2016 Lebanon County lacrosse season preview
There's a new coach, a new focus and a new style for Palmyra boys lacrosse.
And the hope is, of course, for some new results now, too.
Under the guidance of lacrosse lifer Dave Ondrusek, who last coached Hempfield over four seasons, the Cougars are aiming to improve upon consecutive 9-9 campaigns this spring. Ondrusek, who also played collegiately and helped many Black Knight players commit to do the same, believes the necessary pieces are in place to replicate the success he enjoyed in Lancaster; namely, contending for a league title and making annual runs in the district tournament.
It's simply a matter of establishing direction and discipline.
"We're trying to stress that we have to compete as a team," Ondrusek said. "We work together and everyone's playing for one another. We take care of each other as a team."
While on-field examples of such togetherness will have to wait until Tuesday, when Palmyra hosts perennial power Cumberland Valley, the off-field examples are already in near abundance. Community service has become an established part of the program, and senior players driving their freshmen teammates to practice, is commonplace, per Ondrusek.
Among this year's senior class is defenseman Tyler Gallagher, the lone Cougar honored on the 2015 Mid Penn first and second all-star teams. Gallagher, along with fellow defensemen Blaise Amelio and Mason Sosnoski, will be fronted by a bevy of experienced classmates in a loaded midfield. Included in that midfield, from where Peter Robertson maneuvered his way to 20 goals a season ago, is Mid Penn honorable mention Joey Giordano, the team's face-off man.
Beginning with Giordano's efforts at the dot, Palmyra's new approach must first fix its record in close games, which last year registered at 1-4 in contests decided by three goals or fewer. In Odrusek's eyes, increased discipline, particularly on the defensive end, should steady the Cougars' hand in crunch-time.
His system and beliefs will be put to the test early, beginning not only against Cumberland Valley but an ensuing showdown against Carlisle, which came back to clip Palmyra last season in a 7-6 heartbreaker.
What follows is a capsule look at the varsity lacrosse programs in Lebanon County.
Head coach: Dave Ondrusek, first season.
Last year's record: 9-9, 6-6 Mid Penn Keystone
Key returners: Tyler Gallagher, Sr. def.; Joey Giordano, Sr., mid; Jared Richard, Sr., mid; Josh Shoemaker, Sr., mid; Blaise Amelio, Sr., def.; Mason Sosnoski, Sr., def.; Peter Robertson, Jr., mid; Ethan Gain, Jr., attack; Nick Sheriff, Sr., goalie.
Promising newcomers: Tate Wasson, Fr., def.; Grant Haus, Fr., mid; Ryan Basinger, Fr., def.; Kyle Wasilewski, Fr., mid.
Outlook: See above.
Cedar Crest boys
Head coach: Craig Kemmlein, third season
Last year's record: 6-12, 6-6 Section One
Key returners: Mike Weaver, Sr., attack; Stevie Roda, Sr., mid; Jake Horacek, Sr., attack; Alex Stewart, Sr., midfield; Liam Nieman, Sr., goalie; Jake Booth, Sr., long stick mid; Nick Maria, Sr., long stick mid; Noah Hartman, Sr., defense; Dom Burress, Sr., defense;
Promising newcomers: Kyle Harris, mid; John Lux, mid; Tyler Beard, goalie.
Outlook: Scoring should hardly be hard to come by for the Falcons, as senior captains Mike Weaver amd Stevie Roda return with more than 100 goals between them from 2015. Weaver will head the Cedar Crest attack again, with Roda manning the midfield and fellow co-captains Jake Booth and Nick Maria serving as long stick middies.
Together, they will look to execute the transition style the Falcons believe can yield further improvement in a stacked Section One and carry their momentum from the end of last season.
"As coaches, one of our biggest goals is to play consistently at the level of play we know our players can achieve," Falcons coach Craig Kemmlein said. "We have the ability this season to control the face-off, win the groundball battle and be a transition team."
That fast-paced style guided Cedar Crest to wins in three of its final five contests from a year ago, all of which featured at least 13 scored goals. Defensively, the blue and white rely on Liam Nieman between the pipes. Having scratched an opening clash with Spring Grove, the Falcons will open Monday at home against Governor Mifflin under the lights.
Cedar Crest girls
Head coach: Emma Lebo, fifth year
Last year's record: 8-9 overall, 4-7 Section One
Key returners: Madison Barron, Sr., attack; Lexie Eberly, Sr., def; Sydney Laicha, Sr., def; Abby Rowe, Sr., attack; Riley Blatt, Jr., attack; Cailie Bernard, Jr., attack; Abbey Castor, Jr. mid; Serena Rodriguez, Jr., goalie; Emma Peeler, Jr., def; Avery Stoddard, Jr., attack; Margaret Zug, Jr., def.
Promising newcomers: Tiana Ditzier, Sr., attack; Sarah Dacko, Jr., def; Annika Neufeld-Krieder, Jr., def; Gracen Donmoyer, So., mid; Kathleen Steckbeck, Soph, mid, Tasia Rutter, Fr., goalie.
Outlook: The bookends look good and the breakout candidate stands in arguably the most important position of them all.
If it's a surprise team in Lancaster-Lebanon League girls lacrosse you want, these Falcons deserve your attention.
Despite the losses of high-scoring seniors Alex Rich and Nikki Wager, Cedar Crest boasts heavy returns on attack and defense, with junior goalie Serena Rodriguez primed for a big jump in net. Spurred on by their chosen motto of "get tough," the Falcons intend to make their way in a stacked Section One by embodying lessons learned from their injury-slowed 2015 campaign. How well they're able to execute those out on the playing field should ultimately determine whether they meet their season goals.
"We are capable of contending with any opponent if we show up to compete," Cedar Crest coach Emma Lebo said. "Success will mean improving our record from last year and our overall goal is to make it to league and district playoffs."
The Falcons opened their season Thursday with a 12-7 home triumph under the lights against Red Lion.
Head coach: Jennifer Lutz, fourth season
Last year's record: 8-9, 5-6 Mid Penn Keystone
Key returners: Hailey Ebersole, Sr., def.; Carli Herman, Sr., def.; Hanah Soucy, Sr., attack; Riley Cook, Sr., goalie; Cheyenne Sprecher, Jr.; Katelyn Mark, Jr.; Felecia Miller, So.; Kiley Gallagher, Sr.
Promising newcomers: Paige Frye, So.; Gabby Gorricelli, So.; Nikki Bowman, So.
Outlook: The Cougars are set on improving their overall record for a third straight season, which at the bare minimum would mean attaining their first-ever mark of .500 or better. Mid Penn second-team all-stars Hanah Soucy and Hailey Ebersole are the headliners, with Soucy again leading an attack that exploded down the stretch a year ago. Palmyra netted with an average of more than 16 goals per game over their final four contests, while Ebersole and Carli Herman spearheaded an improving defense.
Senior goalie Riley Cook is again back to guard the net, and a strong sophomore class is ready to fill in in front of her. How well the Cougars are able to navigate a tough start to their schedule, which includes four road trips in their first five games, will go a long way to shaping the quality of their year. They close the regular season with three straight home games, including a May 9 test against Cedar Crest.
Palmyra opens its latest campaign on Tuesday at Cumberland Valley.