The result raised eyebrows across the high school lacrosse landscape and wounded a lot of egos on the losing team. On the flip side, there’s a great argument that it might have set things in motion at Malvern Prep.
With a stacked senior class and plenty of underclass talent to go with it, the Friars expected to compete for this year’s mythical national championship as the top team in the country. They would have been in the running for it last year, too, before Covid wiped out everyone’s season.
So when Malvern dropped a two-goal decision to a surging Archbishop Spalding (Md.) team in its first game of the year, things looked off. Of course, Spalding has since entrenched itself as one of the best teams in the nation, but the Friars still saw a missed opportunity.
It’s helped fuel them ever since, and the teams in front of the Friars are paying the price for it. Tuesday, Malvern made light work of longtime rival and fellow perennial Inter-Ac top dog Haverford School, trouncing the Fords, 12-4, in the first game between the two teams this year. The rematch is set for May 6 at Malvern, and if history is any indicator, a third game awaits in the postseason.
“This class had a lot of pressure on us, and the undefeated season was the pressure that was put on us,” senior defenseman Jake Brownley said. “Honestly, it’s kind of a blessing if you lose the first game, because you lose that pressure and you can play free and let it rip, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. Obviously, it’s showing on the scoreboard. We’re having a ton of fun and we’re just trying to keep it going.”
There’s a difference maker at every position for the Friars, but it was the defense that absolutely flummoxed Haverford. The Fords turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter, including a pair of shot-clock violations after they were repeatedly turned aside by Malvern’s fast, aggressive defense. The two sides are plenty familiar with each other, but it seemed like the Friars had an answer for everything Haverford threw at them.
Brownley was a major reason why. The No. 9 player in the NLF’s 2021 rankings, the Harvard-bound Brownley ran the show for Malvern as it effortlessly switched between zone and man concepts to keep the Fords off-key. It’s no surprise that he was a priority for the Crimson in Gerry Byrne‘s first recruiting class, because he’s the type of defenseman that fits perfectly into the team defense concept that Byrne ran so well as Notre Dame‘s defensive coordinator.
Lots of Looks
Brownley is a well-built, cerebral and mean defenseman. He’s tenacious and loves getting physical, but he also did an outstanding job of orchestrating defensive coordinator Paul O’Grady‘s slide packages. He and LSM Pup Buono (Penn State) were driving forces behind the Friars’ clamping of the Fords.
“We have a lot of sets and we have a lot of guys who can play all of those sets all over the field,” Brownley explained. “It’s really easy for us to switch in and out of them and it’s not easy for the offense to react to them. We’ve got the athletes on the field and we think our athletes on defense are the best in the country, and I think it’s proven every time we come out here and play. We’re confident that (opponents) are going to turn the ball over and run the shot clock out the majority of the time. That’s what happened, and we know when our offense gets the ball, we’re going to score.”
Yeah, there’s that, too. It’s hard to identify who’s going to go off every game for the Friars because they have so many options. Against the Fords, it was… everyone? Sophomore AJ Nikolic buried a hat trick, senior Penn State commit Will Peden dished out four assists to go with a goal, and six other Friars recorded at least one point. Malvern’s defense and offensive balance offset a 14-for-18 faceoff edge for the Fords.
Peden was particularly impressive with his ability to find open men all over the field. He’s comfortable as a feeder from anywhere – his feed from X to a cutting Joe Sheridan (Richmond) for an easy tap-in goal started the scoring – and his versatility makes him so dangerous. He operated up top on Malvern’s EMO unit and deftly slid inside feeds to shooters. His best feed of the day, though, came when he tossed a highlight-reel feed to Colin McGill on the back side on a man-up. The lefty Dartmouth-bound finisher had all day to step in and rip, a byproduct of the attention that Peden draws.
“Passing’s really been kind of my known thing, but I still always have to be a threat stepping in,” Peden said. “I do like going from up top and I like wing game play. I just have good shooters, like Eric Spanos (Maryland), Colin McGill, Nick Potemski (Duke). We’ve got some young guys who can step in and let it fly. It’s a lot of fun.”
Time for Haverford to Bounce Back
It wasn’t much fun for Haverford. The Fords got on the board when NLF No. 50 ’23 Ryan DiRocco picked up a rebound in front and tossed it home. Haverford then went a quarter and a half without scoring before senior Geordy Holmes (Maryland) and DiRocco tallied 16 seconds apart to give Haverford some life. Nikolic put the finishing touches on that mini-run when he capped his hat trick, and it was the last time the Fords really threatened before sophomore Brendan Leary scored with 26 ticks to play.
“We know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do,” Holmes said. “I’ve been playing with a lot of those guys my whole life. Today just really wasn’t our day. They did a good job defensively of making us uncomfortable, but that’s something we have to adjust to better and learn from. We’ll see them again, so we just have to keep working.”
May 6 will be here soon enough.
Standouts from Malvern-Haverford
Lucca DiBartolomeo ’24, LSM, Malvern / Brotherly Love (Highlights)
It’s rare that a freshman earns playing time on a team as good as Malvern, but DiBartolomeo more than held his own. He’s been correctly taught that there’s only way to play and it’s all out, all the time, and he does just that. Already a cancer survivor, DiBartolomeo reclassed as a result of missing school due to the cancer treatments and Covid. He’s got more toughness than he knows what to do with, got his stick in passing lanes and showed an advanced understanding of the Friars’ defensive schemes. He’s next in line at Malvern.
“I just think our defense is a highly physical team that loves to get after it, and when we get after it, good things happen,” DiBartolomeo said. “Pressing the ball, getting ground balls, every chance we get, we’re on the ball. Most of the times, we brought them to 80 seconds (on the shot clock) and they had many turnovers off that.”
DiRocco looked much more comfortable at attack, particularly with the ball in his stick, than he did recently against Lawrenceville. As he gets older, he’ll be entrusted with carrying the ball and running the offense more, but Tuesday, he was best as an off-ball guy. DiRocco grabbed a Geordy Holmes rebound and ripped it home for his first of the day. He followed it up by making a nice off-ball cut to get open on a Michael Bozzi (Cornell) dodge and then had a beauty of a shot off of Bozzi’s feed for his second goal.
Cooper Frankenheimer ’21, SSDM, Malvern / Mesa / North Carolina
Frankenheimer is usually the best athlete on any field he steps on, a tradition he carried on Tuesday. He and the Malvern teammates have spent a TON of time in the weight room because they all physically look like college players right now. A very strong, very fast short-stick defensive midfielder, Frankenheimer relishes playing defense. He sought out contact, angled his body very well and denied any clean look at the net. You usually hear that it’s a good time to go if an offensive midfielder has an SSDM in his sights. It is NEVER a good time to go against Frankenheimer.
Chris O’Grady ’21, goalie, Malvern / Mesa / High Point
O’Grady and ’22 Joe Doherty were both excellent in the cage for the Friars. The two split halves as they have all season, and that plan is working well for Malvern. O’Grady was particularly sharp in his half, stopping eight shots and only ceding one goal, the rebound to Ryan DiRocco. The lefty turned in a handful of impressive saves early when the two teams were still trading salvos. He took away angles with relative ease and relied on making effective, simple plays in the clearing game.
Will Peden ’21, attack, Malvern / Mesa / Penn State
Malvern has a ridiculously potent offense, particularly its attack line, and every guy has his strengths that balance out the line so well. Peden, who scored once, is the passing wizard who gets everybody involved. He knows where everybody likes the ball. The future Nittany Lion was equally as good as a feeder from behind the cage, on the wings or up top on the EMO. He set up the first two goals of the game from X with Joe Sheridan and Colin McGill doing the finishing. He got AJ Nikolic involved, and finished his passing day with a terrific skip pass to Colin McGill. Peden can also come out of the box if need be and had a particularly impressive clear late in the game where he effortlessly weaved through the ride to get the ball to the offensive end.
Adam Greenfield ’21, faceoff, Haverford / HEADstrong Lehigh Valley
Jake McCarthy ’22, faceoff, Haverford / Mesa / Merrimack (Highlights)
Ben McCarthy ’24, faceoff, Haverford / Freedom (Highlights)
Haverford rolled out a trio of faceoff specialists to great success at the faceoff X. Greenfield continued his strong season with a 6-for-9 day, Jake McCarthy chipped in a 4-for-5 effort and freshman Ben McCarthy was 4-for-4. All three were quick on their clamps and were able to use their bodies to push the Malvern guys off the ball, and all three did really nice work on collecting their ground balls. It didn’t pay off on the scoreboard, but the Friars ruled the X with their three guys.
Malvern Prep 12, Haverford School 4
Malvern 2 3 6 1 — 12
Haverford 0 1 2 1 — 4
AJ Nikolic 3g
Colin McGill 2g, 1a
Jack Irish 2g
Will Peden 1g, 4a
Eric Spanos 1g, 1a
Joe Sheridan 1g, 1a
Nick Potemski 1g
Brian Ciarlone 1g
Joe Doherty 6 saves
Luke O’Grady 8 saves
Justin Turley 2-for-10 faceoffs
Dylan Cabahug-Almonte 1-for-8 faceoffs
Ryan DiRocco 2g
Geordy Holmes 1g
Brendan Leary 1g
Michael Bozzi 1a
Chuck Cacciutti 9 saves
Adam Greenfield 6-for-9 faceoffs
Jake McCarthy 4-for-5 faceoffs
Ben McCarthy 4-for-4 faceoffs