HERSHEY — Sandwiched between a leaping bear-hug from overtime hero Jack Wilson and receiving a furtive, well-executed Gatorade dousing Saturday afternoon, prominent on John Begier’s post-championship checklist was retrieving a memento of history.
One of the Radnor coach’s first acts after his team was crowned PIAA champion was to retrieve the ball that did the deed, off the stick of Wilson in an 11-10 triumph over St. Joseph’s Prep.
The responsibility Begier felt to preserve that artifact wasn’t selfish. It was the acknowledgement that many people — beyond himself and his staff, beyond the raucous crowd who’d witnessed Radnor’s resilience and Wilson’s moment of brilliance at Hersheypark Stadium — owned a part of that ball and deserved the chance to hold in their hands the piece of history they’d help construct.
“To me, it’s about all the guys that have come before us,’ Begier said. “This is a great program.’
The Raiders weren’t always a perennial power, though, and tipping the history of other programs — most notably their adjacent school district, Conestoga, a fixture in Hershey in the PIAA’s brief history of knighting state champions — didn’t occur overnight.
A rapt Begier never forgot that Saturday, even amid the jubilation that erupted on the Hershey field. But with those around him, how could he?
One of the first people waiting to congratulate Begier was his predecessor, Mike Busza, who turned Radnor from a traditional also-ran to a consistent contender in a decade at the helm and who has served as his assistant for eight seasons. Busza took the Raiders to the title game in 2003, only to meet disappointment at the hands of powerhouse du jour Ridley.
Also on the staff are two of Busza’s former players, John Sims and Larry DiSipio, and Mike Friel, whose pan-Delco success spans playing days at Ridley and a coaching stint at Springfield.
The roster is strewn with examples of the development Begier touts. For the most profound, look no further than Drew Ryan.
Scorer of four goals and orchestrator of both of Wilson’s tallies, the late-blooming attackman entered his senior season choosing between playing lacrosse at Drexel and attempting to walk on at Penn State while likely settling for just the State College student experience. Instead, his play has earned him a guaranteed spot on the Penn State squad, a just reward for his blossoming.
The defensive unit has come just as far. Last season, there was no doubt that Notre Dame-bound junior Mike Farnish and senior long-stick midfielder Sam Camp were head-and-shoulders above the pack, justly rewarded for their success with All-American nods.
This season, the awards didn’t flow toward Farnish, through whatever blend of politics and committee peculiarities. But the real reason may have been more benign: The players around him all raised their level so high that suddenly Farnish, whose play didn’t noticeably diminish, didn’t stand out, a cog in a machine that was wholly more efficient in concert.
Saturday, that meant that Dario Falcone, Hal Marshall and LSM Rodrigo Castro contributed as much as anyone to limiting an explosive St. Joseph’s Prep to a manageable 10 goals.
“I think we’ve all stepped up this year,’ Marshall said. “I think everyone’s gotten better. I think we’ve realized the magnitude of each game and risen to the occasion.’
The growth from discreet units would’ve had a fraction of its impact if not for the way Begier’s team came together as a group. The familial cohesion, which announced its blatant absence in the season-opening loss to Garnet Valley, has had as big an impact as any on the team’s direction.
“I told the guys after our first game when we got back from Garnet Valley, ‘ I’ve never felt so little like a team in my life,” Begier said. “We didn’t get on the bus as a team. We didn’t get off the bus as a team. The sideline didn’t feel right.
“We got a new group coming in here, and we learned how to become a family. And the big thing is that all 32 of these guys embraced their roles as being the most important on the team.’
Ryan stood astride his fellow seniors Saturday, casting a nostalgic glance back four years on a group that received limited playing time. Did he have any inclination then that these heights would be in their future?
“I would’ve said no way,’ Ryan said.
But soon after the medal was bestowed on his neck Saturday, Ryan’s task would change. Looking at all those before him that had contributed to building the high platform on which the group stood, he turned his attention to the next wave, those young players who didn’t have to wait for the medals so many before them struggled in vain for.
His message was simple.
“Work hard, feel fortunate,’ Ryan said. “It’s definitely a pleasure playing under Coach Begier and playing for this team. Don’t get down on yourself. If you don’t play freshman and sophomore year, you might have a huge junior and senior year.
“If you work hard, no matter what, you’re going to keep getting better.’