CORNWELLS HEIGHTS – The last time Holy Ghost Prep (HGP) played Harriton a week before the District 1-AA playoff between the two schools, it was Senior Night on the Rams’ home turf.
The team from the Main Line came out inspired and took a 6-1 lead on its way to a 14-7 triumph over the Firebirds.
“They came out fired up for their Senior Night and our guys were flat,” admitted HGP head coach Ryan Tessler.
“That was the thing we wanted to adjust when we played them in districts – to make sure we came out emotionally ready to go and focused.
“And we did that.”
Indeed. On May 17, the first day above 90 degrees this spring, Ghost got a goal less than a minute and a half into the District 1 opener from junior Phil Rueter and classmate Zach Nangle put the ‘birds up 3-0 with a pair of strikes in the fifth minute of play.
The Rams outscored the ‘birds 5-1 in the second period, however, and by the same margin in the second half to leave Cornwells Heights with an 11-5 triumph.
“We felt like we didn’t have the ball the whole second quarter and all of a sudden, they got into a rhythm, offensively,” explained Tessler.
“We were forced to play a ton of defense and in that heat, we made a few mistakes that we shouldn’t have.”
Harriton senior Hakan Atillasoy tallied once in the first period and twice more in the second to give his team a 6-4 lead going into the half. He scored again 2:41 into the third quarter and the Firebirds never really threatened again.
“Our offense – when we got the ball – just had unforced turnovers,” explained Tessler. “It wasn’t anything Harriton did. For whatever reason, we just had a lapse in focused play.”
Still, it wasn’t a bad season for Ghost. Its 11 wins were 10 more than the team had last year. That’s the second largest turnaround in boys lacrosse this season in the state of Pennsylvania, said the coach.
A lot of credit goes to the Rueter twins – juniors Phil and Matt, a midfielder and faceoff specialist who set a school record this season for the percentage of faceoffs won and ground balls (180).
“His ability to win faceoffs and gain us possession was incredible,” said Tessler. “Matt was just tremendous for us this year.
Reuter also added 11 goals and 11 assists so “he was a total lacrosse player for us,” added Tessler.
Twin brother Phil finished with 37 points including 25 goals on the season.
“He was our top offensive threat in the midfield so he got a lot of attention from a lot of teams.”
“And he was one of our bigger threats on man-up situations.”
Nangle was the leading scorer however, after notching 75 points including 31 goals on the season.
“Zach was the quarterback of our offense,” stated Tessler.
Defensively, the ‘birds are led by sophomore goalkeeper Zach May, who finished with 196 saves. Tessler surmised that that figure places May in the top 10 in the state, in that category.
“He improved immensely in the clearing game. He sparked a lot of transitions for us with outlet passes,” said Tessler. “When he made a save, we were certainly on offense with his ability to get the pass out to midfield.”
Among the top two defenders this season were sophomores Kadan Marotta and Sam Summer, who suffered a concussion during the Archbishop Wood game and missed the playoff.
“Sam was our top lockdown guy. He always drew the real tough assignments on the other team.
“He was also a great transition guy he could pick the ball up and create offense for us.”
Marotta gets the nod for the most fundamentally sound athlete on the team, says Tessler.
“He is always in the right position, his footwork is impeccable, he times his checks well and he never takes a penalty.
“I think he took one penalty all year and that’s not easy for a defender to do through 19 games.”
According to Tessler, the future looks even brighter. With graduation, the ‘birds say goodbye to only two players – defender James Brooks and midfielder Conor Sablich.
Coach says the senior class set the tone for the 2017 campaign, in the way they directed offseason workouts.
“They worked really hard in the offseason, keeping the team together,” the coach said.
Community service projects, weight training, fall league, inter-squad games – this group did it all in the offseason.
“These guys understand what it takes in terms of the offseason work in order to come ready for the spring. With all the experience and the good fortune we had this past season, I believe there will be another level of confidence that will come back next season.”
The last time Ghost made a run in districts was 2014, when they toppled West Chester Henderson in the opening round of districts before falling by a single goal to Class 4A rival CB East.
The way the postseason brackets have been separated into Class AA and AAA tournaments , the ‘birds don’t have to beat a big school to go far. That also bodes well for the future, says Tessler.
And May – who plays for NXT Lacrosse in the offseason – will only get better.
If Ghost improves as much this summer as it did last, we may see a significantly strong season from HGP in 2018.
TOP PHOTO: Holy Ghost Prep sophomoe Kaden Marotta, right, defends Harriton senior Hakan Atillasoy in District 1-AA opener May 17 at HGP. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)