Kelyn Freedman refused to take off her facemask. As soon as the District 1 runner-up medal was placed around her neck, the Radnor junior quickly took it off. She didn't even look at it. Freedman ground her lacrosse stick into the turf, her eyes batting back tears.
The Georgetown-bound midfielder wasn't about to accept the fact that Radnor's 44-game, 2-year winning streak came to a screeching halt May 21, losing to Springfield (Delco) in the District 1 title game, 14-9. That was it. Freedman wasn't about to allow any more impediments to the Red Raiders winning the first-ever PIAA girls' state lacrosse championship.
Freedman and her teammates, buoyed by a jolt of losing, have bulled their way to the situation they expected to be in - playing for the state title. Central League rival Strath Haven (21-4) will be standing in Radnor's way when the teams meet in the PIAA title game at noon tomorrow at HersheyPark Stadium.
The boys' state title game also pits two familiar foes, as District 1 champion and nationally ranked Conestoga (24-1) faces District 12 champion and nationally ranked La Salle (20-4) in the second game, at 2 p.m.
Freedman (76 goals, 77 assists) enters the game looking for more than second place this time. The Red Raiders (24-1) have been carrying around the loss to Springfield for 2 weeks now as if it were in a magic potion in a test tube.
"That loss proved that we're not perfect and we can lose," Freedman said. "It was frustrating, because we knew we could have played a lot better than we did. When I got that district medal, I took it off because I wasn't proud to wear it. It wasn't the medal I wanted. I'm also a little mad we don't get to play Springfield again. We wanted them again. They deserved to win. But we got here, they didn't. We believe we are the best team in the state when we play our game."
After the Springfield loss, the Radnor team gathered for a players-only meeting Memorial Day evening. They discussed moving forward from the district final loss, and what had to be addressed to win the state title - a trophy many thought they were destined for before the season started.
"There was a lot of crying on the bus coming back from the district championship," said Radnor senior Sam Ellis, who is bound for Princeton. "We went through it. No one wants to go through that again. To me, we have to prove who we are, and that's the best team in the state. I won't lie, we all wanted to face Springfield again. But we're expecting a fight from Strath Haven."
Strath Haven coach Margie Garrity actually likes the underdog role. "It's historically what we are," Garrity said. "Radnor is consistently among the best. We know what we're up against. We're always the underdogs. It's a position we don't even think about, because that's just what we are. But we talked about going to the state championship since October, during our first meeting."
And when the Strath Haven attack is on, Garrity noted, it's dangerous. The Panthers have the kind of quick-strike ability that can compensate for any deficit. It also helps having a star like Emily Garrity, Margie's daughter, on attack. The 5-3 North Carolina-bound senior has scored 110 goals this season and a school-record 400 during her career.
Conestoga and La Salle seemed to be on a collision course for the state championship since they met back on March 21, in the season-opening game for both teams. The Pioneers won, 6-3, using a physical style.
"Beating them to start the season was a huge win for us and it really got us going," Conestoga coach Brian Samson said. "I have no problems saying we're the best teams in the state who both deserve to be here. But my biggest concern is that I want to be in the battle, either down by four or up by four with 4 minutes to play. I want be in a position to where we have a shot at winning in the end."
La Salle, meanwhile, is looking for some history as the last team to win the Keystone Cup and the first to win the boys' PIAA state championship.
"It would be a perfect way to go out as a senior," said La Salle's Randy Forster, who is headed to Penn State for lacrosse. "They took it to us physically and we may have looked past them a little the first game, but that's not an excuse at all. We deserved that to happen to us against a team like that. But if it gets physical, we're a team that fights back." *