All-Delco Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year: Move to Carroll worked out for Ava Bleckley, three-time state champs

RADNOR — Ava Bleckley and her Archbishop Carroll teammates were close enough to the summit of the metaphorical mountain to pause and take in the view.

At halftime of the PIAA Class 2A championship game, the message was that just a few more steps remained. The work was mostly done – with a 9-2 lead on the way to a 17-5 win, in a 22-win season on the way to a 23rd victory, in the state title three-peat quest that defined the season.

They were near enough to exhale, confident that they’d earned the wind in their sails.

“I just remember everybody was like, just 25 more minutes and we’re state champions again,” Bleckley said last week. “Halftime was kind of when we, not sat back and relaxed because we still had 25 more minutes to go out and play, but when we kind of knew that if we kept playing the way we were playing, it would end up as a win.”

Archbishop Carroll’s Ava Bleckley, right, looks to drive past an Upper Moreland defender during their PIAA Class 2A first round game. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

That confidence was hard-earned. Over the last two seasons, Carroll has lost one of 48 games. It extended to 23 its streak of Catholic League titles. It was, for a second straight season, decisively better than Twin Valley in a state final.

Bleckley took none of that for granted at Penn State in her final game. She scored a game-high five times, including the game’s first two goals, the opener just 51 seconds in. When Twin Valley mounted a short-lived fightback to get within 3-2, it was Bleckley who stemmed the tide.

She also provided the first-half exclamation point, taking a pass from sister Chloe, stepping into a shot from 12 yards out and firing an absolute missile under the bar with 19 seconds to play. The emphatic finish was a woman-among-girls moment, a college-level stunner and statement of superiority. (Her inclusion this week at the USA Lacrosse Under-20 camp echoes that.)

The signature highlight epitomized why Bleckley is the 2023 Daily Times Girls Lacrosse Player of the Year.

Bleckley is joined on the All-Delco team by Chloe Bleckley and teammate Machaela Henry; Episcopal Academy duo Alexis Ventresca and Quinn Whitaker; Penncrest’s Kate Stanton and Mira Kuttymartin; Springfield’s Erin DeStefano; Claire Natoli of Cardinal O’Hara; Radnor’s Sarah Kelley; Mia Zebley of Garnet Valley; Agnes Irwin’s Caroline Chisholm and Strath Haven goalie Ava Yancey.

Natoli and Yancey are both second-team All-Delcos. Six seniors lead the team, but it includes five juniors and a pair of sophomores (Whitaker, Chisholm). The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.

Bleckley’s lacrosse career accelerated when she transferred to Archbishop Carroll after her sophomore year. She had plenty of options – Penncrest is her home district, the Lions having made a historic run to the District 1 Class 3A and PIAA finals; older sister Grace went from Notre Dame to play at Drexel. But joining Carroll’s powerhouse, coached by her Phantastix club mentor Lorraine Beers, was where she felt she would best improve her game.

“I knew what the level was going to be like, and to get from the Notre Dame level to the Carroll level, I knew I had to work hard,” Bleckley said. “That was my motivation going into it, knowing that if I did want to get on the field, I had to work hard, because these girls have been working hard for two years.”

It helped having Chloe beside her. The two have different styles – Ava’s is one of overwhelming athleticism; Chloe tended toward the defensive side before an offensive junior campaign, with a smaller frame and more quickness than power. Ava doesn’t offer much in the way of advice to her younger sister, short of quality time spent working out together.

She’s actually tried to pick up pointers from Chloe to incorporate into her game, including the irrepressible move to the cage that Ava calls, “the Chloe dodge,” where the junior jump-steps into her run at the cage and manages to weave past defenders.

“She just goes into the eight and scores,” Ava said. “It’s actually crazy how she makes those goals. I’ve been trying to take that aspect of my game and do more of the Chloe dodge. … Nobody’s stopping her. Even if there is someone in the way, she’s just going.”

The two are at the center of everything Carroll did. They worked with Henry on the draw unit, Ava using her pure footspeed and long strides while Chloe was adept at getting low on groundballs. Both middies contributed key defensive pressure for the Patriots, who allowed just 4.38 goals per game. It’s an on-field bond they’ll continue at James Madison, once Chloe wraps up her high school career.

“I’ve definitely seen our relationship grow closer because of it,” Ava said. “And I think we just both love being out there and playing lacrosse.”

Ava’s production the last two years has been outstanding. She tallied 42 goals and 53 points as a junior, though the PIAA transfer rule prevented her from playing in states. She ratcheted her numbers up this year, to 61 goals, 35 assists and 96 points. Even while being limited in the Patriots’ rampant blowouts of Catholic League foes, she still managed to finish fifth in points and tied for fifth in goals in Delco.

Bleckley contributed vocally on the sidelines of last year’s states run, but she made the most of this year’s chance between the lines. The Patriots had one hiccup early, a 9-8 loss to Agnes Irwin early in the season (Bleckley scored four goals) for their only blemish. But they roared through the rest of the schedule. Bleckley had three goals and two assists in beating eventual Class 3A district and state champ Owen J. Roberts. She had four and one in topping Penn Charter, then 16 points in two PCL playoff games, in which the Patriots put up 50 goals.

It added to her legacy within the program. She joins not just four state title teams at Carroll but three straight players of the year, with Kiley Mottice and Keri Barnett. Most important to her, though, is the away she’s seen herself grow at Carroll.

“It’s been crazy how much I’ve gotten better,” she said. “I look back at those highlights I made for recruiting, and I’m like, wow, it’s crazy. And I’m like, OK this is awesome.”

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