Despite all the uncertainty surrounding her status for Tuesday’s PIAA Class 2-A girls’ lacrosse semifinal, Kennard-Dale’s Megan Halczuk knew she was going to play.
In fact, in her mind, it was going to take a lot more than an injury to miss the third meeting between the Rams and their York-Adams League rivals, the Susquehannock Warriors.
While other parts of her game might have experienced a little rust during her absence, her signature dominance on the draw didn’t miss a beat, ultimately leading the Rams to a 11-9 victory at Central York High School.
“At the beginning of the week, I said 'I’m going to play when we play Susky, no matter what,'” Halczuk said. “I didn’t care, I was just going to wrap it up, didn’t care how it felt, but it feels fine.”
Halczuk had suffered an ankle injury during K-D's loss to eventual District 3 champion Hershey in the district semifinals.
Tuesday's win sees K-D return to the PIAA title game for the second straight season after having also defeated Susky a season ago in the state semis. K-D will now take on District 1 champion Villa Maria Academy at 10 a.m. Saturday at West Chester East High School's Harold Zimmerman Stadium.
Villa Maria Academy defeated District 1 runner-up Radnor in Tuesday's other semifinal, 14-8.
The Rams lost to Radnor in the state championship match in 2017, 20-8. That was the first time a Y-A team had advanced to a state lacrosse final.
Warriors make late comeback: K-D’s appearance in Saturday’s championship match was threatened late in Tuesday’s tilt.
After leading 4-2 at halftime, the Rams opened up a 10-3 lead with 11 minutes, 37 seconds left to play after a pair of unanswered goals from Maddie Day.
As K-D head coach Kelly Wetzel expected, however, a Warriors’ run was coming.
“(Susquehannock head coach Steve) Marshner’s too good of a coach and he has too many good players to not expect a comeback. They’re a very talented team,” Wetzel said. “We played a little harder in the first half, maybe a little more intensity, and that worked out in the end.”
Susquehannock’ Riley Roeder kicked off a 6-1 run for the Warriors that saw her score three of her four goals on the night to whittle the score down to 11-9 with 1:53 left to play. Emma Stiffler, who finished with two goals and four assists, finished the run.
Stiffler’s score prompted a timeout from Wetzel, who used the break to simply remind his team of its solid standing in the game (a two-goal lead with a man advantage) in an effort to help his players regain their composure and focus.
After the stoppage, the Rams won the ensuing draw and melted the remaining 1:53 off the clock to advance.
Halczuk shines on draws: “It’s amazing,” Halczuk said of being able to return to action and aid her team. “Draws have always been my thing. I’ve always been taught that possession is nine-tenths of the law basically. So, when you have possession, you win the game. Usually the team that wins the most draws wins the game.”
On a night when K-D won 14 of 22 draws, it was Halczuk’s brilliance at that spot which helped the Rams race out to the big lead.
The York-Adams League’s Most Outstanding Player in 2018, Halczuk won seven straight draws during a first half when the Rams controlled possession. Long possessions were the norm early for a K-D squad looking to keep the ball away from a high-powered Warriors offense that is prone to runs, such as the one that ended the game.
Halczuk’s first shot attempt of the game was stopped by Susky goalie Sam McGuire, but the Rams’ Mackenzie Young was there to score on the rebound and open the game’s scoring.
Lightning delays: Kenna Hancock would answer for Susquehannock before the game went into its second lightning delay with 7:07 left before halftime and the score knotted at 1-1. The game’s start was initially delayed by half an hour for similar reasons.
Once play resumed, the teams traded goals before K-D’s Chloe Fornoff and Morgan Bowings scored unanswered goals in the final minute to close out the opening half.
“Until the very end, we had three draws, and we were a man down, and we had all these things against us. And that’s where the difference was,” Marshner said. “And then it started to click. If we would have turned it on two minutes earlier, who knows what would have happened.”
Goalies excel: The Warriors' late run, while ultimately falling short, might not have mattered had it not been for the play of Y-A Goalie of the Year McGuire early.
The Susky netminder made five huge saves that kept Tuesday’s tilt competitive. She was also the beneficiary of the Rams ringing a pair of posts during the first 25 minutes. McGuire finished with eight saves.
Her counterpart, K-D’s Maria Schneider, was equally effective in the second half, recording five of her seven saves as the Rams staved off the Warriors' comeback attempt.
Bowings led the Rams with three goals, while Day, Fornoff, Young and Amelie Gamache each scored a pair of goals, with Gamache adding two assists and Young recording a helper of her own. Halczuk had a pair of assists as well.
Led by Roeder’s four goals and Stiffler’s six points, Susquehannock also got two goals and an assist from Kenna Hancock. Harley Mummert added a goal and an assist for the Warriors.
Tuesday’s affair marked the third time this season the Y-A rivals had met. The Warriors claimed the first meeting on April 3, 11-10, in overtime. K-D earned a measure of revenge by defeating Susquehannock, 9-8, on May 11 to capture the Y-A championship.
K-D, the fourth-place team from District 3, improved to 21-4. The loss ends Susquehannock’s season, one that saw them finish runner-up in District 3, at 21-5.
Marshner praises team after loss: Afterward, Marshner spoke highly of his team’s late effort and character throughout the year.
“It was really easy to address the team (after the game), because we talked at the 12-minute mark and what we said was ‘We’re going to show character all the way through, this might not turn out our way,’” Marshner said. “And obviously, at the end, it didn’t. But we made an amazing comeback a man down. In a way, they saw what they can do, they just fell short.
“Obviously, we had a great season. I mean, to get this far, we were talking what are the odds you get this far. It’s like a 2.3 percent chance. …W e have a lot to be proud of, we hugged each other, girls cried on the sideline, but I can’t be more proud of how they showed character. …Now it’s all about growing.”
Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com.