When Brandon Childs took over the York College men’s lacrosse program five seasons ago, one of his main objectives was to build a winning culture.
He knew his first step to success would hinge on finding the right mix of leaders to buy into his vision.
To say that he’s been successful would be an understatement.
Childs holds a career record of 65-28, with those 65 wins making up nearly half of the 136 victories in the program's 17-year history. He has also reached the Capital Athletic Conference title game twice and the NCAA Division III tournament twice — the only trips the program has ever made to each.
The team's current run in the NCAAs was extended with Wednesday’s 11-6 home victory over Eastern University in the first round. The win set a school record for most victories in a season (17-3).
Childs got his signature victory to date on April 30, when the Spartans upset previously top-ranked and undefeated Salisbury, 10-9, to capture the program’s first CAC crown.
The coach planted the seeds for success with his first recruiting class. That group included three players (Caleb Abney, Josh Kluver and Andrew Gamble) who would become anchors on offense, defense and in goal.
This year’s senior class will eventually leave as the most successful in school history and currently sports a record of 56-21, including a stellar 23-6 CAC mark. The class owns all the program’s big moments as well.
“They were the very first group and they mean a lot to me,” Childs said after Wednesday’s win. “When we were recruiting them, I was two weeks into getting this job and I was talking to these guys and their families about buying into what we can accomplish here.”
Abney: Lacrosse is not a sport immune from general sports clichés, such as "defense wins championships."
In fact, this year’s Spartans are a great example of why clichés hold their weight over time. York entered play Wednesday ranked toward the top of all of Division III in a number of defensive statistics. The Spartans are 12th in D-III in terms of scoring defense at 6.79 goals allowed per game. York has also made the most of their opponents' mistakes, ranking seventh in turnovers per game (13.05) and 10th in clearing percentage (.883).
“That’s where a lot of our upperclassmen play, so we have a lot of continuity back there,” Childs said.
Any good defense, however, is ultimately only as good as its goalie. The Spartans do not lack in that department.
Abney, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound senior from just south of Baltimore will ultimately leave the Spartans as the school’s most successful goalie by a wide margin. His 52 wins are 30 more than second place, and his 685 saves are 317 more than the next-best mark.
Abney saved arguably his best season for last. Coming into Wednesday, he ranked eighth nationally in goals-against average (6.61) and 28th in save percentage (58.8). He was also a first-team All-CAC pick at the position.
Abney showed a particular knack for shutting down Eastern this season. During the teams' initial meeting Feb. 17 to open the season at Eastern, Abeny didn’t allow an Eagles goal during his 46 minutes, 54 seconds of action.
Wednesday, Abney was solid again vs. the Eagles, stopping 15 of the 21 shots on goal, with many crucial saves in a second quarter when Eastern rattled off 12 of its 30 overall shot attempts.
However, like any good goalie, Abney knows he's only as good as the defense in front of him.
“The defense I have in front of me is the best group of guys I’ve ever played with before,” Abney said “They’re just as big a part of it as I am. No way I’d be having the season I am without those three in front of me.”
Kluver: In a sport that’s as offensive as lacrosse, stellar defensive efforts can often get lost in the mix. That's not the case with Kluver, however.
The senior defenseman leads the Spartans with 60 ground balls and has forced the most turnovers at 35. None of the turnovers were as important as the one he forced to help the Spartans clinch their first CAC title.
Salisbury, trailing 10-9, hit the post with 48 seconds left in regulation and York was unable to gain possession, keeping things tense. However, Kluver — an All-CAC first-team selection and repeat all-conference defender — caused a turnover and the Spartans gained possession before running out the clock.
Kluver’s efforts have meant the world to his goalie.
“Josh, he can strip anybody,” Abney said “(Wednesday), I can think of three instances off the top of my head where he saved me from getting scored on.”
Gamble: The game of lacrosse has grown steadily growing in stature on all levels throughout York County. And it has achieved this growth thanks to an influx of talent from places where the game is popular.
Gamble, York's senior captain, comes from Easton, Maryland, in the heart of a lacrosse-obsessed state.
As the offensive leader this season, Gamble has posted 36 goals, eight coming with a man advantage, and 20 assists. Gamble also helped maintain possessions by controlling 38 ground balls on the year. He was also a first-team all-conference selection, marking the second straight year he was named All-CAC.
Gamble has carved his mark in program history, ranking second in school annals with 219 points, 147 goals, 21 man-up goals and 13 game-winning goals. He is also third all-time in assists with 72.
Gamble cited Childs’ approach as one of the main reasons he decided to leave an area which has D-III power Salisbury only 50 miles away.
“He (Childs) sold me on coming here, seemed like a good fit for me,” Gamble said. “He said ‘We’re recruiting you because we want to win a national championship.’ If a coach tells you the goal is to make playoffs or something like that, you’re not setting the bar very high and it’s not very appealing. So when he told me that, it was one of the reasons I chose (York).”
While Childs is pleased with the way things are going, he knows the nature of college sports means he won’t be able to rest on his laurels.
“We’re certainly further along than we were four years ago, and these guys deserve a lot of the credit,” Childs said. “They completely bought into the culture. There’s no doubt we’re in great hands right now, but it’s always a work in progress when you know the guys in charge have to graduate.”
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.