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South Western shooting for second playoff appearance

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In Gary Hartsock's first four seasons as the South Western boys' lacrosse coach, the Mustangs never won more than four games.

Nine games into this spring, they've already surpassed that number.

A year after going 3-14, South Western is 5-4 with seven games remaining. With District 3 being split into two classifications for lacrosse this season, the Mustangs are currently in position to make the Class 2A playoffs. The only time the Mustangs have made the playoffs since starting their program nine years ago was in 2011, when they finished 12-6.

"These boys are on the cusp on history here," Hartsock said. "I'm the jockey on the horse, they're the ones running the race. It's the work that they're putting in, so I'm proud of them for putting themselves in position to be a district playoff team."

While South Western has earned three wins against the YAIAA's bottom three clubs in Kennard-Dale, Delone Catholic and Dover, it also earned a 9-8 statement victory over Red Lion on March 30. The Lions are currently 8-2 and ranked seventh in Class 3A.

When the Mustangs have played other top teams in the league, they've generally been competitive in defeat. They lost to Dallastown by three, York Catholic by four and Susquehannock by one.

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In years past, keeping pace with those programs would have been looked at as major moral victories for South Western. While they know there's still work to be done to become league contenders, the Mustangs are starting to look at those games as winnable.

"Are we where we want to be? No, because we see ourselves taking that next step where we can compete against Central York and York Suburban," Hartsock said. "Our goal is to be thought of as a playoff team in York County. Sixty percent of my starters are underclassmen, so they're learning to take that next step and that's part of the maturation process."

How have the Mustangs improved? Mostly from the natural progression that comes with playing together for years. Although the team is young with just four seniors, most of the players have been learning the game alongside each other since their middle school days.

That familiarity has helped the Mustangs play more as a team. According to Hartsock, South Western used to rely on just one or two players, a strategy that made them very predictable. Now, the Mustangs spread the ball around more and have a balanced scoring attack that features senior Carson Perry, juniors Braden Dunn and Sean Wolfe and sophomore Casey Slater.

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Perry is in the top three in South Western history in goals and assists while Dunn has verbally committed to Division II Florida Tech, which will make him the second player in school history to play lacrosse in college.

"A lot of people went out and actually worked in the offseason, which made a difference," Perry said. "Now this year we're looking to feed each other and help each other out more than ever. Just less of a one-man mentality."

Added Dunn: "Our general lacrosse IQ is way higher. We're just a smarter team. Just knowing how to play the game and respond to what the other team does. It's great because next year we can keep going up at this rate."

Currently ranked 14th in the 16-team playoff bracket in 2A, the Mustangs know they still have plenty of work to do both this season and in the future. Still, they're determined to be a model of how a young program can build its way toward respectability.

"It's good for the sport, and it's good for the area (for teams to improve)," Hartsock said. "When we get to the district playoffs, we as York-Adams haven't had a lot of success. Myself and the other coaches talk about taking that next step and putting York and Adams counties on the map."