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Eastern York's team meeting leads to historic playoff run

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The Eastern York Golden Knights were underachieving. They had a sub-.500 record in YAIAA boys' lacrosse play, and were frustrated. They sat down to air their grievances. 

And yes, a team meeting turned it all around.

"We decided to start from scratch and do everything we weren’t doing," said senior Jim Kurnik. "Focus on the field, in the class room, team bonding. And we became more unified.”

And then they started winning games.

The Golden Knights, who finished the regular season with a 12-8 overall record and 6-7 mark in league play aren't done. 

The team that didn't qualify for the YAIAA tournament wound up being a No. 12 seed in the District 3 Class 2A tournament. 

They defeated No. 5 Susquehannock (9-7 final score) and No. 4 Trinity (12-10) in the winners' bracket. Eastern York knocked off No. 10 Lower Dauphin (14-5) in the consolation round to finish third in the district tournament.

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In turn, the Golden Knights made history: They're the first boys' lacrosse team out of York County to qualify for the PIAA tournament. Ever.

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Eastern York will take on Lansdale Catholic at Germantown Super Site in Philadelphia in the opening round of states.

“When I heard it for the first time, I said ‘No. That can’t be,’ " head coach Michael Particelli said. "We’ve had good programs, great programs in York County. Susquehannock, Central York, Dallastown. How can we be the first? But, here we are.” 

The Golden Knights this season were a middle-of-the-pack YAIAA team. Yes, they had firepower. Dom Particelli (55 goals) and Kurnik (50 goals) can put the ball in the back of the net. Ditto for talented sophomore Cole Witman (42 goals).

But the team was also inconsistent while other local rivals shined. Central York finished undefeated in the YAIAA, while York Catholic was the defending league champions that came on strong down the stretch. Red Lion had one the area's top attackmen in Sam Emig.

The Golden Knights? They were largely an afterthought, and certainly not a team many would pick to make history coming out of the YAIAA in 2017.

“We underachieved in the regular season. I thought we could be a 13-, 14-win team," Michael Particelli said. "We had two overtime losses and there were games we simply didn’t show up. I couldn’t put my finger on it.”

Particelli said the turning point came a few weeks ago, when the team sat down to hash out its differences.

Coaches decided to cut down on practice time and also made defensive adjustments.

Kurnick said goofing around at practice and in school stopped and players started hanging out away from the field. Road trips became fun, and the locker room was a better place to hang out.

Even then, the winning didn't pick up immediately. 

“The second-to-last game of the season, we played South Western and lost. Coming into districts, we were thinking, this might not be good," said Dom Particelli. "But the last week-and-a-half we’ve turned it around, and we’re on a run right now.”

Defensively the team has improved. Michael Particelli said the entire unit has stepped up and that goalie Kevin Royce is "playing out of his mind right now." 

“We always say, don’t judge us at the beginning of the year, judge us at the end," Michael Particelli. "And that’s the irony. We’re playing our best lacrosse right now.”

The team is having fun and playing hot. The players recognize their next test will be against powerhouse program Lansdale Catholic. But they also realize they're playing loose, and with nothing to lose.

“We like being the underdog," Kurnik said. "In districts, as a No. 12 seed, no one expected us to make noise. But we knew we were better than that. We like being counted out, because we know we should be counted in.”

Tuesday's schedule

A look at which YAIAA lacrosse teams will take the field in the PIAA tournament:
Eastern York vs. Lansdale Catholic, 4:30 p.m. at Germantown Super Site in Philadelphia
York Catholic vs. Radnor, 5 p.m. at Spring Ford High School 
Kennard-Dale vs. Danville, 6 p.m. at Midd-West High School 
Susquehannock vs. Quaker Valley, 5 p.m. at Penn Manor High School