Spring-Ford’s Hare clears the way to success; named Mercury All-Area Player of the Year

Ask Zach Hare about the ‘ big moments’ of his senior season on the Spring-Ford boys lacrosse team and he doesn’t hesitate. His mind doesn’t turn to goals or assists.

“A big moment for me is when we need to clear the ball and (coach Kevin) Donnelly would tell me, ‘ Zach, you need to take the ball’ in a close game,’ Hare said. “If I don’t get the ball over the midfield line they (the opponent) regain the opportunity. Clearing the ball were the big moments for me this year — if they have the ball you aren’t doing anything.’

Clears aren’t an individual statistic in lacrosse. They are a team stat.

Caring most about clears subtlely provides a glimpse at the versatile midfielder: goals and assists are great, but the greater interest of the team — whether a tally goes by his name or not — come first.

Hare made his contributions felt all over the field, including on the attack in the form of a 43-goal, 10-assist season to lead Spring-Ford to a fifth-straight Pioneer Athletic Conference championship and a 21-3 season that saw the Rams come within a goal of reaching their long-sought goal: making the PIAA tournament.

The near-miss didn’t overshadow the success of Spring-Ford and specifically Hare, whose postseason accolades include PAC-10 Most Valuable Player, All-Eastern Pa. Lacrosse Coaches Association team, U.S. Lacrosse All-American (Philadelphia Region) and now Mercury All-Area Boys Lacrosse Player of the Year.

“He really is team-first. He can score, but is always looking to win every battle big and small,’ said Spring-Ford coach Kevin Donnelly. “He’s a student of the game and that has a lot to do with why he places such importance on the little things.

“He’s our catalyst and has been for the past two seasons. He’s almost unguardable. His first step is unbelievable and it causes panic in the defense. He draws so much attention that it opens things up for other players.’

That influence did allow Hare to achieve his one personal goal: to surpass 100 career goals. He became the Rams’ first midfielder to reach the milestone after scoring 82 over the past two seasons.

Hare was a captain as a junior when Spring-Ford went unbeaten in the league and won the PAC-10 title. The desire to get the Rams’ program a step further began long before spring.

“I definitely think I matured a lot. And I think the underclassmen did as well,’ Hare said. “In the offseason, we have after-school workouts 2-3 times a week and we do morning workouts and we push each other. We fool around but we get stuff done. It helps us get together and become a team.

“We had good leadership before and during the season. We knew we had the chance to do something special and we showed people that.’

Hare isn’t the type to give himself a lot of credit, but coach Donnelly saw first-hand the level of respect his squad had for the league MVP.

“He’s a two-year captain and this year he was unanimous; with 45 or so players that almost never happens,’ Donnelly said. “He’s a really likable kid. He’s goofy at the right times and serious at the right times. When he says something, guys listen.’

In preparation for his last scholastic season, Hare placed his individual focus on becoming more complete in skill and in physique.

“I tried to focus on my right hand because sometimes during the year kids would call out what hand I was going to,’ said the naturally left-handed Hare. “I don’t want to be predictable so I focused a lot on my off-hand shooting. To be successful at the next level you have to have both hands.’

That work will come in handy when he heads to St. Joseph’s in the fall, becoming the second in his family to play Division I men’s lacrosse, following older brother Ian Hare (Towson).

In 2015, Spring-Ford featured an able attack trio led by top scorer and All-Area first team Kevin Todd and a stout, experienced defense led by PAC-10 Defensive Player of the Year Liam Hare, Zach’s younger brother. It meant Zach Hare could be patient and fill in the gaps where needed. His 43 goals are a high total, but his scoring never came from over-inserting himself at the expense of the team flow.

With a large core returning, big things were expected of the Rams this spring. But their top rival, Owen J. Roberts, didn’t go quietly in their first meeting with Spring-Ford hanging on to win 8-7.

Spring-Ford took its first loss of the season to Radnor, 9-8 — a loss that looks different in the afterglow of the season considering the Red Raiders were crowned PIAA champions.

There was a real chance back-to-back losses were on the way with defending District 1 champion and PIAA runner-up Avon Grove up next in the teams’ annual non-league encounter. It’s become a measuring stick game when Spring-Ford coach Kevin Donnelly, who was named U.S. Lacrosse Philadelphia Region Coach of the Year, matches up with former West Chester teammate Eric Jackson’s Red Devils.

Hare may have wanted the win more than anyone after losing to the Red Devils his first three seasons. He ensured it wouldn’t become four by hitting for a hat trick as Spring-Ford rallied from two down at halftime to win 6-5.

“When we beat Avon Grove we knew that we had potential, that we had the ability to beat anybody because they’re a very good team,’ Hare said. “That set the standards of where we could go.’

It triggered a 17-game win streak that spanned into the district playoffs. But it wasn’t always drama-free.

Owen J. Roberts gave Hare and company all they could handle in the PAC-10 title game on May 7. Yet as they’ve managed to do in so many on their previous meetings, the Rams found a way. Jake Hvazda’s overtime game-winner gave Spring-Ford its fifth straight championship, including all four of Hare’s years. The Rams had a 62-2 record against league opponents in that span.

Hare’s truest pursuit was a bigger one: becoming the first Spring-Ford team to the PIAA playoffs.

After handling Harriton (8-5) in the first round, Hare bossed the first half with a hat trick in a 10-7 win over Central Bucks South in the second round, getting Spring-Ford at least a round farther than the year before.

The next step came terribly close, Spring-Ford, the No. 5 seed, going down the stretch tied 8-8 with No. 4 seed Springfield-Delco. The Rams were done in by freshman Kyle Long’s game-winner with 13 seconds left to deny them their first state berth (Spring-Ford’s season ended in a playback defeat to Garnet Valley a game later).

“For Spring-Ford to lose within one to the state champions (Radnor), lose to within one of the district champions (Springfield-Delco), it shows that we can hang with any team,’ Hare said. “Spring-Ford is definitely going in the right direction. We’re playing better teams each year and doing what we need to do in the PAC-10 to be successful.

“It’s definitely disappointing to not make states — one goal with 13 seconds left decides who was going to go to states — but we have to be thankful and look back on the season and know we did something not a lot of other teams have done. That’s definitely something to be positive about.’

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