Nostrant says these Fords are the best

CHESTER — Leaving PPL Park Monday night, John Nostrant’s usual all-business expression relented briefly for a smile.

Behind that uncharacteristically soft expression was the acknowledgement of a fact that had scarcely been in doubt, but had been set in stone over the previous 48 minutes: That his Haverford School lacrosse team was the best in the country.

What the Fords had just accomplished was nothing short of outstanding. They hadn’t just handed Hun School of Princeton, winners of its first 18 games this season to ascend to a No. 3 national ranking, its first loss. They dismantled the Raiders, claiming a 15-8 win that was never in much doubt, improving to 25-0 in the process.

When Nostrant headed off the field, he carried not only a shiny new trophy as champions of the inaugural Inter-Ac Challenge to add to the bulging cabinets on Lancaster Avenue, but the assuredness of this team’s place in history.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, regardless of what happens on Friday, it’s not even close,’ Nostrant said. “This is the best team in the country. I would play anybody anywhere.’

This year’s standing is well-cemented, with the Fords the consensus No. 1 across a number of polls, even as the work remains unfinished thanks to a date with Indiana’s Culver Academy Friday. Culver is ranked No. 24 in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse poll; it finished last season at No. 3 nationally.

The question now turns to the 2015 Fords’ place in the pantheon of great teams piloted by Nostrant since he took over the program in 1992, which includes a 23-0 squad in 2011.

“I’ve been playing against John’s teams for quite a long time, and Haverford’s got a great tradition, obviously,’ Hun School coach M.V. Withrow said. “I think this is probably the best Haverford team I’ve ever seen, just top-to-bottom. The depth in the midfield, the playmakers in the attack, then in the goal and the faceoff X: I think this is the most complete team they’ve ever had.’

Evidence could be found in the myriad offensive weapons, from the clinical passing of Grant Ament to the rocket shots of Forry Smith, Drew Supinski and Dox Aitken to the raw athleticism of Phil Poquie (who converted from defensive midfielder as a senior, signed with Virginia and scored four times in the title game to earn game MVP honors) and Noah Lejman.

Even aspects of the game that weren’t necessarily strengths before the season have become rocks. Jake Hervada controlled the faceoff X early to the tune of 16-of-26. Goalie Alex DeMarco was sensational in the tournament, stopping 17 shots in the title game.

Then there’s the depth, one that means that guys on the reserve midfield and attack lines that are already committed to high Division I schools somehow struggle to get time on the high school field thanks to a depth that even Nostrant admits is almost too much, though he’s heard no complaints from his team

“It’s a great feeling, but at the same time, we take it with a grain of salt,’ Smith said of the rankings. “We come out, we know who we have, we know who’s going to show up every day, so we work hard every day. We come out, have fun and do what we know how to do.’

Monday’s performance begs the question, then, what is to gain from playing Culver Friday? The answer for Nostrant is simple. He has long been friends with Culver coach Jon Posner, and the team from Indiana isn’t exactly in a hotbed of lacrosse competition. With the lacrosse community descending on Philadelphia for the Division I national championships, it’s also a chance to showcase his program.

“I think this is the best team that I’ve ever been a part of,’ said Smith, a sophomore Johns Hopkins commit. “I’ve never been on a team that’s able to come out every day at practice, whether it’s 20 degrees or 80 degrees and just have fun and get better.’

“This is the deepest team that I’ve ever had, so the fact that we’re together for four more days is pretty special,’ Nostrant said. “…. These guys are kids. So why don’t you want to stay together four more days, as good as we’ve played?’

It’s not the cold number on a ranking sheet that will last in Nostrant’s memory. It’s the play on the field, of competition and practice, over this last week that will endure the longest.

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