Most programs would be ecstatic would making the state semifinals and being one of the last teams left playing in early June.
Springfield's boys' lacrosse team isn't most programs, particularly not in the past few years. The Cougars were coming off state championships in 2016 and 2017, so when the season doesn't end with a celebration, it tends to leave a bad taste in everyone's mouths.
"Right after that loss, we were unhappy with what we were able to do," senior All-American defenseman and captain Pat Clemens said. "Our goal is to get back to being District One and state champions. The day after we lost to Strath Haven, we were already back in the weight room to lift and then getting shots in. When you've been there before, you just have the feeling to do whatever it takes to get back, and I think everyone knows what kind of potential this team has."
If it wasn't clear before the season that the Cougars would rely heavily on a stingy defensive unit, it's been readily apparent in their first few games. A 6-3 win over perennial District One power Downingtown East, followed by a 6-1 win over Penncrest, have lent more credibility to the fact that this is one of the best defensive groups in the state.
Clemens, a Saint Joseph's commit coming off another standout year for the football team, is the undisputed leader of a unit that brought back all of its starters from a year ago. He's the headliner, one of the area's top cover men who is also a disruptive force when he bumps up to LSM, but he also has help in senior Jeff Biancanello, junior Connor Smith and sophomore Jack Gerzabek in front of senior goalie Jimmy Donegan. Expect freshman Ryan O'Connor, fresh off an excellent year for the hockey team, is expected to prominently figure as well.
"Everybody's got a year under their belt and everyone has experience, so everyone knows how the system works," Clemens explained. "I'm just excited for our energy. We just want to scrap and fight for every ground ball, and we have a lot of guys who can run our offensive system, too."
The offense has to replace all-time leading scorer Kyle Long, now at Maryland, and that won't be an easy task. Coach Tom Lemieux does return a few headliners who can quickly make goalies turn and rake, though. Do-it-all midfielder Jack Spence, a Lehigh commit like his two brothers and Springfield legends Lucas and James, should see an expanded offensive role, and future collegiate rival Liam DiFonzo , a Lafayette commit, is one of the best finishers in the area.
"I don't think he gets the credit that he deserves. I think that people sleep on him day in and day out," Clemens said of DiFonzo. "He has great talent and ability. He's really quick, he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to do with his shot. He also knows how to get in defensemen's heads."
DiFonzo came into Thursday's game with seven goals and two assists. Sophomore Jack Clark is a breakout candidate as well.
"All of our guys in the system know what we're doing," Spence said. "Our JV runs the same system, so it just trickles on down. We're ready to rebound from last year and we have strong team chemistry. This team has a family atmosphere, and guys feel like we can do something really special with it."
After spending the first two years of the PIAA separation in Class AA with other small schools, Springfield will now play at Class AAA. That means even more competition as the Cougars take on all comers, but it'd be wise to remember that they were the PIAA champions in the last year where everyone was lumped into one class. If you think that moving up means that they're going to shy away from competition, think again.
"Everybody's excited to play in AAA because everyone likes more competition," Clemens said. "There's nothing like playing the best so that if you beat them, you know you're the best."
If history is any indicator, the Cougars will look their best when it matters the most, too.
"We never really set goals, because we just want to get better each day," Spence said. "We've been able to do that for the past three years, and you just want to play your best lacrosse in May and June."