Jim Kopenhaver's career as a girls' lacrosse coach began in a two-hour car ride 10 years ago.

In the summer of 2003, he helped a friend with a lacrosse camp at the Sanford School, a private K-12 school in Hockessin, Del. Kopenhaver had taken his eldest daughter, Kristin, and she asked on the ride home whether she could keep playing.

One problem: There wasn't a lacrosse program at Delone Catholic, where she went a year later.

Jim decided to build a co-op club team at South Western that became a varsity team five years later. His daughter played immediately on the club team -- eighth graders were allowed -- but had graduated when the club became a varsity sport in 2009.

Five years after that, a decade after he decided to start a program, the Mustangs went 17-3 and made the quarterfinal round of the District 3 tournament. Because of their success, Kopenhaver has been named the Evening Sun Lacrosse Coach of the Year.

His last 10 years have been filled with learning. He played at Drexel University -- where Kristin just finished her playing career after redshirting a season -- but wasn't familiar with the girls' game, which features different rules and sticks.

That led him to Gettysburg College, where he watched a women's lacrosse game against Mary Washington. He sat in the stands, notepad in hand and a rulebook handy, trying to determine certain rules, such as what allowed players to receive a penalty shot.


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Kopenhaver loved it.

"It's a different strategy," he said. "The mechanics are similar (to the boys' game) but not the same. It's more of a finesse sport. When it's played well, it's beautiful to watch. I like that."

He's seen development in his players -- "Our skill level that first year to our skill level last year, there's no comparison," he said -- and the team experienced a gradual progression. The Mustangs won their first district game ever, 13-7, against West York on May 14.

They were led by several strong players, including Siena College-signee and Evening Sun Girls' Lacrosse Player of the Year Sydney Szparaga. She collected 47 goals, 17 assists and 48 draw controls. Callie Kavanaugh earned a team-high 82 points, and Kopenhaver's youngest daughter, Jessica, had 60.

The Mustangs' season ended with a 12-11 overtime loss to Penn Manor. Despite the outcome, Jim said that is the game he'll remember most.

"I thought it was a great game, exciting," he said. "Being down 5-0 and 7-2, 8-4 at half, to come back and tie them and have the ball most of the second half and all of the last two minutes, that game demonstrated the character of our team. Unfortunately it didn't turn out in our favor in overtime."

dpaulling@eveningsun.com, 637-3736 ext. 139; Twitter: @DanielPaulling