Chris Brandstedter won’t say this season is a make-or-break campaign.
He knows the Central York boys’ lacrosse program is in good shape for the long haul.
However, with the senior all-star defender returning to a York-Adams League championship roster that loses only one starter, he also recognizes the immense opportunity the 2018 spring provides for his team.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an ‘all-in’ year, because the junior class is really strong,” Brandstedter said at spring sports media day. “And the class taking over the next year will have a shot as well. But I think the mix we have now, between ages, probably gives us our best chance to win.”
Brandstedter is one numerous returning talents that have the defending league champions poised to not only keep their crown, but help the take the next step.
Central York posted an 18-3 record last season while storming through the York-Adams League at 13-0 and capturing the program’s second league tournament crown.
After collecting the school’s first District 3 victory, the Panthers went on to the District 3 Class 3-A semifinals before falling to Manheim Township. A loss to Cumberland Valley followed in the District 3 third-place game, which denied the Panthers their first-ever PIAA berth.
Central’s offseason saw the departure of a pair of award-winning names in the graduation of Y-A Offensive Player of the Year T.J. Ross and the resignation of Y-A Coach of the Year Tom Mayne.
Mayne is replaced this season by first-year bench boss Ryan Muller. For Muller, simply advancing to the state tournament this time around isn’t good enough.
“Our goal this year is to compete in the state and try to win a district championship,” he said. “We have a deep defense, we’re good on face-offs and we control the ball on offense. We have a lot of weapons on offense, too.”
Offense: On offense, replacing Ross for the Panthers begins with the brothers Kilgour. Alex, a senior and second-team all-county midfield selection, and Ryan, a junior, combined for 117 points last season.
“Being brothers, out in the backyard and just shooting around, we already have a chemistry,” Ryan Kilgour said. “I know I can pass him the ball and he’ll score, and he can do the same for me. It’s just like an added assurance out there.”
That familiarity sees Alex as the set-up man (his 30 assists a season ago are tops among returners), and Ryan the finisher (his 38 goals are second among returning players). Alex recorded 27 goals of his own a season ago.
Of course, none of the Panthers' production is possible without the services of senior Kollin Vaught.
The first-team all-county face-off, get-off specialist dominated possession for the Panthers and he’s considered by many to be the best face-off man in the league.
Vaught was also a force offensively, adding 24 goals and three assists. With an added emphasis on his offensive output this season, Vaught’s value should only increase.
The Panthers are provided with plenty of other firepower in returning names such as senior Connor Hoch (41 goals) and junior 20-goal scorers Ryan Fahs (27) and Drake Little (22).
Defense: Things get even better on the defensive side for the Panthers, an area where Central sees all its starters back for 2018. Leading the way for Central is the second-team all-county senior defender Brandstedter.
During his junior campaign, Brandstedter recorded a team-best 36 takeaways and was third on the team with 53 ground balls.
Muller also noted the return of defensive starters Aaron Czech and Robert Stockbower as strengths of the team.
Anchoring the deep Panthers defense is one of the best goaltending duos in the league — juniors Blaze Hake and Eric Mirkovich. Hake collected second-team all-county selection while splitting time in net with Mirkovich.
According to Brandstedter, as talented as the Panthers are, the key to fulfilling the season’s potential will be taking a consistent, game-by-game approach. It's one that requires “keeping a high level of play against teams that are trying to get their footing.”
“You can’t let down once,” Brandstedter said.
Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com.