Coach of the Year: Chris Keleher, Haddonfield

Haddonfield didn't make a quiet entrance into South Jersey boys' lacrosse.

The Bulldogs burst onto the scene.

In just its second varsity season, Haddonfield went 16-3, captured the Olympic Conference National Division title, and served notice that the program will be a force in the sport for years to come.

Credit the athletes, especially sensational senior midfielder Phil Bhaya and several of his talented young teammates.

Credit Chris Keleher, too.

Keleher, the South Jersey Coach of Year, guided Haddonfield to victories in 13 of its final 14 games. The Bulldogs' only loss after April 9 was in the Group 1 state tournament to longtime state power Mountain Lakes.

"I thought we had a chance to be pretty good," Keleher said. "The only thing I told the parents before the season was that we would play hard every game, and we did that. I knew if we played hard for four quarters, things would work out for this team."

Bhaya, a star quarterback on the football team, led South Jersey in scoring as a lacrosse player with 64 goals. He also had 27 assists and averaged 14 ground balls.

But Haddonfield had just four seniors. Keleher molded a young team that was competing at the junior-varsity level in 2008 into a competitive squad that went 9-1 in Olympic National play and scored a 16-15 overtime victory over a strong Kingsway team.

Keleher, who also has been a head coach at Camden Catholic and Cherry Hill West, specializes in a shifting zone defense that limits opportunities. At the offensive end, Keleher gave his young athletes the freedom to fire at the net, almost at will.

"We set up the offense so we could just go right at teams and get a lot of shots off," Keleher said. "That was our plan. We were definitely not the best-shooting team, so the more shots we got off, the better."

   - Phil Anastasia