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Like any good goalie, Radnor’s Nate Brown waited for a shot

Radnor's Colin French, left, celebrates with Giordan Ramondo after Ramondo took a face-off and scored in the second quarter against Springfield on Tuesday in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals. (PETE BANNAN - DAILY TIMES)

RADNOR — Nate Brown’s first taste of action was enough to convince him the wait had been worth it.

It was the opening game of the 2021 season, the first game for Radnor’s boys lacrosse team since the spring of 2019 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Robert Hobbs, who had won the starting goalie job in preseason, unable to play, Brown filled in, on the wrong end of a 7-6 decision to La Salle that even then felt like a potential state final preview.

That feeling, of being the “anchor” to Radnor’s vaunted defense, is what Brown had dreamt of all those years he was developing in Radnor’s community youth ranks.

When Hobbs returned and Brown was shunted to the bench as the backup, the cameo was enough to convince him to stay patient and ready for when his name might be called.

“Getting that shot makes you kind of realize, wow, this waiting is really worth it,” Brown said this week. “… Having that one game and being like, wow, it feels great to be the guy who’s starting, that made me really look forward to this year. And seeing how well Rob did last year, I was looking forward to trying to follow in his footsteps this year.”

Brown has made the most of his chances, the last of which comes Saturday when the Raptors take on Garnet Valley in the state final in a quest to repeat as PIAA Class 3A champions. The game will be at High Noon at West Chester East High. It’s the last step for Brown, a senior, in one of the oddest quirks in Radnor’s recent lacrosse dynasty.

A multi-year starter is a luxury that hasn’t been part of Radnor’s recent success, at least not since Archer Darrach in 2018 and 2019. Had the 2020 season occurred, Hobbs would’ve faced a battle from then-senior Casey McCullough, just as Hobbs had to beat out Brown for the job in 2021 … and like Brown this season had to battle talented junior Nick DeCain and sophomore Johnny Webb for the starting role.

The pandemic has added urgency to the positional skirmishes: Hobbs got only one high school season, which led him to Division II Bowdoin College, where he was an honorable mention All-America this spring in one of the program’s best seasons. McCullough is currently a backup at Division II Clark University.

Brown had to earn his chance this year, in a program where seniority guarantees nothing. He also navigated some in-season wobbles, with both understudies getting chances to play.

Brown’s tenure between the pipes seems even more fleeting: He’ll attend Ohio State University next year, mainly for its biomedical engineering program. Lacrosse was secondary in his college search, though he plans to try to walk-on for the Buckeyes, who finished third in the six-team Big Ten and are bringing in highly recruited goalies in the 2022 and 2023 classes. As a fallback, depending on his academic demands, Brown at least hopes to play club lacrosse.

“I’ve been playing lacrosse my entire life,” Brown said. “I always wanted to play lacrosse in college, but there are some sacrifices I need to make if I want to do what I want to do academically.”

Those qualities – a non-college goalie, a one-year starter – don’t fit the mold for a program as elite as Radnor. But Brown has done the job beautifully. The Raptors have allowed just 5.1 goals per game this season – up from 4.0 last year, though still microscopic – and against a tougher schedule, with interstate travel restored. They’ve allowed double-figures once, an 11-8 loss at Long Island’s Garden City, and conceded just 29 goals in seven playoff games.

Brown is one cog in a team defensive effort the goes beyond just the four starting defensemen – not just because Radnor has about six starting-caliber poles – of the seven-man defensive unit. Likewise, he’s just one piece in the larger picture. Plenty of private schools would’ve given him a chance to play last year, had he felt that path was vital for his college future and explored it. Instead, being a bit player in Radnor’s run to last year’s state title was more attractive to him than starring elsewhere. He’s seen that patience pay off for others at Radnor, offering reassurance in moments when that faith has flagged.

“It is a lot of patience, a lot of waiting your turn and kind of trusting in the process of knowing, ‘hey when I get my chance, I’m going to make the most of it,’” Brown said. “I think part of the reason all of us stay at Radnor is the love of this community and love for this program.”

Brown’s rewards have been manifold. He helped the Raptors win the Central League title this season. They’re vying to be the first boys team since Conestoga in 2012 to win the District 1 and PIAA championships in the same season in the biggest classification. To do that, the Raptors (23-2) have to get by Garnet Valley (19-6), which they beat in early May, 17-8. Radnor got to this game by beating Springfield for a third time, diminishing the effect of familiarity.

Brown has no preference in terms of seeing an opponent again. He’s just focused on what the Raptors can do – what they did last year, and what he’s long hoped to be in the middle of with a Radnor jersey on.

“There’s definitely that special feeling you get when you get to lead such a special group of guys,” Brown said. “And you’re kind of the one who’s looked at as a leader of it.”

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