KING OF PRUSSIA >> All Upper Merion had to do was replace its departing Besz with its returning Besz.
With a single plant on the second day of practice last spring, Justin Besz saw his dream of playing lacrosse alongside his older brother Carter on the same team for the first time dashed by a major knee injury. Justin spent his first season with the Vikings watching while Carter chalked up 100 points as a key cog in UM’s attack and working diligently on his own comeback.
Carter Besz is now playing in college but Justin Besz is doing just fine having inherited his brother’s spot in the attack for a Vikings team eyeing another postseason run.
“It’s the best thing, coming back,” Justin Besz said. “Last year, I was bummed just having to watch on the sideline. It was a lot of motivation watching my guys play but it’s even better to be back, be on the field getting the legs moving and working with my guys.”
Justin was in fine form Saturday morning, tying midfielder Casey Lamey with seven total points in a 13-2 win over visiting Archbishop Wood in an all-Viking matchup. Besz finished with four goals and three assists while Lamey, one of his best friends and a longtime teammate dating back to kindergarten, had five goals and two assists.
Besz was excited to get on the field for the Vikings as a freshman and for the first time, get to be on the same team as his older brother. A cruel twist of fate denied the Besz boys that opportunity when Justin planted and felt his knee pop in just their second full practice of the 2021 season.
The diagnosis ended up being pretty significant.
“I tore my ACL and lateral meniscus and my LCL and PCL were also torn, but not as badly so they didn’t have to get repaired,” Besz said. “It was pretty much my whole knee.”
Carter Besz, now a freshman playing at Lynchburg, and the rest of the Vikings qualified for the District 1 Class 2A tournament as the No. 3 seed but lost their opening round game against Marple-Newtown. Justin spent the season on the sidelines, watching and cheering for his brother and teammates but also starting the process of building himself back up.
A football and basketball player as well, Besz opted to not play either of those sports this year and chose to focus on just his rehab and getting back to lacrosse first. He also had to miss most of the summer and with that, his club lacrosse season.
Besz has more than made up for it this spring for the 9-4 Vikings. He started the season as a midfielder but about one-third of the way into the season, Upper Merion coach Brady McCormick realized the attack was missing that Besz presence and moved Justin into his brother’s spot in the front three.
“We needed a spark on attack and he’s really helped us in that way,” McCormick, who has coached Besz and Lamey alongside his son Truman for years, said. “He’s starting to get his feet under him. At the beginning of the season, he was frustrated because he couldn’t dodge the way he was used to dodging but he’s done a good job of using his footwork while rebuilding that strength to be able to play the position.
“He’s always had great vision, I’ve been coaching since he was in kindergarten and he’s always had that vision.”
Following the initial surgical repair, Besz took each step of the rehab process in stride and as he cleared each hurdle, was only more motivated to get to the next one. He started running, then stickwork and added on more until he was clear to return this winter playing box lacrosse, an indoor variation of the sport played in tighter confines and between fewer players.
Besz said he was able to ditch the protective knee brace pretty quickly once he started playing again and it was a culmination of the gradual build-up he’d been doing in his rehab.
“Conditioning-wise, I felt fine because I was able to run and everything and I had a stick in my hands as soon as they let me, but just the muscle memory of missing a whole year, I definitely wasn’t as good as I used to be,” Besz said. “Building back to it was frustrating but I’m hard on myself. The coaches noticed that and just kept telling me it would come.
“Box lacrosse is such a tighter space and a lot quicker, it’s all catch-and-move, there’s like a three second rule where you never keep the ball in your stick too long so moving it over and over again helped me get that back.”
Making the move from middie to attack just seemed to be the right option when McCormick presented the idea to Besz. The sophomore, who is planning to return to football and basketball next year and will be playing club with the Philadelphia Freedom program this summer, is always open to anything that will help whichever team he’s playing for in a given season.
He’d noticed it a bit anyway that a lot of the Vikings offense was running through Lamey out of the midfield and Besz felt moving into an attack role could take some pressure off his longtime teammate. It’s also brought a few added benefits Besz has come to enjoy quite a bit.
“It wasn’t that big of a difference other than I’m a lot fresher on offense, which is sweet,” Besz said. “I was coming from running back and forth and riding as a middie, now I feel like I’m never tired anymore playing attack. Riding is a lot more fun too, I’m a lot more fresh and I get to beat people up.
“Especially the poles, I was used to them beating me up but now I get to have a little bit of payback.”
Lamey, who walked by Besz as he was talking about his position switch, tapped his buddy on the shoulder and the two shared a devious and knowing look.
“It helps the both of us being able to space everything out,” Besz said. “I wouldn’t say there are many teams out there that can lock up the both of us, so not being one-dimensional and always going from the same spot helps the both of us. Me being able to feed people from X or him being able to feed people or dodge from up top spaces it out a lot and it helps everybody, not just us.”
Besz hopes to follow his brother to college lacrosse but noted right now, teams just don’t have film of him so he hasn’t been able to have much contact with programs at the next level. The sophomore likened it to his rehab, saying it’s not something to rush and he’s motivated to prove himself through the remainder of this spring and in his summer club season.
UM has a big game next week against Perkiomen Valley and the Vikings, currently ranked No. 5 in District 1 Class 2A, are hoping to finish strong and earn another home playoff game. They know they can rely on their offense, thanks to one brother’s return helping ease another brother’s departure.
“I basically replaced a Besz with a Besz,” McCormick said.
UPPER MERION 13, ARCHBISHOP WOOD 2
Lamey assisted Besz to open the scoring Saturday, but Wood responded to tie things up 1-1 with 3:23 left in the opening quarter.
It was all Upper Merion from there, with the host Vikings out-scoring the visiting Vikings 3-0 in the final 1:45 of the first period and shutting Wood out until a late goal in the final minute of play.
Aside from Lamey and Besz’s seven-point outings, UM was powered by two goals and two assists from Lincoln Jones, goals from Brayden Marino and Andrew Haney and assists from Collin McCormick and Qwynne Seals.
Roman Filippo and Daniel Romano scored for Wood while goalie Jackson Baer made nine saves.
UPPER MERION 4 6 3 0 – 13
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 1 0 0 1 – 2
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