UPPER PROVIDENCE — As recently as a season ago, if a Pope John Paul II girls lacrosse player had mentioned winning the Frontier Division in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, that comment would have been met with either riotous laughter or the suggestion that said player had attempted to play goaltender with no helmet.
No one's laughing this year.
No, the Golden Panthers aren't about to challenge Boyertown for PAC supremacy, and head coach Maureen Burger can't rattle off the names of six or seven of her players who have committed to Division One collegiate programs, but this year's Golden Panthers bear little resemblance to the PJP teams of the recent past.
They're not quite ready to be playing in Hershey during the first week of June, but they seem to be ready to make a little noise in the PAC's Frontier Division. And as Thursday's 13-9 non-league win over Neshaminy demonstrated, they're prepared to be competitive with most teams they play.
Thursday, the Panthers rolled up a 10-2 halftime lead over the Redskins, then watched the visitors only come within shouting range late against their backups.
It was kind of what the Boyertowns and Spring-Fords of the world experience on a regular basis.
Only this time, it was a much improved PJP team doing the late-game coasting.
"They've come a long way,' Burger said, her head tilted proudly toward her team. "They're working hard, and some of our passing in the first half was really fun to watch.'
It was fun for the Panthers, whose impressive defensive play and midfield connections in the first half were as crisp and fluid as the first turn of the ignition.
"They're believing in themselves,' Burger said. "They're listening to what we tell them.
"We had some success at the end of last year, and they saw that their hard work was paying off. A lot of our players played in indoor leagues this winter.'
The improvement is evident.
The Panthers had a brief relapse in Wednesday's 13-10 loss to Pottstown, and were anxious to make amends. Instead of licking their wounds from that loss, the Panthers put a licking on the ' Skins.
"We didn't have a good game at all against Pottstown,' said midfielder Lillia Walls, who had three goals and an assist Thursday. "We felt this was our chance to show the PAC-10 what we can do, and this was a good game for us.'
"We reverted back to some of our old habits,' Burger said of the Pottstown loss. "Today we returned to the way we should be playing.'
The Panthers' return to form blindsided Neshaminy as the home team ran off 10 unanswered goals sandwiched between Redskins goals that opened and closed the half.
Jordan Kengor had three of those goals and White, Kate Cressman and Abby McMenamin chipped in two apiece as the home team iced the verdict early.
"We played (Neshaminy) last year and it was a close game,' Burger recalled, "but we were on the wrong end of it.
"So we expected this one to be close.'
A year or two that might have been the case, but not this year.
"Last year was not a real good season for us,' White said, "but we have some new (assistant) coaches and they've been preparing us to win games.
"Our goal is to win the small division in the PAC-10, and we believe it's doable.'
"It's not a long shot, not at all,' Burger said. "It would be quite a turnaround, but they can do it.'
The Redskins netted six of the game's final eight goals in the last 11:51 to make the final score respectable, but the Panthers (2-2) were already wearing their victory smiles.
FREE POSITIONS: Kengor would finish with a team-best four goals, while Cressman and White had three apiece and goaltender Jackie Bowes had 10 saves. ... Neshaminy was led by Fran Donato's six goals. ... PJP outshot Neshaminy, 28-23.