Upper St. Clair enjoying success in lacrosse

Published May 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm (Updated May 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm)

Upper St. Clair puts its undefeated record on the line when it visits Mt. Lebanon at 7:30 p.m. May 7 in the battle for supremacy in Section 1 of the WPIAL’s Division I for boys’ lacrosse.

Though both teams have qualified for the playoffs, which start with tiebreaker pigtail action May 12 and quarterfinal play May 14 and 15, the Blue Devils are the reigning champions. In fact, since the sport joined the WPIAL in 2009, Lebo has captured three of the past five titles.

USC won a lacrosse championship in 2005 when the Panthers participated in the Western Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association. Assistant coaches Mike Sciulli and Gordon Lloyd played on that club.

Meanwhile, Brian Yates, who guided Seton-La Salle to its first WPIAL title (Division II) last spring, directs the 2014 Panthers. The Upper St. Clair resident, who played high school lacrosse in Baltimore and at the University of Maryland, is excited about his Panthers’ prospect for continued success.

“USC is a great lacrosse community. Since the 1980s, it has been playing the sport,” said Yates, who also employs Jack Flinter, Mark Burnett, Kyle Christie and Mike Downey as assistant coaches. “As a team, I’m very happy because we have a lot of guys contributing. We are an enthusiastic family and we are playing at a high level.

“We have kids on the team that are willing to work hard and dedicate themselves to being better players and better teammates.”

Gavin Keefe is a prime example. The junior goalie headed into this month’s action with 62 saves. In addition to citing his great effort in the nets, Yates noted Keefe’s pre-season preparation. “Gavin did a great job of getting into condition for the season, running, jumping rope,” he said.

“Gavin’s become more agile in the cage. He’s having a great season for us because of his improved athleticism and fitness level. Gavin did all the things that he needed to do to become a better goalie and improve as a player.”

Leadership, sacrifice and a high IQ are other symbols of success for the Panthers.

USC boasts six captains, all seniors: Tom Fitch, Kyle Page, David Rice, Ben Southorn, Collin Liss and Christian Teel. An example of their leadership came during a game against North Allegheny. When the coaching staff entered the locker room with the match tied at halftime, its mission of motivation was already completed. “The captains came up to me and said, ‘coach, we’ve already taken care of it’ and they went out won, 9-5,” said Yates. “That’s strong leadership.”

While the Panthers boast a wealth of talent, Page provides inspiration. Though he tore his ACL, he has chosen to continue playing for the Panthers. He leads USC in assists with 15 in six games; four of them complete contests. Pages ranks fifth on the team in scoring with eight goals.

“Kyle is a remarkable young man,” said Yates of Page, who has played three seasons with the Pittsburgh Select Club. “Coming into the season, we thought he would be the top attack player in the WPIAL. He’s been cleared to play by doctors and wears a brace on his knee, but he’s playing without an intact ACL.

“While he is a very, well-conditioned athlete, I don’t know how he is able to do what he does. He’s on track to have an amazing season. Even without him being 100 percent, he is as good a player as anybody else. He’s that good. He stacks up well. And, it speaks volumes about him as a person how committed he is to this sport and his teammates.”

Page and the Panthers are committed to their academics. Page, who owns a 3.9 GPA and will attend Miami of Ohio in the fall, is one of 15 players on the squad who are members of the National Honor Society. Two players: Andrew Bartusiak and Ryan Betzold boast perfect 4.0 GPAs.

A junior, Bartusiak is a midfielder who has scored 13 goals and dished up seven assists to go along with 17 ground balls.

“This young man can do it all. He’s a very good athlete, fundamentally sound. Possesses a good shot,” said Yates. “He does an excellent job, particularly in the transition game from the defensive end to the offensive. He’s a midfielder with good vision. He finds the open man.”

While Bartusiak plays football as did Page, Betzold is a lacrosse-only guy. The senior has accumulated 25 ground balls to go along with six goals and one assist. “He’s a really neat kid,” Yates said. “One of the hardest working and most committed. He’s been training and conditioning since October. He doesn’t miss anything.”

Fitch, Rice, Southorn, Liss and Teel also haven’t missed their chances to excel for the Panthers.

Fitch is USC’s leading attack man. With 31 goals and 13 assists, he leads the team in total points with 44.

Rice is a four-year varsity player and one of the most vocal leaders on the club, says Yates. “He’s passionate. Loves the game. Loves to play. When the game is on the line, he wants the ball. He preforms when the pressure is on. He’s a clutch guy. When we need a goal he steps up,” explained Yates.

Rice, who has scored 22 times, produced game-winners against Seneca Valley and Sewickley Academy. He also has managed 24 ground balls and nine assists.

A senior bound for John Carroll, Southorn excels on defense. He leads the team with 45 ground balls, which are like fumbles in football. “They are huge,” said Yates. “It’s terrific to get ground balls. Good things happen when you have possession [of the ball] and Ben does a fantastic job on defense for us.”

Liss and Teel are defenders, too. An all-section performer as a junior last spring, Teel has collected 31 ground balls. Liss has 18 ground balls. According to Yates, he is the hardest worker in the weight room and on conditioning. “Wow,” said Yates, “what a tremendous athlete. Big, strong and fast. A sound player with great endurance.”

Senior Trevor Morrow is another of USC’s “incredible athletes” who also played football. He’s headed to Washington and Jefferson College in the fall. He has scored eight goals and picked up 14 ground balls. “He’s strong and dodges well. He’s been helpful in transition from the defensive to the offensive end,” Yates said.

Seniors Duane DiCenzo, along with Mike Franusich, Robert Harbula, David Penkrot and John Pacalo, have been contributors in the middle while Mark Panko has done the job as a long-pole middie. “He’s doing a fantastic job,” Yates said. “He has great instincts and talent. He’s fundamentally sound.”

Though just a sophomore, Ben Tobias has excelled at short-pole middie. He has won 43 face-offs, gathered up 19 ground balls and supplied four points to the offense.

“Ben exemplifies playing on the edge. He goes full speed, all out all of the time. I really appreciate what he does because it’s a thankless job,” said Yates, who recalled how during a shortened February practice, Tobias continued to work out in nine-degree weather on the snow-covered stadium turf. “We finished up early because everybody was frozen and taking small steps, but Ben pulled the goal out and did some extra shooting on his own. He does whatever you ask. He will be a great player,” predicted Yates.

Braden Kaib is already a talented face-off man. He has won a team-high 111 face-offs this season. He also has 55 ground balls.

Two other juniors, Ryan Kincaid and Mac Madson have been major contributors to USC’s success this spring. Madson leads the Panthers in scoring with 32 goals. He has 26 “prized” ground balls to go along with 14 assists.

Meanwhile, Kincaid filled in nicely when Page suffered his injury. “When somebody to step up and Ryan did a nice job,” said Yates. “He was not shy. He took on the opportunity and ran with it.”

Though a freshman, Collin Kerr has run with his opportunity to play. The attack man, who moved to midfield because he had a better chance to play, has 17 ground balls, two goals and seven assists.

The Panthers have also relied upon freshmen Karl Flinter and Andrew Pletcher along with sophomores Jack Massaro, Lucas Watts, Michael Coliane, Alex Gialames and Haris Rahman as well as juniors Riley Kohler, Christian Glikes, Austin Himler and Evan Horton for success this spring.

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