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March 25, 2014

Bulldogs open first PIAA lacrosse season

MEADVILLE — Ready or not, the Meadville lacrosse program is jumping into the PIAA District 10 waters with both feet.

Formed as a club in 2012, it took only two years for Meadville to garner more than enough interest from students young and old to field a team. After two seasons of scrimmages and long trips in and out of state to find games, the Bulldogs have taken an enormous next step by getting sanctioned by the PIAA.

Lacrosse is an official sport at Meadville Area Senior High School, and now it’s time to hit the field against tough competition against established district 10 teams.

“We were 2-11 last year and were a club team that traveled,” Meadville head coach John Heflin said. “Now that we’re a PIAA team, we can play McDowell, Cathedral Prep and Fairview.”

The good news is the days of traveling hours into Ohio to simply find an opponent are gone. The slightly bad news is the teams Meadville can now face have been around for years with a system in place that spans all ages.

Heflin has the task of not only coaching players that have never held a lacrosse stick before, but also keeping expectations in check for what any team starting out has to go through: Growing pains.

“Our goal is to play competitive varsity lacrosse, and by the end of the season, win a few games,” Heflin said. “We’re not going to win the D-10, and we don’t expect to. We’re growing a team, and we expect them to play competitively.”

While wins may come at a premium early in the season for the Bulldogs, there are plenty of bright spots for the squad, including a group of eight seniors who have had two years experience on the field.

Of the 22-man team Meadville fields, the eight seniors are coupled with eight freshmen, as well as five players who have never played lacrosse before on any level. Though it may not be pretty early on, getting inexperienced players time on the field against solid competition is precisely how to build a program.

“We have five totally new kids, and some of our freshmen played in middle school, but that is a completely different level,” Heflin said. “They didn’t learn plays in middle school, just how to catch and throw. Playing high school lacrosse is a big transition for most of them. Most of them are smaller and younger, and they’ll be stepping out there against bigger boys.”

Heflin said it takes six to eight weeks for a player with no experience to become functional on the field, and realistically doesn’t expect his newcomers to truly contribute until mid-April.

Still, the entire season is one big positive, and helping the cause is returning senior Will DeArment, who will be back in the attack role after leading the Bulldogs in scoring last season.

Alongside DeArment are Josh Orr and John Gizzie to balance out the front of the offensive attack. Heflin said he likes his group of midfielders in Bryan Ray, Steven Heflin, Nick Sternby, Owen Miller and Magnus Jager, a group of guys that the head coach feels can keep pace with many teams.

“I have an experienced line at midfield, and I have three attackers with experience,” Heflin said. “We have an all new line of defense but an experienced goalie (Gabe Stein).”

The plan on offense is a relatively simple one for the Bulldogs in 2014. Heflin wants his team to penetrate opposing defenses, cause chaos and, rather than force the shot, make the pass to whoever the defense fails to cover. It’s essentially an inside-out offense in basketball, but taken to the field.

Time will tell how well that strategy can translate to the scoreboard. But in the end, the amount of goals, assists, saves, and even wins Meadville amasses this season takes a back seat to the bigger plan, which is building a successful program.

“It’s a new team, a new program,” Heflin said. “There’s a lot of energy and definitely some talent here. It’s whether or not we can pull it all together.”

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