RADNOR – The rebuilding era at The Haverford School was supposed to last a heck of a lot longer than three games.
Two years ago, the Fords claimed a mythical national championship when they went 23-0 against a stacked national schedule.
Last year, they were 21-2 and took home the Inter-Ac title before falling in the Inter-Ac Invitational game to rival Episcopal Academy.
So with perhaps the two most talented classes in school history honing their craft in college and a bevy of youngsters taking their place, it stood to reason that Haverford School would be down and out for a while.
The Fords started that way, giving up 40 goals in an ugly 0-3 stretch against some of Maryland’s best teams in a span that helped some of their young players get their feet wet. But judging by their 9-7 triumph over Radnor Saturday, they seem to be hitting their stride right in time for Tuesday’s Inter-Ac opener against Penn Charter.
“We’re very young and we know that,” said goalie Jake Landman, who stopped 12 shots to help the Fords get their fourth straight win. “We really wanted to make sure that we all bought in as a team. Everything the coaches told us, buy in no matter what, even if it’s unnatural for us, because they know what’s best for us as a team.”
Senior midfielder Timmy Brooks, who had a pair of fourth-quarter goals via his trademark howitzer of a shot, concurred with Landman and sees good things ahead for the Fords.
“In the beginning of the year, we tried to use the talent we had last year to win games and use the same kind of principles that we had last year,” said Brooks, a Richmond signee. “After we went 0-3, the whole team kind of reset the whole mentality of how we’re going to win games and we changed a lot of things. Mainly it was the defense and we just started playing a lot harder.”
Landman, one of the few seniors, was at the forefront of the Fords’ comeback. Radnor freshman Jack Wilson spotted the Red Raiders a 3-2 first-quarter lead, but Fords freshman Dox Aitken jumpstarted a 3-0 run to cap the half that was finished with a pair of goals from Gavin McBride. After the half, Haverford School’s defense went into overdrive mode, shutting down the Radnor offense until Radnor All-EPSLA pick Peter Donato scored with 3:20 left in the fourth quarter.
A big part of that was Landman stopping eight of 10 second-half shots sent his way. The Dartmouth signee is in his second year as the Fords’ starter after taking over for 2011 Daily Times Player of the Year Conor Kelly (Notre Dame) and he looks significantly more comfortable in all aspects of the game. His composure was big down the stretch to help settle down the young Haverford School team, a team that’s claimed four straight wins over good competition.
“The experience definitely helps me,” Landman said. “Coach (Travis) Loving definitely gives me great advice for that, so I couldn’t do it without him.”
A big turning point for Haverford School (4-3) was its ability to dominate the faceoff X after a first quarter where Drew Supinski and Radnor’s Jake Shapiro split six faceoffs. Supinski, a sophomore Johns Hopkins commit, claimed eight of the next nine, which just so happened to coincide with the 5-0 run that gave Haverford School the lead. For a guy who never faced off before this year, Supinski definitely looked the part of a FOGO against Radnor.
“I thought (the 8-for-9 stretch) was pretty big considering we were down early in the game and then we kind of got some quick goals and it was 5-3,” Supinski said. “I’m not really a faceoff guy and I just kind of got lucky today.”
It helps that he’s got one of the best in the business, Mark Petrone, as his faceoff coach. After the Fords graduated Will Gural (Brown), they found themselves needing a FOGO without anyone with experience, so it was a long road in the offseason to finding a guy. They still don’t go with just one, but Supinski’s getting more comfortable with his role.
“When Will Gural graduated last year, we didn’t really have anyone,” Supinski said. “Coach Petrone took a bunch of guys in the winter in the mornings. We would always face off. It would be pretty much “winner stays” and now we’ve got Connor Black facing off. He’s a pole, because we haven’t really been doing well, but we’re starting to click at practice.”
On the Radnor side, Wilson played well beyond his years. The freshman was very aggressive with the ball on his stick and he figures to be a prominent part of a diverse Red Raiders offense. Donato is really good and should push yet again for All-Delco honors, but the best player on the team, bar none, is goalie Brendan Manderack. Even with one of his best defenders, Danny Michaelson, suspended for an altercation with a referee in the Garnet Valley game, out, Manderack showed off how he helped Radnor topple Episcopal Academy and how he’s carved out a spot as one of the best goalies in the state. He moves so well, positions himself perfectly and never seems rattled by the big moment.
If the Red Raiders are going to make a run in the PIAA tournament toward that elusive first state title, Manderack will have a lot to say about it. Radnor will have to fix some of its offensive problems – they’ve scored 10 goals in their past two games – but with a goalie like Manderack, the Red Raiders can play with anyone.
– MATT CHANDIK