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Girls Lacrosse: Conner’s four goals help Haven get ‘mojo’ back

Strath Haven's Laura Conner, left, looks for room to move in the first quarter Tuesday against Marple Newtown. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

NETHER PROVIDENCE — PIAA Class 2A runner-up Strath Haven is back in business with a three-game win streak after a convincing 18-5 Central League win over Marple Newtown Tuesday.

Laura Conner scored four goals while Annie D’Ignazio, Julia Steere and Grace Kelly added three each to help the Panthers put a previous, three-game losing skid against some of the top 3A competition in the district firmly in the rearview mirror.

“We’ve had kind of a bumpy last couple weeks,” Panthers coach Pigeon Graham said. “We needed to get our mojo back. It was good to have a game like this.”

Strath Haven’s Annie Dignazio scores in the first quarter past Marple Newtown goalie Allison Mezer Tuesday. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

The Panthers (10-6) constructed a 13-0 lead in the first half to leave little doubt that they’re back after such challenges as illness and injury.

Conner tallied all of her goals in the first half, and spent a chunk of the second stanza cheering her teammates on. Conner likes where the Panthers are.

“We just went through a rough patch where people got COVID; we had our draw specialist injured,” said Conner, who also collected one assist, two draw controls and one ground ball. “We hit a rough patch with some losses, but we bounced back, starting with Pennsbury last Saturday where we won by one goal, which was really good. I feel like we’re going to peak.”

Conner, by the way, scored the winner against Pennsbury.

With Kaitlin Neiczpiel banged up, the Panthers got a huge game from freshman D’Ignazio, who in addition to the hat trick contributed three assists, five draw controls and three ground balls. Steere registered two assists, two ground balls and two draw controls, Kelly one assist and two ground balls.

Graham appreciates what the Panthers have done as well. It was tough for her to mention one girl without talking about another, the Panthers finding a way to get better each of the past three games. Even the injured faceoff specialist is turning the corner.

“Kaitlin has over 80 draw controls for us,” Graham said. “She got hurt Saturday, should be back Friday. Annie D’Ignazio, she’s great at the midfield. She had three goals today. She’s super fast, scoops up all our ground balls. Does a really good job at the midfield. Grace Kelly, an attacker down low, she’s a really solid, even-keeled steady player. They’re all sophomores and freshmen. So, all these young kids are starting to come around for us.”

Conner, only a junior, sets the tone on offense for the Panthers. Graham wisely rested her in the second half, as it made little sense to risk an injury in what has been a crazy season. The bonding continued on the sideline.

Marple Newtown’s Camryn Cristello, left, tries to get past Strath Haven’s Molly Omrod Tuesday.

“We’ve always been super close,” Conner said. “This is like my second family. I love them so much. We’re super-loose during practice. Coach really hypes us up and it’s so much fun. When we go on the field it’s like we’re all just hanging out.”

The Tigers (3-13) fought to the end against yet another powerful Central League team. It’s not easy taking those lumps. But coach Jess Abatangelo can see light at the end of the tunnel.

“We have a tough league, but we are progressing, and we have to find the positives in each game and move forward,” Abatangelo said. “One of the positives is that they don’t give up. We have people that step up to the challenge. We’ve improved on some things that we’ve talked about when we have our huddles. But they don’t give up. They’re playing more together as a team than they have been. A couple years ago we would play these teams and not score anything. We’re putting points on the board and that’s a positive for us. It’s coming together.”

Junior Jules Rodriguez scored Marple’s last goal with 47 seconds remaining, the Tigers refusing to go quietly. They just were no threat to the Panthers, who are working themselves into playoff shape.

While Graham can feel the district playoff vibe that is right around the corner, she’s kept her players focused on the present when it’s human nature to take a peek at the competition. Conner is a perfect example of that.

“I always like to play them game by game,” Conner said. “If you look forward, you’re going to miss something that’s in this game that you need to do very well. Our team likes to go game by game,  too. That’s how we kind of play.”

In other Central League action:

Radnor 17, Ridley 3 >> Sarah Kelley paced a balanced attack with four goals. Julie Breedveld paired two goals with nine draw controls and one ground ball. Taylor Murphy contributed two goals, one assist and one ground ball. Amelia Reinholt also scored twice and scooped up a ground ball.

Emily Liberio tallied twice and Krista Beibler once for the Green Raiders.

Garnet Valley 19, Haverford 2 >> Kate Stankavage had a monster game with three goals, five draw controls, three ground balls, one assist and one caused turnover. Sophie Kingsborough also had a hat trick to go with one ground ball and one caused turnover. Lex Garrity, Ava Kane (four draw controls), Mia Raucci, DeDe Schmitteiri and Mia Zebley (two assists) pitched in with two goals apiece.

Conestoga 14, Harriton 3 >> Kate Galica collected three goals, two assists and two draw controls as the Pioneers wrapped up the Central League title. Keating Hopkins added two goals, three ground balls and one caused turnover. Kiki Liebeziet contributed two goals, four draw controls, one ground ball and one caused turnover.

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