Lacrosse: What's it take to be elite?
Defending league and district champion Kennard-Dale tops the list of the YAIAA's best programs in 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
Eastern York girls' lacrosse has turned heads this season. Just four years after completing the 2013 season without a win, the Golden Knights won 10 straight games to start the season. They rattled off six consecutive league victories.
The biggest shocker, however, came when looking at the York-Adams standings. In the third week in April, the Golden Knights held the best record in the league.
Why is that shocking?
YAIAA girls' lacrosse has lacked parity. Only three teams — Kennard-Dale, South Western and York Catholic — have won division titles in the previous five seasons (2016-12). And that includes three seasons when the league used a two-division format. During the same span, just two teams — Kennard-Dale and York Catholic — have won the league tournament. Those two programs remain barometers for every program in the league, and it was something Eastern York coach Jim Deppen alluded to after the Knights lost to York Catholic in April.
"We knew that this is the time when it starts to kick in, this is the time when we start to play tough teams," Deppen said.
So the question remains, how do the other 11 teams in the YAIAA break into the league's top tier? And how do Kennard-Dale and York Catholic try to remain at the top?
Build up defense
Susquehannock's rise in the standings, finishing in the top three during each of the previous two seasons, has coincided with the program's increase in speed at defense, coach Steve Marshner said.
It's the first thing he points to as a difference between his current squad and the ones that didn't figure at the top of the standings.
He said defense is where he sees the biggest difference between top-tier teams and every other program. Sure, a team like York Catholic might be a notch above an opponent on offense, but what helps the top teams stand out is how they play when they don't have possession.
Anytime this season when Kennard-Dale, York Catholic or Susquehannock took the field against a YAIAA opponent outside the top three, the differences were noticeable. The top teams dominate draw controls, dominate possession and dominate in goals scored.
With a rule change adopted this season, attackers can no longer sprint off the restraining line to gain possession. The rule is meant to cut down on physical contact and, subsequently, stoppage in play. Players must wait to cross the restraining line until possession is determined, meaning the three midfielders for each team need to do all the work to gain possession.
"We've been very lucky," Kennard-Dale coach Kelly Wetzel said about his program's ability to develop draw control specialists.
Kennard-Dale's Megan Halczuk has helped that tradition continue this season. Whether they are groundball magnets or wizards with the stick, these type of players have helped keep the Rams on top.
Red Lion coach Sam Grey noted: "Basically what we saw from that game is their draw control. Our struggle that game was getting possession of the ball."
Increase roster size
Lacrosse can be a numbers crunch since every team needs a bare minimum of 12 players.
Every team, from Dover in its first YAIAA season to defending champion Kennard-Dale, needs players to succeed.
"I think we were realistic in our expectations," Eastern's Deppen said before facing off against York Catholic. "I mean we have 17 players on the team, and five of those are JV. So 12 are on the field, so our 12 starters step on the field and an hour later they step off."
This came on the same day when York Catholic senior Anna Linthicum mentioned her team had come together by working younger players into its varsity rotation.
"Ideally, you'd like to have 16 to 17 varsity players because middies run a lot and injuries happen," South Western coach Randy Kavanaugh said.
Develop skilled players
Kennard-Dale's Wetzel recalled his first season of varsity girls' lacrosse at Kennard-Dale in 2009. He had two girls playing club lacrosse.
"And that was more than most teams in the league," Wetzel said. "That was the difference between Lancaster and York teams back then."
Lancaster teams, especially powerhouse Manheim Township, dominated the District 3 playoffs.
"If you’re not playing year-round, you are not going to be able to compete," Red Lion's Grey said.
Lancaster's dominance against some York teams has faded, most notably with Kennard-Dale winning its first District 3 title last season. More and more York-area players have opted to play club lacrosse, though: Wetzel noted that seven clubs are represented on his 31-player roster.
"You play against better competition, and you play in the summer time against players from Maryland, New Jersey and New York," South Western's Kavanaugh said.
Grey added: "The more game scenarios you experience the quicker your reactions become."
Not only do players spend more time with a stick in their hand, but their mentality changes — Wetzel said.
"Typically that becomes their main focus," Wetzel said of club players.