One step farther. That’s what both State College lacrosse teams are hoping for Wednesday as each opens play in the PIAA Playoffs at Altoona High School.
The District 6 champion Lady Little Lions, who fell 16-9 against Pine Richland last May, face WPIAL runner-up Shady Side Academy at 4 p.m. in the first round.
The contest will be followed by the District 6 champion State College boys, a 4-2 loser against Shady Side last season, against District 7 runner-up North Allegheny at 6 p.m.
The State College girls’ squad has weathered a laundry list of injuries and has one more after a starter suffered a knee injury at practice this week.
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“We do have some issues with injuries still and we’re trying to overcome those,” first-year coach Mark Mahon said. “That’s kind of been the theme all season. We’ve had seven concussions, a broken thump, a broken ankle, an appendectomy and now a knee injury.”
Somehow through all of the hospital visits, the Lady Little Lions have compiled a 17-1 record. Character and perseverance have been the mainstays of a remarkable season.
“It’s really been a test in terms of their emotional strength and their willingness to find a way to succeed,” Mahon said. “It’s actually made us stronger in a lot of ways because we’ve had to rely on some players that we wouldn’t have had to rely on before. ... In a way, it’s made us more flexible and deeper that we would have been otherwise. We’re optimistic.”
The Lady Little Lions led Pine Richland 7-3 in the first half last season before the game got away.
“We learned a lot last year from the Pine Richland game in realizing that if you have a lead you still have to be aggressive and keep working,” Mahon said. “Those kids know that. If you’re playing a good team, a five- or six-goal lead isn’t enough.”
State College has gotten tougher on defense this season. The Lady Little Lions were second in the Mid-Penn Conference with a 6.2 goals-against average.
Goalie Kristin Sonsteby, a first-team All-Mid-Penn pick, has been the catalyst.
“She’s fantastic in goal,” Mahon said. “Early in the season when our defense wasn’t quite ready, we could always rely on Kristin to make some great saves. ... We can take some chances in terms of matchups because even if somebody gets beat, we know we have somebody in goal who saves 60 percent of the shots.
“Our defense has grown all through the season. It’s getting better and better. At some point, we will meet a match for our defensive depth, but so far this season we’ve matched up well against everybody else’s defense.”
Mahon says his team is solid through the midfield and attack and is “explosive” on the offensive end. Sisters Carrie Mahon and Katie Mahon lead the squad in scoring. Caitlin McGlaughlin and Kendall Loviscky are also dynamic scorers. Carrie Mahon takes most of the draws.
Via scouting reports, weekend intelligence from a tournament and YouTube video, the Lady Little Lions have an idea what to expect from Shady Side.
“We know that they have some quick midfielders and very explosive players,” Mark Mahon said. “We’ve been able to garner some information. Whether it’s enough or not, we’ll find out (Wednesday).”
State College vs. North Allegheny
Coach Jeff King said you don’t have to remind his players about what happened against Shady Side in the opening round of the PIAAs last season.
“A lot of those (players) are back on this team, again,” King said. “I think they still have a bad taste in their mouth.”
The Little Lions (13-5) are looking to do something the young program has yet to accomplish — get through that PIAA first round.
King believes they have the talent to do it.
Andrew Kelly, a standout on the Little Lion football team, anchors a defense that King says is the strength of his club. Kelly is a first-team All-Mid-Penn pick and joins second team pick Cole Schailey and Eli Seeland in frustrating foes.
“Andrew Kelly gets up and down the field as well as anybody,” King said. “He’s just a very good athlete. He’ll play a couple of different roles for us. ... We’re trying to find matchups that work the best for us.
“The defense is the strength of our team right now,” King added. “Defensively, if our middies can help the long poles and slide when they need to slide, I think we can really limit teams with our defense.”
Offensively, the Little Lions have gotten big games from a variety of players. Luc Michael, Gavin Rallis, Sam Schwab and Ryan Goeke have consistently put the ball in the net.
“The one thing that makes our team difficult to scout is that we get scoring from a lot of different places,” King said. “We have a lot of kids who can score.”
Although they have not played North Allegheny, the Little Lions have a score to settle with the Tigers thanks to other sports (football, basketball).
“They’re very excited to play a North Allegheny (program) that some of the other sports at State High have not done as well against,” King said.
King said his club knows what to expect from the Tigers.
“We have a scouting report, but our sport is a sport that you have to go out and play your game,” he said. “ We know that North Allegheny tends to come out with a lot of pressure. Our game will depend on how well we handle that pressure.
“They’re a very athletic team, but we certainly have our share of athletes as well. I think it’s going to be a good matchup.”
And, there’s a chance to make a little bit of history.
“It’s always been part of our goal to advance in the playoffs,” King said. “We’d like to get to that point. I think we have a shot at it if we play a controlled game on offense and a smart game. Then, we have as good a chance as we’ve had since we’ve been in this.”