'Culture and expectations'
Eric Jackson, the head coach of the Avon Grove High School lacrosse team, stood on the sidelines of the PIAA Class 3A championship game at West Chester East's Zimmerman Stadium on June 10, watching his players battle Conestoga into double overtime.
Goals by Scooter Whiteside, Doug Jones and two goals by Brendan Harman had ignited the Red Devil scoring, while goalie Kevin Malone was turning in a spectacular performance, holding the Pioneers to one goal in the first half. With Avon Grove ahead 4-3 with just seconds remaining, Jackson began to taste what would become the school's first lacrosse championship, which had eluded them from the time he introduced the lacrosse program to the school in 2001.
Yet, with 1.3 seconds left in regulation, the Pioneers' attack Henry Berg pushed one past Malone to send the game into overtime. If there was something deja-vu about this, it was because Avon Grove reached the 2014 state finals before falling to Penncrest, and the bitterness of the defeat still burned in the memory of the current seniors who were then freshmen on that team.
Just as the second overtime got underway, Jackson met with his players.
“We called a time-out and set up a play that didn't work out,” he said. “So then we just went into our basic offense, and Scooter passed to Brendan, who then found Zach Augustine.”
In a play that will live in Avon Grove lacrosse forever, sophomore attacker Augustine fired a shot past Conestoga goalie Scott Macmillian to give the Red Devils their first PIAA State Lacrosse Championship, and the first ever by a Ches-Mont School.
Augustine's goal was the culmination of a 23-2 season that began early this spring, when Jackson and his assistant coaches Dan Deckelbaum and Brian Wallace looked at their roster and saw a depth of experience, maturity and dedication.
“We've had talented teams in the past seasons, and its been really special to coach at Avon Grove and see all of these players grow up,” he said. “We've had great youth programs, great coaches and a huge commitment from parents. It's what has built our program and what has enabled us to continue to compete at a highest level, but as we began this season, we had great leaders, we played together as a team, and this group really learned from their past teammates how to carry themselves on the field.”
After an early-season loss against Spring-Ford, the team rattled off a 17-game winning streak, highlighted by a 16-3 defeat of Sun Valley, an 11-1 victory over Bayard Rustin and 10-9 nail-biting win over Central Bucks East.
“Co-captains Brayden Peck and Doug Jones were great on and off the field,” Jackson said. “They were hurt for the majority of the season and yet here they were, two of the best players in the state, still being team leaders on the sidelines. That kind of leadership speaks volumes.”
Jackson also gave credit to his entire roster.
“We have talented guys up and down the roster who may not have gotten playing time in a lot of games, but they pushed the starters in practice, and it was those practices that prepared us for those stronger teams,” he said. “We're very fortunate that these players understand their roles, because they're just as essential as our starters.”
Ten Avon Grove players played their last high school lacrosse game on June 10. In the fall, Peck and Muller are going to Penn State; Jones is headed to the the United States Military Academy at West Point; Malone is attending Catholic University; Harman is headed to James Madison and Jared Wilson is going to Delaware Valley. However, the 2018 squad will see a dozen underclassmen returning – the newest rung in a long chain that traces its roots and strength to not just the talent of its players, but also the community itself.
Jackson said it is about 'culture and expectations.”
“We have something special going on here – beginning with the parents, who are willing to drive their kids a great distance to the best club teams in the Philadelphia area. We have superb youth programs, including the Avon Grove Wildcats lacrosse program, and we also offer clinics throughout the year.
“Our mission here is to get everyone on the same pages in terms of our goals and expectations. It's a lot easier to coach players who have developed the fundamentals and skills needed to play at a high level here. We often talk about the original origins of the sport of lacrosse, which was to bring the community together.
“We have that at Avon Grove.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.