If there was any doubt of the power of Pennsylvania lacrosse compared to its southern neighbor, Maryland, it was put to rest last season.
Two of the Top 3 teams in the POWERADE FAB 50 were from Pennsylvania and three teams placed in the Top 25. A fair argument could be made to include more Pennsylvania teams in the top tier as those three teams went 5-1 against Maryland opponents, including going undefeated against the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association.
With Haverford School returning a loaded team from its National Championship squad along with Conestoga, Malvern Prep and La Salle all boasting talented teams, 2012 could be a good year again for the Keystone State.
The Starting 10
(Position: athlete, year, high school (city, state), college commitment)
G: Steve Brodeur, Strath Haven (Wallingford, Pa.), Lehigh
D: Warner Bailey, Haverford School (Haverford, Pa.), Georgetown
D: Eddie Morris, Malvern Prep (Malvern, Pa.), Johns Hopkins
D: Chris Panichelli, Bishop Shanahan (Downingtown, Pa.), Drexel
M: Sean Coleman, Jr., La Salle (Wyndmoor, Pa.), undecided
M: Will McNamara, Haverford School (Haverford, Pa.), Virginia
M: Sam Rohr, Sr., Haverford School (Haverford, Pa.), Pennsylvania
A: Tyler Brooke, Sr., Conestoga (Berwyn, Pa.), Maryland
A: Connor Frisina, Conestoga (Berwyn, Pa.), Delaware
A: Matt Rambo, Jr., La Salle (Wyndmoor, Pa.), Maryland
Sizing Up The Region
LaSalle (Wyndmoor, Pa.) boasts two of the best juniors in the state running their offense, which will give opposing coaches nightmares. Crafty attackman Matt Rambo (Maryland) and speedster Sean Coleman will draw plenty of attention. The Explorers look to get out to a fast start this season after starting 2011 with three straight losses. If their underrated defense can play well, the Explorers will seek back the Catholic League championship after falling to St. Joesph's Prep (Philadelphia, Pa.) last season.
After last season's success led by a strong senior class Saint Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia, Pa.) looks to return to the state title game once again in 2012. There will be some new faces and young contributors with junior attackman/midfielder Anthony Marini ( Notre Dame) the focus of the offense.
Every year Chestnut Hill (Philadelphia, Pa.) makes strides in improving their lacrosse program alongside the cobblestone streets, which Chestnut Hill is known. Midfielder Forrest Rall will be counted on to be a renaissance man for the young Griffin team. As their young talent grows the Griffins should develop later in the season once they have some experience under their belt.
Last year was a year to forget for Episcopal Academy (Newtown Square, Pa.). After advancing to the Inter-Ac championship in 2010, the team finished 6-11 last year. Yet with 13 returning seniors, a new season brings upon a breath of fresh air for coach Andy Hayes' squad. The Churchman squad is loaded with underrated players looking to prove they can play with the best teams in the Mid-Atlantic region. Do it all midfielder Ian Strain (Lehigh) and towering defenseman Kevin Garhardt (Penn) are two of the most overlooked junior players in the area.
Germantown Academy (Fort Washington, Pa.) lost some talent to graduation, but their hard-nosed, blue-collar play should be no different this year. Crafty attackman Reid Weber (Lehigh) will lead the attack unit while athletic midfielder Greg Shildkrout (Dickinson) will likely draw a pole from the midfield based on his speed alone. In the crease, Jake Adoni (Gettysburg) will have a calming presence as his young defense might have a learning curve early in the season.
Haverford School (Haverford, Pa.) arguably had the best season ever in not only the state, but the country last year. Therefore the road to being the best still runs through the defending POWERADE FAB 50 National Champions, who despite losing 12 D-I recruits returns a plethora of talent. The imposing and future Georgetown Hoyas, Connor and Warner Bailey, will anchor the defense. Will McNamara (Virginia) is a rare talent with the ability to hybrid between a longpole and playing first line midfield. Midfielder Sam Rohr and attackman Zack Rego (Georgetown) are pound-for-pound two of the best players in the state. If Jake Landman can fill in for the now departed Conor Kelly (Notre Dame) in goal and Will Gural (Brown) wins over 60 percent of his faceoffs the Fords could once again be hoisting the Inter-Ac championship and competing for a National Championship.
Nipping on Haverford School's heels is Malvern Prep (Malvern, Pa.). After suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Fords in the Inter-Ac championship the Friars look to turn the tables this season. The strength of coach Dave Metzbower's squad will be the defense, which has eight D-I recruits (three seniors, three juniors, and two sophomores). Junior goalie Matt Barrett (Virginia) will get more reps this season and with an athletic defense if his clearing game is on point the Friars will be dangerous. The midfield and the attack units will be young and if sophomore Conor Glancy has a big year the Friars will succeed. The now graduated Drew Kennedy was instrumental in so many possessions last season, which leaves faceoffs as one area where the Friars will need to play as a team to gain valuable ball control.
It all starts and stops with senior goaltender Jackson Tamasitis (Army) for Penn Charter (Philadelphia, Pa.). He will be the glue which holds the young Quakers together. Offensively the Quakers will need to replace Joey Sankey's 109 points from last year. Attackman/midfielder Shane Carr (Yale) will shoulder the load until some talented underclassman step up. With their out-of-state schedule the Quakers will not be running away from anyone, which could help produce some Inter-Ac wins later in the season.
This will be the last year of the Ryan Ambler (Princeton) era at Abington (Pa.). The southpaw will be the general again for the Ghosts who will be the favorite to win the Suburban Conference this year. Fellow seniors Chris Duffy (Hartford) and Matt Figueroa (Hartford) are late bloomers who will lend guidance and skill. Junior defenseman Austin Pifani (North Carolina) will cause chaos for opposing attackmen in Ryan Greer's first year at the helm.
The only hurdle last year Central Bucks East (Doylestown, Pa.) could not overcome was Conestoga who handed them two of their three losses. Despite losing a strong senior class, the Patriots are always well coached. Parker Self (Air Force) will shoulder the load offensively while sophomore defenseman Tyler Butler will anchor the defense for the Patriots.
Central Bucks South (Warrington, Pa.) is coming off a rebuilding year and could be a sleeper team in the area. Despite only winning two games last year they have a solid group of juniors including one of the area's best junior goalies in Ryan Kelly (Navy).
The well never seems to dry at Conestoga (Berwyn, Pa.) as the Pioneers continue to churn out talented teams. Last year's PIAA state champion returns Pennsylvania's most lethal and experienced attack unit led by Connor Frisinia (Delaware), Tyler Brooke (Maryland) and Brad Lord (Maryland). With junior goaltender Rob Zonino (Michigan) and plenty of athletic defenders in front of him the defense will play fast. The three-peat for the Pioneers will rely on their depth of midfield behind their all Division I first line.
Defense will be the strength of Garnet Valley (Glen Mills, Pa.) again this season after only allowing double-digit scoring in just two games last year. Physical defensemen Ryan Lehman (Maryland) and Ryan Guittare (Penn State) will solidify the defense. Goaltending and depth will be questions for the Jaguars to answer when their first game is slated on March 23. Their big four offensive producers Jules Raucci (Drexel), Joe Taulane (High Point) and junior attackmen Rob Raucci (St. Joseph's) and Vail Urso (Drexel) need to all have big seasons to compete for a Central league crown.
Even though stud midfielder Eric Gartner has moved on to Villanova, Great Valley (Malvern, Pa.) will continue to get better. Senior defenseman Ben Hughes (High Point) has the experience to lead flanked by juniors Niall Durkin (Colgate) and Joey Ward (Denver). Junior midfielder Noah Joseph (Marquette) has great speed between the lines and sophomore Greg Merrill (Princeton) will be the man at attack returning 80 points from his freshman campaign.
Hempfield (Landisville, Pa.) will be the favorite to challenge for a state title coming out of central Pennsylvania. The Black Knights return their entire midfield including junior Nick Valentino (Drexel). With a talented face off unit including a high scoring offense it will be tough to stop Hempfield this season.
Hempfield's toughest game this year will be against Seneca Valley (Harmony, Pa.), which is coached by Major League Lacrosse standout Peet Poillon. Seneca Valley has a veteran squad and will offer a stout defense with Jake Succop in goal.
Underclassemen To Watch
(Position: athlete, year, high school (State), college commitment)
Attack: Conor Glancy, Soph., Malvern Prep; Greg Merrill, Soph., Great Valley, Princeton; Trevor Kupecky, Jr., Upper Merion, Hofstra; Anthony Marini, Jr., St Joseph's Prep, Notre Dame; Brandyn O' Connell, Jr., Downingtown East (Exton, Pa.), Hofstra.
Midfield: Jeff Cimbalista, Jr., LaSalle, Yale; Noah Joseph, Jr., Great Valley, Marquette; Ian Strain, Jr., Episcopal Academy, Lehigh; Joey Carlini Jr., Malvern Prep, Johns Hopkins; Nick Valentino, Jr., Hempfield, Drexel.
Defense: Kevin Gayhardt, Jr., Episcopal Academy, Penn; Ian Hare, Jr., Spring-Ford (Royersford, Pa.), Towson; Austin Pifani, Jr., Abington, North Carolina; Chad Rafferty, Jr., Malvern Prep, Maryland; Carson Scott, Jr., Conestoga, Delaware.
Goalie: Matt Barrett, Jr., Malvern Prep, Virginia; Bryce Womack, Soph., Perkiomen Valley (Perkiomen, Pa.); Brian Zappala, Soph., Episcopal Academy.
Games To Watch
March 17: Malvern Prep at Loyola-Blakefield (Towson, Md.)
March 23: Conestoga at Calvert Hall (Baltimore)
April 5: Gilman (Baltimore) at Haverford School
April 14: Conestoga vs. Garden City (N.Y.), Checking for Cancer Invitational
April 14: La Salle vs. St. Augustine Prep (Richland, N.J.), Checking for Cancer Invitational
April 17: Malvern Prep vs. Haverford School
May 8: Conestoga vs. Garnet Valley
How This Region Affects The FAB 50
Pennsylvania is one of the key states when it comes to the FAB 50 voting, especially this year with Haverford School playing four of the top MIAA teams in addition to Conestoga and St. Augustine Prep (N.J.).
Outside of Haverford, Conestoga takes on Calvert Hall and Boys' Latin (Baltimore) and Malvern Prep will travel to play Loyola-Blakefield this year.