It's very rare that the combination comes together: a special group of seniors, a legendary, old-school coach, a strong supporting underclass and a collective determination that rules out any thought of losing.
The Radnor girls' lacrosse team has melded all of that together this season. The Red Raiders are 22-0, after beating Boyertown in the PIAA District 1 Class AAA semifinals Saturday, and are nationally ranked, considered one of the best teams in the country.
It's one of those rare teams, those high school teams for the ages that people tend to remember. The Red Raiders have steamrolled over almost everyone this season, winning by an average of eight goals a game. They trailed in the second half only once (to Springfield in a 13-12 Radnor victory on April 29). Their unselfishness is manifested in all seven attack players having scored 40 goals or more.
Radnor will face Bayard Rustin in the District 1 championship at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Marple Newtown High. The game also carries the additional tag of "unofficial" state championship, since the PIAA will not begin statewide playoffs in girls' lacrosse until next season.
But there's no doubt which team is the best in the state this year . . . Radnor.
"They're the best high school team I've ever seen, and I've been involved in the game for over 20 years," said Boyertown coach Pam Wernerbash after the Red Raiders ended her team's season with an 18-7 victory on Saturday. "Radnor is by far the best I've seen this season. I think what makes them so good is that from top to bottom, there's not a weakness. They're so balanced, there's not one player you can single out to shut down. Someone is always going to get you on their team."
Add in the lengthy experience of Phyllis Kilgour, who has been coaching Radnor since the early 1980s, and it makes these Red Raiders something special, even to her.
"In close to 30 years of coaching here, they're the best I've ever coached," Kilgour said. "There's no doubt about that. It's a group that has sheer athleticism, no weakness anywhere on the field, and what tops it off is how unselfish they play. They're so trusting of one another that we have seven players with 40 goals or more. The chemistry is beautiful. It's been so beautiful, I don't want this season to end."
Kilgour noted that the addition of assistant coach Brooke Fritz has been a plus, working with the defense and goalies.
What's served as a strong motivational source is the memory of being upset by Ridley in the opening round of the district playoffs last year.
"There wasn't as much chemistry last year as we have this year," said senior Kelly Barnes, bound for Georgetown and one of the Red Raiders' co-captains, with senior midfielder Beth Ellis. "We were definitely angry about last year. Because of that, I don't think anyone on our team knows any of their own stats, but I think we all know we're 22-0. This is the most selfless team I've ever played on, with every single player on the field. I think that has a lot to do with our success. I've been playing with the seniors on this team since we were in third or fourth grade, and we're all close to the underclassmen."
Kilgour doesn't want the season to end, and neither do her seniors. But they do have one more hurdle to climb, against a good Rustin team tomorrow night.
"We've accomplished so much this year, reaching the goal of winning the Central League, which we haven't won since 2003, and then getting to the 'state' title game," said Ellis, who is bound for North Carolina. "It would be a huge loss, to lose in the last game. Sure, we look at it as an honor and privilege just to make it this far. But to tell you the truth, we don't even think about losing. I don't think anyone on this team can imagine what it's like to lose." *