York Catholic boys' lacrosse coach Shane Harper understands that there aren't any moral victories in athletics.
Still, if there was ever a time to believe in them, last year's District 3 loss to Cumberland Valley was it.
The Fighting Irish lost to the Eagles, 10-8, in last year's quarterfinals, ending their season a game short of playing for a spot in the state tournament. Calling it "David vs. Goliath" would be too clichè, but when comparing school sizes, it really isn't far off. CV boasts a male population in excess of 1,000 students, while York Catholic doesn't even have one-fifth of that.
So, for the Irish to come so close to knocking off a District 3 power, was, in a way, a good feeling for Harper. Of course, it probably won't come near the feeling he has knowing York Catholic won't have to face the Eagles, or any significantly larger school, this postseason. That was taken out of the picture after the PIAA voted to expand lacrosse into two classifications for the 2017 season. It was part of an overall class expansion for nearly all sports.
"Looking at the splits this year, we're not really looking up at any of these teams, we're really looking across at all these teams," Harper said following Friday night's York-Adams boys' title game. "It's nice to know that we have teams our size and can compete with class sizes that are our size, kids that are our size."
The Irish boys won't be the only team to benefit from the change. Under the new format, the total number of teams to make the district playoffs nearly doubled, with 28 teams qualifying in both the boys' and girls' brackets, instead of just 16. Class 3-A will have 12 teams, while 2-A will have 16.
On the boys' side, of the 16 teams to qualify in the 2-A tournament, seven are from the Y-A League, while three of the 12 in 3-A are from the Y-A League. In the girls' field, five of the 16 2-A teams are from the Y-A League, including the top three seeds, while the 3-A bracket features four Y-A teams.
Big schools battle stigma: Central York boys' head coach Tom Mayne understands there's a stigma around the big schools in York County who have struggled outside of the league against schools of similar size.
"I told (our players), 'We're playing nothing but powerhouse schools from now on,'" Mayne said Friday. "It's a chance for us to try and break out of the York County shell of never getting past these powerhouse teams. So, whoever we draw right away, it'll probably be Hempfield or something like that, that's a team that we never beat anytime and never really play, so it's a chance for us to show if York County is ready to make a step or not and we hope we can."
The Panthers, after going through the regular season 16-1 and winning the Y-A League, earned a bye into the quarterfinals as the No. 2 seed and will face the winner of No. 6 Hempfield vs. No. 11 Penn Manor.
If there's one team in the league, however, who might have a gripe about the change happening now, it's the Kennard-Dale girls. The Rams were the first team to knock off powerhouse Manheim Township in district play last year, defeating the Blue Streaks in last year's semifinal round. K-D went on to win the title, becoming the first team to win the crown besides Manheim Township.
That was proof that school size doesn't always matter. The Rams went toe-to-toe with a now-3-A program and defeated it. It also wasn't the first time K-D performed well in the district competition vs. larger schools.
So, now that the Rams finally have a district title to their names, it would've been nice to defend it in the same fashion that they won it — as part of one class. Instead, they'll take on a bunch of schools similar in size in the 2-A bracket, a move that head coach Kelly Wetzel is a bit indifferent about.
"I have mixed feelings, I guess. If you're good enough, you're good enough. Just play," he said Friday after winning the program's third straight Y-A crown. " At the same time, I've been looking forward to this concept for a long time because our limited school size — we're one of the smaller schools in 2-A — so for us to hold our own, we have to take whatever girl shows up on our doorstep. We don't cut players. We take what we're given."
The girls' district tournament will begin on Monday, while the boys get started Tuesday.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org