Large senior class carries boys lacrosse to county finals and state semifinals

After back-to-back losses against Princeton Day School and Westfield High School, the PHS lacrosse team defeated Wayne Hills High School in the first round of states, and later upset the higher-seeded Northern Highlands Regional High School 3–2 to advance into the North Division Group 3 semifinals. The Little Tigers faced consecutive losses at the Mercer County Tournament finals, where they ultimately failed to come back from a 6–1 deficit. The team rebounded from the defeats, and recent triumphs have been attributed to their mental strength, especially coming from their senior class.

“We’re just really pleased with the level of grit that [the seniors have] shown. We had some tough losses early in the season, and [we had] a stretch where we lost games consecutively. There were points when they could’ve been disappointed,” said Assistant Coach Peter Stanton. “Especially after the county championships. They then played their best game of the year two days later in a rain storm. That’s typical of their never-give-up attitude.”

That “best game of the year” was a one-goal loss in overtime against Westfield High School, the 17th ranked team in the state. Despite a loss, attacker Eamonn McDonald ’17 described that game as a huge turning point for their season, because the game’s closeness bolstered the team’s confidence against other highly-touted teams coming into the state tournament.

The 14-strong, current senior class developed into leaders last year, when the team only had two seniors. The rising seniors took on the leadership roles expected at the end of last season to prepare them for this year, according to McDonald.

Their contribution has extended off the field this season, with the seniors serving as role models and conductors during team practices.

“If [we, the seniors, are] working hard, the whole team’s working hard. In practices when we have younger kids and underclassmen working with us, we will definitely try to keep the tempo high and work hard,” McDonald said.

“[The seniors] basically taught the younger kids how to prepare for upcoming matches and have given them the right mindset,” Stanton said.

The team and coaches have attributed their recent victory against Northern Highlands High School, ranked 16th in the state, as a testament to their strong zone defense. A zone defense is when each player guards an area of the field, rather than a specific player. In lacrosse, a man-to-man defense is far more common — giving the Little Tigers a unique edge. A zone defense requires crucial coordination between players to execute, which the Little Tigers pulled off to lockdown their opponents for the final 15 minutes of the game.

“Our defense and our goalies worked really well together, especially in the Northern Highlands game. All seven guys had to communicate and work as one unit, so the communication and individual talent made them a successful unit,” Stanton said.

The team fell 5–6 to Roxbury High School, ending both their state-tournament run and their season.

“It was a tough loss to end our season on, but I’m proud of what our team and what the seniors have accomplished this year. They had a lot of responsibility, but they really stepped up,” said Head Coach Chip Casto.

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