Quaker Valley boys lacrosse hopes defense wins championships
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Quaker Valley boys lacrosse team isn't just playing strong defense — it is playing some of the best defense in Western Pennsylvania.
The Quakers finished last week giving up only four goals per game, tied for the best in the WPIAL with Shady Side Academy and tops in Division II.
“If we don't let them score, they can't win without any goals,” junior defender Aaron Cunningham said. “I think if we hold our opponents to under five goals a game, our offensive guys should be able to score more than that.”
While the team was solid on defense last season after giving up just more than eight goals per game, a strong core of returning players gave a boost to the defense.
“We brought back pretty much the same defensive group from last year,” junior midfielder Jack Regueiro said. “We are a pretty cohesive group. We work pretty well together and have been playing good help defense.”
Leading the defense is Cunningham. The multiyear starter — who is also a starting linebacker for the football team — is one of the team's captains and is the voice of the defensive core.
“He is like another coach on the field,” Quaker Valley coach Bill Marcotte said. “He understands what we are trying to accomplish on defense and does a great job of getting the guys to communicate. As a captain and leader, he is doing a wonderful job. Also with (senior) Otto Schaefer out there, we have two guys helping the younger guys.”
Regueiro was thrown into the fire last season after then-senior defender Garrett Powell tore his ACL early in the year. Moving into a defensive role allowed Regueiro to improve his overall game.
“I went from a short stick to a long stick after (Powell) went down last year,” Regueiro said. “It gave me good experience and prepared me to become better for this season.”
Regueiro was able to move into playing as a long-stick midfielder as sophomore Andrew Lape and freshman John Rooney have provided the Quakers depth on defense this season.
Quaker Valley took a chance starting a freshman in goal with Elliot Sadja last season.
While it isn't a gamble Marcotte normally would take, Sadja had a strong campaign and helped the Quakers reach their first WPIAL Division II title game.
“It isn't that a player isn't physically ready but the mental part of it is a big adjustment,” Marcotte said.
“Going from middle school to varsity lacrosse, there is a big difference in shot speed alone. (Sadja) did exceptionally well. He is so much more confident this year. The game has slowed down for him and he has been making some wonderful saves.”
Marcotte praised the effort of a trio of midfielders who have been focusing on their play on defense — juniors Max Moser and Parker Sherry, along with sophomore Mark Shlyahovsky.
“They are very physical kids,” Marcotte said. “They have platooned the defensive middies. I was worried this season coming in with the new substitution rules and how we would get specialist players in and out. But we have done well in the substitution box and getting the right personal in.”
The Quakers have been motivated after falling short in the WPIAL title game a season ago.
Thanks to the large group of returning talent, the players committed themselves to improving during the offseason in order to return to the Division II title game for a second straight season.
“We had high hopes last season,” Cunningham said. “But we came up a little short. We knew we had a small graduating group so we had similar potential this season.”
The Quakers entered this week undefeated at 12-0. With three games this week — at home against Baldwin on Monday and Mars on Wednesday, with a trip to Trinity to end the regular season on Friday — the team is on the verge of capturing its first undefeated season.
Some teams might push the idea of going undefeated to the back of their minds. Quaker Valley instead is embracing it.
“We don't avoid it,” Marcotte said. “It is a goal for us. It would be another feather in our cap. And truthfully, what we see is we're getting other teams' best games. They see us on the schedule and see an opportunity to try and knock us off.
“This core of guys we have this season is a pretty special group. We are on track to do something that has never been done in our program's history. We want to go undefeated and, God willing, get a championship.”