To the spectators at Teamer Field, it might have seemed to be insignificant window dressing on a game long since decided. To Strath Haven, though, the importance was more profound.
As the seconds wound down on the Panthers’ 14-9 loss to Conestoga in the first round of the District One boys lacrosse tournament Tuesday, Kevin Murphy generated one of his trademark counterattacks through midfield. The senior dumped a pass off to freshman Jack Borbee, who juked and buried his third goal of the game and 22nd of the season.
A mere consolation on the night that wouldn’t change Haven’s fate, the goal was a fitting passing of the torch emblematic of the Panthers’ season. Through a 7-12 campaign, Jef Hewlings’ young players have been asked to step up and fill voids, left by injuries, graduation or what have you. A bevy of willing volunteers have emerged.
Borbee is the posterchild. He’s built like a freshman. But he’s got immensely athletic bloodlines, from his older sister, Haven field hockey All-Delco Jess Borbee to his mother, lacrosse great and current Swarthmore women’s coach Karen Borbee (nee Emas). Already, Borbee shows the kind of instincts that have him tabbed for greatness, including technical ability and willingness to take punishment around that net that are well beyond his years.
Hewlings is the first to admit that Borbee may not have gotten as much of a look this year had it not been for an injury to senior Will Ohley which limited him to nine games. That doesn’t mean, however, that Hewlings is reticent to throw his young guys into the fray, a sooner-the-better attitude that has paid dividends up and down the roster.
“We know that we’ve got a good young crop of kids,” Hewlings said after last week’s win over Harriton on senior day. “We’ve got another good crop of kids in the eighth grade that are coming in next year. We’re trying to get the most out of the experience that we have, but we’re also building for the future of the program.”
Among the others shining at a young age are sophomore defenders Anders Camp and Noah Frantz, big sophomore attackman Jake Ross, and stud freshman faceoff man Hunter Mazur.
Borbee, especially, has drawn the attention of his mentor.
“I’m really excited for these younger guys,” Ohley said. “They all have a bright future ahead of them. And Jack’s been amazing this season, really stepping it up. He’s playing like a veteran.”
Frantz is an especially interesting prospect. An accomplished wrestler, he’s not exactly built like a defenseman. Heck, he’s not even taller than his long pole.
But he’s got great defensive instincts, has great toughness and a tremendous ability (perhaps because he’s so low to the ground) to pick up ground balls.
“He showed us last year,” Hewlings said. “When we got to the program last year, we said, ‘that kid has to play JV ball because he needs to get high school experience as a ninth grader.’ But halfway through the season, he was up with the varsity just because we had holes and we though he could fill one. And he did.”
The key to all this potential coming to the fore, according to Hewlings, is the seniors. A program like Strath Haven is going to churn out talent regularly. But if there’s no one to nurture it, then it goes for naught.
The acceptance has been blatantly obvious in the Panthers, both this season and in how the departing seniors regard the youngsters as a vital part of their legacy.
“Frankly, for the seniors to accept what they bring to the program is pretty special,” Hewlings said. “The senior could say, ‘oh I’m not playing because some young kid is playing.’ But I don’t hear that. I think they want us to do well, and they recognize that we have some young kids that can play lacrosse.”
“We’ve had a lot of young guys step up this year, a lot of freshmen and sophomores that have gotten a solid amount of playing time,” senior attacker Bryan Mizell said. “We have a great group of juniors, too. Look for the freshmen and sophomores to keep up the hard worked especially after having a good solid year of playing time this year. I think they’re going to make some noise this year. We’ve definitely been picking it up year by year.”