BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – While we may be on the down side of the so-called ‘lacrosse boom’ in central Pennsylvania, the popularity and development of the sport here in traditional Lebanon County seems to be lagging on behind. When it comes to lacrosse’s learning curve, locally we’re still heading around the bend.
The same can be said of the evolution of the Palmyra and Cedar Crest boys’ lacrosse programs. Given their four-year head start, the Cougars are still ahead of the Falcons on the sports’ learning curve.
On Saturday morning at In The Net Sports Complex, Lebanon County’s only boys’ scholastic lacrosse teams faced off against one another, and the outcome fell in favor of more-established Palmyra, 9-2. The Cougars’ superior skills, team work and strategy was apparent throughout the match – even to the casual or novice on-looker.
Palmyra, which is in its ninth year of existence and its fifth year of playing at the varsity level, evened its overall record at 6-6 with the non-league decision. Cedar Crest, which founded its program five years ago and is in its second season of being sponsored by the the school, fell to 2-7.
“When trying to describe it, everyone goes to hockey. Lacrosse is like hockey, but in the air,” said Palmyra head coach Jeff Gatano. “It’s kind of a combination of a lot of sports. They’re (officials) taking the physical aspects out of it because of concussions. Anything border-line, they’re going to call. But the higher up (in level of play) you go, the less physical it gets.”
“It’s a no-recruit sport. We don’t beg kids to come out,” said Cedar Crest head coach Brian Powers, whose roster includes 55 players. “It’s fast-paced. It’s easier than football. Football is a grind. It’s work. This, a lot of times, is more play, even though a lot of work still goes into it. Kids today, they like things moving, they like things changing.
“As far as the county goes, our numbers are growing,” Powers added. “More kids come out because the skill levels aren’t really different. I’ll be interested to see how things change for us in the next few years. In ten years, I expect Cedar Crest to be a lot better. There’s a lot of factors, but getting them out is number one.”
Originated by Native Americans, lacrosse is played on a surface similar to the size of a football field, by ten players aside – three attack, three midfielders, three defenders and a goalie. Each player is armed with a long stick that possesses a netted scoop on the end of it, and the object of the game is to pass and shoot a tennis-sized ball into a relatively small net.
Featuring multiple substitutions, it is a fast-moving physical game played in four 12-minute periods.
“It’s a hybrid,” said Powers of lacrosse. “It’s like four or five different sports. A lot of hockey. A lot of basketball. Some football. Some soccer concepts. You’ve got to be a versatile athlete. You’ve got to run. You’ve got to have skills. If you don’t have the skill level, you’re starting short-handed.”
“There’s still a lot of schools that don’t have it,” said Gatano, whose roster includes 32 boys. “It’s tough for smaller schools, because there’s not enough athletes to go around. There’s kids on the baseball and track teams I’d love to get my hands on. But it can dilute a school’s talent pool.
“Financially, it’s tough to fund,” added Gatano. “The initial investment is high, but maintaining it is not so bad. I’ve been involved with the program for nine years, so I’ve been around from the beginning. We’re pleased with the progress. Last year we were 6-12, but the year before we went 11-7.”
“We played very well, especially on defense,” said Gatano. “They’re (the Falcons) a newer team. I expected to come in and win. But I knew they’d (the Falcons) be tough. With their numbers, I thought they’d keep up.
“They (the Falcons) went one-on-one a lot,” continued Gatano. “That doesn’t work at this level. Having one good player isn’t enough.”
“We didn’t play real well in the first half,” said Powers. “Getting off the bus, we didn’t look like we were ready to play. In the scond half, it was 2-2. I definitely saw improvement in the second half. We got under their (the Cougars’) hands and didn’t allow them to light up our net.
“They’ve (the Cougars) had a program longer than us,” Powers continued. “It seems like their kids are starting earlier than our’s, and it showed. The more you do something, the better you’re going to get at it. It’s a factor. We’re going to work on getting better, but some of it is experience.”
Palmyra was led by Evan Downey, one of the premiere scorers in the area who netted two goals and collected three assists. Jon Bernhard tallied three goals for the Cougars, while teammates Joey Hess and Colin Fulmer each collected a pair.
Palmyra’s Matt Mailander was credited with a couple of assists, while Cougar netminder T.J. Cole was stellar in the goal.
“He did very well,” said Gatano of Cole. “The only goal he allowed was when we were two men down. He didn’t allow any even-strength goals.
“Given our competitive nature, we expect to win and do better than we are,” said Powers. “It’s not there yet. We wanted to be futher ahead than we are now. What we look for is effort, and have we improved. In ten games, I felt like we have.”