Don’t bother asking Garnet Valley coach Frank Urso which one player he expects a lot from this year.
“We’re expecting a lot from all of them,” Urso said with a laugh.
There’s good reason for that. The Jaguars finished second in District One a year ago after bowing out to Conestoga in the final and made it to the first round of the state tournament, where they fell to Radnor, 5-4, in overtime.
Despite being hit hard by graduation, though, the pressure to win and win now at Garnet Valley doesn’t ever stop. In a wide-open Central League, the Jaguars figure to be a prominent team in the race for the title.
It’s not the most glamorous of positions, but at one of the most important spots on the field, the Jaguars are absolutely loaded. With FOGOs Zach Penfil (Penn) and Mike Lanham (Saint Joseph’s) manning the faceoffs, Garnet Valley might never lose a faceoff. OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but Urso feels supremely confident about Penfil and Lanham’s ability to consistently make sure Garnet Valley gains a lot of extra possessions.
“I don’t know if anyone’s got a 1-2 punch like that in this state,” Urso said. “Actually, I’m going to say that nobody does. I couldn’t tell you who’s better. Penfil was great last year and there aren’t many better than him, but Lanham’s just as good.”
The Jaguars will need the ball often to protect a somewhat-inexperienced defense, at least in the early going. Garnet Valley had the best 1-2 defensive punch in the county last year with two-time All-Delco Ryan Lehman (Maryland) and Ryan Guittare (Penn State), but with them gone, it’s next man up for the Jaguars. Urso will count on All-Delco linebacker Steve Elf (Franklin & Marshall for football) and LSM Zach Jones (Ursinus) to spearhead the defense, but he also likes what he’s seen from junior Jake Matier (Saint Joseph’s) and sophomore Joey Granahan. Can they match the production given to Urso by Lehman and Guittare?
“At the beginning of the year, I’d say no,” Urso said. “But by the end of the year, I think they can. Joey’s probably going to commit to a Division I school by the middle of the season. He’s got some visits lined up. He’s pretty good.”
That defense will be supported by a rising star in goalie Mitch Rose. The senior took a big leap forward last year and seized the starting job later in the season and progressed even more this summer, according to Urso. With the starting job clearly his and a good team in front of him, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rose push for All-Delco honors.
Someone’s going to have to score for the Jaguars, though, especially with the loss of two-time All-Delco Jules Raucci (Drexel). Luckily for Urso, he won’t have to look too far in the Raucci family tree for another sniper. Raucci’s younger brother, Robert, has been one of the Jaguars’ go-to scoring options for the past two years. He figures to be “the guy” that the Jaguars lean on for offense. The Saint Joseph’s commit has an excellent touch around the net and should push for 40-50 goals.
Raucci will have help, though, Urso’s son, Vail, a Drexel commit, has one of the hardest shots in the area and has the savvy to create scoring chances for other. Matt Taulane (Bellarmine) figures to be a multi-dimensional threat, which begs the question, is he an attacker or a midfielder?
“Yes!” Urso said with a laugh. “I say that because he’ll do a little bit of everything for us.”
Expect junior midfielder Brandon Dowd, the football team’s kicker, to also make an impact.
Urso lent credence to the fact that it’s a wide-open race for the Central League title. He expects his Jaguars to be in the thick of things with Radnor, Conestoga, Ridley, Penncrest and Springfield, among others, but that doesn’t mean that any of the favorites can take a night off in the league.
“The gap between the teams is very small,” Urso said. “If you don’t show up ready to play, you”ll lose.”
Better bring it every game, then.
– MATT CHANDIK