Now, if you are like many sports prognosticators, it’s official: You are wrong.
That’s after the Seahawks jumped all over Howard High School in the Maryland 4A state final at UMBC on May 20 and never looked back en route to a 9-6 victory and the program’s third state championship.
“I think everyone around here can tell you it feels good,” said Seahawks coach Paul Noone
, whose Seahawks rode a well-balanced attack and a ferocious defensive performance against Howard to capture the title. “A lot better than last year…These young kids played their butts off. They did a great job.”
Playing in its fourth consecutive state final, South River (17-2) received scores from eight different players to fully rebound from last season’s title-game defeat to Westminster and put the program back on top for the third time since 2009.
The Seahawks had their work cut out for them against the Lions of Howard (18-1), who entered the title game undefeated and had the one possible kryptonite to South River’s vaunted defense in faceoff specialist John Travisano
, a Notre Dame-bound middie who matched his 83% season faceoff percentage by taking 15 of 18 against the Seahawks.
South River, however, did as it has done all season by relying on defense. The Seahawks’ aggressive corps of long sticks and middies hounded Howard’s normally potent attack, forcing 14 live-ball turnovers to offset the faceoff imbalance.
“Our defense is just as stout as can be, and it generates good offense, and that’s all we wanted them to do,” said Noone. “Just shut these guys down, give us a chance, and we’ll make the best of our opportunities, and we played well.”
Wearing throwback white mesh jerseys, the Seahawks wasted little time asserting control of the game, getting a goal by Grant Maloof
, another by Brandon Senft
assisted by Maloof and a third by Dylan Mansur
to take a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
The defense rattled Howard early, and the Lions did not register a shot until the final minute of the first quarter, though they closed the period with two quick scores by Scott Bruner
to draw within 3-2.
Mansur found a cutting Andrew Thomas
for a quick score to open the second, and after Howard responded with a goal, South River defenseman Nate Chisolm
sparked the offense by scooping a loose ball, bursting out onto the break and scoring from 15 yards—while receiving a massive body check by a Howard defenseman—to give South River a 5-3 halftime lead.
The sides battled through a scoreless third quarter in which the South River defensive corps of Chisolm, Craig Chick
, Billy O’Hara
, Brian Kraus
, Hugh McMullen
, middies Thomas, Riley Ford
and Matt Egley
and goalkeeper Charlie Palandati
, who finished with five saves, continued to frustrate Howard’s attack with lock-down defense.
With a man-up minute to start the fourth quarter, South River capitalized with a score by Cole Fanzo
, assisted by Gunnar Schimolar
. Mansur’s second score was followed by a goal from Egley, assisted by Maloof, and South River stretched to its largest lead at 8-3 with seven minutes to play.
A pair of last-gasp goals drew the Lions to within 8-5 with 3:44 to play, but a goal by Mike Ward
with 2:18 left all but put the game out of reach. Howard scored with under two minutes to play, but South River fittingly regained possession with a defensive stand, held its 9-6 lead and wound down the clock to seal the win and reclaim the state championship.
With the victory, South River is 71-10 since the beginning of the 2011 season with four appearances in the state final and two championships.
Chick said the Seahawks’ defense has forged a trust that has taken its collective talents to new heights.
“Chemistry,” Chick said, asked what has made the Seahawk defense so consistently strong this season. “We play hard and fast and physical, because we rely on [each other]. We know that if we get beat or we miss a check, we’ve got someone, they’ve got our backs. It’s fun.”
Mansur felt all along that the bar was set at a state title, regardless of what the team looked like on paper following the graduation of so many key players last spring.
“Expectations coming in, they’re always high,” said Mansur. “We knew going into the season what we had to accomplish…We always wanted to get back [to the championship game] as soon as we lost [last year]. It was a really tough loss to take, and come March 1st again, we just really wanted to get out there again.”
Noone believes his squad never felt pressure to perform; they simply love playing the game.
“Clearly I don’t think these kids recognized any pressure whatsoever,” said Noone. “To me there was none. They just came out and played. They respond. We expect a lot of that from these guys, and nine times out of ten we get it, and that’s all we ask for.”
Noone added that the players’ uniformly strong work ethic has been passed down from class to class in recent seasons, and this year’s team did its part to fortify the culture of lacrosse at South River.
“You’ve got to play hard, and these kids are solid as a rock, as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “[The seniors] stuck in there, they hung in, they pushed the other guys and the young guys in front of them…We’ve got good kids, and they know what our expectations are. They show up March 1st, and if you can’t hack it, get out; they know what it is. And look, they’re right here. I’m proud of them, I’m really proud of them.”
View a photo gallery of the Seahawks in action in the state final.
If you are like many sports prognosticators in Anne Arundel County and throughout Maryland, you foretold that South River’s 2013 state-finalist boys lacrosse team would be the last hurrah of a great three-year run, that its 15 seniors would graduate, and that the youthful 2014 Seahawks would be overmatched in their quest to sustain the championship-caliber lacrosse that fans have grown accustomed to seeing emanate from the school’s Edgewater campus.