HERSHEY - They lined up one last time at the goal line, the seniors shaking hands with their underclassmen teammates, and the underclassmen trying not to look up too often at the teary eyes of the departing seniors. This goodbye line had a much different tone than the line La Salle lacrosse coach Bill Leahy had his team form last year.
This line came after a loss, on Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium, when the Explorers fell to Conestoga, 10-6, in a replay of last year's state championship game.
While there wasn't much to be pleased about after the game, there were many positives the Explorers could glean from a highly improbable journey to Hershey.
For one, La Salle could wind up playing for the state championship again next year with what will be a senior-laden team. Another positive is that, in some respects, the Explorers shouldn't have even reached the title game.
The Explorers were rebuilding this season after losing 13 seniors, who wound up at Division I schools and included seven All-Americans, from 2009's state championship team. When it came to state-title contenders, La Salle was an unknown at the start of the year.
"We really didn't know what to expect," Leahy said. "It's why doing what these kids did this year is so impressive. No one expected us to get back here, no one. It's why I'm so proud of this team. It takes a lot of hard work to get back to this point, and we did it. Conestoga is an excellent team over there. We fought back."
The Pioneers (22-2) entered the season on a mission to get back to the state championship after losing to La Salle, 7-3, in last year's title game.
In fact, the Conestoga players who are now seniors were so focused on getting back that they had a meeting right after they got off the team bus last June from Hershey.
"That's what we did, as soon as we got off that bus from the state title game, all the juniors came together and talked about getting back to the state title game and winning it," said Conestoga's Michigan-bound senior Jeff Chu, who scored four goals on Saturday. "La Salle is a very good team. We knew we would be in for a close game, but the seniors on this team remembered what last year was like."
For the first quarter of the game, it looked like déjà vu all over again. Conestoga came out strong, as the Pioneers did last year, scoring the first two goals. La Salle responded by scoring the next three, rebounding as they did last year.
"Things were starting to take off and it did start to look a lot like how we came back last year," said Explorers junior Kevin Forster, who's already committed to Maryland. "But it didn't."
No, it didn't.
Conestoga scored the next seven goals and took over the game, but had to absorb one more Explorers rally - a pair of goals from senior Christian Cardinal and a goal from junior Nick Cruice.
"There is a lot to look forward to next year, but it was rough shaking [the seniors'] hands and saying goodbye to them," Forster said. "We just didn't step up when we needed to, and didn't score when we had to."
E-mail Joseph Santoliquito at firstname.lastname@example.org.