They’ve somehow been able to float along pretty much undetected for most of this spring. That’s been just fine with the Springfield boys lacrosse team. They preferred it that way. But you keep on winning and something is bound to happen: People take notice. So when the PIAA District 1 seeding committee met earlier this week, the Cougars’ shadowy existence came to an abrupt end, when they were selected the No. 1 seed in the district tournament.
Southeastern Pennsylvania is a highly noted basketball hotbed throughout the state, and right up there is boys and girls lacrosse. So any team selected as the No. 1 seed in District 1 better be prepared for the caveat that comes with it — as the target now of every team in the state. The PIAA sanctioned its first state-wide lacrosse state championship last year, and it’s no wonder three of the final four boys teams came from Southeastern Pennsylvania (state champion La Salle, state runner-up Conestoga and state semifinalist Springfield). What came as a surprise this season is that the Cougars have surpassed everyone’s expectations, even their own.
Springfield is 16-1 and finished 11-0 in the tough Central League, which features Conestoga. The Cougars are undefeated against Pennsylvania opponents this season, their one loss coming against St Anne's-Belfield of Virginia back in early April. Their string of 14 straight victories includes wins over last year’s two state finalists, La Salle and Conestoga.
Springfield has done it with experience (12 seniors on the roster), tenacity and defense (surrendering an unbelievably low 3.7 goals a game), and an ability to burrow through adversity and pressure (beating Conestoga in overtime and St. Joseph’s Prep in double-overtime). No, the Cougars aren’t a secret anymore. Do they seem to mind that?
"We weren’t getting recognized in the beginning of the year, and we have Conestoga, La Salle and Haverford School in the area," said Cougars senior defender Joe Addona, who’s headed to St. John’s on a lacrosse scholarship. "We know now we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, being the No. 1 seed. I mean, you have Army beating Syracuse in the NCAA tournament and Syracuse was the No. 1 seed. We’re not trying to have that happen to us.
"We’ve taken people’s best punches. We were tied with Radnor and Conestoga going into the second half, and we know how to take that first punch and push back in the second half. We all have varsity experience and we’ve all been waiting for this — and we have Austin [Kaut] in the net. We definitely think we could do this. We’ve beaten every great team we’ve faced so far. There is no sneaking around anymore. Everyone knows about us now."
Kaut was the Central League MVP — and his raging dirty-blonde mane has his teammates calling him "The Dog," because it makes him look like a shaggy dog. Kaut, who’s headed to Penn State on a lacrosse scholarship, says there is some pressure involved with being No. 1. But the pressure may be on opponents who have to score on Kaut, who’s been a great wall for the Cougars this season. And "The Dog" is ready for a dogfight.
"I look forward to this time of year; everyone looks forward to the playoffs," said Kaut, who’s usually a crewcut guy. "Our first goal is to win the district title, and we’ll go from there. The hair will continue to grow as long as we keep winning. The hair has a deeper meaning, because my grandmother died of cancer, and she loved my hair. I grew it out just for her and my mother. But it is getting a little outrageous now. I might have to think about cutting it."
Kaut may have to put a hold on the hair for possibly another three weeks — when the PIAA state championship takes place at Hershey Park Stadium on June 12.
A Radnor repeat?
Whereas the Springfield’s boys flew under the radar, the same can’t exactly be said about the Radnor girls. The defending PIAA state champions are 17-1 and once again hold the top spot in District 1 as the tournament begins this week.
But that lofty seeding didn’t come without a few bumpy spots — namely a 9-8 loss to last year’s state runner-up Strath Haven, and a remarkable 8-7 comeback victory (after trailing 6-1) to conclude the regular season against Central League nemesis Springfield, which beat the Red Raiders in last year’s district championship.
"The playoffs will not be easy," warned Kelyn Freedman, Radnor’s top scorer who’s headed to Georgetown in the fall on a lacrosse scholarship. "We’re going to need to get more scoring, and I think we can get that. The other thing is we can’t make the same mistakes and play the same way we did against Springfield in our last game. We do that and we’re going to be in trouble. What I liked, however, was how we responded when we were down."
If the seeding holds and things go the way they’re expected, Radnor will have another shot at Strath Haven, District 1’s No. 4, in the district semifinals and a possible rematch with Springfield, the tournament’s No. 3 seed, in the district championship.
Joseph Santoliquito covers high schools for the Philadelphia Daily News and is a contributor to MaxPreps.com. He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.