READING — York Catholic girls’ lacrosse coach Rob Linthicum never expected his team would even make the PIAA Class 2-A state playoffs when the season began.
Maybe that’s why he and his group of talented underclassmen were poised on the sideline following a 11-10 defeat against Springfield-Delco in the PIAA semifinals on Tuesday at Exeter Township High School.
“I knew going into the season we would be good, but I have been doing this for a long time and I know freshmen will struggle at the varsity level,” Linthicum said. “I thought this would be a building season for next year or the year after.”
A "good" season would be a dramatic understatement in describing the year the District 3 champion Fighting Irish (23-2) had. They fell just one goal short of the program's first-ever appearance in a state final.
“It was an exciting season. It was as much fun as I have had coaching in a long time,” Linthicum said.
Relying on young players: With just two seniors in the starting lineup, Linthicum knew he would have to rely on young players, but his relationship with the team’s youngsters gave him confidence they could make an impact right away.
Linthicum coached several of the Irish players on the York Invaders Lacrosse Club team, which allows the athletes to play all year long. He added that their time spent playing together with the Invaders helped the team create chemistry quickly on the field.
Those freshmen and sophomores made an impact on the field on Tuesday, like they did all season.
York-Adams League first-team freshman defender Grace Doyle scored York Catholic’s first goal of the game. First-team freshman midfielder Sydney Mentzer had three goals and an assist and second-team freshman attack Olivia Staples added a goal.
Inexperience shows up: Although the young Irish team battled a talented and experienced outfit from District 1 runner-up Springfield-Delco (19-6), the Irish inexperience showed up in the final minutes of the game.
Trailing 11-10 with a minute left and momentum on its side after a goal by midfielder Natalie Neiman, York Catholic had the ball and was threatening to tie the game.
An errant pass was intercepted by Springfield-Delco senior midfielder Belle Mastropietro, who will play for NCAA Division I Temple next season. That allowed the Cougars to run the final seconds off the clock.
“They played very mature for their age, but there were a handful of really crucial freshman mistakes,” Linthicum said. “It’s hard to teach that in practice. Some of that just has to come from learning the hard way.”
Talented opponent: In addition to Mastropietro, Springfield-Delco’s experienced group is loaded with NCAA Division I talent. Joining Mastropietro at Temple next year will be senior midfielder Julie Schickling, who had two goals in the semifinal. Junior midfielder Alyssa Long, ranked the No. 24 recruit in the 2019 national class by Inside Lacrosse, has committed to women’s lacrosse powerhouse North Carolina.
Linthicum said it was difficult to game plan for a talented player such as Long. Double teams on Long would only leave other players open who could also do damage on such a balanced team.
“We felt like we wouldn’t stop her, but we could match up one-on-one and just contain her,” Linthicum said. “We wanted to hold her to three goals or less. I feel like we did a good job against her.”
Long scored four goals and always seemed to have the answer when York Catholic scored and started to build some momentum. The Irish tied the game multiple times, but could never take the lead against the team from suburban Philadelphia — an area which traditionally produces the best teams in the state.
Using loss as fuel: Despite the sadness at having the season end earlier than he hoped, Linthicum said the loss could fuel his young team to come back even better next season.
“In some ways, it has to humble them,” Linthicum said. “That happened earlier this season when we lost the (Y-A League playoff) championship game to Kennard-Dale. They played nervous and made a lot of freshman mistakes. They learned from that game and I am sure they’ll learn from this one too.”
After a season where his team had more success than even he could have imagined, and with 10 of their 12 starters returning next year, Linthicum’s message to his players was that this won’t be the last time they're competing for a PIAA championship.
“They realize with a couple of years, they will gain some height, size and speed and they will be on the same level as a team like Springfield,” Linthicum said. “They have a bright future and they will be back (in the PIAA playoffs) a few more times.”
Reach Rob Rose at email@example.com.