This is the first of what hopefully will be regular SOS.com Lax Notebooks. Suggestions are welcome and may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Natalie Rube called it a ‘natural progression.’
By any description, Central Bucks South’s turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable this season. Consider only that the Titans have jumped out of the gate to a 7-1 start. Last year, they won all of four games.
“As seniors, it’s something we were working towards for the four years we have been on the team,” Rube said. “We’ve been getting better every year, and we have worked really hard, so it’s definitely paying off.”
The Titans lost their first game of the season to Council Rock North (15-8) and have reeled off seven straight wins since then.
“I think it’s basically us just finally coming together as a team,” senior Taylor Lucas said. “We all have individual talent, but basically, this year it’s all about coming together as a team and using everyone in all aspects of the field.
“I think we knew it was coming this year. There was something different. There was a spark in everyone we never had before.”
While some are surprised by the Titans’ strong start, coach Janique Craig is not in that number. Last year’s 4-13 record, according to the Titans’ coach, does not reflect her team’s level of play.
“We worked really hard, and I think seeing the competition we faced the last two years was really good, and we were a young team to start with,” Craig said, pointing to a National Conference schedule that included two games each against perennial powers Abington, North Penn and Council Rock North.
This year, the Titans are playing in the Continental Conference, and they are reaping the benefits of a rigorous off-season training program.
”We had workouts in the off-season, and we played in fall league, winter league,” Craig said. “I had a minimum of 25 girls at every workout. It was fantastic. They come to the workouts because they want to, and they work hard.
“We have some really great (veteran) players, and a lot of young players have stepped in this year.”
Craig credits her three senior captains – Rube, Lucas and Deanna Giorno - for bringing this year’s squad together. Giorno is a high-scoring attack player, Rube is a key to the Titans’ transition in the midfield, and Lucas is the anchor of the defense.
“Their attitude, their work ethic, their leadership just drives our team, and everyone looks to them at the end of the day,” Craig said. “They’re great leaders, just absolutely fantastic.”
Sophomores Casey Haegle and Kelly Hamilton have also come up big for the Titans, who boast the winning combination of veteran experience and talented young players, and according to Giorno, this is a team in the truest sense of the word.
“They key to our success so far this season is really the connection between the team and the chemistry between all the girls,” the senior captain said. “In all my four years of playing for south, I have never been on a team this united.
“It’s so much fun. I love all the girls, and we all get along so well. We really click on the field and off the field, and it’s awesome to see.”
South has some huge games looming on the horizon, but whatever the outcome, the Titans – with a win over league foe Souderton already under their belts - have already established themselves as a team to contend with in the Continental Conference.
“This year our motto is – we will play every minute of every game as if it’s our last game, and it’s coming from them,” Craig said. “They want it, and they worked so hard to get to where they are now. They deserve every win.”
Small but mighty – Thank goodness for lunch room duty.
That’s when Liz Wallace got the idea that Eileen Applegate, then a sophomore, would make a standout lacrosse goalie.
“I got to know her personality, and I said, ‘You know what – I think you’d be a good lacrosse goalie. Will you come to the first day of practice?’” the Pennridge lacrosse coach recalled. “She came, and I started throwing balls at her, and every time I did – she stepped to the ball and did everything textbook.
“I would throw it harder, and she did the same thing.”
Four games into the season, Applegate was the starting varsity goalie. She’s been in the net ever since.
“She’d never seen a lacrosse game before her 10th grade year, she’d never heard of lacrosse, didn’t know a rule,” Wallace said. “She’s an incredible athlete.”
In Friday night’s dramatic 11-10 win over Souderton, Applegate was credited with 11 saves, many in a second half that saw the Rams outscore the Indians 5-4.
“She started off a little bit flat, but she self corrects very quickly,” Wallace said. “She knew she had to bring it if she was going to pull us out of this game. It’s certainly not the first time she’s saved our butts and pulled us out of a tough one. She had some huge stops in the second half.”
A key – according to Applegate – is simply watching the ball.
“I try and focus and watch the ball,” she said. “I almost try and slow it down because if you’re not seeing it properly, you’ll miss it.
“I was lucky to get as many saves as I did. This was a big win for us.”
If there’s a characteristic that differentiates the diminutive Applegate from other goalies, it would be – according to Souderton’s Julia Kudla – her quickness.
“There are so many different kinds of goalies, and honestly, in the past few games we’ve played, they haven’t been that quick,” she said. “She’s a quick little thing.”
A quick little thing that has played a key role in Pennridge’s 6-0 start this season.
Maidens bring down mighty Bears – Boyertown had North Penn’s number last year.
The perennially tough Bears ran roughshod over the Maidens in an 18-4 non-league win early in the season, but the Maidens played them tough before falling 12-11 in a second round district game.
Last Monday, the Maidens exacted a degree of revenge when they edged the Bears 14-13 in overtime.
“Boyertown is traditionally a great program,” coach Jami Wilus said. “They have great players, and they’re very well coached.
“It’s a huge win for our team, and a lot of the girls from last year were calling and texting our players because they knew how much they wanted it last year, and finally they were able to pull off the victory this year.”
Wilus preaches the value of mental toughness. Her teams displayed plenty of it in their win over the Bears. Consider only the fact that they allowed a 9-4 halftime lead slip away and needed a goal with 21 seconds remaining by Danielle Horn to knot the score 13-13 and send it into overtime.
“It was sort of a turning point early in the season because I’m not sure in years prior to this that we would have been able to get over that hump,” Wilus said. “Danielle Horn scored the tying goal, and it was one of those plays that tells the (story) of our team this year.
“She just kept hustling and hustling after the ball. They were relentless in re-defending. The girls seemed determined that the game wasn’t over until the final whistle sounded.”
Abbie Hartman scored the winning goal off a broken play in OT.
“In years prior to this, I don’t know how we would have responded to being up by so much and losing the lead,” Wilus said. “I was really proud of the girls that they were able to keep plugging away and come back for the win.”
Who played a starring role for the Maidens?
“Everyone,” said Wilus. “In order to beat a team like Boyertown, you need everyone to play well. We did make some mistakes, but we never stopped hustling.
“They never stopped playing hard, and really, that’s all I ask of them. We’re going to make mistakes, and we can practice to fix those, but it was that mental toughness and physical toughness that I was most proud of from everyone out there, including our subs off the bench.”
Hartman turned in a stellar performance, scoring six goals on seven shots and dominating the offensive end of the field. Goalie Lyndsay Hepler was credited with 11 saves – every one of them huge.
The win came on the heels of the Maidens’ impressive 10-6 non-league win over Ridley three days earlier.
Trading places – Council Rock North’s Elly Plappert admits it felt a little strange to arrive at the first day of practice this spring and find the field hockey coach of archrival Council Rock South – Pat Toner - wearing the mantle of co-coach of her lacrosse team.
“At first it was awkward – the South coach coming to North – I don’t know,” Plappert said. “What are we going to do? But she knows exactly what to do.
“If something’s not working, she knows exactly what to do to make it work. Our drills in practice are exactly what we need to work on.”
Despite her initial misgivings, Plappert admits the transition was effortless, and Toner and co-coach Carolyn Kasergis have been a perfect fit, although both admit it’s a spot they could not have imagined finding themselves in.
Kacergis, who coached the junior varsity lacrosse team at South, had played for Toner at Council Rock and – after the split – her senior year at Council Rock South. She went on to have a standout collegiate career at West Chester.
Toner had spent 20 years at Council Rock and, more recently, seven at Council Rock South where she is the hockey coach.
“First, it was going to be Carolyn would be the head coach, and I would be her assistant, but I knew I probably wouldn’t be a good assistant,” Toner said with a laugh. “If I was the head coach and Carolyn was the assistant, I didn’t think that was right either. We just decided we wouldn’t do it.”
Rock North athletic director Dan Griesbaum continued the discussions, and the duo – both teachers at Rock South – opted to give it a try.
“It’s great,” Kacergis said. “I’m learning everything from her. She’s a great, knowledgeable coach. She knows sports and knows the ins and outs of coaching. It’s just been a great experience learning from her.”
Toner echoed those sentiments.
“It’s kind of interesting to get back into lacrosse,” she said. “I have learned a lot from Carolyn. She was one of the two strongest defenders I have coached and has a good basketball knowledge, which helps a lot in lacrosse.
“Coaches were asking her advice at West Chester – how to handle certain defensive situations, so I’m really learning a lot from her.”
The two have different coaching styles that complement each other. They also have some striking similarities.
“We both are very competitive and intense and expect a lot,” Toner said. “It’s been a great thing for both of us.”
SOS.com’s Fab Five
- North Penn (5-0)
- Abington (5-1)
- Pennridge (6-0)
- Central Bucks South (7-1)
- Upper Dublin (4-2)