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Haverford’s team of stars faces final test

Colin Heffernan is a skilled lacrosse goalie, good enough to have been recruited to play in NCAA Division I next season with Dartmouth.

Haverford School’s Hup Hupfeldt and the Fords will go for a perfect season in the Inter-Ac Invitational. (Lou Rabito/Staff)
Haverford School’s Hup Hupfeldt and the Fords will go for a perfect season in the Inter-Ac Invitational. (Lou Rabito/Staff)Read more

Colin Heffernan is a skilled lacrosse goalie, good enough to have been recruited to play in NCAA Division I next season with Dartmouth.

But he can't crack the starting lineup at Haverford School.

He's far from alone. When Haverford steps on the field for its season finale Wednesday night, eight future Division I players will be on the sidelines, their immense talents temporarily bottled up.

That's what happens when a team has 18 Division I recruits in a sport that has only 10 starting positions.

John Nostrant isn't coaching a mere high school team. He's coaching a high school all-star team.

The Fords are 22-0, they have been No. 1 in ESPN's national high school rankings since preseason, and they can put the finishing touch on an exquisite season by defeating Malvern Prep on Wednesday in the championship game of the first Inter-Ac Invitational.

"It's been fun," said Nostrant, the Fords coach since 1991. "We've tried to let them play, scheme to let our athletes do their thing. These guys have been playing together for a long time. Yeah, it is an all-star team.

"This is the deepest team I've ever had, and I guess it's proven to be the best. We've had some very, very good teams here - 2000, 2005, 2006 - but this is certainly the deepest team that we've had. We've got a lot of guys that aren't getting playing time or significant playing time that would probably start for most programs."

The 18 recruits are about 10 or 12 more than his previous high as coach, said Nostrant, a former player with the Philadelphia Wings. But the number is not unprecedented in lacrosse, he added, naming Georgetown Prep (Washington) and Gilman (Md.) as examples. Georgetown Prep, in fact, has six graduates in this weekend's NCAA Final Four.

Of Haverford's 18 recruits, 12 seniors and six juniors, three are going to Final Four teams: senior attack Carl Walrath and junior midfielder/defenseman Will McNamara (both Virginia) and senior defenseman Goran Murray (Maryland).

Two others - senior midfielder Matt Walters (Syracuse) and senior goalie Conor Kelly (Notre Dame) - will join programs that lost in this year's elite eight.

How did the stars align at Haverford School?

Nostrant credits his coaches and his players' work ethic, both in-season and offseason, and says many of the boys have played together for three years. Some players, he says, have been at the school since kindergarten.

He also recruits, he says, quickly adding that six or seven youngsters chose the school not only for lacrosse but also for its academics.

The two groups have blended well, he says.

"You can X and O all you want. If you don't have any Jimmy and Joes, it doesn't matter what you do. We got plenty of Jimmy and Joes," Nostrant said.

"They get it done, and they understand how to work hard. The most enjoyable part of this season is seeing these guys compete in practice and in games. And I just haven't seen a team as tough as we are."

The practices are intense, added Vince Garman, a senior defenseman headed to High Point (N.C.). Every player, he said, goes hard, knowing the amount of talent on the team and the number of starting positions.

"I started early in the year, and I get some time now, but every day in practice is like an all-star game . . ." Garman said. "Everyone on the roster can play."

Nostrant estimates that in most games, he uses eight or nine midfielders, five or six defenders, five attack players, and one goalie, usually Kelly. That adds up to playing time for 19-21 players.

"We got kids that are going D-I that are not getting a lot of playing time, and they've been great," Nostrant said. "They've worked hard in practice, they're getting some opportunity but not as much opportunity as they would somewhere else, and they've sacrificed their own personal goals for team goals, which has been great. That's the reason why we're 22-0."

Along the way, the Fords have had some close calls in an extremely ambitious schedule. They started the season with a 10-9 victory over St. Paul's (Md.), the preseason No. 3 team according to ESPN, and two games later beat preseason No. 19 McDonogh (Md.), 12-10. In April, at home, they went to overtime to pull out a 9-8 victory over St. Joseph's Prep.

Haverford had a bit of an easier time in games against two other top-five teams in the country. The Fords defeated then-No. 4 Darien (Conn.), 11-5, on April 16 and then-No. 2 Conestoga, 11-6, two weeks later.

On Wednesday (7 p.m. at Cabrini College, televised live by Comcast Network), the Fords can complete Nostrant's first undefeated season as coach. They already have beaten Malvern Prep twice this year, 7-4 and 11-5.

"Probably the best team we've played all year is at practice, against the defense that we have," Walrath said. "It makes your team really good that we have all these good players. But we don't think really about numbers and the D-I talent we have."

"Same goes with the rankings," added Hup Hupfeldt, a senior attack who has committed to Penn. "I personally don't care about rankings until the end of the season. I don't care if we're ranked 50th in the beginning or one. The only ranking that matters is after Wednesday."