Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
SPRINGFIELD – Bill Leahy remembers one distinct game in late March that set the tone for the rest of the season. His La Salle Explorers were dismantled, 21-10 by Seton Hall Prep (N.J.) and it began an uncharacteristic start to the year. It was the second loss in the team’s first three games, coupled with a season-opening loss to the Haverford School.
It was difficult for Leahy to get a sense of what he had at various positions but also what kind of competitors this group of players was. What that game actually helped reveal was this year’s Explorers team was resilient and would not let a tough start dictate the rest of the season. They put that on display throughout the Philadelphia Catholic League season.
La Salle scored in double figures against every league opponent and the highest amount of goals they allowed in a PCL game was two, to both Cardinal O’Hara and Archbishop Carroll.
The Explorers rolled in the league title game following a second triumph over the Patriots, 15-1 in the semifinals and Leahy three things have changed for his team since their early struggles in March.
“First, they’ve become better competitors,” Leahy said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on competing. We’ve told them it’s ok to go out and win. The second is being better lacrosse players and the third is not blowing ourselves up with errors. We drill those three things home all the time.”
Behind four goals and an assist from senior Zachary Coar and a goal and two assists from junior Kyle Cullen, the Explorers controlled things from the opening face-off on their way to a 9-1 victory over rival St. Joseph’s Prep to claim their fourth straight Philadelphia Catholic League boys’ lacrosse title. Coar got things started with a goal at the 8:52 mark of the first quarter then netted another only two minutes and 40 seconds later.
The First Team All-Catholic attackman credits the culture Leahy and the coaching staff have created with the Explorers as the focal reason they were able to get back to the title game after the initial struggles to begin the year.
“The culture is one of the big things that the coaches implement here,” Coar said. “We just try and keep up with it every year. Coach Leahy always says, ‘Culture eats talent for breakfast.’ We keep that pace going.”
Shane Osborne added a goal and Grant Pinto put one in the back of the net with 11.7 seconds remaining in the first to give La Salle (13-5, 11-0 Philadelphia Catholic League) a 4-0 lead after one. Cullen scorched one past Hawks goaltender Tom McHugh (12 saves) midway through the second and Coar tallied his third of the contest with exactly one second left before the half for the Explorers, who won their fifth league title in six seasons.
The Explorers led 6-0 at the break while St. Joe’s Prep had six turnovers. The Hawks struggled to find consistency on offense and the Explorers imposing defense, led by Brett Mallee, Kurt Wessner and Chase Rondeau, all First Team All-Catholic selections, kept the St. Joe’s attackers away from goaltender Christian Suter (eight saves).
Suter noted that one aspect of the La Salle program has stood above everything else and it harkened back to what Coar was expressing.
“It’s definitely the culture,” Suter said. “The locker room environment here is unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. The guys are great and the coaches really want you to succeed on and off the field. It’s awesome being here.”
After a scoreless third quarter, a goal by Daniel Mallee with 7:31 left to play in the fourth put the finishing touches on a flawless victory for the Explorers, who won their 23rd career league crown. The Hawks received their lone goal from sophomore David Shew off of an assist from Zach Snider with 5:47 remaining but that’s as close as they would get.
Mason Lazasz drove home a goal then Coar scored his fourth of the game at the 2:15 mark of the fourth to commence the celebration. Much of what Suter and Coar had professed about Leahy and his staff was on display after the clock had reached zero. Instead of embracing one another for winning another league title or raising the Philadelphia Catholic League championship plaque, the Explorers huddled up on the sideline and talked about what they could improve upon moving forward. They went through each position and discussed where improvements needed to be made.
Leahy stressed that “it’s a long tradition” and “they know that the school expects them to be Catholic League champions or at least in the title game.” Focusing on what each player can do better only enhances the culture that has been perpetuated throughout Leahy’s tenure and the Explorers are hoping it carries them deep in the district and hopefully the state playoffs.
Photo Gallery by Kathy Leister- for complete photos of the 2019 PCL Lacrosse Championship game (click here).
“Part of teaching them to be competitors is teaching them to be disciplined,” Leahy said. “Seeing themselves huddle up at the end of each game to talk about what we did wrong and what we can do better they went right to it. I thought they would be running around with their plaque, but they went right to work. It was impressive.”