For the foreseeable future, it’s likely that five of the seven spots in this ranking will be owned by Central League teams, and those squads’ positions are likely to flex back and forth like an accordion from week to week. We’re coming off a gameday Tuesday where the top team among that quintet loses to the nominal fifth team (at least this week). It’s a group from which any of the five could make a run in the District One tournament without too much of a surprise. Here’s the hierarchy this week. (Records through April 14.)
1. Haverford School (11-0) Last Week: No. 1
The Fords have won their three Inter-Ac games by an average of eight goals, but what’s more impressive is how they gutted out an 8-7 win over Connecticut’s Brunswick School over the weekend at the Checking for Cancer Invitational. They have two one-goal wins (the other being an overtime decision against McDonogh in the opener), and that ability to win those close games may be the ultimate definition of this team in its quest for something special.
2. Episcopal Academy (7-3) Last Week: No. 2
Between them, Eric Haab and Connor Ringwalt have 50 goals this season. Both, however, had big goose-eggs against Haverford School. Coming off a game where they combined for eight markers against Springside Chestnut Hill Tuesday, the imperative for the Churchmen is to get that pair firing in big games. If the Churchmen aspire to supplant Malvern Prep and challenge Haverford School’s stranglehold on the league, then it’s not an option to have Curtis Zappala as the only offensive threat in big games.
3. Garnet Valley (5-1) Last Week: No. 3
The Jags stumbled Tuesday night against a compact, defensively-sound Springfield team, and they get no chance to lick their wounds with a trip to Ridley awaiting Thursday. It remains a good sign that Denny Nealon is the team’s leading scorer, taking some of the heat off of Matt Moore to produce offensively. Despite having only two players average more than two points per game, Tuesday was the first time Garnet Valley had failed to score in double-figures. That’s good balance.
4. Penncrest (7-2) Last Week: No. 4
In an accurate illustration of the relative strengths of the Ches-Mont and Central Leagues, Penncrest scored an informative 9-7 win over Bishop Shanahan Saturday (which was complemented by a Downingtown sweep courtesy of Radnor and Springfield). The Lions have won four straight, benefitting from the reawakening of Drew Hanna. He scored nine points in his first game of the season, then didn’t record more than two in any of the next five, likely an artifact of jumping directly from the basketball season (from which he had jumped directly from soccer season). Hanna has heated up, though, notching 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in the last three games, including four goals against Shanahan.
5. Ridley (7-2) Last Week: No. 6
The Green Raiders are an interesting case. They lost to Penncrest last week after jumping all over Radnor and holding on to an 11-6 win. The attack is scoring consistently, even if no dominant scorer has emerged. The Green Raiders have seven players with seven or more goals, led by Joe Minnick’s 16, and Minnick didn’t even begin the season as a starting attacker. The balance is beneficial, as would be the emergence of an offensive ringleader. It may be Cade Stratton, who has five straight multi-goal games.
6. Radnor (7-3) Last Week: No. 5
The Raiders have responded to the loss to Ridley by rattling off three straight wins, including an 8-3 manhandling of Conestoga. But there’s one alarming stat: They’ve given up 10 or more goals three times this season, all losses. The Raiders gave up 10 goals just twice all of last season, both in playoff ousters (10 in the District One semis to eventual champ Bishop Shanahan, and 10 in the state semis to Avon Grove). They’ve given up six or more goals on seven occasions this season, compared to just 10 times in 23 games last season. Those aren’t necessarily the kids of game Radnor wants to get caught up in.
7. Springfield (5-3) Last Week: No. 7
What to make of Springfield, the team that has thrown open the doors to the Central League title race? They’ve won five of six, the only setback by one goal to Penncrest. They also lost to Conestoga, a team Radnor beat handily, which is part of the reasoning behind this low ranking. All three of their losses have come by one goal, and they’ve won their last two by one-goal margins. They could use a little more consistent offense (the Cougars have scored in double figures just twice), since the defensive style they play is a little tougher when you’re suspect at the faceoff X. Nonetheless, the defensive talent is obvious when you look at the win over Garnet Valley: Due to injuries, coach Tom Lemieux had two poles taking faceoffs against Daniel Lanham, perhaps the Central League’s best FOGO, and despite ceding possession around 80 percent of the time, the Springfield defense swarmed to create turnovers and disrupt GV’s possessions. That’s confident defending.
Honorable mention: Bonner-Prendergast (6-2, a 12-4 loss to La Salle isn’t wholly unexpected, but more important is the fact that the Friars have two one-goal victories among three Catholic League wins); Haverford (6-3, the Fords pushed Garnet Valley to a one-goal margin, one of two one-goal setbacks. The schedule gets harder, but this is a team that burned Radnor for nine goals and Garnet Valley for 10. They can score on anyone.); Strath Haven (6-2, Losing goaltender Will Brake to a shoulder injury that will cost him a further two to four weeks is tough, but the Panthers just keep right on scoring.)