Bob Rhein leaves very little room for error when it comes to preparing his Eastern York boys' lacrosse team.
With a young, relatively inexperienced varsity roster, he can't afford to leave any room for doubt. He forces his teams to focus on the little things that can prove to be the big difference makers between a win or a loss — ground balls, face-offs, backing up shots. Rhein even takes the intricacies of game preparation all the way down to practicing on the same playing surface as his team's next game.
Like I said, he makes sure everything is accounted for before going into a game.
But, it's also that exact, intense preparation that's allowed him to help turn his Golden Knights program from a 6-12 team last season into one that's off to a 2-0 start this year.
Eastern is one of the more upstart teams early in the 2015 season, despite being a small school in only its third year as a member of the York-Adams League. They are competing mostly against larger schools with a much greater talent pool of players to select from. That can make it difficult to find success, especially one with only two seniors .
The youth level: The early season promise of Eastern's boys' lacrosse team isn't a fluke, or some flash-in-the-pan success story for one year.
The steady growth comes from the youth level, developing players from a young age to learn the fundamentals of lacrosse, so that when the players get to the high school level, they have the tools to compete. It's a necessary thing to do for smaller schools, such as the Golden Knights, who have their own feeder program called Eastern Knights Lacrosse. That program gives the high school team a worthy supply of players who can help the team compete within the Y-A League.
"This progression of the youth players coming up to high school, you're going to see a continuation of what I believe to be more balance, maybe a little bit more parity in the league," Rhein said. "So, now that we're all in the same division, you play everybody once and I believe that the smaller schools can continue to compete with the larger schools as the youth programs grow and develop and kids are playing at an earlier age."
Coaching his son: It also helps that the Golden Knights are led by Rhein's son, Conrad, one of the two seniors on this year's team. Through the first two games, he's recorded 10 goals, leading the team in scoring in both games.
While things can sometimes get complicated when father and son team up in athletics, Bob Rhein knows when it's time to take off his father hat and put on his coaching hat and hold his son to the same standards as the rest of the team.
"I have expectations of him, as I do all the players, that they need to improve and continue to help each other get better as a team," Bob Rhein said. "He's been a very good leader on the field ... He's got a very good work ethic. He comes to practice every day and loves to play the game; loves to help his teammates get better. He makes the game better by focusing on his teammates and focusing on the game itself."
Playing fast: In case you haven't had a chance to see Eastern play yet this season, don't get fooled by the small school connotation.
This team likes to play fast — but smart — and can score at a similar rate as some of the larger schools. Not to mention that the Golden Knights now possess the depth they lacked in past seasons that allows them to compete late in games and engage in some pretty exciting finishes.
In its first game of the season, Eastern overcame a fourth-quarter deficit against Central York, which was the York-Adams Division I co-champion last season, to pull out a 10-8 win. The Knights' last contest was a back-and-forth shoot out against New Oxford that resulted in 25 total goals being scored. The result was in question up until the very end, when the Golden Knights squeezed out a 14-11 victory.
Still, even with the glimpses of promise Eastern's shown in its first couple games this year, there's still a long way to go in the season. This upcoming week will tell us a lot about what this Golden Knights team truly can accomplish. A Tuesday night game at Red Lion, followed by games against Dallastown and York Catholic later in the week, represent more early-season benchmarks for a team trying to put last year's under whelming season in the past.
"I'm one to share with them that we just have to prepare for what's in front of us," Bob Rhein said. "We're going to learn from the first two games that there are a lot of things, aside from the scoreboard results, that we need to do to improve as a team."
There's plenty of room for improvement, even after a 2-0 start. But, if those games are any indication of what could be in store for Eastern the rest of the way, then this looks like a team that is poised to bring the balance and parity to the Y-A League that Bob Rhein believes isn't far off.
— Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org