Girls' Lacrosse District Preview

Let the second season begin.

Forget everything that happened to this point. The disappointing losses, the rain-plagued season that lacked continuity – none of that matters.
All that matters is Tuesday’s opening round District One AAAA games. At stake for the 32 tournament teams is an opportunity to not only compete for a district crown but – for the first time ever – one of seven berths in the state tournament.
North Penn – owners of an impressive 17-0 record and a National Conference crown – has earned a distinction few Suburban One League schools ever have. The Maidens are the second-ranked team in the tournament, ahead of such big names as Springfield (Delco), Unionville and Strath Haven.
It’s a spot coach Jami Wilus admits she didn’t expect to occupy.
“I didn’t even think number two going into the seeding meeting,” she said. “It’s definitely a great honor. It’s what you work all year for – to get a couple of home games in the district tournament, but at this point, it’s a brand new season.
“We need to start over and be playing our best lacrosse in the playoffs. To be up there with Radnor, Strath Haven and mostly Central League teams and to see North Penn’s name up there – it really means a lot, and it’s really important for our program, but it’s really about what you do in the playoffs now.”
Wilus credited a strong group of seniors for leading this year’s squad.
“Overall, as a class, they have provided great leadership throughout the season,” she said. “They’re always there for the underclassmen on the field and off the field.”
On the field, several seniors occupy key positions. Wilus points to Alyssa Culp and Lauren McDermott as the leaders on attack.
“They understand what’s going on, and they understand what we’re trying to do,” she said. “Defensively, I have to look at Lyndsay (Hepler) in the goal and Caley Britton and Diana Milano. Having those three back there, they’re rock solid. They do everything you ask them to do and more. A lot of times playing defense isn’t a real glorious position, and they don’t get enough credit for what they really do.
“I always thought people looked at us as having offensive firepower. This year, it’s probably been our best defense overall in a couple of years.”
Staring across the field from the second-seeded Maidens in Tuesday’s contest will be Garnet Valley, which compiled a 9-9 record in the always-tough Central League.
“We need to be ready to play,” Wilus said. “Any team coming from the Central League – you beat them you put another notch on your belt.
“I still feel we have a lot to prove. There are probably a lot of people out there that don’t think we played in a tough enough league or played a tough enough non-league schedule.
“That’s where we need to come out and prove we deserve this.”
Last year, the Maidens rolled to an 18-6 opening round win over Spring-Ford but fell to Boyertown 12-11 in the second round.
Ghosts ready to roll – Last year, Abington took an 18-1 record into the post-season. They defeated Council Rock North 21-3 in an opening round game but fell to Bayard Rustin 10-9 in a second round heartbreaker.
This time around, Abington, the tournament’s number six seed, takes a 16-2 record into the post-season with both its losses coming in overtime – the first a 6-5 loss to Archbishop Wood in the second game of the season and the second a 14-13 loss to the Baldwin School.
The Ghosts will take on 27th seeded West Chester Henderson (8-8) in an opening round game.
 “I think they’re ready, I think they’re focused,” coach Julie Martinez said. “With two overtime losses, they have created a more difficult path, but that’s not going to lead us astray.
“We have a definite goal of making the state playoffs, and I think we have the talent to do it. Any bumps we had in the road, any rain that has poured down on our parade has definitely gotten us to play better lacrosse along the way. It’s pushed us to refocus.”
In senior Alisha Aquilino, the Ghosts boast an All-American goalie, and that’s just the beginning. Seniors Alex Casey, Jen Kelly, Kristen Dunphey. Devon Affleck, Maddy Evans and Kailee Ashby also boast plenty of talent and provide the nucleus of this year’s squad.
“It’s exciting,” Martinez said. “I just hope all the pieces fit together in the next couple of weeks. I think we have the talent, I know we have the heart.”
According to the Ghosts’ coach, there’s a different feeling heading into this year’s post-season.
“This season we have almost flown under the radar, which I would much rather have,” Martinez said. “Last year, it was ‘Who is Abington? How can they be this good?’
“This year we’re a very good lacrosse team, we’re doing the things we need to do. We have a large senior class with a tremendous amount of experience.”
The Ghosts closed out the regular season with some impressive wins, scoring 21 or more goals in each of their last three games.
“At this time last year, we didn’t know how to lose,” Martinez said. “I think that will be a benefit heading into the playoffs.
“I told the girls in March that we were playing March lacrosse, and I didn’t want to peak until May. Last week I asked the girls, ‘What’s the difference?’ They said, ‘It’s May.’”
Cardinals hope to soar – Upper Dublin successfully defended its American Conference crown this season, and the Flying Cardinals, the tournament’s ninth seed, will take on 24th seeded Harriton in Tuesday’s opening round.
“They’re from the Central League, and we know the Central League is always tough, and no matter how anyone finishes, you know they’ve had a tough season,” coach Dee Cross said of a Harriton squad that brings a 12-6 mark into Tuesday’s game. “We want to go in and play our game, play hard and hopefully we’ll come out with a win.
“I think the girls understand they have to give everything they can. That’s what our goal is – to give everything we have. Anything can happen. We just need to play hard.”
Coming into the season, the Flying Cardinals lost some key players from last year’s championship squad to graduation, not the least of which was three-year starter in goal Amy Cross.
“That was the unknown, and we knew that was going to be a big position to fill,” Cross said. “Janine Rosa did step into a very tough position, and she’s gotten better as the season has gone on.
“We knew personnel-wise on the field we should be strong, but so much goes into winning a league championship. Everybody has to stay healthy.”
Two years ago Cross dubbed her season ‘Adversity ’07.’
“Every time I turned around, someone was getting hurt,” she said. “We really were hoping we could stay healthy this year and play together as a team. The team definitely met our expectations and then some.”
Freshman Kelly Cross stepped into the starting lineup and made and immediate impact, teaming with Amy Cross and Nikki Harchut to provide a formidable midfield.
“Kelly played above and beyond and played like a senior,” coach Cross said. “She really helped us in the midfield. As a freshman, you just never know if they will be able to come out of middle school and step in, but she made a big difference for us in the midfield.
“Nikki and Amy came back after starting last year, and they provided the leadership and steady midfield play, and Kelly was able to complement the two of them. The three of them have been the mainstays all over the field which really helped us.”
Coach Cross had a simple message for her players as they prepare for their second season.
“I said to them, ‘Once districts start, don’t look at the seeds. That’s just a number. That’s just someone’s opinion,’” she said. “They’re excited to be in the playoffs. For some of them, it’s their first time, and they’re excited to play.”
Last year, the Cardinals were edged by Conestoga 13-12 in an opening round game.
Titans in new territory – There’s a sense of excitement surrounding Central Bucks South’s squad.
With good reason.
The Titans are playing in the post-season for the first time in the program’s five-year history. Seeded 17th, the Titans will travel to Great Valley on Tuesday to take on the 16th seeded Patriots (11-6).
“We’re so excited,” coach Janique Craig said. “My goal for the team is to focus on our game, play the best we can and play hard.
“It’s really exciting. We lost for four years. However, we improved every year even though our record didn’t show it. This is just fantastic for the girls.”
The Rams, who are riding the emotion of a dramatic come-from-behind win over Pennridge, take a 13-5 record into Tuesday’s game.
Senior Natalie Rube, the team MVP as a junior,will anchor the Titans at midfield.
“She scores goals, she plays defense, and she plays offense,” Craig said. “She marks the top player, and she does all those little things that keep us in the game.”
Craig also pointed to sophomore Casey Haegele as a key in the midfield and Taylor Lucas and goalie Jess Adcock on defense.
“They really are the glue to our defense,” Craig said. “They don’t get the credit all the time, but they are so important.”
On attack, Craig listed Jenn Dunn and Kelly Hamilton as key.
“We’re ready to play,” the Titans’ coach said. “This is a first for us. We have nothing to lose. We’re going to play as hard as we can, and hopefully, the outcome turns out good for us.
“I want to see how they react in a situation like this, but it’s one step at a time. This year we made the playoffs, and that was my goal. Next year we’ll improve on that.”
Young Indians face tough test – Council Rock North gives new meaning to the phrase ‘young team.’ The Indians (9-5-1) start five freshmen and three sophomores, and as the 29th seed in the 32-team tournament, they face the daunting task of taking on a fourth-seeded Unionville squad that boasts wins over Central Bucks East (16-3) and Council Rock South (12-6).
So what do co-coaches Carolyn Kacergis and Pat Toner tell their young squad?
“We are playing a team that’s very, very talented, and we realize that,” Toner said. “Our lack of experience compared to their experience is huge.
“We have to follow a plan, and if we follow the plan, we give ourselves a chance to win. If we can’t follow the plan, we will have a difficult time.”
Don’t talk to Toner about using the game as a learning experience.
“We’re looking to win,” she said. “We don’t really want learning experiences. We want to win.”
Several years ago, Toner’s Council Rock squad played the role of giant killer.
“We were able to beat Boyertown, who had a bunch of All-Americans and was clearly better than us,” she said. “All you have to do is win by one goal.
“You have to have a plan, and you have to follow that plan. Whether we’re capable of doing that is a whole other thing. Whether we even have the right plan is another thing, but that’s why you play the game. Otherwise, everyone that’s really good would anoint themselves as the champion, and we wouldn’t have to play the game.”
Leading the Indians will be Casey Doyle, Elly Plappert, Hannah Plappert, and Lindsay Rheiner. Rheiner has just returned the lineup after being sidelined for three weeks with an injury.
Golden Hawks face tough test – Council Rock South coach Kara DiMarco listened to the accusations that her team played a soft schedule last year and watched as the seeding committee ignored the Golden Hawks 17-2 record and made them the tournament’s 17th seed.
After Boyertown sent the Golden Hawks packing with a 13-2 opening round win, DiMarco decided to make some changes.
“All the coaches pointed out, ‘You won so many games, but your strength of schedule wasn’t hard,” she said.  “We tried to schedule games that were tougher competition this year, and we did.
“We lost, but I think it makes our team stronger and builds our program and makes us more reputable.”
The Golden Hawks added Unionville, West Chester East, Souderton and Pennridge to their non-league schedule. All four turned out to be losses.
This year, the Golden Hawks (8-7-1) are seeded 28th, and they will face a Strath Haven squad that brings a 14-3 record into the game. Its only losses came at the hands of top-seeded Radnor (19-18), Villa Maria (14-12) and Springfield-Delco (10-9).
“Going in we’re the underdog, and I’d always rather be the underdog,” DiMarco said. “We have our strategy, and the girls know their specific roles. They know anything can happen. There have been huge upsets in the past, and this year might not be any different, so we’re looking for an upset.”
Senior Maddie Hurwitz is the team’s top scorer, and her younger sister, Taylor Hurwitz, anchors the Hawks in goal. DiMarco pointed to several other key players.
Leah Britton will play a key role,” she said. “She has specific roles on offense, in the midfield transition and on defense. We look to her often. She doesn’t always get all the glory, although she is our second-leading goal scorer, but she gets the job done, and she works hard all over the field.
Ann Silverthorn is another key component of our defense. We lost Danielle O’Connell to an injury, so Ann has stepped up and taking on Dani’s role on defense.”
Around the league: Several other teams will be seeing first round action. Souderton is the tournament’s 18th seed and faces a tough challenge when it takes on 15th seeded Villa Maria. The Hurricanes (15-2) suffered both of their losses at the hands of Merion Mercy (15-13, 15-14).
Wissahickon has earned the tournament’s 20th seed, and the Trojans will travel to 13th seeded Conestoga. The Pioneers (9-6) fell to a pair of SOL schools this season - North Penn (12-3) and Abington (12-4).
Pennridge, which lost four of six games to close out the season, is the tournament’s 25th seed. The Rams will face eighth-seeded Boyertown. The Bears (16-1-1) suffered their only loss of the season at the hands of North Penn (14-13). Downingtown West tied the Bears 14-14 in the opening game of the season. Since losing to the Maidens, the Bears have been on a 14-game winning streak.
Springfield (Montco), the tournament’s 16th seed, will face seventh-seeded Bayard Rustin (15-2). Rustin’s only losses were to Unionville (13-9) and Strath Haven (11-9).