After splitting time with an older goalie for several seasons, SCH senior Matt Eckles will be the Blue Devils’ full-time keeper this spring. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

After splitting time with an older goalie for several seasons, SCH senior Matt Eckles will be the Blue Devils’ full-time keeper this spring. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Schools like Springside Chestnut Hill Academy which chose to install artificial turf on some of their outdoor playing fields saw that decision pay off yet again last week. While a rapid snow-melt had made grass fields unplayable, the Blue Devils were able to proceed with their plans, including last Wednesday’s game-situation scrimmage in boys’ lacrosse with visiting Archbishop Ryan High School.

Players and fans enjoyed the sunny, 60-degree day, with high ridges of snow a few yards behind the team benches serving as a reminder that the weather conditions had been very different less than a week before.

Near the end of the second quarter, the visiting Raiders were still hanging close to their hosts, trailing 5-3. However, the Devils scored once more before the halftime interlude, and a few minutes into the third period they stepped up their offense and rolled to a 16-4 tally at the end of the practice game.

Despite the convincing second-half surge by the Blue Devils, head coach Mike DelGrande felt his squad had played better four days earlier in their first scrimmage of the new season.

“We played well on Saturday, but today we came out flat and we didn’t play with that sense of urgency and the energy that we’re going to need in order to compete in our league. We didn’t really start to pick it up until midway through the third quarter. We have players who can score, but our attack and middies need to be more aggressive with the ball.”

A total of 11 players, including some headed for Division I college programs, graduated from last year’s SCH squad.

“Although we lost a lot of guys who were big for us over the last few years, we definitely have talent within this group here,” DelGrande pointed out. “We started a little slow out here today, but overall I like what I’ve seen over the past few weeks.”

Three members of the current senior class have their college choices locked in. Goalie Matt Eckles and midfielder Nick Lawlor have signed with the University of Vermont and St. John’s, respectively, and middie James Oeth will play at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NCAA Div. III).

For the past several seasons, Eckles has split time in the goal cage with Xander Pacilio.

With Pacilio now in the nets at Ohio Wesleyan University, Coach DelGrande stated “It’s all Matt this year. We do have a young goalie, Bernard Popky. He’s a freshman and he’s not ready for varsity just yet, but he’s with us every day so he will be ready soon.”

Among the other promising young prospects are defenseman Jordan Young and second-line middie C.J. Sweitzer, both freshman and both new students at Springside Chestnut Hill this year.

A ninth-grader who came up though the Devils’ middle school lacrosse program, Michael McLaughlin, has performed impressively so far, and has earned a spot on the first midfield line, along with senior Chris Caldwell (a Norwood Fontbonne Academy grad) and sophomore Jack Lamb.

The group of primary attackers for SCH will include senior Michael Bown and sophomores Brendan Clark and Zach Messerle.

The last Inter-Ac League school to start a boys’ lacrosse program, SCH is still trying to get on solid footing within this very challenging conference. In 2013, the Blue Devils broke through to record their first victories against league opponents, topping Germantown Academy and Penn Charter to split in the home/away series against those schools. Last spring, though, the Devils finished up without a win in the league, losing to PC by one goal the second time the teams played.

“We struggled,” admitted Delgrande. “We need to play really solid defense to be competitive in the league. We had some good individual defenders last year, but I don’t think that we played the best team defense that we could’ve. This year, that’s been a major goal for us from day one.”

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