avon Grove and Malvern Prep, which might have vaulted them to the top spot. Shore up the end-of-game execution, and the Jags could embark on a long postseason run.
3. Penncrest (3-1)
We’re only four games in, so I’m assuming that defender Ryan Granger’s tie as the team’s fourth-leading scorer isn’t the long-term plan. Not that the Marquette-bound senior scoring isn’t a good thing, but there’s a drop off in production from the top two (Ryan Kinnard with 19 goals, and Alex Bonnett with 17 points at nine and eight) that could leave the Lions vulnerable against teams that can design effective defenses to neutralize that potent pair.
4. Strath Haven (5-0)
This ranking could rise in the coming weeks, but I’ll postpone that until the Panthers play someone ahead of them. They impressively topped Ridley, 12-7, last week behind six Jeffrey Conner goals, and they are solid at just about every level. Conner and Jack Borbee are orchestrating an attack featuring six players with multi-goal games. Noah Frantz is a top LSM, and Will Brake has had a strong start in goal. However, only two of their games have been against teams with winning records – Ridley and District 7 power Mount Lebanon. I don’t doubt that this year’s Panthers can hang with the top teams in the area. I’ll just wait for it to happen before they rise in the rankings.
5. Ridley (5-2)
The Green Raiders scheduled a handful of teams having uncharacteristically down years, though the Great Valley win in late March looks good and Central Bucks West will collect plenty of wins in a weak area of the district. This week, Ridley gets Radnor and Penncrest, an important measuring stick. Offense certainly hasn’t been a problem thanks to Cade Stratton and Brock Anderson (21 goals each).
6. Haverford (5-0)
Speaking of offense, Haverford is averaging 17.2 goals per game. They’ve scored 16 goals three times and 19 twice, so there’s no question as to where the strength of Delco’s other unbeaten lies. Bobby McClure, who leads the county with 44 points, has the Fords playing at a high level. Much like Strath Haven, there’s a caveat here: Opponents like Radnor, Springfield and Conestoga, even Penncrest, will try to muzzle the Fords to single-digits, suffocating games and limiting possessions. The Fords have to show that they can either win those low-scoring games or consistently dictate tempo to play on their faster-paced terms.
7. Radnor (3-3)
The Raiders opened poorly with a 16-4 drubbing at the hands of Upper Dublin, a team many have tipped to contend for District One and PIAA titles. Radnor has righted the ship since, and while a 9-5 loss to Garnet Valley hurts, it is the same margin that Penncrest played GV to. The other loss is a one-goal setback to perennial Ches-Mont power Bishop Shanahan. Radnor’s attack seems to be piecing itself together around Jack Wilson and Clayton Proctor, with Luke Jones and Cole Brown contributing heavily, though that unit still has some growing to do.
Honorable Mention: Marple Newtown (4-2; a season ago, the Tigers won three of its first four nonleague games, then went 2-9 in the Central League. This year, they’ve lost their first two Central outings to Haverford and Harriton. With Strath Haven, Springfield and Conestoga next, they need to get on the board sooner rather than later); Springfield (1-4, The Cougars are young and struggling. But they beat Great Valley handily, played Downingtown East to within a goal and lost by two to Strath Haven and Conestoga. Whatever its record, prepare for a tight, defensive game against Springfield); Episcopal Academy (0-6, it pains me to drop the Churchmen, but the reality is just so harsh on Andy Hayes’ squad. They have four one-goal losses, including 5-4 OT setbacks to Lawrenceville and La Salle. Only two players are averaging a point – not a goal, a point – per game, led by Connor Ringwalt (seven points in six games), thanks to a slew of injuries in attack.)