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This season has been a special one so far for the York Catholic boys’ lacrosse program.

The long downtrodden Irish have achieved a number of firsts while continuing to cement their place in the York County lacrosse scene.

Last season, the Irish posted a 6-9 overall record and finished seventh in the York-Adams League standings at 5-6. This year, York Catholic sports a 15-3 overall mark.

“We’ve been the underdog all season long,” head coach Shane Harper said. “Coming out of the gate, we were ranked fifth or sixth. We know that we’re the smaller school and people won’t give us the benefit of the doubt until we start winning.”

On May 12 the team captured its first league tournament title with the program’s first victory over league foe Red Lion. That capped a 12-2 York-Adams run, including the playoffs. They followed that up with their first District 3 victory Tuesday, defeating Central York for the third time in the past two weeks — feats that were nearly unimaginable in previous seasons.

The Irish are also the only York-Adams boys’ team still alive in district play.

Respect: Surely, something drastic had to have changed, right? Some sort of major program overhaul?

In a search for some magical explanation, one turns up empty. Really, the turnaround came down to one basic element — leadership.

“Our leadership is really big. Last year we had a lot of young kids that were juniors and were really going to make it that this year will be it,” Harper said. “And that’s what it was, the leadership. All the seniors stepped up and said: ‘It’s got to be our year, we got to stop being that York Catholic team.’"

It seems, even within the local lacrosse scene, that the Irish were the only ones who saw this season coming. Long the underdog, York Catholic has used  the lack of recognition as motivation.

The coach says the team is led by a group senior leaders who simply got tired of the "same old York Catholic" label that had been attached to them throughout their careers.

Offense: On the field, the strength of this year’s York Catholic squad is its offense — one that has seemingly been gaining strength as the season moves along.

It includes second-team All-York-Adams midfielders Tanner Yanick and Tommy Bowser, second-team attacker Jacob Norton and honorable mention midfielder Luke Brennan. Norton was a top-10 goal scorer in the York-Adams League and Yanick was top 10 in assists.

Those senior leaders have certainly put in the effort, taken their lumps and vastly improved their craft. Consider that in 2013, their freshman year, they were part of a team that went 3-13 and 1-9, followed by 5-11 and 3-7 marks the next season.

“A lot of teams know we have the best offense in the league,” Harper said. “And we’re hard to stop when we have six people who can score.”

That potent group, which is averaging more than 15 goals per game this year, will be needed Thursday when the No. 6 seed Irish take on No. 3 Cumberland Valley (16-2) in the District 3 quarterfinals. Again, they’ll be assigned the "underdog" role. Harper notes Thursday's opponent is also an offensive force that's “scoring like crazy.”

Future: Going forward, the Irish will surely be taken less lightly by their opposition. One of the reasons the Irish will continue to contend is junior attacker Eli Doyle.

Tuesday, Doyle was the offensive force behind the Irish's first district win, scoring seven of the team’s 19 goals. Next year, Doyle will look to lead the Irish and erase all doubt about his position among the league’s best attackmen.

“Offense,” Doyle was quick to answer when asked what his team’s strength was after Tuesday’s win. “We’ve done really well on face offs to give us possession, and then we capitalize on offense. (The season’s success) takes (the program) to another level and makes us want to improve, even on what we’ve done so far this season.”

With this season’s triumphs, it's clear York Catholic is ready to hold its own in the York-Adams League.

No matter how the rest of this season plays out, the Irish program will now have to prepare for a new role next season — that of target.

“It now gives us a chance to say we can play with the big dogs,” Harper said. “Before, everyone’s like: ‘It’s just York Catholic, they’re a small school, they don’t have the talent.’ Now that we’ve won the league and won a district game, and we’re hoping to win another district game, again, it puts us up on the same  level. Even though we may not be the big school, we still have a successful program.”

Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com.

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