Before the Eastern York boys' lacrosse team boarded the bus and left for its District 3 Class 2-A tournament games, the players and coaches were given a rousing send off by parents, fans and youth players.
Those same people then loaded into their own cars and followed the team wherever the Golden Knights played throughout their district tournament run. Ask Eastern York head coach Michael Particelli and he'll tell you that, wherever the team played, the Knights' faithful fans out-supported the opposing team's fans.
That included a true road game against York-Adams League foe Susquehannock in the first round, another true road contest against Trinity in the quarterfinals and then neutral-site trips to Hummelstown and Mechanicsburg. Over the course of it all, Eastern York, which entered the district tournament seeded 12th, went 3-1 and secured a spot in this week's PIAA Class 2-A state tournament, becoming the first boys' program in Y-A League history to achieve that feat.
"I don't think anyone gave us a chance," Particelli said last week. "We were 10-7 this year (during the regular season). I would say we underachieved in the regular season. The coaching staff knew we had the potential and talent, it just took a while to put it together."
The upset wins over the Warriors and Shamrocks in the first two rounds of the district tournament assured the Knights of becoming the first York-Adams boys' team to ever qualify for the state tournament. However, teams such as York Catholic and Central York still had chances to join them, but failed to do so. Both lost their state-qualifying consolation games last Thursday, leaving the Knights as the first-and-only York-Adams representative in the state tournament this year.
Relatively new program: The sport of high school lacrosse is still relatively new in York and Adams counties. This is just the ninth season that the league has offered it as a varsity sport. What makes Eastern York's feat so impressive is not just the fact that it did so as a 12th seed, but also because this is just the fifth season that the school has even had a program.
Schools such as Red Lion, Central York, Dallastown, Spring Grove, South Western, Susquehannock, York Suburban, York Catholic and New Oxford have been around since the league's inception in 2009, and since then, the league has grown to 14 teams. The Knights were the 12th member added to the league before the 2013 season, meaning that, before Dover and Delone Catholic became full league members before this year, Eastern York was the newest addition to the league.
"We knew that we were capable of making a run in districts," senior midfielder Jimmy Kurnik said following a semifinal loss to Palmyra. "We've played together, all these seniors, since about under-13s, so we didn't want to stop playing. Even though we were 10-7 and a 12 seed, we knew we had the potential to make a run and we just put everything we had into it."
Youth program a key: It's fitting that Kurnik brought up the fact that the players on this year's team have been playing together since before high school because, when you ask Particelli how a program grows into a state-bound team in five years, he'll say it starts at the youth level.
In the club program ranks, which develop and feed players into the varsity program, Particelli would estimate there's about 80-90 kids involved in the program at the moment. He's been around the varsity team for four of the five seasons, with this year being his second as the head coach, and he's only seen the popularity in the sport grow.
New two-class format: However, Particelli isn't too naive and too proud to admit that a lot of the team's success in the postseason is a result of the PIAA expanding lacrosse into two classes before the start of the year. Under the old single-class format, the Knights wouldn't have even qualified for districts.
"It wasn't fair for teams like Eastern York, Susquehannock and some of the smaller York County lacrosse programs to have to try and qualify against Manheim Township and Hempfield and those types of teams," Particelli said. "They cut more players every year than we field. ... Nobody looks at it as, 'Well, you only made it because there's two classifications.' There's still a lot of great teams in 2-A."
Lansdale Catholic next: As the No. 3 seed out of District 3 entering the state tournament, Eastern York drew District 12 champion Lansdale Catholic in Tuesday's opening round at the Germantown Super Site, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
The Knights would likely be considered underdogs going into Tuesday's game, but it's a role the team has thrived in so far this postseason.
Whether the dream run continues into the state quarterfinal round this upcoming weekend or ends after just one game, the impact of what the team has accomplished hasn't been lost on the players. That's indicative of the number of youth players and fans who have come out to send them off and support them every game in these playoffs. They will likely do so on Tuesday, as well.
"(The run) is definitely putting something into (the youth players) that anything is possible," Kurnik said. "If you have dreams and put your mind to it, anything is possible."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org