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USC lacrosse relies on team play after injury to leading scorer

| Monday, April 7, 2014, 10:41 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Upper St. Clair's Braden Kaib (4) and Mac Madson celebrate a goal against Pine-Richland during their game Monday, April 7, 2014, at Upper St. Clair High School.

One game jumps off the page when looking at the Upper St. Clair boys lacrosse schedule.

The Section 1 title could come down to the last day of the season when the Panthers face Section 1 rival Mt. Lebanon, the defending WPIAL Division I champs, May 7.

But the Panthers, who started 6-0, will have to fight through plenty of other matchups before that.

“Right now it's really pretty hard because we're starting to get into the thick of the season, and I think guys are doubting a little bit,” senior captain David Rice said, “especially with the loss of probably our best offensive player in Kyle (Page).”

Page, a fellow captain and senior attackman, led USC with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) before tearing his ACL in late March during the team's two-game trip to Maryland. How the team responds without its top distributor could be telling of how the remainder of the season will go.

Luckily, the Panthers' gameplan is not designed around any one player. A new coaching staff — headed by former Seton-La Salle coach Brian Yates — has built a deep, unselfish offensive unit.

“The star of this team is the team,” Yates said. “We have guys that really look to help other players have success, and at the same time, as a coaching staff we want to have the type of offense that allows for multiple players to score and succeed.”

Through the first six games, 11 players combined to score 64 goals, including 33 that were assisted. Junior attackman Mac Madson has exceeded expectations while filling in for Page and leads with 14 goals.

Senior captain Tom Fitch is the only other scorer in double figures with 12.

Yates has been able to find ways to channel his players' off-the-field work ethic into lacrosse, specifically when it comes to chasing down ground balls. With so many team members that double as football players, USC gets after ground balls like fumbles.

“Coach Yates loves ground balls,” Fitch said. “He always asks who the ground ball hog is.

“It doesn't get old though. When it comes down to the little things like that, that's what decides who is going to win or lose. It's a statement of who wants it more.”

Despite it being his first year on the job, all of this season's work is going toward the B.H.A.G. — or big, hairy, audacious goal — of a WPIAL title and an appearance in the state championship, something no WPIAL team has ever done, Yates said.

“I think the key thing if we want to achieve that is we have to take it a game at a time,” Fitch said.

“Last year, we too often would look ahead. We've been able to bring the intensity and focus every day at practice and in every game.”

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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