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Brady O’Kane with the grown man’s take for his second of the game.
At the half, NLF No. 10 @fords_lacrosse leads NLF No. 18 Malvern Prep, 4-1, in the teams’ @InterAcBoysLax opener. pic.twitter.com/GawJWA8ZUP
— NLF (@natlaxfed) April 11, 2023
There’s been one constant throughout Malvern Prep‘s current run of four straight Inter-Ac championships. The Friars have had a stranglehold on one of the best leagues in the country since 2018 when they ended a stretch of four straight titles by archrival Haverford School. There rarely is a massive talent disparity between the two because both recruit so well.
In recent years, though, Malvern has ALWAYS found a way to make the backbreaking play when the teams play. A huge juice goal, a massive faceoff win at just the right time, a takeaway on the back end with Haverford threatening to tie the game. You name it, the ball’s always seemed to have gone the Friars’ way.
Tuesday, though, looked like the changing of the tide in the rivalry’s current status when NLF No. 10 Haverford downed No. 18 Malvern, 10-6. Specifically, when the Friars stopped a Fords’ run and cut the deficit to 7-2 on a Dylan O’Connor goal, it felt like there was a chance at a Malvern comeback.
50-50 Plays Go Haverford’s Way
Aydan DiRocco made sure that didn’t happen. Malvern caused a turnover and was headed back the other way, but the Navy-bound four-star junior smashed the ball out, picked it up and spied Evan Large cutting across the middle. The sophomore lefty turned and buried both DiRocco’s pass and Malvern’s comeback hopes. It was one play, but after a time where the Fords could rarely get that play to materialize, it certainly was symbolic.
Game, blouses, and Haverford walked out of Malvern’s Pellegrini Complex with a resounding win and a lead in the Inter-Ac.
“The gritty plays give us the momentum,” said DiRocco, who finished with a goal and two assists. “Against a good team like this, the gritty plays are what’s going to set us ahead and we knew coming into this that we were going to have to make all the gritty plays. That was just one of them.”
“This year, our mantra is just being tough and doing the little things right,” sophomore defenseman Gavin Cooper (Big 4 HHH) added. “That’s really what we tried to emphasize in this game because in the past, they’ve gotten more ground balls than us. We figured if we just outhustle them, we could come out with the win.”
Murphy Shuts the Door
It felt like the Fords got all of the 50-50 plays. When Malvern tied the game at 1-1 after sophomore Logan Turley (Big 4 HHH) found the back of the net, it took seven seconds for Haverford take its lead back. NLF No. 2 junior Ben McCarthy (Duke) won the faceoff, ran down and hit Ryan DiRocco (Army), who blasted home a shot from the wing.
When O’Connor slashed the Haverford lead to 4-2 18 seconds into the second half, Air Force commit Wells Flinn‘s superb individual effort was the perfect riposte 34 seconds later. Even when the Friars had their chances, junior goalie Brody Murphy came up with every big save that the Fords needed.
“It feels great,” Murphy said. “It’s my first time playing on this field and it felt great. I made the first save and I kind of felt good after that. I was seeing the ball well, but it helps that our team was giving up low-angle shots and putting the guys where I wanted to see them. This feels great and it sets the tone for the rest of the season.”
Malvern Looks to Get Back on Track
The loss was the Friars’ fifth straight, which simply does not happen at Malvern Prep. For a measuring stick, the Friars lost a combined five games in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. They haven’t exactly lost to cupcakes – four of the five teams are in the NLF top 10 and the other is in the top 20 – but nobody can remember the last time Malvern lost five straight.
There’s still time to right the ship, starting with today’s game against Episcopal Academy. The Friars’ top scoring options in AJ Nikolic (two goals, one assist), Ennis Udo (one goal) and Michael Ortlieb (one assist) were all clearly dealing with some kind of injury against the Fords, so if they can get back to full health, Malvern’s offense should be fine.
The talent is definitely there. It’ll just be a question of whether the Friars can piece it all together in time to defend their Inter-Ac title for a fifth straight time.
“I think as a team, we just have to trust each other,” Malvern senior defenseman and Yale commit Roman Buono said. “We just need to come in with the mindset that we’re ready to prove everyone wrong and dig ourselves out of this hole.”
Haverford School – Malvern Prep Standouts
Gavin Cooper ’25, defense, Haverford School / Big 4 HHH
To put it simply, Cooper stole the show and set the tone for Haverford’s impressive defensive performance. He matched up with Malvern star AJ Nikolic – arguably the best player in the state – and while the Cornell commit was clearly not nearly 100 percent, Cooper emerged with a decisive win. Physically, the 6-1, 210-pound Cooper looks like he should be on a college field and the cover of Muscle & Fitness. He absolutely owns the weight room and it showed in his game against the Friars.
Cooper did a great job of maintaining a low base, which allowed him to use his lower-body power to keep opponents at bay. The Big 4 HHH standout had at least three caused turnovers, including the gem above, where he pushed Nikolic down the alley and perfectly timed a check to send the ball flying.
Nikolic finished with two goals and an assist, all of which came when Cooper either wasn’t on the field or on a different assignment. The game was a form of redemption for the young Cooper, who had a decidedly different result when he saw Nikolic and the Friars as a freshman.
“He’s a great player,” Cooper said of Nikolic. “He beat me a lot last year, but I was ready to guard him and hopefully get the better of him this game. Playing him last year taught me how to bounce back after getting scored on. Last year, I’d get in my head a lot, but it’s just the ‘next play’ mentality. It’s definitely different, but our team relies on each other really well. We do a great job of sliding and just having each other’s staying backs and staying positive, which helps.”
Peri DiBartolomeo ’24, SSDM, Malvern Prep – Penn State – NLF No. 104 ’24
In the midst of a Haverford timeout, the consensus in the Fords’ huddle was that they could use their speed to take advantage of matchups on the offensive end. On the next touch, they tested that theory on DiBartolomeo on an invert from X. It promptly ended with the ball on the ground and Malvern possession. There are plenty of times where it’s a good idea to go against the short-stick. Let’s put it this way: when you’re facing Malvern, this ain’t it. Find someone else to pick on. DiBartolomeo loves nothing more than a challenge and to take his opponent’s lunch money. As tough and as gritty as it gets, the lefty embraces the bigger matchups and usually comes away on the right end of things.
Aydan DiRocco ’24, attack, Haverford School – Navy – NLF No. 117 ’24
The strength of Haverford’s offense is that there are a number of guys who can beat you. DiRocco’s older brother, senior Army commit, bagged a hat trick, as did junior Delaware verbal Brady O’Kane. Junior Michigan commit Jack Long and sophomore Evan Large each chipped in a goal and an assist. Wells Flinn (Air Force, one goal) and Colin Zeller (Rutgers) are always in the mix, as is senior Virginia signee Wills Burt when he’s healthy.
It’s hard to pinpoint which guy to focus on, and the other Fords can feast on that. The younger DiRocco was in the middle of it this time, finishing with a goal and two assists. He set up O’Kane’s bardown blast to start the scoring, then perfectly timed up a near-post cut to bury Large’s feed. Later, he added the aforementioned caused turnover, ground ball and assist to Large, a microcosm of what DiRocco brings to the table. DiRocco constantly hustled and found a way to make plays, even those that didn’t show up on the stat sheet.
Patrick Keenan ’23, defense, Malvern Prep – Penn State
The undersized lefty usually flies a bit under the radar as a nice complementary defenseman. That was definitely not the case against the Fords. The son of former Penn State goalie and MLL pro Kevin Keenan, Keenan was all over the place for Malvern. He saw a good deal of action in coverage and came away with good results. Keenan had a particularly nice caused turnover on the wing where he smashed the bottom end of the stick to get the ball to come out. The future Nittany Lion was decisive with his slides, too.
Brody Murphy ’24, goalie, Haverford School
Murphy just exudes calm and poise in the Fords’ cage. He doesn’t look like he gets rattled by much and has a very even-keel demeanor. A 6-2 stopper, Murphy relied on his smarts and understanding of Malvern’s offense to make sure he was always in the right spot. He had a number of saves, including one on a high-to-high question mark from about eight yards out, that looked way too easy. It wasn’t because they were bad shots from the Friars. It was because Murphy had positioned himself so well and made sure there was nowhere for the ball to go. He finished with 13 saves in his first game against rival Malvern.
Haverford School 10, Malvern Prep 6
Ryan DiRocco ’23 (Army) 3 goals
Brady O’Kane ’24 (Delaware) 3 goals
Aydan DiRocco ’24 (Navy) 1 goal, 2 assists
Jack Long ’24 (Michigan) 1 goal, 1 assist
Evan Large ’25 1 goal, 1 assist
Ben McCarthy ’24 (Duke / NLF No. 2 ’24) 11-for-18 faceoffs
Griff Meyer ’25 (Team 91 Maryland) 1-for-1 faceoffs
Wells Flinn ’23 (Air Force) 1 goal
Miles Balachandran ’23 (Gettysburg) 1 assist
Brody Murphy ’24 13 saves
Malvern Prep (3-5)
AJ Nikolic ’23 (Cornell / NLF No. 28 ’23) 2 goals, 1 assist
Dylan O’Connor ’23 2 goals
Ennis Udo ’24 (Brown / NLF No. 78 ’23) 1 goal
Logan Turley ’25 (Big 4 HHH) 1 goal
Michael Ortlieb ’25 (Big 4 HHH / NLF 5-star) 1 assist
Owen Mears ’25 (Big 4 HHH) 1 assist
Jake Bickel ’25 1 assist
Carson Myers ’23 (Gettysburg) 1 assist
Chris Rabena ’23 10 saves