UPPER DUBLIN — A quick look at Upper Dublin High's Michael Sowers would reveal a diminutive student-athlete who might not survive a strong gust of wind.
But according to Sowers, a big reason he's so good is because he's that small.
"Ever since I was little, I played with a chip on my shoulder,' said the Cardinals' amazingly talented sophomore, who is a major part of why the Cardinals are on everyone's list of the top boys lacrosse teams in District One. "Because I was always smaller than everybody else, I played with an edge.
"' Rudy' is one of my favorite movies. To me, playing with heart and effort is as important as size.'
Sowers has parlayed that attitude and his considerable lacrosse talent into a scholastic career that, while only one season old, holds the promise for greatness, and which has already secured him a spot in the Princeton University graduating class of 2020.
"He's an extremely talented player and an extraordinarily good kid,' praised Cardinals head coach J.P. Banks. "He's such a hard-working kid, and it shows the time he's put into making himself better.'
The son of Upper Dublin assistant coach and former Hatboro-Horsham head coach Dave Sowers, Michael is a lacrosse lifer, who's been playing with most of his Upper Dublin teammates since the third grade.
"All the way up, it's been the same people and the same coaches,' Sowers said. "And even off the field you'll find us all in the same spot most of the time.'
Not that lacrosse is his only athletic gig.
Followers of Upper Dublin football saw quite a bit of Sowers, who rattled more than a few chinstraps while playing in the secondary for the Cardinals a season ago.
But it's on the lacrosse field that Sowers is at his best, using speed, stick skills and awareness as weapons that quickly have foes forgetting about his approximately 5-foot-6, 140-pound frame.
Yet for all of the elements Sowers brings to the lacrosse field, his ego has been checked at the proverbial door.
"Every single one of my goals is a team thing,' he said. "We all want the same things — a league title, a district championship and a state championship.
"We've been working hard in the off-season. Last year's seniors really set us off in the right direction. We've put in the work for it, and we feel we have the players and coaching to do it.'
To that end, Sowers said, the Cardinals practices have not been for the feint of heart.
"We've upped the intensity,' the sophomore said. "Every day in practice I'm going up against Division One poles in Jack Rapine (a Johns Hopkins commit) and Henry Winebrake.
"You have to get better doing that every day.'
As for his own D-1 commitment, Sowers said he stepped onto the Princeton campus with no preconceived ideas.
"I never even thought about going there,' he said, "but once I met Coach (Chris) Bates and saw the campus I knew it was someplace special.'
And special is the operative word when speaking about this Upper Dublin season.
"Our first goal is to win a league title,' Sowers said. "Anything less than that would be a disappointment.'
And most feel the Cardinals have the horses to do that — and more.
"We're a work in progress,' Banks said. "We'll see where we go.
"We have to fill the void left by last year's graduates, but we're a good, young team.'
Banks said the team will revolve around seniors Ryan Siwinski, Will Lunney and Tyler Heubach, but the sophomore trio of Sowers, Winebrake and Rapine and attack middie Nick Vernacchio (Saint Joseph's commit) will be a major focal point of the Cards' opposition.
"A lot is going to depend on how our young players develop,' Banks said.
As for the challengers facing Upper Dublin in the Suburban One League's American Conference, nearly every coach pointed to Wissahickon as Upper Dublin's biggest bump in the road to the league title.
Led by midfielder and Hofstra commit Luke Gomez and attackman and Lynchburg commit Brooks Melvin, the Trojans will look to better last season's 14-4 record and first-round playoff exit.
Upper Merion head coach Brady McCormick says he feels better about this year's Vikings than he's felt about one of his teams in three or four years.
"I think our seniors realize it's the end of the road,' McCormick said, "and they're really focused.
"Most of our varsity guys are returning, and I'll be interested in seeing how we stack up against some of the more talented teams like Upper Dublin and Wissahickon.'
While most eyes will be on Vikings midfielder, faceoff man and Marquette commit Mikey Zadroga, McCormick said seniors such as attackman Joe Mintzer (Catholic University commit) and defender Kevin O'Sullivan are strong leaders in their own right.
Plymouth Whitemarsh has had nothing but bad luck in the early going, with last year's leading scorer Jake Brown having to sit out the season due to concussion problems and Zach Zygmunt forced to the sidelines with a lacerated kidney.
The Colonials will have to lean heavily on their defense, headed by returnees William Golden, Brad Kahny and Bryan Schaffer and junior goalkeeper Riley White.
Norristown welcomes a new head coach, Tom Pierantozzi, who hopes to turn around the fortunes of a program that has won just six games over its last three seasons. The play of long stick middie/defender Cody Baker, a Delaware Valley commit, should help.
In the SOL's Continental Conference, North Penn is also hoping to trend upwards in the standings, always a difficult chore in a conference that features the likes of Hatboro-Horsham, Central Bucks East and Central Bucks South.
"Our league is too difficult and we cannot afford to take many league losses,' said head coach Rick Smith. "We have to approach every game like it's a championship game.'
The Knights have a good core of returnees, led by midfielder Matt Brady and defender Matt McConaghy and will look to attackmen Scott Keffer and Luke Homan for offense.
Over in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, the general consensus is that Spring-Ford and Owen J. Roberts will, once again, be the favorites. Spring-Ford has plenty of returning talent, headed by junior middie Zach Hare (St. Joseph's), sophomore middie/face-off specialist Matt Dellacroce (Michigan) and sophomore middie Carter Gensler (Lehigh). Defenders Jack Haney (Quinnipiac), Alex Rivers (Gwynedd-Mercy) and goalkeeper Matt Messerle (Goucher) head up a strong defense.
That's not to say the remainder of the PAC are planning to go quietly.
"The challenge for us is that those teams are very deep,' said Methacton head coach Nat Ryan, "but we feel we have the kids ready to meet that challenge.'
Those kids include junior attackman Keith White, the team's leading scorer a year ago, and the PAC's returning Defensive Player of the Year, Andrew DeSana (Seton Hill), along with sophomore goal producer Aiden Denecke and junior goaltender Jake Blitzer, a three-year starter.
"Like every year we'd like to make the PAC-10 Final Four and give ourselves a chance to win a PAC-10 championship,' Ryan said.
Another team in the PAC chase is Perkiomen Valley, which is strong through the midfield, thanks to Shawn Dickey (Massachusetts-Lowell) and Kris Boyd (Gwynedd-Mercy), while Sean Tornetta (Monmouth) is a more than capable scorer and junior Nick Scenna (Robert Morris) is a quality defender.
Last year, Pope John Paul II doubled the program's previous high for wins in a season when it rang up six wins, and second-year head coach Matt McMillen would like to continue that roll.
"We'd like to take bigger steps this year,' McMillen said. "Our goal is to make the PAC-10 playoffs.'
McMillen said the team will depend on a strong core of seniors, led by defender Mike Wynne, midfielder John Bildstein and goalkeeper Ian Schurr, to help make that stride.
In the Inter-Academic League, Germantown Academy took it tough a year ago, managing just three wins (and one in league play) under first-year coach Brian Grady. Grady is hoping that the young Patriots of a season ago will learn from those hard lessons, and a year later will be ready to turn those losses into wins. Attackman Max Derham (Villanova) and defender Hayes Nolte will be the seniors GA leans on the most.
In the Philadelphia Catholic League, the biggest question revolves around the defending state champions, La Salle. While the Explorers are still stocked with major talent, as evidenced by the likes of midfielders Steve Hudak (Brown) and Zach Drake (Lehigh), who have already committed to Division One collegiate programs, do the champs have enough to snare another PCL crown and make another state run?
Time will tell. But in the meantime, check out Explorers freshman Brett Baskin, a Lafayette Hill resident who has already committed to Johns Hopkins.
Elsewhere in the PCL, Lansdale Catholic will hope to put together another winning season after a 10-victory campaign a season ago. Attackman Dominic Moscariello (Gwynedd-Mercy) is a Crusader to watch.
Archbishop Carroll collected seven wins last year under first-year head coach Brendan Dwyer, and look to improve that mark this season.