Quaker Valley, Sewickley Academy lacrosse teams aim for playoffs
They play in different divisions, but the goal is the same for Quaker Valley and Sewickley Academy boys lacrosse: get back to the playoffs and advance further.
New coach Bryan McClure takes over a Quakers team that fell one step short of the final last year, and longtime Panthers coach Tim Hastings has an experienced group aiming to score the Panthers' first postseason win in five years.
For the Quakers, it has been a short getting-to-know-you period with McClure, who took over the program Feb. 1. The new coach led Vincentian Academy last season after five years as a North Allegheny assistant, but he has been pleased with what he's seen at QV.
“(The hiring) happened late in the year, so it was right into crunch time,” McClure said. “I've had less than two months to get to know the new guys. We've put in a lot of plays, and they've been learning the system how I like to play, and they've picked it up quickly. They have a high lacrosse IQ, and that has helped expedite the process.”
The Quakers have experience, beginning with four senior captains — attacker Michael Clark, midfielder Tyler Smith, defensive midfielder Mark Shlyahovsky and goalie Elliott Sadja. Cole Wolf, who suffered a season-ending injury last year, and defender Andrew Lape also are seniors on a squad that has 10 upperclassmen topping the roster and nine freshmen filling it out.
“While we are experienced, we have a lot of new guys,” McClure said. “Having those seniors — and having them all over the field — is helpful to anchor the team.”
The Quakers got off to a good start with an 8-6 nonsection win over Trinity on Monday. But QV had a short turnaround for its Section 4-AA opener against Shaler, one of the teams McClure said should battle for the section crown with Mars and the Quakers. That section game was Wednesday, after this edition's deadline.
“It's tough to have a meaningful game so early in the year, especially as a first-year coach. We have to work out the kinks pretty quickly,” McClure said.
The Panthers, meanwhile, are trying to bounce back from a 5-11 season that wasn't as bleak as the record might seem, according to Hastings.
Sewickley Academy's late-season win over eventual WPIAL runner-up North Allegheny was an indicator of where the Panthers' potential lies, and performances like that seem to indicate SA's playoff absence could be a short one despite having one of Division I's smaller rosters.
“One of the things that's important to us ... is to have exceptional stick skills to possess the ball and not play athlete vs. athlete. We want to play more as a team,” Hastings said. “Last year, the first time we played NA, we ran our offense to perfection and we were able to beat them. (The players) understand that. They get it, and they know they have to do it the whole season.”
Senior all-WPIAL goalie Jackson O'Neill and junior attacker Ben Mulholland, who led the team in scoring, return for the Panthers. So does a strong midfield led by junior Riley Larsen, senior Josh Thomas and senior Ryder MacDougall, and senior defenseman Calder Fowkes gives Sewickley Academy what Hastings called “strength up and down the field.”
“We didn't have a great record last year, but we were in every game,” Hastings said. “With another year of experience, we hope to start winning those games.”
The Panthers returned Friday from their annual spring trip to South Carolina. No official games were played, but the team got in plenty of work and some scrimmages — all without any thoughts of school work — to prepare for its opener Thursday at Mars.
“The trip went very well. We didn't play any games this year, but I think it was a good week,” Hastings said. “We get a two-week break, so while teams are up here practicing, we aren't. But we have sort of a captive audience (in South Carolina), so hopefully we're able to close the gap and make up for that first week.”