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BOYS LAX: La Salle's Brotherhood Bond Remains Strong Despite State Championship Defeat

By John Knebels , 06/29/24, 2:00PM EDT



STATE COLLEGE – One of the more debatable adages is that time heals all wounds.

Although they orchestrated a fabulous season, it will take the lacrosse players from La Salle High School some time to label their 23-2 record, Philadelphia Catholic League championship, and advancement to the PIAA Class 3A state championship as a success.

The Explorers’ 9-6 loss to four-straight winner Radnor on June 15 before a boisterous crowd at Penn State University not only stung – it cut to the core. There’s no other way to put it.

“We were really positive and confident heading into the game, but definitely nervous and anxious since it was the biggest game any of us have ever played in,” said senior defender Matt Wills. “It seemed like the hours of anticipation of the game was wearing us out before we even stepped on the field. But coming to the opening draw, we believed that we were going to win that game.”

Senior teammate Paul van Bastelaar concurred.

“Leading up to the game, we all felt a bond to our La Salle brothers,” he said. “That’s including our alumni who gave us some words of encouragement before the game.”

The specifics of the defeat – however painful – require at minimum a synopsis, though it’s completely understandable if La Salle zealots ignore the harsh reminder. After all, why rub salt on a wound that prevented the program – making its eighth appearance in a state final since 2009 – from notching its fourth-ever title and first since 2019? But protocol says it’s imperative.

And so, in as few words as possible . . . senior Stevie Davis won the opening faceoff and sent the crowd into a frenzy when he scored from the wing just eight seconds into the game. After Radnor took a 2-1 lead, junior Darryl Kuriger’s goal forged a 2-2 tie.

Three straight Radnor tallies gave the Raptors a 5-2 halftime lead, but goals by junior Mike Rossi and sophomore Declan Heilig trimmed the deficit to 5-4. Radnor eventually led by 8-4 and 9-5, so answers by van Bastelaar and junior Max Wickersham – the latter with 2:16 remaining – weren’t enough to avoid a devastating setback that probably would have been avoided had Radnor senior goalie John Webb not played the game of his career, stopping several point-blank attempts at pivotal junctures, thus reversing momentum.

PIAA 3A Championship Highlights - La Salle vs. Radnor - PSD Video by John Knebels

“I still had confidence and hope that we were going to win with two and a half minutes left, even down by three goals,” said Wills, a much-respected vocal leader who will join teammates van Bastelaar and Davis at the University of Pennsylvania next fall. “It really wasn’t until the final minute of the game that I started to get concerned that we were probably not going to pull this game out. We had a possession and lost the ball with a minute and a half left, and in that moment, it hit me that our chances of winning the game were dwindling.”

La Salle’s postgame tradition, in which every player and coach share an embrace, took much more time than usual to complete. Coaches and players – most of them visibly overcome by emotion – clearly didn’t want to leave the field and make the bleak three-hour trek home.

When assessing those final moments, a wistful Wills waxed philosophical.

“I was in denial that my time with La Salle was over,” said Wills, sharing his thoughts about a week after the loss. “It didn’t set in until the end of the hugs that this would be the last time I’d ever put on a jersey with my brothers, and some of them I’ve been playing lacrosse with since I was in third or fourth grade. It didn’t feel real at all. It was painful knowing it didn’t end the way anyone wanted it to and having to say goodbye.

“We do the hug ritual every year and I never would have actually thought the time would come when I would be the one saying my farewells. It’s an incredibly sad experience but sort of happy at the same time, to be able to look back on my four years and say I enjoyed every moment with my brothers and because of that, I was able to feel such strong emotions during that moment.”

Among the underclassmen responsible for maintaining future La Salle lacrosse excellence, the Trymbiski brothers – junior Jack and sophomore Will – summarized the importance of the upperclassmen who had taken them under their broad wings and how they share their pain in a different way since they still have opportunities to win a state championship.

“As underclassmen, we had great leaders,” said Jack. “They took charge and ever since September – lifts, runs, workouts – we formed a brotherhood. Just really hurts that we couldn’t get the job done. We weren’t clicking today.

“Coach said right after the game how proud of us he is and how hard we worked all year. How hard the seniors pushed the underclassmen and made everyone hungry to win. We were together the whole year and we wanted to win. Just falling short really hurt because the expectation this year was to get it done.”

La Salle sophomore (L) Will Trymbiski & junior brother Jack Trymbiski felt particularly badly for the seniors who came up short in the state championship: PSD Video by John Knebels

After playing the game of his life to lead Radnor to an upset state championship win, senior goalie John Webb complimented La Salle’s effort - PSD Video by John KNebels

Though disappointed, Will can’t wait for next year.

“We’ll use this game as motivation for next year and the year after that,” he said. “It gives us a drive to make it here again.”

Sharing the quest of corralling a state championship plaque as brothers definitely makes the mission more special.

“It means everything,” said Jack. “Getting to suit up with him every day on the practice field, messing around in the back yard, and bringing it here. I’m super excited for next year. This is going to hurt, but we’re going to let it sink in and we’re just going to come out next year ready to go.”

(Contact John Knebels at or on ‘X’ @johnknebels.)