RADNOR >> As the clock ticked under 10 minutes in the PIAA Class 3A final, Sam Swart came to understand that her moment had arrived.
For 40 minutes, the Archbishop Carroll attacker had been largely neutralized by the defense Springfield threw at her. With freshman star Alyssa Long as a constant shadow, denying Swart possession and limiting her off-ball movement, Swart had tallied just once, and a three-goal Carroll halftime lead had evaporated into a 7-6 deficit.
“I think during the game, there was a point where I was kind of, I don’t want to say giving up, but a point where I was like, ‘Oh gosh, this is not going to be good. We’ve made it this far and I want to keep going,’” Swart said.
The energetic yet introspective Swart recognized the crossroads. Her senior season marked her fourth trip to the PIAA lacrosse playoffs; never before had the Patriots rescued even a single victory. With the state summit in sight, a historic ascent looking to break the Central League stranglehold, Swart feared not being able to take the final step.
That’s when she took a deep breath and cued the indefatigable inner monologue of motivation.
“I was like, ‘OK, either you’re going to win or you’re going to lose. You’re either going to walk off this field crying or happy. Either way, you pick your choice. Whichever one you want, now is the time to pick,’” Swart recalled.
“At that point, I was like, ‘I’m not losing this game.’”
“She is very competitive,” coach Lorraine Beers said. “I don’t know how you can underscore ‘very’ enough.”
Swart brought her will to bear, wriggling away from Long to score the go-ahead and eventual winning goals and charge Carroll to its first state title.
In the biggest moment of the season, the area’s biggest star shone brightest. For that, Swart is the Daily Times Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year.
Swart is joined on the All-Delco team by Carroll mates Katie Detwiler and Rachel Matey; the Agnes Irwin trio of Lila Barker, Maria Pansini and Hailey Andress; Episcopal Academy’s Katie Crager and Izzy Rohr; Radnor’s Julianne Puckette and Nicole Massimino; Notre Dame’s Claire Nappi; Springfield’s Bridget Whitaker and Garnet Valley’s Madi O’Brien.
Swart and Whitaker earn their second consecutive nods, while two-timers Andress and Massimino were honored as sophomores. The senior class monopolizes nine spots. Detwiler, Pansini and Crager represent the juniors, while Rohr is the lone sophomore on the team.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
The easiest indication of Swart’s devotion to her sporting pursuits is geographical: She lives in the Southern Lehigh school district, an hour-and-15-minute commute on the rare day traffic cooperates.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m usually late to school,” Swart said.
The daily routine is imposing: A 5:30 a.m. wakeup call, on the road by 5:50, then school and practice until 7:30 at night with a return home around 9. After night games, it was often easier to stay at a friend’s house, and Swart said she keeps bedrooms at several teammates’ houses.
The distance means that Swart, in a rare bout of sheepishness, admitted she probably spends more time with teammates than her family. The apologetic tone may be for not sounding more regretful or for her declaration of being “addicted to lacrosse.”
“When I came as a freshman, the bond was there but it wasn’t, ‘Want to go get pizza afterward?,’” Swart said. “It was, ‘OK, you go to practice and you leave.’ … On the first open gym, I knew this team was going to be something different. The way we were all hyped to come to practice, you’re with your family, you’re with your friends, we’re all together. It was a great feeling just to see how people want to be at the sport of lacrosse.”
The devotion has paid off. Swart is a two-time field hockey All-Delco and played a significant role on the Patriots’ basketball team. She’ll attend Syracuse University next year for lacrosse with a standing offer to pursue field hockey as well.
Part of the draw to Carroll was continuing to develop under Beers, Swart’s club coach at Phantastix since fifth grade. Swart, who helps coach younger girls, and Beers have developed a connection that harnesses Swart’s unique blend of talent and tenacity.
“I’ve been working with her since I was little,” Swart said. “She knows my techniques and knows my weaknesses and knows when I get angry and knows when I need to calm down. Just having a coach like that helps you get through high school.”
“I think that as players mature, they want to win at everything and they want to score the most goals and they want to be the best player ever, and then as they get to be seniors, you hope that they realize, ‘OK, how do we win games?’” Beers said. “And sometimes winning a game means you only have one goal or two goals because you’re drawing a faceguard or multiple defenders.
“I think for Sam, she really embraced that this year. That’s a hard concept. But she wanted her team to win. As you saw in that final game, there was no superhero stuff.”
Beers’ mentorship and the family atmosphere created a tight-knit unit that fulfilled lofty expectations. Carroll posted a 25-1 record as Beers spiked the schedule with challenges. Carroll felled Class 2A champ Radnor in the opener. Seventeen straight wins left perennial states challengers Harriton, Garnet Valley, Springfield and Conestoga littered in Carroll’s wake.
The run ended May 15 in the regular-season finale with a 12-8 setback to Agnes Irwin. But even that fixture, before a walkover for the Patriots’ 17th straight Catholic League title, served a purpose.
“After that game, we sat on that field right there in the corner and some people’s heads were down,” Swart said, ‘but I was like, ‘Guys what are you doing?’ It’s one game. We’re not losing again.”
Swart made it so. She deferred as Carroll escaped Strath Haven in the opener, then erupted for nine goals in a 15-5 trouncing of Owen J. Roberts. In the semifinal, Swart punctured Garnet Valley for seven tallies (Detwiler adding five) in a 13-11 win.
Then came the finale, when she and Detwiler tallied hat tricks. That fulfilled Beers’ edict of Swart not trying to do it all, but optimally occupying a niche in the Carroll machine.
“That means so much to me,” Swart said. “I’m glad I can leave that last, high impact on the juniors that are coming up to be seniors. I think they need to have that feeling of responsibility and thinking that now that I’m leaving, we can do it again and make it the second time we do it.”