The bleachers had long been vacated. Players and coaches from the visiting Haverford School already had jumped into their cars or onto the team bus for a happy ride home. Even most of the Malvern Prep players had hit the showers after a deflating, 9-4 defeat by the Fords last Tuesday.

Team captains Jack Sheridan and Eddie Morris remained. They sat on a sideline bench with glazed looks, still wearing their uniforms and pads, seemingly searching for answers. Malvern coach David Metzbower did his best to provide them, reviewing with two of his top seniors what had gone wrong.

It's been a turbulent first half of the season for the Malvern Prep lacrosse team, which began the year highly ranked but has yet to push its record above .500.

It's true that the Friars (4-6 overall, 3-2 Inter-Ac League) have played a challenging schedule, which has included losses to five nationally ranked opponents - including league rivals Haverford and Episcopal Academy, and nearby Conestoga. But the Friars began the season ranked No. 12 in the nation by ESPNHS. Despite a mediocre record, Malvern remained among the nation's top 50 until last week, when it dropped from the rankings for the first time this year.

Malvern has suffered primarily from a lack of offense. After graduating several key attackmen and midfielders, including faceoff man Drew Kennedy, now playing at Johns Hopkins, the team has struggled to produce, scoring double-digit goals just twice, and being held to six or fewer goals seven times.

"Realistically, we returned a lot of guys, but we also lost a lot of guys last year," Metzbower said. "Everybody seems to forget how much we lost, especially on the offensive side."

Where Malvern's strength lies is in its defense, which boasts eight Division I recruits, and a junior goalie, Matt Barrett, who has committed to play at Virginia. The Friars have been strong in holding opponents to just 6.1 goals a game. But to hear Sheridan and Morris tell it, the unit is lacking in one key area: teamwork.

"We need to play more for each other and with each other," said Sheridan, a Notre Dame recruit. "I think too many people are trying to put too much of the burden on themselves. I think we're learning how to play as a team."

"There's a lot of things we need to sharpen. We're just not together as a team right now," added Morris, who has committed to Johns Hopkins. ". . . I'd like us to be a little tougher. We let guys run through the crease sometimes without touching them. We're good defensemen on-ball, but our off-ball defense needs to improve."

Malvern snapped a four-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over a solid Germantown Academy team on Thursday. Four league games remain, including a rematch with its greatest rival, Haverford, on May 5.

"We're fighting to get these kids under control and understand that it's more of a team game instead of a bunch of individual games," Metzbower said.

Game of the week

In the most highly anticipated local game of the year, nationally ranked Conestoga (9-2) and Haverford School (12-1) will clash Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Radnor as part of the 12th annual Katie Samson Lacrosse Festival. Samson is a former lacrosse goalie and 1998 Radnor graduate who was attending Middlebury College when she suffered a spinal-cord injury while sledding. She now plays wheelchair rugby and tennis.

Conestoga is ranked sixth in the nation by ESPNHS, and held the No. 1 ranking for a week earlier this year. No. 3 Haverford beat Conestoga in the event last year.