On the lacrosse field, Matt Donnelly and Frank Pipich have a strong rapport.

As members of Clearview's top attack line, the speedy seniors have a sense for each other sharpened through a friendship that began in first grade.

"I sometimes know what he's going to do even before he does it," Pipich said of Donnelly.

But it's off the field where Donnelly and Pipich have the deepest connection. Each athlete lost his father in 2013 and each has a unique appreciation of the other's difficult circumstance.

"Somebody else can say they understand what you're going through, but they really don't," Pipich said. "He and I have that special bond because we've both been through the same thing."

Donnelly and Pipich are part of a sports program that has been buffeted by bad news in recent years.

Former player Troy Daripino, a 2013 graduate, lost his mother during his senior season. Another former player, 2012 graduate Joe Donnian, lost his father that same year.

And coach Rob Rieck lost both his father and his mother in a five-month span in 2013.

Rieck said the heartache has "110 percent" made the Pioneers into a stronger program, tightening the bonds between the athletes and coaches while also broadening their perspective.

"We understand that life is a bigger battle than lacrosse," Rieck said. "At the same time, these guys love this sport and they love playing with each other.

"When they face adversity, they pull together."

Pipich, a standout football quarterback who plans to play that sport at Salisbury (Md.) State, lost his father, also named Frank Pipich, in April 2013. The elder Pipich died of cancer.

Pipich, an only child, credits "family and friends" with helping him and his mother, Gay Lynn, manage their ordeal.

Donnelly and his mother, Renee, were part of that support group.

"It's not something we talk about a lot because we're guys," Pipich said of himself and Donnelly. "But it's nice to know there's somebody there who understands you and knows what you went through.

"Sometimes, it's just a look."

Donnelly is one of South Jersey's best lacrosse players. He will attend Penn State on a scholarship.

Donnelly lost his father, Tim, in October 2013. Tim Donnelly died from injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

As does Pipich, Donnelly credits family and friends with providing vital support to himself, his mother, and his sister, Megan, who is 20.

Donnelly said Pipich is unique among his friends in his ability to fully comprehend his situation.

"He helped me get through it," Donnelly said. "Our moms are friends, our families are friends. It helps a lot, just having somebody else like that you know understands what you are going through."

The team, which has a 2-0 record and ranks among the top squads in South Jersey, wears black practice jerseys with the initials of the four deceased parents on the back. They have the same four sets of initials on stickers on their helmets.

Both Donnelly and Pipich refer to Clearview boys' lacrosse as a "family" - one touched by tragedy and brought together by appreciation of life's fragility.

"When you share something like this," Donnelly said, "it only makes you closer."

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