WEST GOSHEN — The legend said as much about PIAA lacrosse as it did about the Central League. It said as much about the Central League as it did District 1. It said as much about District 1 as it did about the PIAA.
Around it went, one fact seeming to support the other, building its own momentum since 2012.
“It was a myth,” said John Begier, “that was going around.”
Begier coaches Radnor’s boys lacrosse team, which Saturday won the PIAA Class 3A championship with a 12-5 victory over Garnet Valley at West Chester East. In itself, that was not a surprise, the Raptors having entered as heavy tournament favorites and playing their best lacrosse of the season. Yet there was the catch: Playing well late hasn’t been as valuable as it should seem for 10 years. While there have been great Central League teams, none had been able to complete a Triple Crown and win the conference, the district and the state tournament in the same highest-level postseason since Conestoga in 2012.
The most obvious explanation is that the league is so deep and balanced that any law of average would suggest the plaques be spread around.
Another: A mental block?
“So we mentioned it,” Begier said. “As we got into the districts, we were getting ready to play Springfield. We knew that was going to be a really tough matchup. I told the guys there (it) had been said that if you win the district championship, you can’t win states. But I said, ‘Conestoga did it in 2012 and in 2011.’ And I said, ‘If we stay grounded and we stay level-headed, it’s a possibility for us.’”
If anyone realized the unlikeliness of hitting the trifecta, it was the Raptors, whose satisfaction with winning the 2021 state championship was chilled by the reality that they’d lost to Springfield in the district semifinals. Yet it was that experience that motivated them to ensure that whatever they would achieve in the encore, it would not include any asterisks.
“We had three goals at the beginning of the season,” said Ryan Goldstein, who capped a spectacular postseason with two goals and two assists in the fourth quarter Saturday. “We wanted to win the league. We wanted to win the district tournament. And we wanted to win the state.
“It’s crazy to get that done.”
So it often has seemed. Yet Begier had seen something different in his 2022 Raptors, something that would inspire him to set that rare triple play as something of a goal.
“I just wanted to say that it could be done if we were in the right place,” he said. “Then we got into states and just played one day at a time, and it all worked. I didn’t want to step over the line and be arrogant. But I wanted them to find that confidence and make sure that confidence was in the right place. And these guys showed that they would come to play every game, I never had to worry about them getting up for a game because I think mentally they were in the right place.
“This is a mature team. They have their own identity, right? Last year’s team was an incredible group of guys. It was an amazing run. We were super proud of what they accomplished. And then we lost 14 or 15 seniors. And early, a big thing is that we were looking back at last year and kind of wanting that, but we had to understand that this is a new group. This is who’s in the locker room. We need to come together as a team. We need to find an identity. And by mid-April, I think we really did find an identity.”
That established, it began, first with the Central League championship before a quick and impressive start in the district playoffs before a dismissal of Downingtown East for the district championship. Then the Raptors rumbled into the state tournament and, naturally, were challenged by a Central League rival in the final.
“I’ve been in the league for 16 years now,” Begier said. “And with Garnet and Radnor, we’ve made each other better. Every game always feels like a Super Bowl. It’s no different with Springfield, or for that matter Conestoga over the years. After the game, I told (Garnet Valley coach) Frank (Urso) that we have raised each other up. And we’re all better for it.”
For the past 11 years, that has been clear, with league teams sharing the championship spoils. Finally, one team has risen to the top.
“The league was very challenging for us,” said Raptor Mason Montrella, who bagged a hat trick Saturday. “We just had to stay hungry throughout the whole season. We had three goals in mind. I definitely thought it was possible, but completing it is super great.
“I hope we left a distinct legacy on all of PIAA lacrosse.”
They did. Because that’s what happens when a myth is made to vanish.
Contact Jack McCaffery at email@example.com
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