Mt. Lebanon boys lacrosse team reboots for title defense
After winning the WPIAL Division I title last season, Mt. Lebanon starts its title defense by emulating another champion that shares the Blue Devils' name.
“We set aside a good half-hour out of our two hours to work on stick skills every practice,” coach Mike Ermer said. “When Duke won the NCAA Division I championship last year, something they talked about a lot is focusing on fundamentals.”
Mt. Lebanon sports a fairly new look this season, particularly in the midfield. Junior Brian Kelly moved to midfield after starting at attack last year. Senior Brendan White and junior Brennan Wells will play more two-way lacrosse after playing mostly on the defensive end last season.
Ermer believes his team will continue to grow when it practices this season.
“I'm a big believer that practice is where you really make progress,” Ermer said. “The games are great, but there's only 18 of them in a year, whereas you can have 50 practices or so in the regular season.”
Mt. Lebanon is 2-2 this season, with wins over Ephrata and North Allegheny, and losses to Carlisle and Hempfield.
The 7-6 win over North Allegheny was a rematch of the 9-8 game between the teams in last season's WPIAL final. Although the score was similar, it's yet to be seen if the teams resemble their championship versions from a year ago.
“I don't know if it was a test of two of the better teams, or teams that both graduated a ton,” North Allegheny coach John Rullan said.
The Tigers graduated 16 seniors, but there are still key players returning. Senior Stephen Kelleher and junior Kyle Rullan return on attack, with seniors Alec McGovern and Nick Koebley at the midfield.
Senior long pole Aaron McQuade and goalie John Abbondanza will get a boost on the defensive end from freshman Greg Ferringer.
The rest of the landscape in Division I is coming into focus, with teams such as Peters Township, Shady Side Academy and Sewickley Academy looking like contenders at the beginning of the season.
Upper St. Clair also is expected to make a leap into contention, with Brian Yates taking over as coach after leading Seton-La Salle to a WPIAL Division II title last season. Sam Foreman, a 2006 Mt. Lebanon graduate, faces the challenge of following Yates as the next Seton-La Salle coach after serving as an assistant at Mt. Lebanon last season.
Although the Rebels started 1-2, the losses came against Division I opponents Fox Chapel (4-0) and Bethel Park (3-0).
“Having coached in the Division I and Division II levels, I do firmly believe that playing that tough competition is the way to improve your program,” Foreman said. “The competition is a lot higher at the Division I level. I feel like we've still put a good foot forward and we're showing what we're capable of.”
Foreman was named senior captains in every position to carry leadership on the field: Colin Bashaw at attack, Anthony Shoplic in the midfield, Gino DiPerna at long-stick midfielder, Liam McLain on defense and Kevin Hudson in goal.
Despite the coaching change, Seton-La Salle has high hopes for the fifth year of its program.
“After these first couple games, we've set another goal to go undefeated in Division II. It pushes us to work harder in practice,” Foreman said. “I really think this team has the skill level, talent and commitment to bring home another championship.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.