To hear Brandon Gibson describe it, the award could have gone to any member of his defense.
And it’s true that great defense requires team effort.
But Gibson — this year’s Inquirer player of the year in South Jersey boys’ lacrosse — deserves credit for his role in leading the St. Augustine defense, in rallying it and in fostering remarkable consistency against one of the state’s toughest schedules.
“You’re not going to get much better than Brandon,” Hermits coach JC Valore said of Gibson, an Army recruit.
Valore credited Gibson’s Army mentality as a key to his infectious, disciplined approach to the sport.
“That mentality doesn’t just exist on the field. It’s something he brings to the table in everything he does,” Valore said. “He’s an ambassador for the school. He works in admissions. And, really, he’s just a mentor for a lot of the younger guys — whether they’re lacrosse players or not.”
On the field, Gibson was an athletic, tenacious long-stick midfielder who led a defense that allowed less than five goals per game against an independent schedule that featured some of the state’s top teams.
The Hermits allowed double digits in scoring just once — a 16-7 loss to national power Malvern Prep of Pennsylvania.
In the end, this was one of the most successful seasons in recent years for the Hermits.
St. Augustine finished 14-4 and did not lose to a New Jersey team until a 9-6 defeat to Delbarton in the Non-Public A semifinals.
Delbarton, of course, is perennially one of the state’s dominant teams and advanced to the Tournament of Champions final this year. The Hermits played Delbarton tough enough to raise some eyebrows around the state, legitimately showing themselves as one of the state’s top teams.
“It was a great season all around,” Gibson said. “The goal was a state championship and even though we fell short of that goal, we did meet other goals on and off the field. We strive to build a team that supports you and respects you and we, as a group, decided that we were going to fight to the end, and we did that. And we accomplished some major goals along the way.”
Gibson was aided on defense by the stellar play of junior goalie Joey Serafine and the emergence of Steve Dellemonache and Nicky Casano in the faceoff circle.
His cocaptain and fellow Army recruit Mitch McEntee played close defense and was instrumental in shutting down some of the region’s top scorers.
And the Hermits benefited from first-year defensive coach Bryce Young, a 2014 St. Augustine grad who went on to win an NCAA title with Maryland.
“We worked hard every day, hours and hours of footwork before practice, and as a group, we did well,” Gibson said. “It was a matter of trust and close relationships, and we had that.”
The Hermits rolled through the early part of their schedule, which was loaded with South Jersey’s best programs.
One of St. Augustine’s biggest wins was its first game of the season when it beat Moorestown, 5-3. Moorestown went on to win the Group 3 state championship.
Valore looks at that game as one of this defense’s biggest statements of the season.
“Until we figured it out offensively, that kind of leadership on defense was so important,” Valore said. “I think Brandon helped carry us through some of those storms. … And then when you start to click offensively, it really came together on both sides of the ball.”
For Gibson, signature wins like Moorestown, Lenape, St. Joseph Metuchen, Pingry, and Ocean City were proof that his team could hang with any team in the state.