The Kennard-Dale girls' and York Catholic boys' lacrosse teams won York-Adams League tournament titles Friday, May 11, at Red Lion High School. The Rams' Morgan Bowings and the Irish's Chandler Hake discussed their team's victories. Elijah Armold, York Dispatch
The Kennard-Dale girls’ lacrosse team is looking to do something that no school outside of District 1 has accomplished — win the PIAA Class 2-A title.
District 1 has had an historical choke hold on the PIAA crowns, having claimed every state championship handed out except one. The only non-District 1 team to win a PIAA title in any class came last season when Archbishop Carroll claimed the 3-A crown, during the first season the PIAA offered multiple classes.
Last season, the Rams became the first non-D-1 team to reach the final before falling to Radnor, 20-8.
This year, it’s District 1 champion Villa Maria Academy who awaits the Rams at 10 a.m. Saturday at West Chester East High School’s Harold Zimmerman Stadium. The game will be shown live on the Pennsylvania Cable Network
"Heart" factor: K-D head coach Kelly Wetzel believes the difference between this year’s Rams team and 2017 outfit boils down to one word — “heart.”
In fact, it may not be any change in talent that gets K-D over the final hurdle. Instead, it may be about improvement in key characteristics such as heart, cohesion and confidence.
Perhaps the largest collective display of the team’s heart this season came during a stretch between the District 3 semifinals and Tuesday’s PIAA semis.
During their D-3 semifinal vs. eventual-champion Hershey, the Rams lost 2018 York-Adams League Most Outstanding Player Megan Halczuk to an ankle injury late in the Trojans’ victorious comeback.
Losing a player such as Halczuk would usually be enough to sink most teams. After all, she's an NCAA Division I talent, who's already committed to Winthrop, and a U.S. Lacrosse All-American.
The Rams (21-4) would eventually fall in the subsequent third-place district match, but the team quickly rebounded to make their state run. The Rams won the first two of those state games without Halczuk, who returned for the semifinal victory over York-Adams League rival Susquehannock.
Spreading the workload: During a time of the year when most teams tend to lean more heavily on their most potent weapons, the Rams have found a way to spread the workload.
With Halczuk sidelined, K-D saw a slew of players step up. Box scores that once featured a few names scoring lots of goals now read more like the roster, with several new names making themselves into mainstays on the score sheet.
“They seemed to move the ball really well,” Halczuk said of her team's play without her. “The game that I went out, they seemed a little frazzled, but then they realized they have to push through it anyways. We still (had) more games to play. And they realized they’ve got to put it together, and they worked well as a team.”
The Rams are certainly not without their fair share of top-level talents, aside from Halczuk , with five Y-A all-stars on the roster. The ever-expanding supporting cast, however, couldn’t have come together at a better time, with each new foe trying that much harder to slow the Rams' leaders.
Younger team bonds: With the Rams being a younger team, with only four seniors, Halczuk said her injury provided a chance for a team that was already coming together to bond that much more.
“Last year there were a lot more seniors, and they kind of did their own thing,” Halczuk said. “But now, there’s a lot of younger girls, and they’re looking up to the few older girls we have, which is nice.”
That cohesion has been on display during this run.
“I think they all stepped up,” Wetzel said. “One more ground ball, one more look, one more pass, one more feed. Just trying to challenge ourselves a little more. A little more hustle — give me an extra two minutes, what can you give me, to help your team. And that’s what they did.”
Building confidence: Another characteristic which should provide a benefit Saturday is the confidence gained from recent results. That confidence could serve the Rams well. They will enter Saturday as the more experienced squad, at least when it comes to playing in a state final.
“It’s more familiar, I guess you could say. (District 1) teams are always there, but we’ve been there too,” Halczuk said. “It’s different for us now. We have to be more confident. Last year (vs. Radnor), when we got there, we saw how many girls they had and their strengths when they were warming up. But now, we just have to be more confident, stay focused and try to win the game.”
Villa Maria: Despite coming from dominant District 1, Villa Maria is making its first appearance in the state title game.
The Hurricanes (22-2) earned their spot in Saturday’s match-up by taking down Radnor in the semifinals, 14-8. It was the first PIAA semifinal appearance for the Hurricanes, and they toppled the defending state champ, which was making its fourth-straight semifinal appearance.
Freshman Margie Carden scored four first-half goals to lead the Hurricanes. Like K-D, Villa Maria has a player who can seemingly do it all, just like Halczuk.
Abby Walheim was a force for the Hurricanes Tuesday, scoring a hat trick while adding three assists, winning six draw controls and causing three turnovers.
Villa Maria's defense allowed just one goal over the final 22 minutes.
"Why not us?" The power and prestige of District 1 opposition certainly isn’t lost on Wetzel.
“We’re obviously not expected to win, no team outside of District 1 has ever won,” Wetzel said. “We’re going to have to play a talented team. They’ve got some speed, they’ve got some length and they can score. They beat Radnor twice, and not many teams can do that, so that shows you how good Villa Maria is.”
Despite the challenge ahead, Wetzel summarized the Rams’ chances with a simple phrase.
“Why not us?”
— Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com